Fresh on the heels of their blockbuster-worthy teaser video, the sonic juggernauts at Output have just released their second instrument, which goes by the name of Signal. Relative newcomers on the scene, Output is the Los Angeles-based creative force behind the highly acclaimed instrument, REV, which they released in 2013. REV quickly gained popularity amongst producers for its unique approach to sound design, and seemingly out of nowhere, solidified Output as heavy-hitters in the industry. A year and a half has passed since REV shook things up, and now it’s time to see if Output’s sophomore invention can live up to the exceedingly high standards which they set with REV. Or, if perhaps they’ve raised those standards even higher.
What is Signal?
Signal, as described by Output, is “The World’s most powerful pulse engine.“ Certainly an intriguing tagline, though I will admit, I wasn’t quite sure what a “pulse engine” even was, nor was I aware a worldwide ranking system existed. But after spending some time with Signal it quickly became apparent just how accurate this tagline is, both from a sonic characteristic perspective, as well as from a more pragmatic perspective. Simply put, Signal’s pulse engine is not only responsible for sculpting its sounds, it is also fully capable of affecting the pulse of those who dive into its architecture and begin to realize just how powerful an instrument it can be.
However, in thinking of how to write a review of this instrument, I am inclined to believe it might be easier to describe the molecular structure of Pluto than it would be to describe Signal in full. Let’s start with the basics. At its core, Signal is a sample-based instrument that runs inside of Kontakt or the free Kontakt Player (version 5.3.1 or higher). It contains a mammoth 40gb of content, which is spread across a factory library containing 500 presets. It is available via digital download, which is handled through the Continuata Connect Download Utility. The price of admission is $199, or $348 when bundled with REV.
- Factory library of 500 presets
- 40gb of sample content ranging from analog synths to organic and acoustic sound sources
- Pulse engine syncs to master clock
- Up to four pulse engines can be combined per patch
- Uses step sequencers, arpeggiators, loopers and LFOs to create pulses
- Global as well as insert effects per engine, including a proprietary convolution reverb
- Advanced mode for deep editing of all synthesis parameters
Immediately upon opening an instance of Signal you will notice an expertly crafted, well thought out GUI. The various parameter sections are laid out in a clearly defined hierarchy, with each knob, slider and menu receiving consideration to color, contrast, placement and style. You will also notice two pairs of sliders, which flank the central power button, and mimic the soundwave-style graphic acting as the letter “I” in Signal’s logotype; a nice touch which reveals that Output has put equal emphasis on the way this instrument looks and functions, in addition to how it sounds. Another welcome UI feature is the inclusion of a “?” button, which can be found in the upper right corner. A simple, yet often neglected feature of many instruments, which, when clicked, will display an overlay menu describing each function of the instrument. And believe me, when it comes to Signal, this will most likely be a button you reach for as you begin exploring its vast architecture—particularly once you’ve entered “advanced” mode.
The Factory Library
As previously mentioned, Signal ships with a staggering amount of factory presets—500 in total. While this may seem like a daunting library to navigate, Output has included several features to help target specific sound characteristics, which can help you stay in the zone by mitigating the need for endless clicking while searching for the “right” sound. First, the entire library has been organized with a curated tagging system, which you can use to help narrow down specific presets based on sonic characteristics (Dirty, Organic, Epic, Low, etc.). You can even narrow down presets based on specific time structures (1/4 note, triplet, syncopated, etc.). In addition to Signal’s helpful tagging system, is the inclusion of an information window directly below the preset selector, which displays a brief description of the particular preset you have loaded. Often times, this description will even include a tip on how to use that preset—such as, “The sustain pedal is your friend,” or “Macro 1 adds a ton of depth. Lots of sub too!” And now that I’ve seen this feature in action, I find myself wishing more instruments in my library had it!
Okay, Signal looks great, it contains a vast amount of content which is surprisingly easy to navigate. Now comes the hard part—describing Signal’s sound, and what it has to offer to your productions. Simply put, Signal is a fire starter; capable of inflating your “song ideas” folder in exciting new ways. Just strolling through the factory presets made me acutely aware of my record button’s proximity. Patches range from intricately rhythmic arrays, to organic soundscapes. The deeper I journeyed into the factory library, the more possibilities I uncovered, and again, that “pulse engine” moniker became more apparent. I went from hearing the complex syncopated rhythms of Thom Yorke, to searing synths of a Bassnectar flavor. One minute Signal can sound like its sole intent is to annihilate a dance floor, to sounding like what I would imagine an alien lullaby would sound like. It can travel through genres on a grand scale, reminding you it doesn’t belong in your one-trick-pony plugins list. And when you think you get the gist, drop your master tempo down to the 60-70 BPM range, and Signal’s pulses—which are all synced to your master clock—will take on a new character. What was once a perfectly-suited complextro lead now becomes something different, musical in a new way, which may find itself as the backbone of an !llmind-inspired production.
As a reviewer it is my responsibility to approach each review with scrutiny and an objective mindset in order to help you make an informed decision. However, once in a while a product will appear that simply doesn’t offer any bullet points on the complaints list. Signal is one of those products. Output has created an incredibly adept instrument—a virtuoso of rhythmic sound design, which has quickly earned itself a permanent home at the top of my Kontakt libraries list. This is certainly a company to keep an eye on in the future!