Vintage virtual orchestration on a budget: Part 4

E-MU Proteus VX

E-MU Proteus VX

Out of the three virtual instruments listed here, Proteus VX is the most modern (Cyclone is of course a much newer plugin, but emulates something far older) as its default Composer soundset is based on E-MU’s 1999 Proteus 2000 sound module. The Composer bank is 32MB — 5.3x Cyclone’s RAM, and 8x the size of the S-YXG50 ROM — and the difference in audio fidelity is clear. Compared to the other two, Proteus VX sounds big, fat and expensive.

The Composer bank has a whopping 1024 presets, which is both a blessing and a curse. Having a lot to choose from is always very nice, but since many presets lack descriptive names and are only loosely ordered into categories, it’s difficult to find what you’re looking for without browsing through hundreds of them. I had a Proteus 2000 for a couple of years in the early 2000’s but never took a liking to it as it felt like 80% of its presets were basses and organs. Browsing through the Composer bank some 14 years later, I think my assessment wasn’t too far off the mark.

Despite having tons of some things, Proteus VX does however not have a full set of orchestral instruments. This isn’t overly surprising as E-MU released their dedicated orchestral unit Virtuoso 2000 shortly after the Proteus 2000 and I guess it made little sense having two of their products competing with each other. Plus that several orchestral expansion boards were available for the Proteus 2000 as well. The default unit was geared more towards other styles of music and the majority of presets consist of pop/rock/hip hop/EDM-oriented fare. Having said that, all the “real” instruments that are present sound big and full, though of course dated in terms of detail and expression.

 

Given its limited amount of orchestral instruments and sheer abundance of weird synth patches, Proteus VX is more suited for hybrid type arrangements rather than pure virtual orchestration. Finding a huge-sounding pad or rhythmic sound is not difficult, and the strings, brass and winds patches on offer are better used for enhancing the synthetic sounds rather than taking center stage.

E-MU Proteus 2000

The only real criticism I can think of regarding Proteus VX is my highly subjective opinion that E-MU stuff in general is sort of sterile. Everything is very high quality, very slick and technically competent, but lacks that little bit of warmth and character that makes me prefer Yamaha and Roland. But that is just E-MU’s style and you either like it or you don’t. The plugin itself does have some quirks, like when you adjust a reverb send or whatever and it asks you whether you want so save the bank, but these are minor issues and Proteus VX is a very solid experience for the most part.

Bottom line, Proteus VX represents the twilight of an era, maybe not the last but definitely among the last of the big hardware synth modules that ruled the world before virtual instruments started kicking off in a major way. And for that reason alone, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Next: Part 5. The real deal
Previous: Part 3. Sonic Charge Cyclone

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