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August 1, 2006

The heart of Octopus''s control panel is the 10-by-12 Oscillator Matrix, at the top left of the graphical user interface.

LinPlug Virtual Instruments has garnered a well-deserved reputation for producing great-sounding instruments with out-of-the-ordinary architectures. Its latest release, Octopus ($149), is no exception, and in keeping with tradition, the company has also enlisted some of the best synth programmers around to fill it with nearly 630 presets.

Octopus can be purchased directly from LinPlug ( A 53 MB download is available for immediate use, with a CD and printed manual to follow. The instrument comes in VST format for Windows and VST and AU formats for Mac OS X.


Octopus, dubbed a hybrid synth, combines several synthesis methods. First, it has eight oscillators (hence the name) as well as a multisample player that can hold eight samples mapped across nonoverlapping key zones. The multisample player is rudimentary but useful for adding a little spice. The real action is in the Oscillator Matrix, which allows any oscillator to be routed as an FM modulator of any other oscillator, including itself.

You can also use the Oscillator Matrix to route the oscillators to two identical 18 dB-per-octave, resonant multimode filters as well as directly to the output mix. The filters can be routed to each other and mixed in any proportion in the output, making possible virtually any combination serial-parallel signal path. Each of the filters can also be routed back as an FM modulator to any of the oscillators. In short, Octopus is a very flexible FM synth.

The oscillators are additive, with individual level and phase settings for 32 harmonics. Furthermore, Octopus can perform a spectral analysis of any WAV or AIFF file and create a 32-harmonic additive oscillator waveform from it.

Octopus's signal path ends with four effects arranged in series: chorus, stereo delay, reverb, and 4-band parametric EQ. Additionally, the amplifier stage houses a distortion effect and has a LoFi Waves option for emulating early FM synths.

Enveloping Strategies

Modulation in Octopus is accomplished almost exclusively with breakpoint envelopes. In particular, it lacks any LFOs and, unfortunately, has no provision for MIDI remote. However, host automation is supported for all knobs and buttons. You can have as many as 32 envelopes, and user configurability of breakpoints, curves, and loop boundaries eliminates the need for LFOs.

Octopus's envelopes can target most synthesis parameters (effects settings are an exception), and although the setup takes a little getting used to, it's fast and flexible. An Envelope Matrix determines the synthesis object (oscillator, filter, or sampler) to which the envelope is routed. The envelope type, set in the Envelope editor, determines which parameter of the target object is affected.

Envelope breakpoints are created and moved onscreen with the mouse, and the curve between adjacent breakpoints is also set by dragging. Each envelope has its own keyboard and Velocity scaling settings along with optional scaling by MIDI. The selection of MIDI messages is limited but includes Modulation Wheel, Pitch Bend change, mono and poly Aftertouch, and seven Control Change messages.

Steppin' Out

In addition to its envelopes, Octopus has two 32-step, eighth-note pattern sequencers. The pattern sequencers are actually more like a cross between an arpeggiator and a pattern sequencer. Each position can be off (no note triggered), set to a value between — 24 and 24 (triggering a note transposed from the lowest MIDI note held), or set to sustain the note triggered by the previous step.

The pattern sequencers will grab as many voices as necessary, limited to the preset's polyphony (which is set by the Voices parameter and maxes out at 12). That results in polyphonic patterns for presets with long decay times or when both sequencers are running simultaneously. In the latter case, you can produce intricate, nonrepeating patterns by varying the pattern-length, transpose, shuffle, random-mode, and ping-pong-mode settings (see Web Clip 1).

Stayin' In

One of the great things about LinPlug products is that they offer a rich palette of sounds for the tweak averse. If you don't want or don't have time to program your own presets, you'll find plenty of great sounds by Big!Tone (BT), ProSounds (PS), Summa (SUM), Tim Conrardy (TC), and Outsiderz (OZ) in Octopus's 16 factory preset banks.

The Ambient, Fx, and Pad banks contain a variety of slowly evolving textures. The Bass, Digital, Keys, Lead, Plucked, Semireal, Synth, and Voice banks all contain playable sounds in the indicated categories. Percussion is covered in the Drum, Bells, and Percussive banks, and sequencer and envelope patterns are well illustrated in the Moving and Seq banks. You can download a demo of Octopus, which includes a cross section of presets, from the LinPlug Web site.

Value (1 through 5): 4
LinPlug Virtual Instruments

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