Tweakbench VST Instruments Review: A little lot

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Tweakbench, the website owned and stocked by Aaron Rutledge, holds some of the most interesting free VSTs on the internet.

If you’ve ever worked with powerhouse synths, like FM8 or Massive, you know that they’re extremely versatile.  Rutledge’s idea is just the opposite.  He’s created over 14 synths that are relatively limited by themselves.  However, when these VSTs are combined with others, they turn out to be a decent toolset.

Carillon

Carillon is labeled as a “chime synthesizer”, and it does just that – to a minimal extent.  Although there’s a few knobs, the only ones really worth touching are the controls in the “Chimes” group.  These settings will actually change the timbre of the instrument – or at least they’re supposed to.  Unfortunately, the synth doesn’t really allow the user to change how the chime sounds, apart from the ugly atonal and lo-fi sounding chord it starts out with.   “Strike” is a fancy way of labeling the attack, “length” is the sustain, “ring” is the release, and “loudness” is the master volume.  So, besides the creatively labeled ADSR controls, the only knob left is “metal”.  Upon first listen, the control seems to add harmonics.  However, I found that it’s actually just cross-fading between a sample of the bell with no harmonics, and a sample of the bell with all harmonics, instead of gradually building up the base note.

The effects are pretty decent, but they’re not anything that I can’t already do with basic effects packaged with most DAWs.

Carillon isn't worth the download

Carillon isn’t worth the download

Dropout

Dropout is a crossbreed between a generator and an effect.  Very similar to FL Studio’s Grossbeat, Dropout modifies a source sample’s time position and pitch.  Even with its sparse controls, a surprisingly good deal of modification can be done with Dropout.  Users can create a variety of experimental sounds by simple drawing  The drawbacks to this program reside in the “load sample” option.  The fact that users need to load a static sample, instead of using dynamically created sounds can limit creativity.  Furthermore, Dropout only allows the usage of “.wav” files, which can result in some annoying trips to Audacity.   Still, it’s a very unique program, and totally worth the download.

Totally worth the download

Dropout is totally worth the download

 

Field

Field isn’t really a synth – it’s an ambiance generator.  Besides usage in some wacky avant-garde performance piece, I can’t really see where I could implement Field in normal production.  Field has 9 different looped ambiences, which can be mixed together, and then equalized with a simple EQ.  They’re all interesting sounds, but they don’t really do anything that I couldn’t already do by downloading or recording an ambient sample, rendering the download a little unnecessary unless you’re looking for a quick soundscape.

Field doesn't do much and isn't worth the download

Field doesn’t do much and isn’t worth the download

 

Monomate

Monomate is aptly a monophonic synth that utilizes a wavetable consisting of a saw to square wave.  Tweakbench says the VST excels in retro basslines and shrill leads – which is true.  However, Monomate doesn’t do much else.  There’s a lot of fun knobs to play with, and it sounds just like you’d expect, but complex sound design isn’t possible with Monomate.  Despite its limited capabilities, it’s worth trying out.

Monomate might be simple, but it's super fun and worth the download

Monomate might be simple, but it’s super fun and worth the download

Padawan

Padawan is a (you guessed it) pad synth.  It’s UI consists of the same minimalist look we’re used to, but this time with more buttons that you’d expect on a VST.  It’s pretty standard – two oscillators, with ADSR, filters, and modulation, along with oscillator mix and reverb and chorus effects.  What makes Padawan different is the second oscillator.  Instead of the general sin, square, or tri wave selection, Padawan offers waveforms like “bass”, “strings”, and “oooh”.  Combined with oscillator one, and some reverb, Padawan shapes up to be one of my favorite Tweakbench VSTs.  The sounds are certainly limited, but the noises that you can produce are absolutely ethereal.

Definitely get Padawan.  It's a great VST.

Definitely get Padawan. It’s a great VST.

 

Papaya

Papaya is another bellish VST – and it’s very similar to Carillion.  The base sound is different, but the controls are the same besides the fact that Papaya lacks a reverb section.  It’s meant to be used as a mallet instrument, but Papaya generally just doesn’t sound very good.  There is a little more room for sound design than in Carillion, but the end result is still a very ugly chime noise.

It's basically Carillion

It’s basically Carillion

 

Peach

Peach is another super-simple lead VST.  It differs from Monomate in its “wave” section, where notable NES waveforms have been added.  Although the only useful features besides the waveform are ADSR, portamento, and crush, Peach is a must for nostalgia seekers.

Unfortunately, because Peach is essentially a sampler, the sounds are limited to the provided samples.  This means that Peach really isn’t a good option for 8-bit artists who want to create their own noises.  Regardless, Peach is a nice tool to have just in case you need a specific retro sound.

Very cool noisy thing.

Very cool noisy thing.

 

Pippo

Pippo reminds me of my old Casio keyboard from my childhood.  It’s horribly tacky, and I love it.  Pippo consists of voicing, filter, and chorus tabs, with the same easy to understand interface.  The voicing tab consists of a few odd controls that modify an initial sound.  Sadly, you can’t change the starting sound, but you can modify it a bit with the voicing controls.  I would have loved to see some options to control the timbre a little bit more; Pippo has some very cool modification tools, but it’s difficult to create a unique sound with so few options.  Still, the limited assortment of sounds it does produce are quite entertaining, so wouldn’t pass up the chance to try Pippo out.

Not many options, but still a fun instrument

Not many options, but still a fun instrument

 

Rebar

Rebar is one of my favorites, mainly because it actually gives a fair amount of options.  Although it’s one of the more complicated user-interfaces, Rebar is just as easy to pick up.  The instrument has a basic ADSR and effects panel, as well as an X-Y control grid.  Most importantly, Rebar’s sound generation relies on a wave drawing panel.  Finally!  A way to customize the waveform.  Besides being a superb tool for creating unique waves, I would imagine that Rebar could be a great tool to help children visually understand waves, and how different waveshapes sound.

Oddly, Rebar comes with its “warp” knob turned up.  This decimates the sound, making the wave generally unintelligible.  I like to turn it down, and listen to my pure drawn wave, before making any adaptations.

Rebar offers some excellent wave-drawing tools

Rebar offers some excellent wave-drawing tools

 

Ritual

Ritual is a difficult instrument to explain.  It’s certainly a bass synthesizer, but it’s waveforms are a bit odd.  Oscillator 1 has the option to choose between square and triangle, while oscillator two can be a blend of either supersaw (yeah, supersaw) or crushed sine.  Those options alone are pretty awesome.  Oscillator 1’s standard shapes define the sound, while oscillator 2’s crunchy noises make for some extremely fat basslines.

The LFO, envelope, and modulation sections are extremely powerful.  The envelope and LFO can modulate a selection of settings, like cutoff and pitch in manner that is very reminiscent of FM8’s operator matrix.  These settings provide for immense flexibility and fun sound design.  The only drawback is that the modulation matrix has routes labeled cryptic acronyms such as “FBDL”, “1SHP”, and “1PIT”.  For the average user, these letters won’t be understood, and actually have to be used to understand what they mean.

Ritual actually has a total of 4 oscillators, but only two are named such.  It has “sub”, which is a very simple pure sine wave generator, and “noise”, a white noise generator.  “Sub” is great for getting a nice low-end presence, and “noise” is great for filling in the high-ends.

Ritual is the most customizable synth in Tweakbench’s suite, and I highly recommend giving it a whirl.

Ritual is an awesome bass synth

Ritual is an awesome bass synth

 

Tapeworm

Tapeworm holds a special place in my heart.  I used it to create the lead instrument on the very first song that I was proud to show others.  When disconnected from warm memories, Tapeworm isn’t exactly all that impressive.  It’s another sampler VST with 5 different mellotron-esque sounds, my favorite being the flute.  It has some simple ADSR, tuning, and a
“tape” knob that slightly decimates the sound while adding a soft hissing noise.

Tapeworm isn’t by any means a synthesizer.  It’s definitely a very shallow sample bank, so it’s usefulness depends on the user’s needs.  I give it a thumbs-up, but download based on your own desires.

Nice mellow sound, but might not fit your needs

Nice mellow sound, but might not fit your needs

 

Toad

Another sampler!  But a very nice one.  Toad is the percussive counterpart to Peach.  It packs nearly 50 accurate replications of NES hits and drums into one small DLL.  It’s great for the 8-bit musician – just don’t use the Mario noises for your Dubstep drops.  That’s too cliché.

Toad is a great batch of samples, but it's not terribly useful to those outside the retro music realm

Toad is a great batch of samples, but it’s not terribly useful to those outside the retro music realm

 

Triforce

Triforce is like a combination of Monomate and Peach.  It allows for some basic synthesis, while retaining the NES vibe.  Triforce is extremely simple, consisting of only a square and triangle oscillator set, along with noise and some basic settings.  Overall, it’s not terribly impressive.  I would recommend a download if it could create unique sounds.  However, Triforce is simple enough to the point where its noises can be generated from a generic plugin that came with your DAW.  It’s only valuable feature is how imperfect its sounds are, which is helpful if it’s being used for a retro song.  Otherwise, something like 3xosc will do.

Triforce can be replaced by most bundled DAW synths

Triforce can be replaced by most bundled DAW synths

 

Verdict

Tweakbench makes a fun and lovable set of tools.  They’re not all fantastic, but most are charmingly unusual enough to merit good usage.  At Senntenial, we always recommend supporting authors of free VSTs.  You can download all of Tweakbench’s VSTs for free here.  Alternatively, you can skip downloading individual files, and download the whole package for $5.  You’ll receive all the VSTs in a bundle, along with the samples used in Tapeworm, Peach, and Toad.

Note: Minerva was left out as I couldn’t get the VST to work in my DAW.  I will update the article if the issue resolves.
This article covers VST instruments by Tweakbench.  Tweakbench also produces VST effects which will be reviewed in a later article.

 

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