I'd been anticipating this book ever since I read of its impending publication in one of Jim Aikin's columns. The tagline "The Definitive Guide to Virtual Musical Instruments" and its well-published author raised hope that this would be a singular, definitive bible for the world of softsynths. For the first 25 pages, it seemingly starts off on this tack, but unfortunately ends up being nothing more than a glorified buyer's guide.
At first this book does a decent job giving textbook descriptions of the wave model of sound and different kinds of sound synthesis. Concepts such as MIDI, latency, buffering, sampling, sampling rate, multisampling, and LFO's are all textbook-defined but not written about in great depth - the author's recent explanation of MIDI in Electronic Musician magazine was far more complete and compelling than the single page long summary in this book. But what is obtusely missing is information on settings and optimization relating to these concepts, but I'll get to that later.
If you're wondering what software is out today, this book might be what you're looking for, as the majority of the book is merely reprinted reviews from the past couple years of Keyboard with some editorial and updates. But even so, many reviews were hopelessly outdated before this book ever hit the shelves. The new landmark Moog emulator by Arturia and major updates to Reason (2.5) and Reaktor (4) didn't make it in here before the publication deadline. Native Instruments' updated Pro-53 is mentioned in the book but the old Pro-52 demo is on the enclosed CD. Some of the reprinted reviews are as much as three years old. While there doesn't necessarily need to be anything new written about a three year old program that still is an industry mainstay, I couldn't help but get the feeling this rushed book was a way for some writers to get more mileage out of their old reviews by throwing them all in a book and enclosing a CD of already downloadable demos ...
For what I hoped was going to be a definitive, comprehensive bible, there are painful omissions. A necessary in-depth discussion on hardware is glossed over. What about the in-depth audio processing differences of a Mac vs. a PC? There's more information on this question in the Reason help files than in this book. The entire Win98 vs. Win2k vs. WinXP / OS 9 vs. OS X discussion is summed up in a single paragraph and without any revelations. What about optimizing and balancing the multiplicity of hardware and software settings for the lowest latency and best sound? Aikin and the other authors of this book have countless hours in optimizing various computers with almost every softsynth program on the market; it's frustrating their undoubtedly consummate tips and experiences didn't make it into this book.
Other glaring omissions: Steinberg's ubiquitous recording and VST plug-in standard Cubase is perpetually referenced but untouched in in-depth discussion or review, as are other important paragons like ProTools and Sonar. Perhaps computer recording is outside the intended scope of the book, but Cubase's VST player is necessary for so many of the programs reviewed that you think that it would be discussed somewhere.
At times, fundamental descriptions or important explanations are brushed aside for the sake of brevity or just sheer laziness. A discussion of something as fundamental as the different harmonic characteristics of the four basic types of waves produced by synthesizers is eschewed because it's "a topic that would take pages to explain." Even as a buyer's guide it falls short, as reviews of definitive products such as ReBirth RB-338 are missing because the author "couldn't round up decent reviews in time to meet the deadline." So much for "the definitive guide"!
If you are merely looking for a buyer's guide and don't feel like searching for the reviews, feel free to pay the premium for this book. But think twice, as almost all the reviews here can be found in old issues of magazines, and most of the demos on the enclosed CD can be downloaded from the manufacturer's web pages. But even as a buyer's guide, with so many important products (such as Native Instruments' Kontakt sampler and Vokator vocoder) hitting the market each month, this book was destined to be outdated before it ever left the press. The need for a buyer's guide would be better served by an annual supplemental issue of Electronic Musician or Keyboard magazine.
As for the end-all, be-all, definitive guide on the theory, concepts, hardware, software, and implementation of Virtual Musical Instruments, keep waiting. And it's a shame, because this could've been it.