Review: Diva Genisys & Repro-5 Atrea by Sonic Underworld
Perfect for cinematic composition
Great range of sound types
Modern aesthetic with a nod to the past
Lots of standout, signature presets
…and plenty of ‘workhorse’ and layering sounds too!
The Genisys pack is curated by Luftrum
Sound designer supremo Sonic Underworld pushes u-he Diva and Repro-5 to their cinematic limits with a new pair of stunning sound sets – Genisys and Atrea. A wide range of sound types, created with a nuanced ear for modern scoring, provide inspiration for composers and electronic producers alike.
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Review: Diva Genisys & Repro-5 Atrea by Sonic Underworld
Over the past few years u-he synths have continued to dominate the landscape when it comes to using synths in cinematic scoring contexts. Some of this is due to how well their particular sonic qualities and brilliant onboard FX seem to marry so well with both orchestral and sound design elements. But another huge driving force has been sound designers creating incredible sets for them that are inspired by both iconic and modern uses of synth in cinema. One of these such sound design experts is none other than Stephan Baer, AKA Sonic Underworld.
In two of his latest releases he uses u-he’s most analogue cloning synths as his canvas and paints us a picture of dark ominous galaxies and epic, exciting adventures. Luftrum jumps in for the ride too, curating Genisys for Diva.
It is worth noting at this point, if you have not come across the work of Sonic Underworld before, that these sounds are definitely not your typical EDM, pop or hip hop fare. They are much more focussed on scoring to picture or for more left field electronic artists (which for me basically means they are way cooler, less clichéd and far more interesting!).
Atrea consists of 150 patches for the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 clone, Repro-5 and it is influenced by bands such as Air and composers like Joseph Trapenese. We begin with some tremendously evocative Atmospheres that are generally quite bright and work best on the upper keys. Some of them feature modwheel and aftertouch to help create movement to the sound, which I always appreciate, often by opening up the filter or adding more reverb.
The Basses are powerful and deep. Many have a good bit of dirt dialed in like Frantaz, which incorporates both hard clipping and the onboard overdrive unit to great effect.
The FX reveal some skilled sonic mangling and I liked how some of them were actually quite playable if you wanted pretty wild lead sounds. The Keys are one of my personal highlights in this pack; there are some excellent takes on organs and vintage keys which retain a good amount of organic realism, with just the right amount of synthetic magic. Some of the soft pianos had me noodling away for ages into a nostalgic future-past!
The Pads are, on the whole, quite soft and many incorporate a decent amount of movement, either already programmed into the patch, or via modulators. Importantly, there are some very useful bread and butter pads, which can often be quite hard to find in sound designer collections as they often veer towards making more innovative and complex sounds. We all love these more experimental creations of course, but sometimes all you really need is something a bit more simple yet still exquisitely designed. Morbidium is a great example of this; a beautifully smooth string pad, with the modwheel controlling the delay mix and aftertouch used to ease in a gentle nudge on the high frequency gain.
There are a great number of pulses in Atrea, more so than is typical for Sonic Underworld and it is a welcome move. It’s a varied range from reverb soaked bleeps, to gated and pitch diving basslines, to glitchy percussive rhythms. Some are quite simple straight patterns, whilst others are much more experimental, which is all the more impressive when you consider Repro-5 lacks the dedicated sequencer of it’s brethren, Repro-1.
We wrap up this collection with a plethora of Synth patches that embrace the retro quality of the software, but bring it firmly into modern cinema with liberal use of saturation, delay, reverb, EQ and stereo width. This gives them instant appeal as sounds that both standout brilliantly as signature sounds and also act as inspiration for melodic playing. Dazz shows this off very well, with its gliding and unison stacked sawtooth waveforms and open filter just begging for a huge feature performance!
Moving on, we have Genisys for Diva which has the added bonus of having been curated by fellow synth wizard, Luftrum. This collection is all about contemporary analogue, so listen out for nods to Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow, Daniel Lopatin and Tangerine Dream. In the Arps there are plenty of enveloping cascades of sparkling waveforms, some with the less often used alternate panning engaged. However, it was the slower arp-pad hybrids that got me most excited, with their gently undulating waves; more of these please Stephan! There are only a handful of Atmospheres, but their rather neutral character makes them useful for a wide range of scoring and sound design.
The Basslines are huge and driving affairs. Windhammer is a beast, coming at you all grubby round the edges with the modwheel opening up the filter and aftertouch on the resonance, topped off with a tasty syncopated delay. Nice.
The Basses continue this big and dirty feel and they cover three main types really well – long powerful sustains, deep plucky punches and slow attack brooding behemoths (check out Sentient!). This is where the grungy filters of Diva and their many different types really come into their own.
The Pads are arguably the standout section of Genisys. They vary from lush, to glassy, to others with gentle movement. I have found that much of the success of a great pad patch comes in how well it translates across the octaves; do they have the flexibility to work as low drones as well as high shimmers, and if you are writing a track and need a pad to build with the composition, can you start out around middle C and expand the sound higher and lower? I am happy to report that these really do nail that with aplomb! It was especially refreshing to see the digital oscillators get pushed into action on many of them, giving rise to pads that are less obviously ‘vintage analogue’. Vanavondt was one of many I was saving to my preset favourites.
Here we have a multisaw and sine synced triangle wave through the distinctive bite filters with a very slow attack. The voices are stacked and slightly detuned and all of this is fed through the plate and phaser. The end result is a gloriously rich, epic string type sound and with the modwheel controlling vibrato I am eager to try this out layered with real string samples in a hybrid context.
By contrast, the Pulses provide impetus and excitement. They all employ the digital oscillator and share a strong percussive element alongside the main tone. The Synths cover lead type sounds and anything that does not really fit into any other category. We have stuff here that is warm and pretty all the way to quite bright and digital. There are some really signature sounds in here for the discerning composer and plenty of the type that I love playing arpeggio patterns with; these typically showcase a distinctive attack with a lush tail that bleeds nicely into the next note. The titular Genisys patch sums up the whole collection rather well actually.
The digital oscillators here give that modern tonality, but it’s softened by vintage filter emulation, made more analogue with deft voice detuning and given a good dose of widescreen girth with the chorus and delay. A small number of FX and Soundscapes round out this collection and move us into atonal, and dissonant pastures; the latter providing a dystopian counterpart to the more ethereal Atmospheres.
Both of these preset packs cement Sonic Underworld’s reputation as one of the best sound designers around for modern cinematic softsynth presets. They share similar aesthetics and influences, with Atrea sounding a bit more traditionally classic synth, likely due to the fact that Repro-5 lacks the more flexible engine of Diva. It is generally more direct and punchy, whereas Genisys seems to be a bit more nuanced and with a more expansive sound. The latter is also curated by Luftrum; this adds that critical second pair of golden ears that might be what helps elevate Genisys from very good to outstanding.
These would be a very welcome addition for many composers, whether you work purely with synths, or in a more hybrid context. Electronic leaning artists will also find much in there of interest. If you do pick it up I encourage you to check out the ‘usage’ notes for each patch, as there is always some user modulation built-in and it’s not just the modwheel opening the filter. Sometimes the percussive elements can be isolated, or there is some detuning to an oscillator, or aftertouch controlling vibrato. This is never overdone either, so you can really push modulators around and still stay classy.
It’s actually quite hard to see where Stephan Baer might go now as he seems to have really mastered these very cool, emotionally charged, modern film score type sounds; Genisys, for me, is possibly his greatest achievement in that regard. Maybe we’ll see something quite different next time, who knows? We’ll have to wait and see for now, but rest assured SLR will be the first to let you know!
Genisys consists of 140 presets for u-he Diva and Atrea has 150 patches for u-he Repro-5. Both are NKS compatible with NKFS files included. You will of course need a copy of the synths in question to use these products. Please note that the Genisys soundset is only available on Luftrum’s website.
Contributor Sam Burt reviews Diva Genisys & Repro-5 Atrea by Sonic Underworld
“Sound designer supremo Sonic Underworld pushes u-he Diva and Repro-5 to their cinematic limits with a new pair of stunning sound sets – Genisys and Atrea. A wide range of sound types, created with a nuanced ear for modern scoring, provide inspiration for composers and electronic producers alike.”