Once installed, Substance spreads its capabilities across several pages. The first of these is labelled Main and provides an overview of the currently loaded program. A Substance patch is made up of three independent components. Each of these contains a single sound drawing from categories like Organic Hybrids, Complex Synths, Low Brass & Woodwinds and so on. You can swap sounds within a category without affecting the other two components. When you do so, other sounds in the same category will be listed under Source Selection, or you can make larger changes by swapping out an entire component. You can find volume and mute controls for the three components on the Main page. Output's macros lie around the outer edges and allow you to make global changes to parameters affecting the whole program with either automation or your choice of MIDI controller assignments.
Substance has perhaps the most in-depth control of any Output product to date. This is evident on the Edit page, where you can individually shape the sound layers chosen on the Main page. Each layer has an amp envelope whose attack, decay, sustain and release portions can be manipulated with a four-stage curved line found below. There's also pan for each layer and a spread control offering narrow, stereo and wide options for dispersing sounds to the stereo width of your choosing. There's a tuning offset for each layer, too, with handy octave and semitone transpose buttons while the option to make any layer monophonic is also available. Once activated, this gives you the possibility of adding legato. A sample start dial lets you make edits to the beginning of a bass note, which is extremely useful given that many sounds feature a distinct attack stage which then morphs into something quite different over time. Being able to cut the source sound and start it from a later point opens up the possibilities considerably.
The EQ page gives you the opportunity to shape the tone of a layer over three-bands, with bell and shelf options for the low and high bands. Below the EQ settings for each layer is another set of controls for shaping the overall sound. The Filter page is laid out in the same way, with filters available on a per-layer and global level. For the source sounds, you can choose from ten filter types with the usual cutoff and resonance dials lying below, while each layer features an optional four-stage filter envelope. You can also decide how much velocity should be routed to the filter. Positive and negative settings are both available, the latter allowing lower velocity levels to open rather than close a filter. At the bottom of the page, resonant high- and low-pass filters affecting the whole sound can be applied or bypassed altogether.
Substance offers a modular approach to effects because each of the synth engines can access up to six effects simultaneously. To take delay as an example, this means the time and feedback amounts assigned to Sound One needn't be the same as those given to Sound Two. At the bottom of the effects page are an additional four modules for affecting sounds globally, namely distortion, compression, delay and reverb.
So far, the eagle-eyed among you will be wondering where the LFOs are hiding and the answer is provided on the Rhythm page. Here, the volume, bite, cutoff and resonance of each layer can have an independent offset dialed in, which makes it a target for the Rhythm module below. In addition to these parameters being available for modulation in each sound layer, there are also global parameters offered to bring similar movement to six more parameters. Exactly what this modulation sounds like depends upon your choice of Rhythm module. This can either be a waveform or a step sequence generator, with appropriate settings—waveform shape, step number and rate, for instance—available depending on your choice. Additionally, there is a Flux option that warps things less predictably, which is perfect for adding glitchy rasps to key sound parameters.
Substance also offers its own arpeggiator, which can be opened in the top right-hand corner. Here you can choose an arp mode and then create a pattern in the panel below, covering up to a total of 64 steps. You can select the number of octaves over which your pattern will play back and reverse its steps. Indeed, if unpredictability is what you seek, you'll enjoy the randomise option. Assigning macros to parameters (or removing ones that exist already) is straightforward, too. To do this, click on the macros tab, then on one of the four macros. Clicking on the parameter of your choice will map that macro number, giving you options to assign or remove as appropriate. The red and green flags around the parameter then set the amount that the macro will affect it.
It's clear that Substance is appropriately named in terms of the breadth with which its sounds can be manipulated, arranged and musically tweaked. But what of the source material at the instrument's core? What's pleasing is that Output has made a genuine attempt to draw from a kind of greatest hits of all things bass when deciding what content to include. How many bass-oriented sample instruments include a Low Brass & Woodwinds selection? The more obviously synth-oriented sounds are carefully and lovingly sourced but Substance's biggest triumph is the fact that you can combine three sources so easily. Want the twang of a bass guitar in front of a rumbling sub while a low-end stab provides additional punch? Well, of course you do. And rather than having to use three sound sources to achieve such a sound, Substance handles the lot from within a single interface. Accordingly, if your track has any kind of bass requirement, from the simple to the spectacular, you'll find a wealth of starting points here. There's an almost inexhaustible list of ways in which each sound can be fashioned into something unique.
Ease of use: 4.2