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Native Instruments FM7

Manufacturer: Native Instruments
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided DigiFreq with a NFR unit of this product for review.
Reviewed by Scott R. Garrigus
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In 1983 when the DX7 synthesizer from Yamaha hit the market, FM (Frequency Modulation) synthesis became all the rage among musicians. It even got to a point where you could actually recognize DX7 sounds within many of the songs on the radio. As the popularity of FM synthesis grew, it spawned an entire line of FM-based synthesizers including the DX100, TX802, TX81Z, and more. Eventually, the novelty of FM synthesis wore off and it got buried in the entourage of modern synthesis methods and sampling. But now with the release of the new FM7 software synthesizer from Native Instruments, FM synthesis is becoming popular again.

FM7 is part of Native Instrument’s Vintage Line of software synthesizers. This new soft synth gives you access to all the power and glory that is FM synthesis. FM7 allows you to emulate (and even surpass) the sounds of the entire Yamaha line of FM synths including the DX-7, DX7-II, DX11, TX81Z, DX21, DX27, DX100, TX802, and even the new DX-200. Not only that, but you can load any of the presets from these synths into the FM7. That, my friends, is outrageously awesome! There are literally thousands of FM synth patches floating around on the Net, and with the FM7, you can use them all. Just to test out this feature, I tried transferring a few of the patches from my TX81Z (yes, I still have one of those hardware units) to the FM7, and it worked perfectly. As a matter of fact, the patches sounded better when played by the FM7 because of its 32-bit resolution (the TX81Z hardware unit only provides 12 bits) and 64-voice polyphony.

Adding to the FM7’s modern feature flexibility is the fact that it can run not only as a stand-alone program, but also as a plug-in within the following environments: Steinberg’s VST 2.0 and ASIO, Cakewalk’s DXi, Digidesign’s DirectConnect, and Mark of the Unicorn’s MAS. FM7 also provides a built-in virtual keyboard so that you can play the instrument and test out sounds with your mouse without having an external MIDI keyboard controller connected. The rest of the interface has also been modernized in comparison to the hardware-based FM synths. Of course, you still have buttons, knobs, and sliders, but manipulating these controls on a computer screen is actually easier. Plus, the on-screen graphs are much more flexible since you can simply point, click, and drag with your mouse.

Because of these interface improvements, programming patches for the FM7 is much easier than it would be for any other FM synth. And while FM remains a complex form of synthesis, Native Instruments has developed a remarkable new feature called the Easy Edit Page, which allows most would-be programmers to create their own synth patches without having to delve into the complexities of FM. Native Instruments has managed to simplify FM programming to a point where only knowledge of timbre, timbre envelope, lfo, output, and amplitude envelope are needed.

Of course, to create truly unique sounds, you’ll need to delve further into the FM7’s programming capabilities, and if complexity is what you want, then you won’t be disappointed. Not only does the FM7 provide all the programming features of past FM synths, it goes above and beyond by providing a number of advanced features that allow you to create sounds never before thought possible in the realm of FM synthesis. Most notable is the ability to create your own algorithms. Up until now, FM synths only provided a fixed set of algorithms from which to choose. With the FM7’s programming matrix, you can create a virtually infinite number of algorithms to use as the starting point for your FM7 patches. In addition, while the original DX-7 only used sine waves for operator waveforms, the FM7 provides up to 32 different types of operator waveforms from which to choose.

FM synthesis was popular for a reason. It brought a fresh, new sound to the music scene. Even though that sound became a bit stale, FM synthesis never really died. And with the FM7’s advanced capabilities, not only can you explore FM synthesis as it was before, but also its future possibilities. The FM7 provides advanced programming and flexibility, all within an easy to access package. Now most any musician can explore this reborn realm, and thanks to the FM7, FM synthesis is back, baby!
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