Over the holiday season, I added a handful of new software instruments to my audio arsenal, including M-Tron Pro (an update to GForce's well-known M-Tron plug-in). M-Tron Pro includes both standalone and host-based versions of VST, AU, and RTAS plug-ins for Mac OS X and Windows. This plug-in delivers instant retro flavor and is by far the cheapest way to get that Mellotron vibe into your sonic toolbox. For this review, I tested M-Tron Pro on a Mac Dual G5 with 6 GB of RAM (M-Tron Pro only requires 512 MB) using Logic as the host. The plug-in's sound library is just over 3.5 GB, and you can copy the library to an external hard drive if you need to. Installation was simple with the traditional entering of the included registration code to authorize the plug-in.
The developers at GForce have an eye on the new and the old. With this in mind, they have provided both looped and unlooped versions of many of the patches, allowing you to choose whether to play M-Tron Pro like a traditional Mellotron, manually re-triggering the tape loops about every eight seconds. It would have been cool if the rhythmic loops synced to your host's tempo, but you can't have everything, and it's a minor quibble. All the artifacts that are associated with the original Mellotron are present (e.g., tape wobble, click and hum) and add to the vintage character of the original instrument. With a nod towards the future, GForce has added a filter section, sync-able stereo delay, dual layering, tape reverse, and a tape half-speed feature. I found the newly added filter section with high, low, and band-pass modes useful to help dial in just the right color. The delay section is basic but nice to have; it's divided into beats from 32nd notes to whole notes, and it syncs to your host's tempo. The new layering feature allows you to layer two different patches together with separate control over each parameter-the only exception being delay, which is shared by both layers. The tape reverse and half-speed functions work as you'd expect and can provide some interesting textures, especially when working in layers. I used the Black Sabbath Effects patch on both layers and tweaked around with reverse and half-speed-trippy stuff!
The patches? They are the star of this package. There is an abundance here of about 200 tape banks. This includes 45 new tape banks, as well as all the tape banks that were previously available for the original M-Tron plug-in. If you are a fan of progressive rock from the '60s and '70s, M-Tron Pro is a must have. Many of the included tape banks read like a musical who's who. There are patches from the tape banks that were used on recordings from The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Moody Blues, King Crimson, Yes, Tangerine Dream, Roxy Music, etc. Also included are some new patches created by artists like Rick Wakeman and Howard Scarr. Sounds run the gamut from accordion to orchestra and sound very much like...well...a Mellotron. If you head over to the GForce website, you'll find plenty of audio demos to give you a good idea of the range of sounds available.
MIDI control has been pretty well thought out. GForce has programmed MIDI Learn into their virtual Mellotron allowing you to control most everything via MIDI control changes.
I found M-Tron Pro to have a very appealing sound-both warm and organic. I used the famous flute sound on a rock project I'm working on with my songwriting partner/engineer Chris Theis (of Six String Productions) to add a little vintage quirkiness and was really pleased with the end result. The part sat well in the mix but still stood out in a good way-like a uniquely talented performer who plays well with others. GForce has taken a legendary instrument with a high price tag and known maintenance issues and created a virtual instrument that captures its legendary sound for thousands of dollars less and no service calls. And the best part-it sounds great. ($199.95 MSRP; www.gforcesoftware.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.