Review: Cycle by Slate and Ash
Ability to almost infinitely manipulate and combine samples and loops
Can import samples to create your own sounds and rhythms
100 preset engine states that can be used to design and customize your samples
User patches can be saved and accessed in the Library tab
Hundreds of configurable preset patches to get you started
Massive potential for experimentation
Nothing else quite like it on the market
Can literally spend hours playing with sound
Hard to nail the right sound if you're looking for something specific
Interface is not immediately intuitive
Intimidating if you're on a deadline
Preset patches are not particularly inspiring on their own
With the never-ending barrage of new ‘cinematic’ instruments vying for your pocketbook, Slate & Ash stand out from the crowd. They have created a unique musical instrument that can provide endless sounds and inspiration. If you’re a ‘noodler’, a working film or TV composer, or an electronica/EDM producer, you’ll find something that will certainly ‘float your boat.’ The fact that you can import and manipulate your own samples, makes this almost a must have for many.
Jump to the Videos of Cycle by Slate and Ash
Jump to the Demos of Cycle by Slate and Ash
Review: Cycle by Slate and Ash
Remember Spitfire‘s Phobos? When that instrument was first released, many, including myself, bought it. But since, lots have relegated it to their archive pile. In forum surveys of products that people regret buying, this one ranks right up there. Mostly that’s due to the complexity of the product and the newness of Spitfire‘s proprietary interface. That’s a pity because it’s actually a very musical and useful tool, IF YOU INVEST SOME TIME in learning how it works.
Well, Slate & Ash’s Cycle instrument takes this to another level. Infinitely programmable and ‘tweakable’, Cycle will challenge you. But if you SPEND THE TIME, it will reward and delight you. It (along with Phobos), have become mainstays of my production and composing work. In fact, it figures prominently on my most recent Trailer album!
Cycle sells for £229 from Slate and Ash
I suppose I could spend plenty of time explaining Cycle’s various and detailed features. But to be honest, while I’ve been using it daily since I first got it, I have by no means delved into the stygian depths of its programming. So I’m not the most qualified to give you a detailed run-down on the details. (There is an excellent Overview video on their site that lays out the basics. Link below.)
There is so much that you can do to manipulate and transfigure the onboard sounds (from what I understand some 10,000 different sample bits), it’s actually quite intimidating. Add to that, the possibility of importing your personal sounds and samples and you can understand my basic con. It’s not a failure or a lack in the product itself (like so many that will not be mentioned!). But to get something really musical and worthwhile out of it, takes some commitment and time.
Happily, the developers have made using Cycle simpler (not necessarily easier). There are over 140 presets in various categories (Rhythms, Movements, Keys, Plucks, Bowed etc) that can be used right from the get go. Of course, you can import your own samples. (Frankly this always sounds more attractive than it often is. Many times it’s because we don’t have the same quality samples nor the processing power that developers have access to.) It’s a pretty simple operation. You just drag and drop your file anywhere on the Cycle interface. The developers provide 100 synth engine presets. What that means is once you import your sample, you can use these engine presets to start the creation of your new sound. But that still needs time and attention on your part to get the best out of the process. Unless you’re looking for a serendipitous discovery, which is also not a bad way to go about it actually.
The developers have created a unique way of representing the sequences or loops you use and/or create. Rather than the bar and numerical style we’re so used to in other software synths, Cycle shows what’s being played in a two dimensional grid of blocks. As you play a sequence, what is being played can be viewed as it ‘cycles’ (Get it?) through the blocks. Of course, each block is programmable. You can add more elements and process them with all the filters and effects you need. These can be viewed and changed on the X/Y grid that
is another view option. Again, I would refer you to the Overview video for a run-through of what is available. Then it’s up to you!
One thing I’d like to mention is that the demos on their site page are not that inspiring. While the writing is certainly fine, I don’t feel that they accurately represent the potential of Cycle. Of course, this is not unique to this company. I’ve found that many products form other companies feature demos that don’t really do justice to the product itself. That’s too bad, because most people when deciding to plunk down some 370 USD for product, listen to the demos to see what the product can do! They want to feel inspired and compelled to spend their money. Sadly, developers don’t always provide the ear-candy that would justify the expense in prospective buyer’s minds. So don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t judge Cycle by it’s demos!
BTW, companies! When listening to a demo to see what the potential of it is, I don’t want to hear massive taiko drums, string passages or basses from other products. I want to hear them ‘naked’. That is the product itself. That will give me a much clearer picture of what I can do with it and whether it will fit into my musical space. I’m sure others feel the same way! (rant for the day!)
FYI, there’s a couple of good user videos on YouTube showing some of the potential.
As I mentioned earlier, I have by no means delved into or even used many of the deeper functions. So far, I’ve tried to balance time investment with music needs. And I’ve been pretty happy with the results. Did I say, it’s already figured prominently in my latest work?
As someone who’s always on the lookout for something sonically interesting and musical that I can make part of my. unique sound, I can’t think of a better endorsement for this product.
189 preset patches
100 preset synth engine states
494 sound designed loop sample sources
2.8 GB compressed samples
Works in both the free Kontakt 6.2.2 Player of the full Kontakt 6.2.2
No manual at the present time
benefits from a current powerful CPU (I recommend a recent i7 or i9 4 to 8 core)
Cycle sells for £229 from Slate and Ash
Contributor MCR reviews Cycle by Slate and Ash
“With the never-ending barrage of new ‘cinematic’ instruments vying for your pocketbook, Slate & Ash stand out from the crowd. They have created a unique musical instrument that can provide endless sounds and inspiration. If you’re a ‘noodler’, a working film or TV composer, or an electronica/EDM producer, you’ll find something that will certainly ‘float your boat.’ The fact that you can import and manipulate your own samples, makes this almost a must have for many.”