With the Roland VP-330 fast approaching its 35th birthday, XILS Lab releases an emulation of the celebrated vocoder-synth, including a number of modern updates.
The recent flooding of the synth emulation market has caused consumers to become justifiably cautious when choosing where best to spend their money in order to find the perfect outboard substitutions for their setup. How many more Minimoog and TB-303 emulations can we possibly need? XILS target a different niche, providing emulations of quirkier and, to a point, lesser-reproduced and rarer synthesisers. This time, they turn their eye to Roland’s VP-330 synth/vocoder, well known for its work on many 80s film scores, including Vangelis’s incredible Blade Runner soundtrack.
The original VP-330 used ‘top octave divider’ oscillator architecture to generate sounds, essentially allowing the synth to provide 49 notes of polyphony (one for each key) without the need to stabilise and tune 49 separate oscillators. The approach has been replicated in V+: a single square wave oscillator generates the required high frequency, which is then divided down into frequencies from which individual note waveforms are created. Despite providing a stable and reliable way to create polyphony, the original VP-330 was unable to provide polyphonic attack – not a massive issue, but certainly an expected feature of modern synths. XILS has fixed this issue; along with adding other welcome updates.
XILS have shown a great eye for detail during the construction of the UI on the V+, mimicking the original Roland layout to an impressive degree. I found that navigating the synth was straightforward and intuitive. In keeping with the theme, there are four red rocker switches to the right-hand side of the instrument that allow the user to navigate between the new additional sections of the V+. The original VP-330 controls remain static underneath the changing second shelf of added Mixer, Arp and Modulation controls.
The addition of a dedicated mixer section, arpeggiator, three onboard effects and a modulation routing section certainly help bring the VP-330 up to modern expectations. XILS did a wonderful job with the choice and creation of the onboard effects in particular. Phaser, reverb and stereo space complement the V+ sound in both the vocoder and voice/string ensemble modes. I’m so impressed by the reverb and stereo space effects that I’ve even been using the V+ as a dedicated effects plugin for other sound sources. While the built in phaser is capable, it’s nowhere near as impressive as the other two.
Another useful addition to the V+ is the insertion of a dedicated filter control within the synth. Whereas it wasn’t deemed essential enough to be included on the original VP-330, I saw it as a necessary inclusion in the plugin, increasing the synth’s versatility and adding an extra dimension to the sound.
While the synth modes are easy to use, I found the implementation of the V+ in its vocoder state to be trickier than anticipated. However, XILS do provide step-by-step YouTube tutorials that break down the necessary steps to integrate it into your DAW. Once the initial learning curve has been overcome, creating unique and instantly useful patches is simple and intuitive. V+ also excels at creating much more subtle, less abrasive effects than most other vocoder plugins.
The V+ really excels when creating strings and voice ensembles. With the current vogue for 90s house, the synth is capable of creating luscious string pads which, when soaked in reverb, can provide the spark for retro tracks in the vein of Bicep or Citizen.
At its launch price of €99, V+ is great value for money (although note that you’ll need an eLicenser or iLok to use the software). Providing excellent vocoder emulation, outstanding string/voice sounds and some impressive effects, it’s a definite step up from many stock DAW attempts at similar analogue sounds and a highly versatile synth for just about any style of music.
Purchase: XILS Lab V+
The Final Word
A versatile vocoder and string/voice synth at a very reasonable price.