SOFTWARE REVIEW: Bitley Fairlight Platinum refill for Reason

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As musicians, every once in a while a new product or technology comes along that totally changes the way we exercise our craft. Something comes along that redefines and changes the game for us, and inspires creativity in ways we never imagined. As a songwriter, producer, and life-long electronic music buff, just such a moment happened to me back in 2010 when I discovered Bitley’s Fairlight refill for Reason. I discovered not only a way to supplement the already outstanding sound tools that come with Propellerheads Reason, I quickly learned that I had landed on a literal goldmine of sounds that would outshine virtually every other third-party refill and library on the market.

Furthermore, in pretty short order, I would go on to realize that purchasing this sound library would become the single wisest investment I’ve ever made in my 20-plus years of being in the music business. I have yet to find another sound library or refill that compares to Bitley’s overall quality, depth, and value.

If you’ll indulge me, I’m only too happy to explain why. If not….. scroll down to my condensed Top Ten Selling Points.

THE AGE OF REASON: 

Perhaps more so than any other kind of musician, those of us who fancy LFOs and cutoff/resonance knobs more than power chords and traditional 12-bar blues progressions, electronic musos and synthesists tend to pursue the limitless sound creation possibilities afforded to us by the use of synthesizers, samplers, and drum machines. We’re never content to stay within the confines of either the analog, or digital domain when we make music. Rather, we embrace the seamless luxury of being able to work in both domains simultaneously in our DAWs. These days, I divide my production time between Pro Tools, Logic Pro, and Reason.

Of the three, my go-to platform and preferred working environment is Reason. I prefer the advanced audio editing, and fine-tuning features found in Pro Tools and Logic, and that’s pretty much where I finish most of my projects. However, the bulk of my creative process happens in Reason.

I find Reason’s layout much more ergonomically designed than its competitors. It’s stable and extremely CPU-efficient. It’s built by musicians for musicians, so it’s a bit easier to find your way around. It’s safe to say that 75% or more of my work is done in Reason. It comes with a formidable arsenal of instruments, f/x, and other crucial creative tools that are essential to any songwriter/remixer/producer. Reason also has an award-winning mixer section that’s modeled after the vaunted SSL 9000k mixing console. This allows for some serious fine-tuning of your mix when it comes to getting the proper EQ for your project.

Since the summer of 2012, Propellerheads have introduced Rack Extensions to the Reason platform, which allows third-party developers to bring new devices to Reason’s already legendary and powerful rack. One step closer if you will, to full, third-party plug-in integration for a platform that had previously been closed to everybody but the folks at Propellerheads.

But for me, the refill is what really sets Reason apart from its competitors. It’s a cheap and efficient way to add additional sounds to your Reason toolbox. They’re simple to create, and because they make use of Reason’s proprietary system and existing rack technology, they sound fantastic. (Well……. most of them do!). Unlike most third-party plug-ins, many refills are free of charge, but most are available for a nominal fee ranging from as little as $6.50 to as much as $200-plus depending on the developer and the quality. I’m a big believer in the refill.

Enough about Reason. Back to Bitley…………. and how I found them.

A BRIEF HISTORY LESSON:

Going back in time to mid-2010, I had just purchased my first copy of Reason (version 4.0), and was looking for ways to expand my sound library options. At the time I was performing with Hot Reagan, an 80’s cover band that went rather heavy on the new wave and synth-pop. So I was in need of something to add an extra dose of realism and authenticity to the cover songs I was working on. That was when I stumbled upon the link to Bitley’s Fairlight refill. I was floored to discover that his patches referenced artists like; Art of Noise, OMD, Depeche Mode, and Jan Hammer……… all of whom are some of my all-time favourite artists. I was also astonished at the sheer number of patches included in the package. At the time, I believe it was just over 2,000 patches.

This was the Fairlight II+ refill, the predecessor to what would one day become known as the Fairlight XXL, which would ultimately evolve into the monstrous Fairlight Platinum refill with 3,600 patches, representing dozens of vintage synthesizers and samplers.

I was already a fan of the famous CMI Fairlight. In the 1990’s I has the opportunity to work with one in a professional studio. I grew up in the 1980’s and vividly remember watching Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran and Paul Humphreys of OMD performing onstage with a Fairlight. As an aspiring teenage musician such a machine was well out of reach for me. Nevertheless I’ll never forget listening to the unique sounds of the Fairlight on some of the best songs and albums from the Reagan decade.

By the mid-90’s the Fairlight had become obsolete & wasn’t quite so cool anymore. But when the chance to work on one presented itself, I couldn’t resist! I remember my first time playing the machine. The action on the keybed was rather lackluster, and the !@#$@! lightpen NEVER worked! She was a temperamental one, that Fairlight. But there was no mistaking the amazing sound when she would finally boot up and work. It was easy to see why Vince Clarke, Peter Gabriel, and Trevor Horn loved her so much.

Despite it being obsolete and ready for the museum, by the turn of the new millennium, the Fairlights, if one could be found in working condition, were still fetching a price well over $4000.00 (USD). Hard to justify such an expense. So with the advent of VST technology, I secretly began hoping for the day when somebody would release a VSTi version of the hallowed CMI sounds. I became increasingly disappointed as I watched Arturia release outstanding versions of the CS-80, Prophet-VS, Jupiter-8, and Arp-2600. NI did their nod to the DX-series with their FM-7 & FM-8. G-Force even did the ImpOSCar and VSM…… and eventually released the best Mellotron VSTi.

But alas……. no love for the Fairlight.

Enter Patrick Fridh, Bitley, and the Fairlight II+ refill………..

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Patrick Fridh, a former sound designer and programmer for Propellerheads, is the genius behind Bitley, a Sweden-based independent company which he founded after leaving Propellerheads. Like me, Patrick is a big aficionado of the golden age of synths and samplers. And like me, he has a soft spot for the Fairlight. He embraced the concept of the refill and turned out the first-ever Fairlight library for Reason. He is the consummate perfection-driven professional when it comes to his approach to designing sounds. His attention to detail is unparalleled. He went so far in his quest for Fairlight authenticity as to obtain the blessing of Pete Vogel, himself.  The man who invented the Fairlight. With Vogel’s enthusiastic endorsement, Fridh proceeded with his labour of love.

But Patrick didn’t stop at just the Fairlight, and call it day. Oh no! There was so much more to come.

THAT’S NICE, BUT HOW DOES IT SOUND?!?:

Not only did this refill have the full factory sound library of the original Fairlight Mk II, it also had the entire factory set of patches from the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, and other world-class patches from the; Emulator II & III,  D-50,  JX-10, Jupiter-4, LinnDrum, TR-707, Matrix-12 and so many other classic synths, it made my head spin!

The image above shows just some of the folders that awaited me when I loaded it up.

I had some rather big expectations when I read through his list of patches and the impressive list of machines they were drawn from, but I wasn’t prepared for what my ears were about to hear when I finally loaded them into Reason.

Over the past twenty-five years, I’ve had the privilege of having owned and/or worked with most of the machines Fridh used to create this massive library. I’m rather particular about the authenticity and accuracy of the sounds I use. I’ll come flat out and say it………. I’m a full-on snob when it comes to my choice of sounds, and I’m mighty proud of it! Any synth guy worth his own salt is. I spent the better part of two full days on my first weekend with the refill just going through the combinators, and I still didn’t even get halfway through the collection. Normally, when auditioning a sound, a synth geek will spend just 5-10 seconds (sometimes less) on a patch until he or she finds a sound that tickles their fancy.

Folks, I’m here to tell you that virtually every damn patch in this collection is worthy of minutes, if not hours on-end of time spent playing and outright enjoying. You’ll forget that you’re auditioning sounds and get lost in the glorious tones generated by this refill.

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Without fail, I would come across a patch that I instantly recognized from days gone by. That fairlight choir lead from Moments in Love, the pads and DX harps from Crockett’s Theme, and the legendary shakuhachi flute patches from Enigma’s Sadeness Pt. 1, and Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer, were all right there! Recreated in absolute perfection and ready for immediate use. I couldn’t believe my ears. It was undeniably love at first note. Each patch and combinator just oozed life. I felt that exhilarating rush of inspiration that all synth geeks feel when they first lay their hands on a real Jupiter-8 or Minimoog. Something just bursts to life within you and you feel a consuming desire to create music.

It just begs you to go deeper!

Needless to say, the Fairlight refill exceeded my expectations in ways I never imagined.

DOES THE HONEYMOON EVER END?:

I immediately went to work writing down the locations of certain patches that were real ‘gotcha!’ moments for me, and went to work composing my first original song with the refill. Literally everything I was looking for sound-wise, I was able to find in this refill. Given the tremendous initial impression the refill made on me, you might think that over time the exciting honeymoon would end or grow dull. Sorry, no!

No monotony here.

Three years on, what began with the original Fairlight II+ refill has evolved into the present-day Fairlight Platinum, and I’m more over-the-moon in love with it now, than the day I first loaded it into Reason. We’re well past the honeymoon phase now. This is a true long-term, til-death-do-us-part relationship here. It’s as close to a fairy-tale story as you’ll ever experience in the world of music software. For me, it’s a match made in heaven.

In early 2012 I began work on my first-ever solo album. I relied rather heavily on Bitley’s refills to make my album. The Fairlight Platinum was a no-brainer, of course. The album, which I called Iridescent, is an all-instrumental affair that features both real hardware instruments and virtual synths as well. The lead-off single for my album is a track called, ‘Phyxius Caelum’. I drew from the music of Enigma’s Michael Cretu as my inspiration, and it’s a tribute to Enigma……..admittedly, a rather shameless one at that. Of the 15 or so different instruments I used to create this track, roughly 80% or more of the sounds came from Bitley’s Fairlight Platinum bank.

You can hear this shameless piece of art here:

 http://eminessence.bandcamp.com/track/phyxius-caelum-2

The shakuhachi flute, the pads, and many of the synths and percussion were culled from the Platinum refill. 100% of the track was composed from start to finish in Reason (version 6.5).

In the years since I first bought Bitley’s refills, I have called on the Platinum library more than any other sound resource. On hundreds of tracks, and dozens of projects. It’s been my go-to tool of choice, regardless of the genre I happen to be working in. If you’re tempted to classify it as simply a retro or 80’s-themed refill, you’re selling yourself short on a product that has universal appeal across every conceivable genre and sub-genre. It works in: pop, electro, house, funk, hip-hop, new age, synth-pop, and trance every bit as well as it satisfies the requirements for new wave. As with any piece of equipment or software, your only real limitation is you.

This is truly a refill that does it all.

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For those of you with ADD or who can’t abide my wordy manner, here’s a nifty list of selling points that sold ME on the Fairlight Platinum collection:

TOP TEN SELLING POINTS:

  • 3,600 patches
  • Contains ALL the original factory sounds of the Fairlight CMI Mk II
  • Contains ALL the original factory sounds of the Prophet-5
  • Outstanding patches from the E-mu Emulator II & III
  • World-class patches from the: Matrix-12, Jupiter-4, Wavestation, DX-7, JX-8P, JX-10, and many more!
  • The next-best thing to having your own vintage synth museum
  • Only $119. That equates to roughly three-cents per patch!
  • Unbeatable sound quality
  • Unbeatable bang for your buck
  • Fast, friendly and world-class customer service before, during and long after the sale

IN CONCLUSION:

Fairlight Platinum is unique in that it’s the only reason refill of its kind that has become a living document of sorts. In other words, it continues to grow and evolve. Bitley continues to find ways to pack more value, more bang for your buck, and higher quality into this already peerless product. I’m confident in saying that Bitley’s refills and sound libraries are the standard by which ALL sound libraries, regardless of the platform, should be judged.

If you only buy one refill or sound library, the Fairlight Platinum should be it.

You need this refill.

I am awarding the Fairlight Platinum refill 5 out of 5 stars, only because I can’t give it 100.

While we’re at it, let me strongly suggest that you also check out Bitley’s other products. Especially his 08, Fascination and Repulsion, Polix Quest, Poly Ensemble (my current fave!) and his all-new Omnia platform, which is another game-changer of epic proportions that extends far beyond the realm of Reason……. both literally, and figuratively.

But for God’s sake, man….. don’t take my word for it. Get off your ass & check it out for yourself! You’ll thank me in the morning.

Check out the whole range of Bitley products here:

http://bitley.laconicsounds.net

For some fantastic videos about what you’ll find in the Fairlight series of refills, check these out:

If you’re still not sold on the greatness, check these out:

Jimm Kjelgaard -September 2013. All Rights Reserved

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