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    Review: FLEX Virtual Synthesizer by Image-Line


    FL Studio released a public beta which contained a new VSTi called FLEX (you can download it here). In the future, FLEX will be included for all FL Studio owners from Fruity edition and above.

    Image-Line is delivering “advanced simplicity” through the use of subtractive, wavetable, multisample, AM and FM synthesis that is packaged in a simple to use GUI to manipulate individual presets. This concept is comparable to other VSTi’s that use ROMs with simple interfaces to edit each patch, much like a workstation keyboard that is preloaded with sounds. While you won’t have full control over the synthesis of each patch, FLEX is meant to give you high-quality sounds that are easy to work with through the use of macro controls, envelopes and FX. So this isn’t meant for those who are wanting to sound design completely from scratch. Instead, each FLEX preset has already done the heavy lifting to get you started with the groundwork you need to come up with sounds that would much longer to synthesize yourself.

    When you first open FLEX, you’ll notice in the browser on the left, there’s a section labeled “Installed Packs.” There will be 4 additional packs you’ll be able to download immediately right from the browser. Those packs will have a download symbol next to the names of each pack. Once these are downloaded, you’ll have access to 458 presets total. Click the ALL section in the browser to view the entire list of presets. The exciting thing about this is that there is the potential for additional packs to be added at any time from Image-Line that can be directly downloaded into FLEX whenever they become available. I’m predicting that there will be plenty of free packs in the future, but it’s also likely there will be some you’ll have to pay for. This perhaps could be an opportunity for sound designers to have their own preset banks inside of FLEX for the FL Studio community. However, none of this has been confirmed yet.

    FLEX packs

    The browser also has a “Recent” folder for any presets you’ve recently accessed that you may want to quickly navigate back to. Below that is the “Favorites” folder, which holds any presets you’ve marked by clicking on the star icon next to its name.

    FLEX presets

    I definitely recommend getting the demo to actually hear the quality of these presets. But if you want to take my word for it, I can easily say these are the best sounds that Image-Line has packaged together in any of their plugins, including Harmor, which is probably where many of these sounds were originally designed in the first place. But if we include the fact that this plugin is also utilizing multisamples, which Harmor does not, we start to understand where we get some of the realism from their pianos and strings presets. The great thing about FLEX is that it’s bridging the gap between high-quality synthesis and high-quality sampling in one simple interface for those who aren’t yet as capable in either department. Plus, the fact that it will be available to all FL Studio owners will allow those who don’t own a synth like Harmor or a sampler like the full version of Directwave to have access to sounds they could never achieve with any of the previous stock plugins.

    A great feature that will help browse through the 458 presets (and counting) is the ability to sort them by type and style.

    FLEX tags

    You can access this section by clicking on the word “TAGS” on the bottom left of the FLEX GUI. As you click on each description, the browser will automatically filter down the preset list for you. You can do this with individual tags or in combination with one another to narrow down the exact sound you’re searching for.

    One of the main highlights in terms of manipulating these presets is the macros section.

    FLEX macros

    Each preset has its own set of macros. As you browse through the presets, you’ll see the names describing each of the macros faders change. Each preset have up to 8 macros available to edit the sound. These give you quick access to parameters that effect the sound the most for that particular preset. You’ll notice there is also a lock icon on the top right, which allows you to lock the macro faders in place as you browse through the presets. The lock feature is available in all of the editable parameters of FLEX.

    FLEX middle section

    In the middle of the GUI, you’ll see the PITCH, FILTER and ENVELOPES sections. The pitch will transpose the sound up or down up to 24 semitones. You can use either the fader or the plus and minus buttons to alter the pitch. The filter has your basic cutoff and resonance. If you move the cutoff to the right you’ll get a high passing filter and to the left is a low pass. The Env Amt knob is being modulated by the Filter Env in the ENVELOPES section. For both the filter and volume envelopes, you have access to the attack, hold, decay, sustain and release.

    FLEX fx section

    The bottom section of FLEX is dedicated to the master FX. The MASTER FILTER has 22 filter types from the dropdown menu, including 3 phasers and a vowel shape filter. The LIMITER also acts as a saturation/distortion unit. Use the dropdown menu to access the different saturation types. Utilize the Pre knob to drive the signal further into the limiter to create more harmonics from the chosen effect. This might make things louder, which is why you have the OUT fader available as well to the right of the limiter.

    Overall, FLEX is providing high-quality sounds that can easily be tailored to fit your style of production. I recommend taking advantage of the TAGS section and also utilizing the lock feature as you browse through presets. This will quickly get you to the sound you’re looking for while formatting each preset with the important characteristics you desire. This new stock plugin is a game changer in terms of sound selection for those who are just getting started or anyone who is looking to quickly access high-quality sounds for their music production.

    More information and download: FLEX Beta

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