Hollywood, CA—based developer Output has made a name for itself producing unique and forward-looking instruments such as Rev, Exhale and Movement, all of which blend musicality with advanced sound design capabilities. To its growing stable of Kontakt-based instruments, the company now adds SUBSTANCE, a “bass engine” that uses samples and extensive processing tools to provide an almost infinite palette of bass sounds. The focus isn’t on emulating any particular model of bass but rather taking a wide range of sources and harnessing the immense power of Kontakt (including the free player version) to provide total control.
The 5 GB library is relatively compact by today’s standards and the instrument is self contained, meaning you do all patch loading from within its interface. The Main page is the first you come to and provides quick, easy access to all the most fundamental parameters of a sound. There are three layers in any patch which can all be edited independently and clicking any of these jumps you to its source selection area. Here you can choose from nine categories and within each one, a further nine sources. The sections include subs, bass guitars, hybrids, low brass and many more and these are easy to preview.
The Main section also contains volume sliders for quick submixing of the three layers and four additional sliders that control the combined output of the three sections. These are Dirt, Filter, Attack and Shape and moving them makes significant changes to the sound of a patch. It’s a great way to quickly and easily modify any sound without delving into the more advanced sections.
Advanced editing is just a click away however, with the three sound layers represented across each of the other sections using color coding which means it’s always clear which one you’re working on. Dive into Edit and you get ADSR, panning, tuning and sample start as well as glide and key range for each layer. This immediately adds extra dimensions in that you can split layers over different key ranges for ultimate flexibility. There’s even the option to switch between mono and polyphonic for any layer so where a sound is suitable you can play chords.
Next up is the EQ section which works per-layer and also has a global stage for processing the whole sound. Similarly in the Filter section you can choose between EQ types and shapes for each layer, and also globally filter the signal. A powerful FX section allows up to six effects per layer, each with their own setting and you get four global effects. The FX section makes it simple to add as much processing as you want to any part of your patch.
So far what you have probably recognized is an instrument that focuses on sound shaping, but SUBSTANCE has another trick up its sleeve: a rich and powerful Rhythm section packed with tools to animate your basses. There is one modulation source that can be configured at the base of this section with multiple preset and customizable shapes or if you switch to the Step mode, preset or programmable step modulation. Both types have Rate and Swing controls for altering their behavior. You can also switch on Flux which is a secondary step sequencer, again customizable, which controls fluctuations in the global modulation rate.
This modulation is sent to bite, volume, cutoff and resonance and can be set independently for each layer by dragging in the associated boxes. Assigning modulation here is both easy to understand and tremendous fun to play with, adding movement and dynamics to any patch. As if this wasn’t enough, there’s also an arpeggiator section with 12 playback styles and an editor that lets you customize all kinds of behaviors. Last but not least, four Macro sliders can be assigned to up to six parameters each so you can change multiple controls with a single movement.
Even with such great depth of processing and programming available, SUBSTANCE is easy to find your way around. In not trying to emulate any particular instrument, Output has built its own interface and done an excellent job. I’m also a big fan of not having to venture into Kontak’s rather fiddly browser to load patches, though that’s a personal preference.
Sonically, SUBSTANCE more than lives up to its name. While some instruments focus on a type of bass sound, here the selection on offer is wide ranging, from synths to electrics, woodwind and some genuinely weird stuff. Crucially though you’re not likely to just load up one sound: the power and creativity is in the layering of the three different sample sections. Even that, in truth, is too simplistic a description. Once your samples are loaded and balanced, there’s a tremendous amount of shaping that you can do both to an individual layer and to the global output of the instrument.
That being so, SUBSTANCE is capable of some truly astounding results. The synth basses range from massive subs to acid squelches, the bass guitars from fat and round to thin and plucked. Many source samples are hybrids and truly unique noises, especially in the “one-shots and impacts” section which you can use to add some non-standard elements to a patch. As well as shaping and effecting any part of any layer, the motion tools bring an extra dimension to the process. Creating dynamic movement within sounds is tremendous fun and highly creative thanks to the Rhythm section. The Arpeggiator provides an easy-to-control way to create patterns anywhere from simple sequences to insane melodies.
Stylistically there’s a huge amount you can do with SUBSTANCE. While the most immediately gratifying patches might include the crushing, pulsating dubstep wobbles, there’s more subtle fare available too so it’s just as good working as a bass instrument for more conventional genres. You’ll even get a lot of mileage out of it if you’re designing sound, since the processing tools mean it’s not difficult to create textures and soundscapes just as easily as pounding basslines. SUBSTANCE is an extremely powerful and awesome-sounding bass toolbox that goes far beyond what you might have used before.
Pros: Powerful but well-designed interface. Incredible sound. Covers practically any genre of music. Quick edit mode is very effective. Advanced editing sections provide serious tools. Make pretty much any bass sound you can imagine. Sensibly priced for such a powerful instrument.
Cons: Really nothing!