This Kontakt instrument will let you shape bowel-bothering sub-bass to your heart's content
Substance is a sample-based Kontakt instrument from Output that combines well-crafted sample layers to produce deep, textured bass.
At the core of the instrument, you have three layers of sound to produce the core bass sound, then editing parameters that can be employed to manipulate the sound further. The instrument provides you with a sub layer that can range from clean, full bass to choppy, mangled, cinema-style rumbles. A texture or tone layer provides the character and lifeblood, and finally the attack layer introduces the crucial transient information.
The real power of this instrument, though, comes from the amazing ability to edit and change the layers with a whole host of processing features. This allows you to take the 300 presets and morph them into something that fits your music. The editing features are high quality and are based on the tools available in Kontakt, a very trusted brand. What Output as a company does well is provide an interface that encourages manipulation and experimentation: it feels like the instrument wants you to explore, tweak and get creative with the sounds.
Each of the three layers can be changed to a vast number of sub, character and transient sounds. The Edit window gives you envelope, width, tune and sample start functionality. The EQ and Filter windows are quite self-explanatory but the workflow gives you maximum flexibility without ‘option paralysis’. The FX, Rhythm and Arp windows are great tools for adding grit and movement to your sounds. It is with these three parameters that I feel Substance, used correctly, could be more than just a sub-bass tool: it's an instrument in its own right.
Substance requires the Output download hub to quickly and easily install the 5GB instrument. This is actually quite handy if you're using multiple Output products, as it means your serial numbers and download information are all in one place.
The workflow of Substance makes you want to be creative, always thinking about the sound. The developers have achieved a fine balance: there is plenty of room for experimentation and sound creation, but also enough limitations to force you to be creative. This seems thoughtfully executed and the fact that each parameter is encased in a ‘sine wave’ graphic is a nice aesthetic touch. A major criticism I have of many instruments that claim to be bass is that they never seem to provide a solid low end with suitable and desirable harmonics. Substance smashes this generalisation into oblivion. Output has not only given you the ability to produce clean and low sub-bass, but go further by giving it character and detail.
Substance is a powerful and inspiring tool. Its strength lies in the sense of equilibrium - sonically, creatively and aesthetically, it is inspirational and balanced. The really surprising thing for me is the quality of the ‘attack’ layers and samples - they truly bring each sound to life and give the basses their own sonic fingerprint.
So, what's stopping this from being 5/5? Firstly, there's the price: at roughly £190 ($238), I think it's priced a little high when you can buy software synthesizers that can do very similar things for much less. However, you get what you pay for and I would stress that every element of the sampler is high quality. Secondly, the fact that it's a sampler instrument means that you can run into one fundamental flaw - you're bound by the length of a sample. For instance, one brass stab I found in the instrument was phenomenal, and I would have liked to have played this for 30-40s long notes, yet the length of the sample prevented this, because at the heart of the instrument are simply very high quality recordings.
Overall, I was throughly impressed with this instrument, and I do see myself using it in future productions - especially in sound design for films or wherever an energetic, memorable bass sound is required.
Words: Matt Chapman
Review score: 4/5
System requirements: Windows 7/Mac OS X 10.9 or above; 4GB of RAM; requires Kontakt or Free Kontakt Player 5.5.1 or above
More info: output.com/products/substance