In an industry so rife with well-endowed customers prone to buying and selling new equipment more often than most people change their socks (Gearslutz anyone?), any company with the gumption to state its new product as something “You'll Actually Use” right in the official product name is begging for an epic dressing down on principle; however, French developer Arturia isn't just any company. From its humble beginning as a soft synth developer many moons ago, Arturia has gone on to develop some of the most affordable, beloved performance tools and synthesizers (both soft and hardware based) in the industry, and won a legion of devoted fans in the process. Furthermore, the company has taken the occasional “dressing down” in stride and quietly incorporated often passionate user complaints into soft and firmware updates across its whole product line. While I've said it before in these pages, few subsections of the analog vs digital debate will raise more inflamed discussion than talk of filters and preamps. With its two newest products, “Les Enfants Terribles” from Arturia gleefully kick this exact same hornet's nest.
Current Eurorack junkies and traditional recording engineers have a lot more in common then they might know. In the same way, the former will tell you an oscillator is only as good as the filter following it, the latter will make the same claim about mics and preamps. Having spent a great deal of time with devotees of both realms, I can confirm these statements to be the truth—though the subtleties of both would be lost on the average punter in a club in most cases. For any players and singers who have the pleasure of actually making music using these sought-after tools, or these newest emulations from Arturia, the difference will be immediately obvious.
3 Preamps emulates the Neve 1073, Trident B, and UA6176, including the respective EQ and tone controls of each. While I only had the UA hardware to compare to for direct review purposes, there is no question Arturia has hit the circuit modeling out of the park with this latest set. Whether strapping the emulations across an input for vocal or instrument recording or placing one on each track during mixdown, the preamps added a warm, buttery gel to everything I threw at them, and at such a laughably low CPU and memory resource level to make them truly everyday workhorses. Those familiar with the real hardware will also be pleasantly surprised at how well these emulations capture the subtleties that each of the pieces have become known for over the years (the subtle rounding of the low-end in the 1073 or the smooth darkening of the highs in the 6176, for example). As icing on the cake, all three preamps offer the option of running in M/S (mid/side) mode, a trick long employed in mastering studios to add emphasis to individual instruments based on their placement in the stereo field (driving the side channel slightly with a preamp can add sparkle to high hats and percussion, for example, while driving the mid or center channel can add presence to lead vocals or weight to kicks and bass).
3 Filters adds extensive modulation options, including wide frequency LFOS, envelopes, and step sequencers, to three of the most sought-after filters money can buy from Moog and Oberheim. While software emulations are more plentiful in this case, Arturia is the first I'm aware of to decouple them from the confines of the complete synths that traditionally house them, and are to be commended for preserving the undefinable mojo of each in all cases. They scream, drip, and plunge into bowel shaking depth and face melting weirdness in all the right ways, and are perfectly worthy of their hardware namesakes. There is a thick almost saturated quality associated with Moog filters that really allows any sound you process with them to cut through a mix. Similarly, Oberheim filters have a warm blanket quality they tend to imbue on any pad or string parts you feed through them. Arturia has really captured these signature sounds beautifully.
For a great many years, Universal Audio and Softube have ruled the roost in terms of near perfect hardware circuit modeling. With the release of these two new sets, Arturia has proven itself a truly worthy competitor and stepped into the big leagues.
Are they (as they have been so boldly named) in fact 3 preamps and 3 filters you would actually use? After a few days living with them, my personal answer is an emphatic yes. Add to this a price point which sits at a fraction of all of their hardware and software competitors, and both packages enter the realm of “buy on sight."