Arturia Matrix 12V Review: With brilliant analogue modelling of some of the most legendary synthesisers, Arturia has produced a flexible software version that is affordable, easy to use, and sounds great.
Established in 1999, Arturia have grown to become one of the most well respected names in the music software world, having developed a succession of impressive emulations of well known and hugely desirable analogue synthesizers. Such behemoths as the Moog Modular, ARP 2600 and CS80 have all found themselves on the French team’s workbench, stripped down and analysed in minute detail, prior to them being virtually replicated, component by component.
More recently, the company have turned their attention to the hardware side of things with excellent results creating in demand analogue synths (the MicroBrute and MiniBrute), alongside tightly integrated controller and software bundles (such as the Spark Drum Machine). Despite this foray into the ‘hard side’, they continue to push forward on their software line with the recent release of a few new synth plugins, including ‘Matrix12 V’ an emulation of Tom Oberheim’s classic ‘Matrix 12’.
For those who’ve experienced eLicenser (as employed by Arturia on previous releases), it is time to breathe a sigh of relief. The donglebased licensing and software piracy prevention system is now a thing of the past (as far as Arturia are concerned), with the introduction of the new Arturia Software Centre (ASC).
ASC greatly simplifies the process of installing, trialling, activating, updating and registering Arturia’s various products on your system, all from within one simple software tool. In practice, the process is a breeze a simple matter of installing ASC (a small package, downloaded in seconds), logging in and allowing it to synchronise with the Arturia servers to pull down all your associated licence information. Register any product (using the serial number and unlock code), hit the ‘Activate All’ button and away you go.
The interface is simple and clean, and updates are alerted to, and installed from within the same window (here I can see an update to Matrix12 V has just been released, and is ready to install).
Another very welcome offering is that Arturia now allow you to install and activate any licence on up to 5 separate machines a godsend for those of us that work in multiple locations and/or on different devices.
Firing up the plugin, I was eager to see just how Arturia would have laid out the interface. Naturally I was expecting a faithful aesthetic representation of the real thing, but was hoping for clever and considered enhancements in software that would make up for any workflow disrupting deficiencies in the original unit.
The Matrix 12 is a deep and complex piece of hardware with enormous routing power and a wide potential for sound design to me, striking the right balance between authenticity and user interface enhancement is key to nailing the emulation. In the Matrix12 V, Arturia have mostly succeeded in this aim. Firstly, they have emulated every aspect of the original underlying hardware, but carefully reorganised the interface with rearranged panels for the various editing areas, and added sensibly placed knobs and dials to augment the original unit’s buttons. It’s a matter of personal taste whether or not you prefer the busier look and feel, as it is quite an assault on the senses in the early stages of getting to grips with things. A ‘compact’ mode would have been a nice touch here, for those who just want to explore the presets whilst getting a feel for the machine. However, with time comes familiarity and the placement of the various parameters and sections makes more and more sense.
The modulation page is right in the centre of the window, which makes for a natural home as this really is the heartbeat of the machine, and where you will really start to make it sing. Setting a modulation ‘page’ is as simple as choosing any parameter, which then assigns this as a ‘destination’, and then selecting the source ‘modulator’ as well as the range of modulation. An overview of all current modulations can be seen at any time by clicking the ‘MOD.’ button in the lower panel.
The number of modulation pages has been doubled for the emulation, meaning there are now 40 as opposed to the original 20 providing even further scope for sound design. A subtle, yet welcome addition.
The quality of Arturia’s recreation of the SEM meant I had high hopes for the Matrix12 V. Like the SEM, Matrix12 V uses Arturia’s exclusive True Analog Emulation (TAE) technology. This, they claim, ‘recreates the characteristics of analog oscillators in amazing detail’. We hear this all the time of course everyone’s analog engine is ‘amazing’ and ‘faithful’ to the original hardware. However, after firing up the plugin, and spending a couple of hours playing with the veritable mountain of presets on offer here by default, it is hard to argue. The rich, warm analog feel comes through in droves, and never feels like it has been forced into shape by some kind of fixed, pleasing ‘smile’ EQ in the signal path. The soft clipping engine in TAE is excellent, and the overall roundness and thickness of the sound as it passes through is right on the money. There will of course be endless debate about whether it sounds like the real unit either ‘nowhere near’ or ‘close enough’ are the two default stances in such matters, and having used virtual synths extensively over the past 16 years, I fall firmly into the latter camp these days.
Pads one of the areas in which the original hardware excelled are beautifully recreated here, with a vibrancy and warmth that is immediately satisfying. From warm, sizzling analogue textures, to lush, ethereal, pulsating scifi soundscapes the range that you can coax out is simply huge. I especially liked how well these sounds ‘sat’ in the mix, and aside from some subtle highpass
filtering, it was a rarity that I felt the need to reach for an EQ to force them into position. Similarly with lead and brass sounds, the sonic character is wonderful, without any hint of an artificial sheen on things.
At the lower end of the register, bass sounds move from round, warm and fat, to in your face fizzy electricity. Whilst the presets are eminently usable at this end of the spectrum, I suspect this is where many will begin their first bit of tinkering with the parameters that sculpt the sound. The synth simply begs you to reach for the cutoff and various filter types to tweak after dialling in one of those huge sounding bass presets.
Switching the machine into Multi Mode throws up even more possibilities. The ability to layer and split voices, or assign ‘round robin’ zones leads to a huge amount of fun making everything from epic stacked leads, to subtle organic pads that move over time. Using the standalone version of the plugin, this mode also presents a very attractive option for performance playing.
Here we can see a huge saw patch across 12 voices, in 3 separate zones (which span the length of the keyboard with no splits). The first zone is a unison mode and assigned to voices 1 to 4, then 2 more zones, each of 4 voices but in a ‘round robin’ arrangement, which means every time a new note is played, the next voice is triggered (and each voice has subtle variations to pitch/volume/pan).
Arturia have also, as expected, added an integrated effects section with 6 effect types to choose from, 2 of which can be placed in series. The effects are of a very high standard, and the only downside is that they cannot be used separately in your DAW as an effects unit in their own right (although this could be something we will see in a future update). The ‘Analogue Delay’ is simple, but full of character perfectly suited to the kind of sounds the synth produces, and used carefully can blend in a very desirable ‘‘wash’ to pad sounds. Whilst the reverb won’t have you looking to bin those Bricasti and Lexicon units you have taking up space in your studio, its rather colourful character does lend itself to the era in which the keyboard appeared, and in that sense it can work wonders for certain genres of music.
All controls on the Matrix12 V are MIDI assignable, and this is particularly useful in standalone performance mode, where you can pre-configure your controller to map to the parameters you choose for a live show, for example.
At the time of writing there seems no method to import patches from the hardware synth itself. So, if you are the lucky owner of the original, and were hoping to export patches and import them then you are out of luck (for the time being no word yet on whether this feature is forthcoming although other products in the range do offer this functionality, so let’s not rule it out!).
What you have here is a monster of a synth, with oodles of character, that is incredibly flexible. Simply diving into the presets without even so much as twiddling a virtual knob will keep you busy for a very long time. Creating your own patches is intuitive in terms of how the interface is laid out, and a lot of fun, but getting to grips with the modulation pages does have a learning curve and can be perplexing in the early stages.
To some extent the Matrix12 V is a ‘slow burn’ whilst simply surfing the presets, and twiddling with the filter knobs will immediately impress, it is only after a few hours of use that the real beauty of this synth begins to shine through. There are so many layers, so many routing options available that it is impossible to digest the sheer mountain of sonic opportunity on offer in such a short amount of time. In the early stages this can be bewildering, but the rewards are there in abundance if you persevere.
The TAE’s simulation of all those little analog imperfections is genuinely believable and adds to the realism, and overall Arturia have done a hugely commendable job of recreating not just the architecture of the original, but also the character.
On the negative side, there are few things to note but happily none which could be considered a showstopper. Firstly, and most annoyingly, I did experience a few stuck notes during testing, particularly in the standalone version. On the CPU front, usage is higher than I would have liked or expected it to be, particularly in Multi Mode, and when switching between some patches there is an audible glitch which can be quite distracting when you are ‘in the zone’. Finally, the ability to import patches from the original would be a nice touch, as would the ability to use those effects independently. I’d expect Arturia to address these issues with future updates, and maybe introduce an economy mode to lower CPU use for tracking.
I think it would be a pretty safe bet to assume that there are very few people reading this review who owned the original unit, the rare and esoteric beast that it is. Secondhand prices for the hardware tend to be upwards of £4500, and one would imagine that with such an excellent emulation, Arturia will shift a lot of units at the very reasonable 169 Euros asking price. However, the Matrix12 V becomes quite simply a no brainer when bought as part of the ‘Arturia V Collection’ where it is bundled with 12 other extremely high quality synths (including the Moog Modular, ARP 2600 and the wonderful Solina) for 399 Euros, effectively pricing each synth at only 30 Euros. If you don’t own the other plugins, I would strongly recommend taking them for a test drive and getting your wallet ready, because at this price, they are an absolute steal.