Review: VC-SSS-3 & SSS-Polysynth by Square Saw Sound

by

One very rare and one classic synth are given a deep sampling, providing plenty of authentic future retro sounds for the vintage synth fan

Jump to the Videos of VC-SSS-3 & SSS-Polysynth by Square Saw Sound

Jump to the Demos of VC-SSS-3 & SSS-Polysynth by Square Saw Sound

 

Review: VC-SSS-3 & SSS-Polysynth by Square Saw Sound

Square Saw Sounds are a brand new company who, judging by their double debut release, will have a clear focus on the deep sampling of vintage analogue synths. With a wealth of superb soft synths out there that, in my personal experience, come very close to modelling the real deal, the sampling method is not the obvious choice when bringing these types of sounds to the DAW. However, it is the purest way and arguably offers an authenticity that algorithms will never quite achieve. It also means very unusual synths that might not ever get cloned in software form can live on and give the user something special. This is exactly what Square Saw Sound have done by sourcing one of only 30 EMS Polysynthis in existence and then going to the other extreme and creating a VI from one of the classics – the EMI VCS3. They have gone to town in getting a huge variety of sounds out of these machines and putting them in an easy to use Kontakt interface and also keeping them as WAVs too, so you can easily directly pull sounds into your DAW if you prefer.

VC-SSS-3 & SSS-Polysynth sells for £99 each from Square Saw Sound

Thoughts

I will explain some of the shared features before exploring some of the distinctions in the sound between the two. Both come in 4 main categories – loop machine, multisamples, SFX and multisample presets.

The loops give hundreds of sequences selectable by a preset pulldown. All of them are straight 16ths, which could have been varied a little for more interesting sequences. The multisample NKI patches again consist of a huge number of presets, ranging from pads to ring mods and heavy LFO pulsing to pitch vibrato. Essentially these are settings from the original machines that Square Saw Sound have programmed and then sampled across a number of octaves, note by note. Browsing them however reveals one of my main gripes with this library and that is the preset box has no left or right arrows and instead you have to pulldown and navigate to the next one, which after a while becomes laborious. It would be far quicker and more intuitive to simply flick through with arrows or make them into proper snapshots.

The SFX category has a different slice of analog synth chaos on each key and there are two whole banks of this per synth, thus giving the user what is technically known as ‘a shedload of mad noises’. This is the patch to load when your hard to entertain 3 year old niece comes round – simply sit them at the keyboard and let them go wild! Even for adults it is lots of fun, though on a serious note I do find placing these Radiophonic Workshop type noises into compositions particularly difficult – they are just a bit too wacky for me. The VC-SSS-3 even has its banks inspired by the original patches Delia Derbyshire created while at the BBC on her own VCS3 for shows such as Doctor Who.

The final category is multisampled presets, which divides a large number of NKI patches into ambient, bass, filters, keys, leads, pads and FX, depending on the synth you are using. I am not sure why these could not appear with the normal multisample NKI in the pulldown, but possibly it is because some of them seem to make heavy use of the Kontakt effects. They seem a bit more instantly gratifying and arguably more complex then the main multisamples. Some of them were certainly inspiring and led to quickly coming up with new musical ideas.

In terms of the GUI it is simply laid out with some great graphics that reflect the colour schemes of the hardware counterparts very nicely. At first glance this might seem to suggest different functionality, but it is actually the same for each instrument. We have the main page which gives control of filters, envelopes, limiter, stereo width and tape saturation.

Next up are the effects, comprising chorus, delays, reverb and a host of other ways of manipulating the raw sounds. Be aware that some of these are switched on by default. I would have preferred the authentic raw samples with no FX. I know delay and reverb gives them a bit of life, but for this type of instrument I think it is better to start with them pure and leave the end user to add effects.

Finally there is an arp page with a simple but more than adequate ability to add some sequencing to the sound. Some pattern presets might have been handy as it can be a fiddle to draw in precise patterns, maybe something for an update? The arp works great on any of the non pad multisamples, as the loops and SFX by their nature do not always take so well to this rhythmic approach.

As much as both of these synths share many features within the GUI they could not be more different in sound. Appearing at the end of the 70s and with EMS in financial difficulty the Paraphonic EMS Polysynthi was a commercial flop and could never compete with polysynth classics like the Juno 6 or Prophet 5, but it does have its own sound and a unique delay feature built in. The SSS-Polysynth is distinctly lo-fi and raw, sometimes sounding a bit like an 8-bit computer game (in a good way). The SFX and pads especially conjure up a dusty sci-fi mood. By contrast the older EMS VCS3 (or ‘The Putney’ as it was nicknamed) arrived at the dawn of smaller and affordable synths in the late 60s. The VC-SSS-3 represents this classic mono synth superbly and brings it to the modern day by enabling polyphonic playing. The basic sound is bold and powerful and due to the ability to create FM synthesis it also reveals a number of otherworldly delights as you move into the sound effects patches. Overall it is a more versatile and ‘expensive’ sound in my opinion. Check out some Brian Eno and Jean Michel-Jarre tunes to get an idea of the types of sounds as both were notable users of it. It was also immortalized by Pink Floyd on Dark Side of the Moon.

It should be noted one of the limitations of sampling synths is that when loaded in Kontakt (or any other sampler) you then rely on the sampler’s factory filters, envelopes and LFOs to morph the sound as opposed to software synths which will have bespoke filters etc to recreate the whole synthesizer chain in it’s entirety. What Square Saw Sound are offering here is the sound of their curated hardware presets, which can then be further manipulated in the Kontakt engine. Therefore if you seek the pure sound of either of these synths you would not touch the GUI at all and instead keep searching presets until you find something that fits. To an extent you are stuck with the sounds they have created, so this is not a great product if you like to design synth sounds from scratch. On the purist note it would have been good to have some real detuning on some patches – both of these sound like well maintained machines, but sometimes it is nice to have a bit of organic wonkiness. Maybe on the next synth they can do a few patches before the engineer gives it a tune up!

There is no doubt that both these synths offer some really unique and expertly crafted sounds that instantly take you back to the retro future. The GUI for both is also great to look at and to use. It will be of interest to electronic artists and to composers who like to inject a good dose of vintage synth into their work. You are also getting great value for money in some respects, as a quick search revealed both of these going for 5 figure sums on the secondhand market! However, I feel it is really let down by a poor method for navigating the source sounds – you either have the cumbersome pull down or must sift through numerous NKI patches via the multisample preset folder. If they could break it down to one single NKI for each synth, incorporate snapshots and a tagging search system I think it would be vastly improved. That said, if you are on the lookout for extensive and meticulous sampling of two very different vintage synths and can be patient with finding sounds you want, then the VC-SSS-3 and SSS-Polysynth are well worth investigating further.

Facts

SSS-Polysynth downloads as 8.58 GB and VC-SSS-3 as 4.85 GB. All samples were recorded at 32bit/96khz and converted down to 24bit/44.1khz for delivery. Each instrument has hundreds of patches, sequences and presets. For more detailed information check out their great website that also has plenty of background on the heritage of the original synths.

VC-SSS-3 & SSS-Polysynth sells for £99 from Square Saw Sound

 

Demos of VC-SSS-3 & SSS-Polysynth by Square Saw Sound

Videos of VC-SSS-3 & SSS-Polysynth by Square Saw Sound

 

Contributor Sam Burt reviews VC-SSS-3 & SSS-Polysynth by Square Saw Sound
“One very rare and one classic synth are given a deep sampling, providing plenty of authentic future retro sounds for the vintage synth fan”