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This test was first written for Keyboards / Home Studio magazine. It is published here with their kind permission, thanks ,o)

Steinberg current events are finally very rich these times, major updates and improvements are released nearly monthly. Thus, here I am with the mission to present to you Xphraze. I can already affirm that it won't be simple because the software is as powerful as it is difficult of access in a first approach. Xphrase is not a sampler, nor an arpegiator, nor a groove box, nor a synth, it is on the other hand a little bit all of this at the same time. I've got two pages to proove this to you, the bet is kept ,o)

What's in ze box ?

The software is released with a copy-protected CD, a paper manual in well-written French and a registration card. The installation is much classical, separate choice of the destination folder for the plug-in and the 347 MB sounds by Wizoo, good initiative. One more time, the interface is very beautiful but its serigraphy unreadable !

The first use is misleading because by default, Xphraze gives forth an horrible Pouet only. But even without opening the manual, you quickly discover the Explorer on the left side which gives access to the Combis, I will talk later about them.

The Combis furnished are rather monstruous ! You notice immediately that the possibilities of Xphrase are unlimited, rich, various, even if the software seems much particularly at ease for electronic musics and that it would be maybe less essential to you if you use to express yourself in Death Metal, but why not ? ,o). Beyond this, there are some for every likes, every styles. You navigate from a pure techno groove to a World Music atmosphere while using some never heart background notes.

Under the X-rays

At the starting, there are the Multisamples. A Multisample is a box in which you can rank up to 16 samples. Xphraze is sold with a nice bundle of Multisamples but you can import yours (Wave, Aiff compatibility up to 192 KHz / 32 bits).

At the next stage is the Phrase. Imagine a Time-Line containing 32 temporal divisions to which you can assign a distinct sample, knowing that each division can be activated (I read it) or not, with Morphing possibility between two cells.

6 simultaneous parameters to choose between volume, pan, tonality, cutoff, resonance, Gate, starting point, Time Stretch, crossfade etc., can be modulated in real time during the playback, the variations being drawn with the mouse. The sixth parameter is modulable by a source like a LFO, an envelop, a Midi controller, the aftertouch, the pitch bend etc. The Phrases can be looped from a cell to an other one. To talk true, they are almost all the specificities of Xphraze.

Each Phrase receives on more a main Pitch section, a 12/24 dB filter and its 128 (128 !) points envelop, a 128 points amplitud envelop, 4 LFOs, an effect to choose among 24 (reverb, delay, flanger, chorus, eq, wha-wha, disto, phaser), two auxiliar envelops which can be easily assigned to almost all things, a resolution and a little arppegiator. I think I haven't forget nearly something ! A Phrase + all those parameters = a Patch. A Patch can use up to 4 different Phrases you will switch from one to an other one by a stupid Program Change, among each other.

In the hierarchy, above the Patches, is located the Combi which is a combination of 1, 2, 3 or 4 Patches ! I let you imagine what can give 4 Patches comprenant de 1 à 32 samples, 4 Phrases, 6 parameters of each Phrase being able to be modulated, and sended through a filter + envelop, an amplitude envelop, 4 LFOs, an effect and an arpegiator, and which most of the parameters can be on more controlled by any source, all in real time and synchronized.

From there, all is possible. You can dream of a synthetic background which cutoff and resonance evolve in time + a drum pattern + a bass playing a melodic line + a lead synth fully independant on the 2nd mid-part of the keyboard. Or else, of an unprecedented sound constituted by 4 « oscillators » completely different and each one living their own life. In short, the possibilities are unlimited.

A word about the integrated Explorer. it allows to navigate between Combis, Patches, Phrases and Samples and to assign an element to an other one with a simple right-click. It kills.

At this level of discovering, you could already shout at yourself « houla, what a beautiful animal ! ». Ya but no, Xphraze réserve still some surprises to you.

XXL powerfulness !

As it wasn't enough, Xphraze has also at its disposal a rather furnished Master section.

Let's start by what Steinberg pompously named Synthèse Vectorielle. It is in fact about a joystick as we used to have on some synths like the D50 and which makes the mix varying en sortie des 4 Patches. Except that here, the joystick movements can be automaticated via an envelop, modulated by the 4 LFOs, all being able to be looped.

Then comes the Xmode function which allows to use 4 keys of the Midi keyboards per Patch from a Phrase to an other one. Great for Live performance

There is much better ! The Xmix mode transforms on more your Midi keyboard into a control surface ! In this configuration, a large first section of the keyboard is dedicated to the control of the software (on/off of the Patches, key transpose, trigger of the phrases) while the second one functions normally for Lead play for example. In short, Xphraze is also built for Live performance, the more so as the software is particularely stable and that any bug seems to assert it.

To end with the Master section, let's quote the Setup with its main adjustments proposing particularly the Resampling Quality parameter. If the difference between Best and Good is ridiculous at hearing, your CPU will on the other hand suffer from your choice !

Also available, a Master FX section, proposing an effect rack for each Audio output (total : 4) with its 11 effects, reverb, delay, flanger, chorus etc.

And at the right side of the Advanced interface is located the Multisample Mapper which is the tool with which you will load your own samples in Xphraze.

Conclusion in short XPhrazes

Uh well, I rather think that I've succeeded in brockening fresh ground Xphraze in 2 pages only ! I will conclude by saying that Xphraze is a success in all its conception, rarely I've been so much surprised by a software ! Here's an original software, really creative and with infinitate possibilities, well-developed, powerful, ergonomic as soon as you know where to go and which doesn't suffer apparently from any bug. Steinberg's challenge was to merge in a same software the DJ's, the musicien and the sound designer worlds, the bet is a success. The price to be paid is an important CPU use with some Combis.

Conclusion : to be tested urgently, PC and MAC demo version online here...

See ya soon, here or somewhere else ,o)

  • Pros : The possibilities of sound AND musical creations, the quality of the furnished sounds, the originality, the powerfulness, in short, ALL !
  • Cons : makes me cruelly know that I have to upgrade my PC.

  • Sounds : 18/20
  • Ergonomy : 18/20
  • Quality/Price rating : 18/20
  • Editor : Steinberg
  • Distributor : Steinberg-France

  • Host applications : Cubase VST 5.1 or higher, Cubase SL/SX, Nuendo 1.5 or higher, or another host compatible with VST 2.0

  • Minimum required :
    • PC : CPU : Pentium III, Athlon 600 MHz (800 MHz or higher advised) - RAM (Cache) : 70 MB RAM in addition with the host application's needs - Operating system : Windows 2000/XP - Sound card MME or ASIO (ASIO suggested)
    • MAC : CPU: Powermac G4/400 MHz (500 MHz advised) - RAM (Cache) : 70 MB RAM in addition with the host application's needs - Operating System : Mac OS 9 and OS 10.2 - Sound card with ASIO driver

  • Price according to : 249 €uros (with VAT at 16 %). Contact your distributor or local retailer

Pascal VALENTIN, on the 08-09-2003

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