Wurlis. You know ‘em, you love ‘em. Outside of ridiculous facial hair or dressing like you are in a 1920s barbershop quartet, there is just nothing cooler right now. But they are a pain – all are noisy, some are noisier. Plus the tuning can be pretty wonky on most of them. The perfect solution is a software version, as long as no one knows you’re using a software version.
Arturia started out making excellent software synths, replicating the sounds of old analog monsters like the ARP 2600 and Moog Modular. I’ve used these many times and they are great, sounding fat and rich with nice graphics to set the mood. Now they’ve come out with a Wurlitzer software “recreation” that uses physical modeling to recreate one specific Wurlitzer: the model 200A. It’s the one most people want when they buy a real Wurlitzer; they run about $800 for a rough condition one to about $3,000 for a fully reconditioned one. So how does a $99 piece of software sound compared to a real one?
Arturia’s Wurlitzer V comes as a plugin for RTAS, VST (2 and 3), and AU, plus as a standalone version. It uses the eLicenser system for authorization, which I had never used before and was kind of a pain to setup (more on this later).
Because Arturia uses a physical modeling engine instead of a sample-based engine, the software package itself is pretty small – the entire download package clocks in at 247 megs on the Mac. The physical modeling engine calculates the sound in real-time, using some kind of crazy algorithms to create all the hammers, reeds, and noises a Wurlitzer makes as you are playing it.
It’s a very different approach than playing back prerecorded samples, and it goes along with Arturia’s synth roots. It also uses a lot less computer resources than most playback software, primarily because it doesn’t have to access the hard drive in order to make sound.
It’s very responsive, to be sure, I never heard any lag, even with a lot of effects piled on.
Speaking of effects, although the Wurlitzer V has only one keyboard sound, it does come with a complete assortment of effects, both pedals and amps. It has three basic output modes:
Studio or Direct Mode: basically a direct box, although it does have a bypassable reverb attached directly after it for some reason.
Stage Mode: which means through an amp. This has 4 amps with their corresponding speakers, and three microphones. They can all be freely mixed and matched.
Rotary: a very configurable Leslie-type rotating speaker. The highs and lows can be different widths and depths.
It also comes with 11 different effects pedals, which are placed before the output mode. These cover all the basics like compressor, phaser, flanger, etc. But I have to call out for special mention two: the Vocal Filter and the Analog Delay.
The vocal Filter is kind of like a Talkbox but it can be put on an LFO and rotated or manually rotated around all the vowels (A, E, I, O, and U). The analog pedal was just the right kind of mushy grit and could feedback indefinitely, even while switched off. Both sounded really cool.
So… How Does It Sound?
When I first loaded it up on a basic setting it sounded good – not great, but good. The low end was awesome, and the mids were decent, but the high end didn’t sound as sparkling as I had hoped. BUT as I started to play around with the presets, of which there are many, I began to see inside the entire device and could hear bits of what I wanted. This preset had the killer grit on the hi-mids, that preset had the smooth wide stoner chorus, the funky talking basslines were all there. I just had to open up all the hidden settings to dial in what I was looking for.
There are two very important buttons along the top menu that give you access to everything you might need to make the perfect sound. Hitting the Open button pulls down the two sidespeakers and the front silver panel and gives you a slew of options for carving your sound.
You can fully adjust all the parameters for dynamics, Velocity curve, a graphic EQ, hammer noise (grit upon impact), hammer hardness, note off noise (VERY realistic sound of the hammer coming back to rest), sustain pedal noise, even pickup distance and axis can be adjusted! All this is before the pedals and the output stage. Now we are getting somewhere!
From there on out I could really get the exact type of sound I wanted for each song – from groovy 70’s Billy Preston smoothness, to insane distorted ear worms, it really is all here. There’s even a parameter for making it play out of tune with itself, just like a real vintage wurli!
I am in love and lost myself for an hour jamming on the sound. Mind you, it does all start with the same Model 200A beginning point, but being able to change every parameter of the keyboard and then run it through a bunch of pedals and then three different outputs gives you a lot of flexibility.
Played next to a real Model 200A you could probably tell the difference. But compared to any other Wurli emulation out there, this is the most flexible and usable of them all. It’s kind of like the software tape emulators – you could probably tell the difference if you took them side-by-side, but it’s a moot point when you don’t have the money to buy or the time to maintain a vintage machine.
Wurlitzer V from Arturia is an inspiring, gritty, and fully realized Wurlitzer Model 200A inside your computer. If you can rock the Wurli, it’s completely worth the asking price.
This software is available for $99 street price and you can try out a fully-functional (yes!) 15-day trial version.
I almost forgot about the authorization. Sigh. Arturia’s “eLicenser system” is an iLok-type central control system where you register your software with Arturia, then get a code from them, then enter that code into the eLicenser software, which then downloads the authorization to your eLicenser dongle OR a software key on your drive.
I don’t need another dongle, so I opted for the software dongle. Except when I tried this, the eLicenser could not find my software dongle. Grr. Back and forth we go – finally it created a new software dongle after I ran a long maintenance script from within the eLicenser application. But this is a one-time installation. In order to take the program around with me to use on another computer, or even on another partition of my computer, I’ll need yet another dongle…the eLicenser one.
Click for more information, sound samples, and to demo or purchase the Arturia Wurlitzer V – Download for $99; purchase the boxed software for $129.
Eli Janney is a Brooklyn-based producer/engineer who has recently produced and mixed albums for The Big Sleep, PT Walkley, Obits and The Soft Pack, and mixed Wilco and Eddie Vedder concert films in 5.1 surround for DVD and Blu-ray. Get in touch via http://www.elijanney.com.