Review: Zebra Ultramarine by MIDIssonance

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Zebra Ultramarine is a hugely versatile soundset, covering a plethora of classic synth categories, but in a very modern way. Both workhorse patches and more stand out presets are programmed with a highly skilled nuance, taking full advantage of some of the more complex features in Zebra and ZebraHZ.

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Review: Zebra Ultramarine by MIDIssonance

MIDIssonance is a talented sound designer and synth programmer who we are big fans of here at SLR (check out our glowing review of his Omnisphere bundle). Up to now we have only seen sound sets for Omnisphere from him, but Zebra owners can now enjoy his filmic aesthetic with the release of Zebra Ultramarine.

Zebra Ultramarine sells for €19.95/ €29.95 from MIDIssonance

Thoughts

After spending just 5 minutes auditioning presets, it was clear that this is a really rounded collection. All the powerful features of Zebra are in use, from the complex rhythmic engine to the near limitless wavetables, all refined with intelligent programming of the powerful Zebra FX. This results in a wide range of sounds covering rhythmical elements, pads, basses and leads.

Categories

 

On the instrument side there are some great ‘real’ sounds, including a reverb drenched piano with a lovely ping that can make it a feature instrument in a cue. The Leads are also really inspiring and I fell in love with this awesome patch called Bantam.

Bantam Preset

It has this nice organic but also still a bit retro synth vibe that is best played arpeggio style. There is some clever work going on with the oft-neglected oscillator effects plus FM run through a vintage saturated filter. A good dose of delay and reverb with the modwheel set up to open filters and this is synth heaven for me! The rest of the leads are just as good and using the modwheel can cover plenty of ground, from dreamy and mellow to bright and aggressive.

The Basses are sometimes bouncy, other times dark, powerful blasts of subsonic energy. Some even pulse and it’s really cool to see the useful MSEGs put into action. On Bellcow hold the note down and the custom envelope modulates the filter and the wavetable to give a really distinctive morphing pulse.

Bellcow MSEG

There is plenty of fun to be had with rhythms in Ultramarine also. The Arps all have the modwheel in heavy use so your sequences can really take on an evolving life of their own. There is gritty, plinky plonky, FM style bell and beepy digital sounds – plenty to choose from. One thing I really like about all these presets is the attention to subtle details. For example, in the Tappan preset below the LFO is gently modulating the pan of the FM oscillators and it means the sequence meanders across the stereo field in a sublime fashion.

The Basslines continue this theme with evolving characteristics and lots of modwheel action that keep the lines animated and alive. Again it is a really broad collection of sounds, from dirty and throbbing, to simple underscore style to gentle bubbling. For the latter he uses a brilliant technique of only activating the first few arp steps and then letting the delay takeover as it runs through the rest of the sequence, resulting in a phrase that softly echoes away until the pattern repeats.

The Sequences, more than any other category, evoke genres to me. Some are pure horror/suspense, whilst others are urgent action thriller. There is some cool percussive stuff here too with fierce attacks that will punch through dense mixes. As in other patches in Ultramarine there is some skilled use of the modulation maps to quite randomly vary wavetables, filters and more.


Tappan Preset

The last major section are the long pads and drones. There are sounds in the Pads folder to suit all sorts of requirements. There are a few bright, ethereal patches and other darker, grittier textures. Call Again is a lovely preset, with a slight detune and dirty filters that Boards of Canada would be proud of. All of the pads have intuitive mod wheel programming that opens up the sound. A stand out patch and one I hope MIDIssonance expand on in future releases is Make or Ruin. This is a lush, soft pad that then blooms over time and becomes a galloping rhythmic pulse. In essence it is less of a normal pad and more of a modern scoring tool.

Make or Ruin Preset

The soundscapes come in two flavours. Textures Atmospheric are all quite eerily sci-fi and full of surprises if you hold the note down. This futuristic and slightly metallic tone is continued into the Textures Playable, which lend themselves well to chordal or simple melodic playing, occupying the elusive hinterland between a pad and a soundscape. Some fairy extreme mod wheel programming on certain patches can really make them swell dramatically with crunch and guitar feedback type sounds.

There is the option to purchase the ZebraHZ set too if you have that particular synth. This basically ‘remixes’ all 120 presets to take advantage of the special features in ZebaHZ. In the example below all three filters are replaced with the more vintage analogue sounding versions taken from the Diva synth by u-he.

ZebraHZ

There is not as much difference between the two versions as some sound designers like to do in their ZebraHZ versions. Mainly what changes is the replacement of the standard filters with Diva filters, which gives each patch a darker, grungier and more retro synth sound signature. Personally, this sound appeals more to me so I would probably use these versions as my first choice. For what is a small additional cost I would definitely advise getting the ZebraHZ bonus pack as they give you the ideal solution if you need a more saturated and punchier version of the original preset.

There is so much amazing stuff going on in Ultramarine and it is attention to detail that really pays off here. Even the descriptions are thoughtfully done, often advising on the best way to play each patch for maximum effect and explaining the modwheel usage. There is a good mixture of workhorse sounds that just slt wonderfully into existing parts and also ear catching feature sounds that could be the central focus of a cue. The overall signature of this library is not dominated by any one theme and by eschewing any particular style means it can provide great synth sounds for a wide range of uses. I would say though that this is geared far more for film, TV, game and trailer composers, as opposed to electronic artists unless you specialise in more ambient or neo-classical styles.

I love how many of them constantly evolve with or without the modwheel. At first I was critical of the near nonexistent use of the powerful XY pads, but honestly the modwheel does so much beyond the typical filter opening that I did not miss them at all.

Zebra seems to be especially favoured by media composers possibly down to just how flexible it can be. It can do natural organic to blend with real orchestral instruments all the way to digital dirt for more electronic cues. This is demonstrated incredibly well by MIDIssonance in this soundset. Zebra Ultramarine is a superb debut pack for the u-he classic and I cannot wait to hear what comes next.

Facts

Zebra Ultramarine consists of 50 rhythmic presets, 40 pads and drones and 30 instruments. You will need a copy of Zebra to use them and also a copy of ZebraHZ if you buy the bonus pack.

Zebra Ultramarine sells for €19.95/ €29.95 from MIDIssonance

 

Demos of Zebra Ultramarine by MIDIssonance

Videos of Zebra Ultramarine by MIDIssonance

 

Contributor Sam Burt reviews Zebra Ultramarine by MIDIssonance
“Zebra Ultramarine is a hugely versatile soundset, covering a plethora of classic synth categories, but in a very modern way. Both workhorse patches and more stand out presets are programmed with a highly skilled nuance, taking full advantage of some of the more complex features in Zebra and ZebraHZ.”