First of all, congrats for the new interface which adds so many useful features to SWAM instruments and makes the UI experience much more convenient. I think it’s a big step up from the older interface and paves the way for even better instruments. I like the much more precise presets management, the MIDI management and the organization of all the parameters. The main page makes it also easier to see the more important information by hiding less important ones. I think overall it’s a great success! 🙂
There are a few things I’d like to share which could make a big difference. I’ll also throw in a few more personal feature requests while I’m at it. I’ll try to organize all this in a logical manner. But before I start, here’s my first feature request : it wouldn't hurt to have a feature request / user feedback subforum in here. Often the feedback gets lost among other completely unrelated threads.
The first issue I’ve encountered is high CPU% when plug-ins aren’t getting any input. Here’s what happens with any of the 3 v3 plug-ins in Ableton (I’ll list my equipment later) : when first loaded, the CPU is close to nothing, but once some sound has been generated, the CPU rises to about 20% and then stays there even though no sound is being generated. When I add a second plug-in instance the CPU barely doesn’t rise until I start playing it, then it will rise but by about 7-8% and stay there after no sound is generated. If I deactivate the FIRST one, then the CPU will drop back to about 20% and if I deactivate both it goes back to 0%. So it doesn’t matter what the order is, but if there is one SWAM v3 plug-in activated the CPU will stay around 20% and the additional ones will raise it by less and less % (it seems so). This is different than v2 plug-ins as the CPU would drop back to almost nothing when no sound was generated. Here’s my equipment :
Ableton Live 10
Mac OS Big Sur 11.2.3
2.5 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7
The first thing I thought was lacking overall is some info about the parameters. There are so many parameters in SWAM instruments (not complaining about that!) and a lot of them are quite hard to grasp by playing with the instruments. It’s always good to understand theoretically what each parameters does to the sound/instrument and the manual does that well, but I don’t want to have to search for the manual, open it and find the page, etc… while I’m composing and quickly tweaking with some parameters to adjust the sound. Even after having worked with these instruments for a long time, I still find myself having to read the manual to understand some parameters well. It would be a huge workflow and time-saver to have all this information at hand when working on the instruments. I think the best way to incorporate that would be to have a small “i” (for info) button appear left of the parameter which the mouse is hovering over, and then hovering the mouse over that button would make a pop-up box appear with the info. This way you don’t clutter up the interface at all.
It would also be a big plus to have some info about the keyswitches on the instruments themselves. Maybe hovering your mouse over the keyswitches on the piano roll could show some text? Or have a separate page dedicated to Keyswitches management with the few parameters as well as info about this specific instrument’s keyswitches. Either way, again I often forget what the KSs are and have to go find the manual to remember, while a bit of info in the instrument itself could do just that.
Scrolling (using a trackpad) :
I found the scrolling experience with a trackpad to be inconsistent. On some pages (ie: MIDI -> external controller mapping page or presets management sidebar), you can scroll all the way down wherever your mouse is, on others (ie : MIDI -> auxiliary parameters page) you can scroll down but then once your mouse gets over a slider it will stop scrolling and adjust the slider, while on other pages (both Advanced pages) it won’t scroll at all unless your mouse is over the scroll bar. This can get quite frustrating, especially when you expect to scroll but then accidentally adjust a slider and can’t remember where it was set to exactly. The ideal behaviour for me is definitely the ability to scroll wherever your mouse is pointing to on the page and leave the slider adjustment to clicking. I honestly would never adjust a slider with a scrolling gesture…it’s first too imprecise and second, you’re not gaining any time out of that. Leave the scrolling gestures for what it’s meant for in the first place : smoothly and easily scrolling up and down pages.
MIDI Mappings List :
I already love the fact that all the mappings are listed in one page and that mapped and unmapped parameters are distinguished by different colors. What I don’t like, however, is that you can barely see 6-7 parameters at a time, whereas with the old interface you could see all of them at once. Why is everything sooooo spread out? You could compress everything at least 2x both horizontally and vertically, so that you could fit two sets of columns and see something like 14 * 2 parameters at once instead of 6 or 7. Maybe a button for viewing only mapped parameters could help too? But I feel it wouldn’t be necessary if we could see more parameters at once. Moreover, changing multiple CC numbers with the old interface would only take a few seconds because all you would need to do was to click on the menu, but now wherever you click you are directed to another page and have to adjust any parameter there and then go back. It would be so much more convenient to be able to adjust the values directly from the List page and only have to go to a different page for adjusting the curve if needed.
The new features are a huge step up for controlling the instruments, but I don’t think the UI experience needs to be compromised that much because of it, if only things could be viewed and accessed in a more simple way.
Main Page return :
I think this has been mentioned in another thread, but the automatic return to main page while adjusting MIDI mappings makes no sense whatsoever. First of all, it’s way too short a time and second, I don’t see any good reason why it should automatically return to main page. Let us decide on which page we want to stay on, even it that means for many minutes.
Curve editing :
Right now, by turning the Shape dial it’s only possible to have a curve that is finer on the edges and coarser in the middle. Why not make it bipolar? I personally control vibrato rate with the BBC2 Tilt motion and I’d like the middle range to be finer and the ends to be coarser. This way I have more precision with the usual vibrato rates in the middle but I can still access more extreme rates by tilting completely left or right. If you look at the TecMidiBreathCtl app (which I’m sure you have already) you can see how with both the Bending and Symmetry sliders you can achieve that.
Portamento Time :
This might be more of a personal request, but I’d love to be able to control the Portamento Max Time with MIDI. Here’s why : controlling portamento time with velocity in a very precise manner has always been difficult I find. It seems that for most velocities there are no portamento at all and then in the lower range the time increases exponentially, so that a small difference in velocity makes a huge difference in portamento time. This makes it impractical for playing in the mid range of portamento time when set to longer max time values. Ideally, I’d want to be able to play a long portamento if needed and also be able to control precisely if I want more subtle ones. I found that if I control portamento time with velocity and portamento max time with CC, then I get the best of both. I can keep the max time in the lower range and use velocity for subtle portamenti and from time to time, I can still go to longer ones by adjusting a CC.
Also, since SWAM now has curve editing, why not make the velocity -> portamento time curve editable also? Right now we have to rely on your own personal preference, but wouldn’t it be possible to adjust that ourselves with the curve edit page?
Lastly, I would personally lower the min portamento max time to something less than 1.1. Even at that amount the portamenti sound exaggerated to me.
MIDI Note -> Vibrato Rate :
Here’s another request for all instruments. Generally, when you listen to vibrato you’ll hear they’re slower in the lower range and faster in the higher range. This makes sense musically. It would therefore be really useful to have a slider that would determine the MIDI Note -> Vibrato Rate modulation amount. This way, you wouldn’t have to manually adjust the rate when you go higher or lower. Also, for people who don’t assign any control to vibrato rate, this would make it easily sound much more convincing.
I don’t know if this is intentional, but when Expression parameter is at less than ~4, pizzicati are almost silent and as soon as expression hits 4, then they’re at normal volume. This makes it really unpractical because I now need to blow in my breath controller to play pizz, which doesn’t really make any sense.
Harmonics at low pressure :
This has been somewhat of an issue since the first Strings instruments and I’m a bit disappointed that it hasn’t been looked into. When playing soft harmonics (low expression and/or low bow pressure), the sound often becomes only noise (no pitch) and you have to raise the pressure/expression back quite high before the pitch comes back, and it does so with a weird attack sound…almost like a small pizz sound. Also the results seem to vary inconsistently from one note to another so it’s very hard to predict what happens. I find that unpractical and also not so realistic anyway, as the threshold seems way to high (I need to blow pretty hard for the sound to come back). I think the transition could be more smooth between the noise-only and the pitched sound and the threshold could be lowered so that we have more range of playing in the lower dynamics.
Voilà, that’s what I had to say. But overall I’m very happy with the improvements on the interface and looking forward for the Woodwinds. Keep up the good work!