It’s 2017 and Logic Pros is back! We’re continuing down the ever-expanding rabbit hole of music creation on Mac and iOS this year with product reviews, tutorials, tips/tricks for Logic users, and much more. That includes a weekly installment (starting with this one!), and an upcoming Logic Pro X 101 guide for beginners. 

Virtual instrument maker Output has been on a roll lately releasing hit after hit for Logic Pro X producers. Its vocal-synth engine, Exhale, is fantastic (more on that down the road), not to mention the rest of company’s innovative and easy-to-use products like Movement, Signal and REV. But today, it’s all about that bass…

Substance is the company’s latest offering. The bass synth engine, available in AU format for use as a virtual instrument inside Apple’s Logic Pro, combines a fully featured suite of modulation and sound design tools with an extensive library of sound sources. We have seen a trend in the virtual instrument space towards offering users as much freedom as possible right at the base level and as many sound sources (or oscillator waveform types) as possible. And this is certainly one of Substance’s strong points.

Substance offers up a nice routing/modulation system seasoned producers will certainly appreciate, along with the company’s usual flair for macro controls, but it can also be a great option for less experienced music makers. Substance comes packed with 300 presets right out of the box. All of which feature macro controls to create movement and tonal changes, along with effects and other elements that can be customized. Output has created another great interface as well, making it simple to fine tune parameters and easily follow the signal path across the instrument.

A sound or patch can be made up of as many as three layers in Substance, each with its own sound source, effects, EQ and more. The simple color system makes it easy to follow the layers through each of the editing tabs you’ll find along the top of the UI. Simple but effective.

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The User Interface:

The Main tab houses your 4 macro controls (more on these below), which can control as many as 6 different parameters each, volume controls for each layer and the ability to quickly swap out the sound source on any of the three layers. As mentioned above, Substance features a wide array of sound sources that can be loaded up on each layer and there are some fantastic options here. There are 9 banks with 9 options each. From basic synth tones, subs, horn/orchestral samples and unique rings, to odd percussive hits/stabs and organic bass guitar-like waveforms, the layering options are boundless. This was easily the highlight of the instrument for me.

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The Edit tab is where you’ll find all of the basic trigger options on a layer by layer basis including the ADSR, pans, tuning and more. Another really nice touch here is that you can even set each layer to play as a monophonic or polyphonic sound, which can result in some very interesting layered patches. That Advanced tab along the bottom has the Glide parameters, Velocity Sensitivity and Key Range options.

Moving to the right, we have the EQ tab with 3-bands for each layer and a global EQ down below, which controls the sum of all three layers. The Filter tab is similar with three multi-mode filters for each layer followed by high and low pass Global filters. The filter types are quite extensive here as well. You have everything from basic 2/4-pole low/high pass options right to the more specialized Formant, Phaser and aggressive resonance (Daft) options.

Modulation/Effects:

The much appreciated trend of color coated layer dedicated controls continues through the FX and Rhythm tabs as well. All of the usual players are available on a layer by layer basis or on the global level when it comes to effects. I’ve come to really appreciate the extensive drive options and the Pitch plug-in as I began to create my own sounds with Substance. The Screamer drives can really add a ton of presence to your bass sounds on the Global level. And the layer Pitch effect can almost act like its own auto-modulation bot, allowing for everything from subtle pitch deviation to drastic bends and flutters.

Substance makes use of a singular modulation source system (an LFO or a step sequencer). Otherwise known as the Global Rhythm modulation, it can be configured as a multi-step sequencer with inversion controls and swing or a “draw-your-own” LFO shape (click the ‘custom’ button) and more.

The idea of having only one modulation source may sound a little bit limiting to some at first, me included, but just relax. In the end I found it forced my mind to think in different ways, to solve creative problems from a unique perspective and left me pleased with the sonic outcome. I mean how many custom wavetable synths with 750-million LFO’s, sequencers, wave shapers and envelopes do I really need? In a post-Massive/Serum (and others) world, Substance’s approach here is definitely a welcomed change for me. We also have a pretty deep Macro control system allowing for as many as 6 different parameters to be controlled by each of the 4 Macros on the Main tab. Those faders can be fully automated, meaning you can “modulate” or change up to 24 parameters at once.

The interesting effects, stacked “re-mod” Flux parameter and over 80 sound sources allowed me to create patches I simply wasn’t doing before Substance.

Output’s unique Flux parameter has also made its way into Substance. Found in the Global modulation rhythm section, Flux allows for additional deviations in the global modulation rate. It is basically an additional step sequencer you can drop on top to add fluctuations to the Global rhythm modulation LFO or step sequencer pattern. So while Substance does have “one modulation source”, it’s really not that simple considering the aforementioned Pitch effect, Flux and Macros.

The Arpeggiator is also a nice touch. While there is nothing overly notable about it, the multiple patterns and deviations there provide a multitude of rhythmic options. A perfectly serviceable arp indeed, and when used in combination with the Macros we can get some pretty complex poly-rhythms going. Which is arguably another layer of “modulation” available here.

Audio Examples:

Here are a few tracks we have been working on featuring Substance. You’ll hear the bass engine carrying the bottom end nicely, along with contributing a host of flourishes, horn sounds and even some polyphonic tones. I found the three-part layering system in combination with the instrument’s signature-sample based sound sources a great way to create rich, layered bass sounds, as mentioned above. I was able to create loads of custom bass patches that had a really strong, subby base layer topped off with some unique and higher-end character tones:

Should you buy it?

In my (extensive) hands-on time with the instrument I found its sample-based sound sources to be a real treat, offering up loads of different tones that were notably different than your typical synthesizer waveforms. While in some cases I was unable to dial-in some of the synth bass patches I am most familiar with, the trade-off is a series of tones that react in unique and sometimes surprising ways as the signal carries through the rest of the synth engine (modulation, effects, etc.)

While at times I did miss having multiple modulation sources that can be assigned to anything at my disposal, Substance’s unique approach to modulation and morphable sound sources more than made up for it. Substance– with its interesting effects, stacked “re-modulation” Flux parameter and ease of use–  strikes a fantastic balance between something new and something immediately familiar.

Substance goes for $199.99 and works inside of both the main and free Kontakt players for Logic Pro X and all major DAWs.

The Logic Pros are: Justin Kahn and Jordan Kahn, who also front Toronto-based electronic/hip-hop group Makamachine.

Want more Logic Pros? Check out the archives here and stay tuned for a new installment each week in 2017.