This “matrix based modular synthesizer” softsynth, based on the EMS VCS 3, was an impulse purchase for me on’s eBay store – one of their “No Brainer” plug-in deals. I figured at $20, what the heck! I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for old EMS synths, as I learned basic synthesis on an EMS Synthi when I was in college before moving up to the school’s Buchla modular system. Plus there are classic Eno and Pink Floyd records I love that used this synth. I dig the idea of showing up to a studio Eno-style with my EMS Synthi suitcase, ready to go to work on someone’s tracks, but with EMS synths going for well over $5000, this plug-in is as close as I’ll get for now. This sounds really great, maybe even better than I remember the Synthi sounding some 20 years ago. Once I got all the serial numbers and links emailed to me, the install was pretty quick and easy. This is the LE version, but it’s still quite deep! I can’t imagine I will even fully explore all the options that are present, much less wish for more functionality. All of the standard features of the VCS 3 are here (three oscillators, filter, etc.) along with the unique matrix patching system. The XILS 3 version adds an envelope follower, pitch tracker, plus quite a few refinements and options to the synth, keyboard and sequencer features of the original synth. And since it’s a plug-in, you can automate any parameter. One of the reasons I bought this is that it also works as an audio processor – you can run audio through the filters. I inserted it on a vocal track, and after figuring out the matrix routing, had the vocal going through the distinctive EMS filter and then automated the cut-off frequency to change along with the vocal phrasing and dynamics of the song. Super cool! I also set up a second instance on an instrument track and checked out a bunch of the presets, all of which sounded great! The beauty of this is that I’m using an old Mac G4 and some of my other soft synths can’t even run one instance on this machine, much less two on a song with 20-something tracks! My hat is off to XILS for writing some very efficient code! Unlike the original EMS, the XILS 3 is also polyphonic if you want it to be, with up to 18 voices. Keep your eyes peeled on the site and eBay for this deal to pop back up again. ($20 special for RTAS, AU, VST/Mac or PC versions,, -JB

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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