WHAT IS THE RISER?
AIR refers to it as a “synth-based transition designer”, but the name “Riser” really tells you everything you need to know. It’s an instrument designed and marketed with one purpose in mind:
CREATE EPIC SWEEPS FOR YOUR NEXT BANGER, BRO. (with lasers! #yolo)
Yep, at first glance it’s basically another shortcut towards “the Drop” for EDM producers – because why learn about sound design when you can push a button. As if the whole thing wasn’t easy enough already! But let’s put my sarcastic attitude towards marketing lingo aside for a second and look at what we’ve actually got here, because it’s easy to misjudge a product based on the way it’s presented.
SETUP, LOOK & FEEL
The plug-in comes in 32-bit and 64-bit flavours of AU, VST and AAX, covering just about any format except Reason Rack Extensions. It installs effortlessly and greets you with an interface that screams CGA retro. In case you’re not old (or sad) enough to remember what CGA is: imagine if your computer was theoretically capable of displaying 16 colours, but most of the time only did black, white, cyan and magenta. The Riser’s interface is kind of like that, only more 2014. Let’s call it a matter of taste – I give it serious bonus points for reminding me of my very first computer, and it’s definitely a colour palette that sticks out when you’ve got a dozen plugin windows open. Very “pew pew” – I guess form follows function.
INTERFACE & WORK FLOW
The Riser works based on three sound generators (oscillators) working in tandem: sweep, noise and chord, all with their own purpose and character which should be obvious from their names. Each generator has its own slot – you can’t combine more than one of each type. The synth also lacks any sort of complex routing and mixing options. You can control the volume of each generator and choose whether you want to send it through the single filter which all generators share. The focus lies on the modulation controls, and here’s where things get interesting.
Designed with sweeps in mind, every parameter has a simple progression curve with an adjustable starting and ending point. The length of the transition depends on the note you hit and is based on the tempo of your DAW host. Lower octaves give you longer transitions (starting at 16 bars), higher octaves give you quicker transitions (up to 1/16 bar). The shape of the curve can be changed by click-dragging.
You can determine whether the volume sweeps from quiet to loud, whether the pitch goes up or down (with the option to use note values instead of frequencies) and so on. Two LFOs provide additional modulation if needed: one runs free, the other is tempo-synced. You can use them independently or together, fading between them using a crossfader underneath each curve. Sadly, there is no real animated feedback – having used AIR’s Loom synth which visualizes most of the things going on, I was expecting a little more than a static GUI.
The filter has an impressive amount of models to choose from. Besides the basic controls – cutoff frequency and resonance – there’s also an additional distortion section with a number of preset characteristics of its own, in case you need a more gritty sound. The Amp section controls global volume and stereo panorama, and like all the other parameters, these too can be modulated.
As far as effects go, there’s a tempo-synced delay and a reverb with four presets. They sound decent enough on their own – but if you need advanced controls, you’re probably better off using separate plug-ins for that. Finally, there’s a third LFO controlling the Pumper – as the name implies, a tempo-synced sidechain ducking effect.
The Decay section provides basic control over what happens when you release a note – controlling how volume, filter mix ratio and pitch decrease over time. Very simple, but also very to-the-point, like every other part of the interface – except for one thing: I’ve got no idea why the “tips” section is a fixed part of the interface, but the secondary filter (master output, high pass only, no controls except cutoff) is hidden inside the settings window.
AIR’s coders thought of including a few important features that really streamline the experimentation process. The first two are the INVERT and SWAP buttons, huge time-savers: INVERT reverses the sound generator controls, leaving the effect curves unchanged, while SWAP reverses everything including the effect controls. This allows you to try out variations of the same sound really quickly. The third helper is a randomizer – guaranteed to eventually spit out something you wouldn’t have considered. Of course, the results can be bizarre, but sometimes that’s exactly what you want. If you don’t want this function to mess up some carefully crafted effect settings, you can lock the Pumper, Delay/Reverb and Decay sections down individually – they won’t be affected.
The fact that the Riser is blatantly marketed towards the EDM crowd is not necessarily a reason to dismiss it as a sound designer’s tool – because first and foremost, it’s actually a synthesizer, not yet another boring sample collection. Because of its streamlined controls, you can get creative without nerding out too much. One could argue that more detailed settings would’ve made sense – perhaps a “basic” and “advanced” mode? Still, keep in mind what this instrument was designed to do, consider the price tag and remember: no one says you have to make cheesy arena rave noises and stick to the formula. Go deeper, get creative and it can sound downright evil.
Something I consider very important is the fact that everything can be MIDI mapped. And by that, I mean EVERYTHING you can click on, which is really cool: oscillator waveforms, LFO rates, effect presets and even the shape of each individual curve! For those working with Ableton Live: you can quickly create an instrument rack controlling multiple parameters with complex macros and then just draw your own automation curves, or just throw in additional LFO generators and do really convoluted things. This can be really fun for playing live, especially if you pair it with other plug-ins like iZotope’s Stutter Edit.
Still, in the end, the Riser is a one-trick pony. But if you need that one trick, it’s capable of producing useful results quicker than any other plugin I know of. I don’t remember how many times people have asked me to create a couple of “swooshes” for trailers – if you know what you’re doing with the Riser, you’ll be able to get those sorted, and then some. It definitely doesn’t hurt to have a huge bank of sweeps to mess around with as inspiration to create unique ones either, but when in doubt – randomize.
Final verdict? At that price, there’s absolutely nothing to complain about. Dare I say it’s… fun?
- Affordable and lightweight synth
- Very simple, beginner-friendly controls
- Delivers exactly what it promises
- Glitter, champagne and inflatable boat not included with download
- No animated feedback
Original Review at DJWORX