Lethal is the flagship rompler from newcomers Lethal Audio. Sleek, straightforward, and oriented towards the dance floor, it promises “a whole new world of sound” to the modern producer. Does it kill the competition?
Lethal ships with a core library of 3,000 instruments spread over 13 patch categories and 5GB of data. For the most part, these are synth patches. This abundance of presets brings a range of characteristics – Lethal can do pretty and atmospheric as well as aggressive and energetic sounds.
Despite the wide range of available sounds, the instrument tends to have a certain sheen that can be described as “modern” or “hi-fi” out of the box – though this can be altered with the on-board effects. The hi-fi character comes from a combination of a well-balanced frequency response with nice extension in the highs and lows, punchy transients, and an appropriately wide yet natural stereo image. The tailored frequency response also means that the sounds sit well in the mix. The presets do, however, suffer from a common problem for software synths… they’re too loud. The levels are high enough that polyphonic playing is almost guaranteed to clip until one turns down either the synth volume or their DAW fader. It would be handy for the Lethal Audio team to include some kind of global lock parameter for the master volume.
Browsing Lethal’s library is painless. The presets are categorized by type and load quickly. The specific preset names within a category are very nondescript, though, which can make it more difficult to find a specific patch. It’s easy enough to just browse until one finds what they’re looking for, but it’d be better to have more descriptive names than “Reese Bass 009.” Thankfully, the patch browser includes the option to mark sounds as favorites, which helps alleviate the preset naming issue.
The core library is expandable. Lethal Audio has not released any expansions as of yet (the product only came out a few weeks ago at the time of writing), but there is an incentive to pick it up anyway: early buyers get all expansions until June 30th, 2017 for no additional cost. This will probably extend the sonic palette considerably, and if there’s enough demand, could take Lethal in new directions within or beyond dance music.
Switch It Up
Lethal is a rompler, but it provides enough control to morph the sounds considerably. The available modulations are immediate and immediately satisfying. Lethal has separate envelopes for amplitude, pitch, and filter cutoff, each with adjustable envelope curves for natural attack swells or punchy decays. All have quite serviceable LFOs as well. The filter has selectable modes, from the standard low-pass, high-pass, and band-pass options to slightly more unusual ones like low and high shelf. It also has a drive parameter which, interestingly, can be either positive or negative, adding or subtracting additional harmonics from the filtered sound. All of these are conveniently grouped on the left side of the interface.
Along the right side of the interface are the options for more general sound shaping. There is a unison control, which oddly doesn’t include the ability to pan the unison voices. The vibrato control is useful for adding movement to some sounds, especially pads. The “drive” (separate from filter drive) and “shine” controls are great for final sound shaping, with “drive” being a saturator and “shine” being an exciter. One of the most fun inclusions, though, is polyphonic glide. Perfect for brassy synth patches, it’s a feature that is not included in synthesizers often enough.
Tabs along the bottom open up the trance gate, arpeggiator, and onboard effects. The trance gate and arpeggiator are pretty standard affairs, although the arpeggiator’s switchable octave-per-step layout encourages playful experimentation and can result in some interestingly jumpy voicings. The best part about these features is how they are handled in the context of the patch browser. Gate and arp settings are global, rather than per-preset, so if you have an interesting groove going but want to experiment with different timbres, you won’t have to painstakingly recreate those settings for each patch.
Lethal is not what one would call modulation-heavy. There is no mod matrix or vast library of LFO sources. The hardwired controls, however, do all of the essential sound-shaping functions one would normally need, and, for some perspective, give far more options than, say, a Minimoog. I suspect this is also why CPU usage can be kept to a minimum. Lethal fills its role admirably, as an immediately satisfying rompler with enough control to take its included patches into new territory.
Two Letters: FX
The included effects do a lot to make the included patches sound finished. They cover the standard bases, with chorus, phaser, flanger for modulation, distortion and bitcrushing to dirty things up, and reverb and delay to add space. The sound quality is generally good, with the chorus especially sounding smooth and deep. The delay is a fine straightforward delay, however it is always locked to tempo. The option to include non-tempo-synced delays would be a welcome and probably easy-to-implement update for a future version.
The only effect whose sound quality I didn’t care for was the reverb. It doesn’t handle short decays very well, but on longer decays the end of the reverb tail becomes metallic and ringy. In most actual use cases, one would probably send the output to an external reverb plugin anyway, but the fact that the built-in reverb is included in many patches by default makes its sound character important. It’s easy enough to turn off, though, as are all the effects, by the thoughtful inclusion of a master bypass button.
Lethal is a modern dance music rompler at heart, but with enough immediate editability and diversity of sound to be used in most genres calling for electronic sounds. The quickness with which one can call up an array of polished patches ranging from pretty to aggressive brings a fun factor to the production process. The free expansion plan could enhance possibilities even further. Overall, an incredibly promising first release from Lethal Audio.
More info: Lethal ($199)
Lethal VST Review
Lethal is a modern dance music rompler at heart, but with enough immediate editability and diversity of sound to be used in most genres calling for electronic sounds. Overall, a promising first release from Lethal Audio.