Arcade is a new cloud-based software instrument from Output that offers an ever-expanding subscription-based loop synthesizer, while also allowing you to use your own loops. The plug-in can be used with most DAWs (AU, VST, or AAX), and is compatible with Mac OS X 10.9 and up, or Windows 7 and up (64-bit). Install was pretty painless, and I was up and running quickly. The user interface is clean, uncluttered, and visually appealing with a futuristic look. I found the program to be very intuitive and it was easy to find whatever I was looking for. Arcade's browser groups the content into Lines (which is akin to a master library), Kits (much like presets in a library), and Loops (building blocks for all the kits). You can audition the audio in your project's tempo and key before adding to your session, or use the search window to search based on keywords, etc.
As Arcade is cloud-based, you don't have to worry about additional hard drive space for storing every sample that's available - you just download what you want. Downloaded samples are then available locally, and accessible in Offline mode whereby streaming is not required. Like other cloud-based apps, Arcade is a subscription service. For $10 a month you are given access to all of the sound packs in Arcade, which, as of my writing, numbers 19. That breaks down into over 20,000 loops and thousands of kits. There are new additions daily available via the Arcade plug-in, and they are currently offering a free 100-day free trial, so it's a no brainer to download the app and give it a test drive. I personally think the subscription rate is a bargain! For composers under a deadline and limited budget, Arcade is like a loop synthesizer and library that you can easily mold to create quick original compositions.
Set up is quick, and though I was able to get rolling without referring to the manual, Output recommends reviewing the Quick Start Guide and checking out their Walkthrough video online - these will help you get the most out of Arcade. Each kit is made up of 15 loops laid across the keyboard with the white keys dedicated to playing loops while the black keys allow you to modify the loops. You engage sliders (mod wheel, etc.) to alter the character of the loops. Loop editing functions can be accessed at the bottom of the white key that each loop is assigned to. Here you can adjust the start and end of the loop, crossfade, volume, pan, pitch, direction, and filter. This window also allows you to set the level of your FX sends to either pre or post mode. In the Advanced tab you will find the original key and tempo of the loop. The ability to sync to tempo and select the key of loops is a huge upside. I liked that I could easily match the key of my project or choose a relative key for some interesting harmonic blends.
Arcade goes further by using key switches to allow you to play loops in various pitches on the fly. I was able to play a static synth note and create a cool melodic line just by using the key switches, plus the mini keyboard icon in the upper right corner of the window illustrates it for you in real time - so flexible! This feature alone really helped make these loops work with my musical ideas. I usually find loop-based products to be so restrictive, that I often feel I'm working my compositions around them, but not so with Arcade.
There is a macro overview page where you can edit parameters associated with each kit's macros. These vary depending on the kit. For example, one kit had Space, Parallel Dirt, Filter, and Pump as controllable macros. You can assign these macros to MIDI controllers or just use your mouse to change up the sound. The macro parameters can be edited in more detail by clicking the icon under the mixer icon to the left of the full keyboard.
The mixer page has a channel strip for each loop with two sends, along with pan, volume, and solo. Effects available include chorus, compressor, multi tap delay, stereo delay, distortion, EQ, filter, limiter, lo-fi, phaser, and reverb. A click on the wave icon provides an overview of modulation parameters, which can be adjusted per assigned parameter. I found the editable parameters to be fairly standard, while offering a little more depth than other plug-ins of this variety.
The basic menu has adjustments for speed (1/2, x1, x2), legato (off, on), input quantize (1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, off) - which I found really tightens things up when playing a bunch of loops. There is a kit voice limit (adjustable from 6 to 15), which means that you can assign 15 loops to one instance. The plug-in is not multitimbral in your DAW, but that just means you load up another instance for an additional 15 loops. You can also manage your account settings here under the Account tab.
The various Factory kits in Arcade can be customized to fit your needs. Unlike many other loop-oriented products, you can alter Arcade's loops in real time while the loops are playable and mapped out across the software interface's keyboard. As a sidebar to Arcade's content, I loved that you can use your own loops in Arcade by simply dragging and dropping them within the plug-in. Additionally, I could modify my own imported with Arcade's effects and creative modifiers. It is really as easy as dragging and dropping - big props to Arcade!
Full disclosure - I'm not usually a fan of loop-based plug-ins for things other than drums/percussion, but Arcade has changed my mind. This is a great tool to add additional color to your projects while offering a lot of content - I found tons of inspiring stuff to play with, from subtle to over the top (in a good way). This is more than just a tool for those making EDM styles. I found content here that works for quirky indie scores, world music, high impact trailers, ambient styles, and more. A lot of quality sound design is housed in this library. This is also a great instrument to create a quick vibe that you could build on with other multi-sample instruments. Using their Pocket Band kit I was able to lay the groundwork for a quick funk mock-up that I added guitar, horns, and a few other lines to.
Plenty of flexibility is on hand to customize, and Arcade has more features than I could possibly unpack within the scope of this review. But the ability to tweak all of the loops on the fly, coupled with the unique way that Arcade allows me to assemble sometimes bizarre combinations, makes it a definite keeper for me. It's a very simply laid out and creative plug-in - which is great when I'm working against a deadline. The patches are very well programmed and recorded, and I can see myself using Arcade with a variety of projects.