Rob Papen Predator Review
Rob Papen’s Predator has become one of the electronic genre’s perennial favourites for its wide breadth of sound types and synth flavours. This dynamic synth is not as easy to pigeon-hole as some of Mr. Papen’s other famous designs. Predator will pounce on its dance-floor prey with the agility of a hungry, West African Lion, or massage your cochlea with its soothing, analog-like purrs.
Predator is the Alpha male leader of the pride in two bundles available from Rob Papen; EDM and Urban. Each Limited Edition bundle only costs €199 | $239 (USD).
While Predator may be considered by some to be ‘Bigger Game’, where it is listed at €149/$179 (USD), the astute electronic musician will be duly wary to keep an ear out for it as a very worthy cross-platform all-rounder. This synth is elusive – difficult to trap into any one genre cage. Pred is as capable of emitting piercing, phat leads, as it is to peacefully lay down bedded layers of warm, comforting pads. What’s more, Predator is as likely to be seen prowling on a MAC desktop as on a Windows PC.
As always, I’m glad you’re here, dear reader. Reviewer’s Revival would be nothing more than lonely, empty chambers if it weren’t for my ‘netizen’ friends coming and making it a home with me. Please join me and let’s go on a little internet safari, without leaving the safety of our rooms, and hunt the “Predator”.
Thankfully, Rob Papen has released into the wild, two bundled packages for we adventurers, which feature Predator as the leader of the ‘Pride’. These are: “EDM Synth Bundle” and “Urban Synth Bundle”. These two bundles accord a substantial savings of over 40 percent as compared to purchasing each virtual instrument individually. Each Limited Edition bundle only costs €199 | $239 (USD).
The differences between them?
EDM ships with Predator, Blade, and Punch (RP’s speaker-busting and body-rattling drum machine). Urban bundle exchanges “Punch” for SubBoomBass (An ultra-deep groove bass synth with built-in step sequencer).
As I have been experimenting, bench-testing, and reviewing Predator, I have come to admire its vast range of vibrant, clean sounds. Now wait a minute, don’t go triggering that “Back button” just yet. Clean isn’t a bad thing, you know. I don’t mean to infer that this synth lacks tonal character or waxes ‘sterile’. On the contrary, it can draw a listener in, and usher the unsuspecting prey away to a pleasant place of soliloquy and inner reflection. “Pred” can also get playfully rambunctious and jerk the digital-leash right out of your hand if you aren’t careful!
Mr. Papen’s three-oscillator hybrid synth is just that; a hybrid. Very likely, this is the reason that Predator can cover so much synthesis territory. Predator processes its sonorous breadth of sonic synthesis through a feature-rich multimode modulation filter. “These functions are augmented by an assortment of effects and a capable arpeggiator.”
As a user bravely investigates the assortment of parameters available to him/her, the scope of Predator’s powerful feature-set becomes more and more apparent. Fortunately, for all its power and functionality, the instrument is not the least bit nightmarish or confusing to navigate and get familiar with.
There are soft synths that have been painstakingly developed to emulate VA hardware synths better than Predator is capable of, but they can’t approach Pred’s additive or subtractive digital prowess. Predator can perform admirably as a ‘phat’, smooth VA synth. It doesn’t have the intense, analogue-like charm of say, Xils-Lab’s PolyKB II or SonicProject’s OP-X Pro II, but neither is it just a robotic chunk of cold, sterile digitalism.
To whet your interest, here’s a sample that I recorded in Mixcraft Pro Studio 6. I based this simple, decidedly 80s-sounding pop snippet on Predator’s “Classic Brass 2” preset. I’ve tweaked the preset to my liking and named it “Chucky’s 80s Brass”. Now while this audio sample may not be in the elite U-HE DIVA “Divine” category, it is quite good. I have personally always been partial to classic Juno and Oberheim sounds so I was aiming for a similar ‘vibe’ here.
Predator can be played in varied modes of Polyphony: Poly, Mono (1, 2 & 3), Legato (1 & 2), Arp, and Unison (2, 4 or 6).
Installation & Authorization:
The bundle installers weigh in at approximately 380 MB apiece. All three virtual instruments included in each bundle are installed at once; they are not individually selectable. I suspect that most owners will want to install all three components anyway, so this most likely will not be an issue for anyone.
The single executable installer first requires your user name, company name (if applicable) and serial code. The very good news here is that there isn’t any nasty eLicensing, iLok, nor C/R overhead – just convenient serial code protection. Now with that being said, the serial code protection is called randomly while the plug-ins are in operation. I suspect that there is a form of digital watermarking in use here that will aid authorities in tracking down unscrupulous users and/or software pirates.
I am very thankful that Rob Papen is not encumbering owners of these bundles with “pain-in-the-noodle” protection schemes, but we owners must be honourable in return and keep the instruments to ourselves. Registered users may obtain a FREE secondary license so that the product can be legally installed on a second computer. ** 5 Stars to Rob Papen for this amiable, authorization model.
Out of the den, Predator measures a healthy 1000px wide by 600px high. By my estimation, these measurements make for a comfortable instrument interface that’s large enough to be seen clearly, and yet doesn’t sprawl all over the place. The duo-toned split screen is eye-catching, and is ‘housed’ within an attractive virtual chassis. Even the warmth of faux wooden side panels is well drawn on the screen. The synth presents itself with a poise and polish that are sure to please the most discriminating of trophy hunters. The upper half of the interface is a rugged-looking charcoal color which nicely contrasts the light, silver-grey bottom portion.
As with any well-designed synthesizer, Predator’s GUI is divided into sections. From left to right, the upper panel contains Oscillators 1, 2, and 3. Next, we see the Primary and secondary FILTER sections. (The secondary filter is especially useful for additional tone shaping or high/low passes filtering). Lastly, at the rightmost position, we find the FILTER LFO section and directly beneath it, the AMP sub section.
The lower panel houses the FREE MODULATION, ARPEGGIATOR, PITCH BEND, FX, and lastly, PLAY MODE sections. The MOD LFO and ARP sections share the same screen space, but are accessible by clicking on the ARP button.
The FX section facilitates up to three effects at a time. The range and choice of effects is comprehensive. These include but are not limited to: Tape/Digital Delays, Comb Filter, Reverb, Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, Wah, Distortion, Amp sim, Waveshaper, Widener, AutoPan, Gate, Vocoder, EQ, Compressor, and Phaser.
Rounding off the hearty helping of easily-configured synth features is the PLAY MODE and ADVANCED sections. Here the user can select between monophonic or polyphonic modes or enable the extremely versatile Arpeggiator. In the ADVANCED sub section the user is free to employ the onboard oversampling feature. It is generally understood that oversampling improves the sound quality of a virtual instrument, especially at lower sampling rates. The oversampling ranges from 1x all the way up to an incredible 32x. In my own testing, I found 4x, and even 2x, more than sufficed. For that matter, I enjoyed Predator’s sound quality when the oversampling was disabled or set to a lowly 1x.
The array of knobs, sliders, buttons and switches are very well laid out and are each clearly seen; much like you would expect to see on a high quality hardware synthesizer. Clean, anti-aliased, sans serif typeface labels each control and makes for easy-to-read comprehension. Overall, the photo-realistic design of Mr. Papen’s synth gives the user a solid impression of having access to a real hardware synthesizer.
Smooth, responsive mouse actions are the experience here. Each GUI control is conveniently returned to its default value by double-clicking or “Ctrl + click” on the knob/slider itself. A red ‘LED-like’ halo encompasses each knob, adding a very polished, authenticity to the appearance of this instrument.
The current value of each parameter is displayed in bright red typeface, mimicking the appearance of LED digital readout, such as you would see on a physical hardware synth. If you move your mouse over any control, the controller’s name and value is shown in Predator's read-out screen, located at the bottom right hand side. The typeface of the readout can be changed to “normal” sans serif text, and the color can be changed to white. While the default red-colored, digital-styled typeface looks cool, I personally found the white, “normal” readout easier to see.
Right-clicking on any control will display a popup menu which provides a complete range of midi assignment choices, including midi-latch options. From these popup menus, the user can increase/decrease parameter values in increments, zero or maximum, as well as manually enter a value.
There is an ample selection of presets delivered with Predator, which have been thoughtfully categorised into 30 different banks. Each bank contains 128 presets. The focus of the factory-supplied presets tends to lean toward modern styles such as HipHop, NY, Club, Gfunk, Jump, Hardcore, Breakbeat, Trance styles, DnB banks and more. There are plenty of presets to suit most nearly any musical genre; even variations of 70s Disco and 80s ARP-like rhythmic settings.
Once the PRESET section is visible, a user need only click on the “Preset” and/or “Bank” screens to see full, cascading popup menus. Optionally, the user can organize, save, load and reset presets/banks using the full-featured Presets Manager. [Click to see screenshot]
Over all, I consider the Predator synth interface to be elegant and well-designed. The typeface and controls are easy to read, and the color-theme is gentle on the eyes. The vast array of features and controls are all readily accessible and easy-to-use.
Three Oscillators, Plus So Much More!
Three Oscillators. 128 waveforms. Perhaps you’re wondering how the developer could make such a claim? Predator is fairly dripping with variations of waveform types: Saw, Square, Sine, Additive and Spectral. The palette of succulent sound synthesis ranges from classic VA to apocalyptic post-modern. The waveforms can be tuned in semitones or fine-tuned granularly by cents.
An interesting feature unique to the Predator Synth, is the ‘Sym’ (symmetry) knob “which allows you to shift a waveforms midpoint.” Many synth players are familiar with this principle in the area of square wave pulse-width modulation, but Predator can actually apply this ‘symmetry’ to all of its waveforms, allowing you to dramatically alter waveform harmonics and formants. This instrument may also be considered an FM synthesizer, due to its 3 FM operators.
Predator ventures even farther across the digital landscape, leaving the path of waveforms and journeying into pulse-width modulation territory. Pulses can even be shaped with a dedicated LFO, per oscillator. Each PWM can be individually speed tweaked as well. The instrument extends its reach by offering frequency and ring modulation, and a sub oscillator. What's more, the symmetry of each wave can be user-controlled. There is a unique “Spread” function for detuned, multiple oscillation within each oscillator.
The oscillators have a free-running mode. The second and third oscillators can be synced to the first. For those looking to keep the night wolves at bay while out in the digital desert, noise, and lots of it, can be generated with the included pink and white noise generators.
A formidable pre-filter distortion processor is found in the FILTER section. It can be subtle, adding only light, pleasant saturation or dialled up to an edgy, dominating crunch. Mr. Papen has thoughtfully provided a dedicated control for determining how much effect the mod wheel has on this filter, making for an even greater range of expressiveness and ‘movement’ during a performance.
Within the AMP section, the user is accorded an abundant measure of amplifier envelope control. Individual controls for Panning, Level, Attack, Decay, Sustain, Fade and Release are all provided. In addition, a dedicated velocity knob grants tremendous flexibility over keyboard dynamics and velocity sensitivity.
Predator hosts a substantial number of modulation sources; 40 of them to be exact. In FREE MODulation, there are 65 destinations where the mods can be assigned to.
“This section holds two Envelopes, two LFO's and a Modulation matrix with eight slots. The free modulation section is added to give you extra tools for additional sound shaping options. For instance, if you wish to make an FM synthesis sound you can address the Envelope to the FM amount inside oscillators 2 and 3. Maybe you would like a stereo panning effect by an LFO. Another option is to connect the arpeggiator free or velocity row to other parameters inside Predator.”
The modulations are all assignable to each of the three oscillators and are midi-controllable. Thank goodness there is an extremely well-written user’s manual delivered with Predator; it would take many extra pages of typed words to try explain all of it satisfactorily. Please take a look at the screenshots below. These show the numerous modulation/envelope assignments available in Predator’s Modulation/LFO section.
These include dual five-stage envelopes and a subsequent pair of LFOs; each of which is also routable to any of the available modulation destinations. Similar to the AMP section, the five stages of FREE MODULATION envelope shaping are manipulated with Attack, Decay, Sustain, Fade, and Release control knobs.
Located adjacently, you will see the “Vel Time” and “KT Time” knobs. These allow a user to determine precisely how long the envelope responds to note velocity and note duration. If a positive value is used, the envelope times get shorter for higher notes. Negative values force the envelope to be longer on higher notes. Not only can the envelope be shaped and assigned, the amount of Envelope is also user adjustable via the “Amount” knob. Working in tandem with the “Amount” knob, the ‘Amount Control’ selects the controller of choice for actually performing the manipulation of the destination amount parameter. I know, I know . . . this all sounds a little convoluted. Take a glance at screen shots below and then re-read this paragraph again. You’ll ‘get it’.
Arpeggiator of Continental Proportions:
Predator offers a unique and powerful arpeggiator that is not only rich in features, but is also strongly akin to being a sequencer. Options to tune the sequencing steps and even ‘tie’ them are addressable in two different ways. The ARP function can be set to play one note after another in the classic, expected mode while a chord is held. Predator also offers a “Chord” mode where notes of a chord are triggered while only one note is depressed.
The built-in sequencer makes highly customized step sequences possible. Each step of the pattern can be set to On/Off, Tie, and Slide. The number of steps is range between 1 to 16. The speed of the arpeggiator is relative to the BPM/tempo of the DAW/VST host but it can be sped up to be double, triple, or even quadruple the actual project tempo.
The ‘direction’ of the arppegiation is assignable to be upward, downward, and random. The Up/Down and Down/Up modes cause the arp to play the notes in order, and then play them in reverse direction. “Ordered” mode plays the notes ordered from lowest to highest. Rev. Ordered is the exact opposite, telling the arpeggiator to play the notes ordered from highest to lowest.
The arpeggiator can be configured to play over a span of octaves. For instance, if you set the octave range to “2”, it will play the notes in the original octave and then subsequently an octave higher. (For the duration that the chord is held)
The arpeggiator can be interestingly set up as a “Free Modulator” for use in the FREE MODULATION section. This interesting application of arppegiation facilitates creative gating effects, filter sweeps, and etcetera.
“Tie” modes, “Normal” and “Special” allow Slide, Tune, Velocity and Free settings inside of any step that is set to use ”Tie” arpeggiation.
Mr. Rich Fabrizio publicly stated that Predator is a “Super Silky” sounding synth. I couldn’t agree more. Pred is not an over-indulgent, VA wannabe that works ‘too hard’ at trying to sound like an analogue synth from yesteryear. Nevertheless, this instrument produces rich, wide, sounds. The detailed, sonic palette it offers harkens to the grand masters of analogue synth history. With cheetah-like agility, Pred can quickly spring from mellow, deep bass, to lush, breathy pads, all the way up to pulsing arp basslines and tasty effects.
It's easy to massage sophisticated sounds out of Predator. Once a user is familiar with Pred’s intuitive work-flow, spicy digital snacks are only a few clicks n’ drags away; without getting weighed down with recondite parameter navigation or sinking into the quicksand of convoluted menu options.
Due to its wide spectrum of available waveforms, oscillated PWM, and assignable modulations, this synthesizer covers a lot of ground; and covers it well.
The more I experiment with Predator, the more I am enthralled with the genuine sonic warmth and shimmer it is capable of producing. Pred will also growl, and growl loudly. It can get downright vicious and make its predatorily dominant presence heard with a maleficent roar. It is this reviewer’s opinion that this soft-synth is a very effectual adjunct between the world of VA synthesis and the realm of digital additive/subtractive electronica.
The herd of LFOs, Filters, High Pass Filters, Effects, Modulators, and Envelope shapers are all top grade. Clean, well-implemented oversampling keeps everything clear and free of harsh, unwanted graininess.
Predator excels at lashing out with deep, searing trance pulses and piercing glitches. It charges its prey with formidable Dubstep presence. However, this same beast can be tamed to lay down peacefully and coo blissful, ambient pad tones. To say that the Rob Papen Predator is versatile synth, would be a grave understatement indeed.
I’m happy to report that Predator can actually be very conservative on CPU and memory consumption. Of course, with all three effects slots being used, and higher oversampling rates enabled, the demands will become more obvious. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic instrument that will not break your bank account or your computer. *grin. 5 Stars!
The complete collection of 21 different filters, modulations, vocoder and effects is available as a single VST (or AU) within a DAW or music host. The VST is named, “PredatorFX”. So in essence, the purchase of Predator/EDM/Urban bundle not only furnishes one with an excellent soft synth, but also a high quality collection of palatable effects. These can be used on any instrument or voice track, within any DAW.
Great sound. Great value.
In my time of learning about synthesizers, I’ve come to realize that this is a sphere of music that fosters both good will and vehement disagreement. Much like Coke vs. Pepsi pundits, or Mac vs. Windows debaters, many synth owners are especially defensive and protective over their synthesizer(s) of choice. In a nutshell, as a “NON synthesist”, I like to think of myself as a truly objective 3rd party. Oh yes, I enjoy playing synths and experimenting with them, but I’m actually a guitarist/singer who happens to also play keyboards.
Perhaps some would consider me unqualified to properly assess a synthesizer, but nevertheless, I’ve learned a good deal about them over the past couple of years. That said, I’m actually glad to not (yet) be an ardent fan of any one particular brand or synth developer. I just know what I like. I like classic VA synth sounds. In particular, the Oberhiem OB-X is my personal all-time favourite. I also really enjoyed the sounds of the Yamaha CS-80, the Roland D-50 and Juno series.
To me, many of Predator’s presets and features were strongly reminiscent of those favourites of mine. At the same time, I felt like a hip kid while I listened to and experimented with some of its modern, urban “rave ish” and industrial sounds. Man! This thing can get weird and scream like a banshee if you want it to.
More To Come:
This review marks the first of four. In the future, Reviewer’s Revival will also be peering into three other Rob Papen virtual instruments: Blade, DeepSubBass, and Punch.
Brother Charles is a freelance writer, Gospel music artist and minister. Charles had been a professional touring musician during the nineties; working primarily as a lead guitarist in the Canadian country music industry. Brother Charles is also involved with music production and quality home recording.
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