Table of Contents
Getting started with Unify: Overview
This page introduces some basic ideas about what Unify is and how it works, as well as some terminology concerning its graphical user interface (GUI). You can safely skip this material on first reading, and come back for a closer look as you get to know the program. To get started right away, go straight to Downloading and Installing Unify.
What is Unify?
Unify is a virtual instrument
Unify is a virtual instrument, which comes with over 600 presets by famed sound designer John "Skippy" Lehmkuhl and others, and over 3 GB of samples. An ever-expanding series of add-on preset libraries is available from PlugInGuru.com and others.
Unlike most virtual instruments, Unify creates sounds by “patching” multiple other plug-ins together in a semi-modular environment. It comes with a collection of built-in and bundled plug-ins, which includes instruments, audio-effects, and MIDI-effects. Unify can also load just about all the plug-ins you already own (VST and VST3 on Windows, plus Audio Units on Mac), and every combination sound you create can be saved as a preset or “patch” for quick recall later.
Think of Unify as a super-powerful Combination mode as in flagship music workstations, where you can use ANY instruments and effects, not just the ones provided by a particular company. Unify has an unlimited number of Layers which can contain an Instrument and zero or more audio effects, and can optionally be controlled by one of an unlimited number of MIDI effects. There are up to 4 AUX Busses and all audio is finally routed to a Master Effect Bus. (See “signal flow” below.)
Unify is both a plug-in AND a plug-in host
Unify comes to you as one stand-alone app and two or three plug-ins (VST, VST3, and Mac Audio Unit) you can use in a DAW app like Logic Pro, Cubase, Ableton, FL Studio, etc. The app and plug-in versions are basically identical; the app version just gives you the convenience of playing without a DAW, e.g., for live performance.
Like a DAW, Unify can host multiple plug-in instances, and connect them in various ways to produce composite sounds. It allows you to easily connect plug-ins in ways that are much more difficult (or in some cases, impossible) in a DAW. For example, most DAWs provide very limited support for MIDI-effect plug-ins (which don't process audio at all, only streams of MIDI data), but Unify's MIDI effect support is excellent and very flexible.
Also like a DAW, Unify can draw on all the processing power in modern multi-core CPUs. This doesn't magically make your computer more powerful–multiple layers in Unify are pretty much the same as multiple tracks in your DAW–but it does allow you to define, save, and quickly recall multi-layer combinations without losing the multi-threading benefits which your DAW provides.
You will be able to load instances of just about all of the VST/VST3 and AU plug-ins you own in Unify, just as you can in your DAW. In some cases, this will allow you to use plug-ins which your DAW cannot load directly, e.g., Logic Pro X can only load Audio-Unit plug-ins, but you can use the AU version of Unify to load VST/VST3's and use them in Logic. Unify is ideal for using MIDI-effect plug-ins, which can be clumsy in many DAWs, and impossible in some.
Unify includes its own suite of plug-ins
You can use your own purchased plug-ins with Unify, but you don't have to, because Unify comes with a whole suite of plug-ins. All the factory patches in the Unify Standard Library are built using only these included plug-ins, so you can get started playing them right away.
Unify's plug-in suite is divided into two groups:
- Built-in plug-ins are part of Unify itself. These include Guru Sampler, a suite of audio effects, and a collection of powerful and unique MIDI effects.
- Bundled third-party VST plug-ins are plug-ins created by other developers, who have kindly given their permission for them to be included with Unify.
Unify is a platform for new sound libraries
Unify is also the future vehicle for most new PlugInGuru.com patch libraries. Since Unify launched in January of 2020, we have shipped many paid libraries and many more free ones, and we have aggressively added new features and abilities to the software to support them, and we continue to do so.
A number of other sound designers have also begun to offer patch libraries for Unify. Many of these are “unified” versions of their existing offerings (see below), but
Unify can make your third-party plug-ins easier to use
The largest class of free libraries for Unify are “unified” libraries. A “unified” library for a specific third-party virtual instrument plug-in has one Unify patch for every one of that plug-in's factory presets. You can quickly load an instance of that plug-in, with a specific preset ready to go. In most cases, unified patches also include effects and pre-assigned macro knobs, and most unified libraries include “bonus patches” where one or more instances of the “unified” plug-in used together with Unify's built-in and bundled plug-ins, to create huge combination sounds.
Unify has several unique abilities which can make loading third-party plug-ins inside Unify more compelling than loading them directly in your DAW:
- Many plug-ins load more quickly inside Unify.
- Because Unify layers run on separate CPU cores, “combo”/“multi” patches made using multiple instances of a plug-in will often work better than the same combinations created within a single instance.
- With Unify's built-in PolyBox MIDI-effect, you can increase the polyphony of any virtual instrument, and even play monophonic plug-ins polyphonically using multiple instances.
- Unify's Macro Knobs let you control any number of plug-in parameters in real-time, and map the most important ones (or combinations) to your own MIDI controller(s) in consistent ways.
- Because Unify can load instances of itself, creating layered and split combinations by loading entire patches (including “unified” factory presets) is quick, easy, and fun.
Layers: How Unify creates composite sounds
Unify creates composite sounds (called patches) using a system of Layers, of which there are three distinct kinds:
- MIDI layers host MIDI-insert plug-ins
- Instrument layers host a chain of plug-ins as follows:
- zero or more MIDI-insert plug-ins (which modify MIDI data)
- exactly one Instrument plug-in (which produce stereo audio in response to incoming MIDI)
- and a chain of zero or more Audio-effect plug-ins (which process stereo audio)
- Audio Effects layers contain only a chain of zero or more Audio-effect plug-ins
- There is always exactly one Master Effects layer, into which the sounds from all other layers are mixed.
- Some Unify patches may also use AUX Effects layers which are comparable to “aux bus” channels in a DAW or a traditional mixing console.
The simplest Unify patch would consist of just one Instrument layer. Incoming MIDI is sent to the hosted Instrument plug-in, which produces corresponding notes, and its output might then be processed through one or more audio-effect plug-ins.
Adding a second Instrument layer allows playing two instruments at once, each with its own chain of audio effects if you wish. You can continue, adding as many instruments as you wish. This is traditionally called “layering”.
Key splitting: Suppose you have two Instrument layers. You can restrict each layer's MIDI note-range so that, for example, layer #1 responds only to the left-hand part of your keyboard, and layer #2 to the right-hand part. This is called a key split, or simply split. For example, you might want a bass sound in the left hand, and a flute sound in the right hand. You might then consider adding a third piano layer, which is not split, to create a combination split/layer arrangement.
Velocity splitting: Another option is to split two or more layers based on MIDI note velocity (velocity split). You could, for example, set Layer 1 to play a dark, mellow piano sound, and Layer 2 a very bright sound. By setting Layer 1 to respond to MIDI note-velocities below, say, 80, and Layer 2 to respond to velocities higher than that, you can create a velocity split which is more dynamically expressive than either of the two individual sounds.
Master Effects layer: Unify's Master Effects layer processes the entire composite sound of a patch. This is an ideal place to put effect plug-ins to shape the overall tonal balance (e.g. equalizer) and dynamics (e.g. compressor, limiter) of the sound.
AUX Effects layers: Putting audio-insert effects on each individual Instrument layer can be useful, but often you would prefer to have just one or two effect chains which are shared among several Instrument layers. Unify provides AUX Effects layers for this. As soon as you create the first AUX Effects layer, Direct and AUX send controls appear on all Instrument layers, so you can separately control how much of that layer's output goes to directly to the Master Effects layer, and how much goes to each AUX Effects layer.
Mixing: Every Instrument and AUX Effects layer in Unify has its own level and pan controls, to control how they are mixed into the Master Effects layer (and hence to the main stereo output).
Multi-Threading: Unify automatically allocates each layer to a different core in a multi-core CPU, allowing it to draw on all your computer's processing power. Think of each layer in Unify as roughly equivalent to a track in your DAW. One instance of Unify running, say, ten layers would tax your computer's CPU power about as much as ten individual tracks loaded with the same set of plug-ins.
This diagram shows the basic signal flow inside Unify:
- Incoming MIDI data (from your DAW and/or MIDI keyboard/controller) is routed to all MIDI layers.
- Each MIDI layer can host a whole chain of MIDI effects, with the MIDI output of the first one being the input to the second, and so on, and the output of the last MIDI effect being the output MIDI stream for that layer.
- Each Instrument layer can be set to receive MIDI directly from the MIDI input stream, OR from the output of any selected MIDI Layer.
- If AUX layers are used, each Instrument layer will show one Aux Send knob for each, which controls how much of that Instrument layer's output is sent to each AUX layer, and also a Direct Send knob, to control how much is sent directly to the Master Effects layer (bypassing the AUX layers entirely).
- Unify computes a stereo mix of all Instrument and AUX layers, based on each layer's level and pan controls, and this mix goes to the input of the Master Effects layer.
- The output of the Master Effects layer is the output of Unify itself.
MIDI Manipulation on MIDI and Instrument Layers
Unify also provides some additional MIDI-manipulation options, which are not shown in the diagram:
- The selected MIDI input stream for each Instrument layer is routed to every plug-in on that layer, including the audio effects, allowing for MIDI control of effects, if desired.
- Each MIDI and Instrument layers can perform certain manipulations of the input MIDI stream, even if no MIDI plug-ins are loaded. These include:
- Filtering based on MIDI channels, and altering the channel-number
- Transposing MIDI pitch up or down by semitones (up to four octaves)
- Filtering based on MIDI pitch (for key splits) or velocity (for velocity splits)
- Altering MIDI note-velocities based on a custom velocity-response curve
- MIDI Latching: incoming notes can be latched, so the note toggles ON and OFF with successive note-on events. Both monophonic and polyphonic latch modes are available.