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15 Virtual synths that went under the radar

I like to praise free or cheap virtual synths but how about those commercial synthesizers that went totally under the radar ? Of course, it's all subjective. My assumptions may be totally false. After all, I'm not a world class producer :) so I can only judge plugins by using them, reading reviews, blogs, forums etc.

The concept of this article was inspired by some similar topic created on KvR Audio forum. The point is: there is a group of quality, popular and hyped synths that people people talk about all the time, such as: U-He Zebra, Lennar Digital Sylenth, NI Massive, Camel Audio Alchemy, ReFx Nexus, FxPansion DCAM Synth Squad, Synapse Audio Dune, U-He ACE, Waldorf Largo, NI FM8, Arturia stuff. There is also another group - synths that bring quality on the table too but are much less hyped or got "old". And these are the synths I would like to introduce.

Sugar Bytes Unique - website

Released: April 2007

Secret weapon:
- great filter that can work in Vowel Mode for mouthwatering vocalized sounds
- very playable - the video speaks for itself :)
- step sequencer, X-Y motion controller can act as modulation sources
- two oscillators that offer basic waveforms + 'triple saw', 'triple FM'

Audio Demo:

Final word:
As the name implies, it's indeed an Unique synth :) Vowel filter is great.

Price: 129 € / 149 $

Future Audio Workshop Circle - website

Released: January 2005

Secret weapon:
- two oscillator modes: analog and wavetable (selection of more than 100 waveform shapes)
- clearly designed GUI, nicely presented modulators
- randomize presets feature

Audio Demo:

Final word:
I always wanted to have it but it's too pricey - quite often it costs more than absolutely top class plugins. Or maybe is it the top class plugin too ? :)

Price: 149 € / 199 $

Image-Line Toxic Biohazard - website

Released: March 2008

Secret weapon:
- 6 oscillators which can load custom waveforms
- hybrid synthesis engine, combining the best of FM and Subtractive synthesis
- FM matrix - it's much more advanced than "one knob FM synthesis" but also not as complicated as true FM Synths ie. NI FM8
- powerful and one of the best sequencers available

Audio Demo:

Final word:
I don't like the factory presets (too much of ambient, atmospheres) but except this, it's a real monster synth with very good sound quality. Combination of 6 oscillators + FM matrix + custom waveforms is very flexible and very powerful. Very underrated synth. I use it as "new Sylenth" (but yea, I needed to create my own presets).

Price: 99 $

Korg Wavestation - website

Released: March 2004

Secret weapon:
- able to import original Wavestation series data via SysEx (SYX) files
- vector Joystick (Midi controlled too) which allows to morph between four oscillators
- over 1400 presets and 700 PCM Waveforms
- 55 Types of on-board effects
- very playable, feels like a true Wavestation

Audio Demo:

Final word:
Compared to hardware version, programming is much improved but still, due to it's complexity (a lot of mouse clicking because some editing options are nested) it requires patience :)

Overall, it's a lovely synth with very wide range of presets available. Ok, maybe it won't fit 2011 dubstep genre ;) but it perfectly reproduces early 90s sounds which won't get old that fast :) 50 $ for this is a real bargain.

Price: 50 $

Vember Audio Surge - website

Released: October 2005

Secret weapon:
- multiple oscillator algorithms including: Classic, Wavetable, FM
- 1010 patches
- for such deep synth, the GUI is really well designed but it requires some learning curve
- a lot of features, algorithms: Delay, Reverb, Chorus, Phaser, EQ, Distortion, Conditioner (EQ, stereo-image control & limiter), Rotary speaker, Frequency shifter, Vocoder

Audio Demo:

Final word:
I guess the most powerful thing in Surge are the oscillators. In VA mode each oscillator provides modulatable shape, width, sub-oscillator level, width, self sync and detunable unison. In wavetable mode each osc provides modulatable shape, skew, saturation - it reminds me Z3ta+ powerful waveshaping.
Overall, it's a very deep synth which doesn't try to be "warm" as some VA synths. It can be warm, analogue, if you want to, but it can also sound digital. The GUI requires some learning curve.

Price: 99 € / 99 $

Progress Audio Kinisis - website

Released: November 2009

Secret weapon:
- innovative timeline system
- one screen GUI

Final word:
Kinisis is mainly suited for those who need something truly innovative. There are no standard ADSR Envelopes, instead there is a timeline system that gives you detailed control over how a parameter changes over the course of a note.

Price: 85 € / 110 $ / 80 Uk Pounds

Linplug Octopus - website

Released: December 2005

Secret weapon:
- Dual matrix synthesizer - one is FM Matrix and the other is general modulation matrix
- 8 Oscillators that can be modulated via FM Matrix
- each oscillator can be powered by additive synthesis or single cycle waveforms (there's also save option)
- load samples into sampler

Audio Demo:

Final word:
Just like other synths listed here, Octopus is unique synth too :) It offers 8 oscillators and each can modulate the other by using FM Matrix. The concept is similar to Toxic Biohazard. BUT Octopus oscillators, instead of waveforms (which can be loaded too), use additive synthesis. I own a copy of Octopus and to be honest it's still on my list of synths I need to master :)

Factory soundbank contains more than 550 presets, which is very nice result, especially taking wide range of Octopus possibilities into account.

Price: 129 $

Schwa Olga - website

Released: February 2008

Secret weapon:
- warm, analogue, fat, classic VA sound with the touch of overdrive

Audio Demo:

Final word:
Compared to other synths in this article, Olga has quite basic features but in this VA case, it's more about the character and Olga definitely has it. It feels like a mysterious (knob, slider labels are in Russian :) but you can change it), analogue synth you found on some old attic :)

Price: 80 $

QuikQuak Glass Viper - website

Released: October 2007

Secret weapon:
- quite unique organic synthesis thanks to 4 editable waveforms, that can move independently during play
- 12 LFO's with independant speed and gain envelopes

Audio Demo:

Final word:
It offers unique waveform shaping through the series of moving control points as well as plenty of LFO's, Envelopes. It also brings some organic feeling.
One thing which could be improved is GUI but for such price Glass Viper is a real bargain.

Price: 35 UK Pounds

DiscoDSP Discovery Pro - website

Released: July 2007

Secret weapon:
- inspired by Clavia's Nord Lead series (imports Nord Lead 2 / 2X SysEx data)
- multilayer (four layers) synth with 3 oscillators per layer (2 standard oscillators with ring mod, FM mod and 1 wave oscillator that can load WAV / SF2 files)
- constantly updated with new features added

Audio Demo:

Final word:
Well, DiscoDSP Discovery didn't go under the radar but I just wanted to spread some love and mention about it :) Very deep synth packed with quality features, constantly developed.

Price: 149 € / 199 $

Loomer Aspect - website

Released: January 2009

Secret weapon:
- warm and analog sound
- good, large visual interface
- nice modulation possibilities

Audio Demo:

Final word:
Semi-modular structure offers enough of programming possibilities and at the same time it doesn't make the synth too bloated. Programming presets is intuitive and entertaining. I guess it's also thanks to clear and intuitive interface.

Price: 65 UK pounds

Korg M1 - website

Released: March 2004

Secret weapon:
- 3100 presets sounds, 950 PCM Waveforms
- original M1 and T-series data can also be imported as SysEx (SYX) files
- new functions often requested for the original M1 (ie. Resonant Filter, greater sound processing capabilities)

Audio Demo:

Final word:
Just like Korg Wavestation - it's a lovely synth for a bargain price with stunning amount of presets. If you are after a "bread & butter" synth then there is enough sweet chocolate here to enjoy it :) But also don't forget that the original Korg M1 was produced between 1988-1994 so you won't find here Deadmau5 plucks ;) Instead, you'll find famous 'M1 Piano' sound, electric pianos, organs, synth pads, drums, picked basses which are still in use today.

Price: 50 $

Audjoo Helix - website

Released: November 2008

Secret weapon:
- wave-table-shaping oscillators (waveshaping concept combined with wavetable synthesis)
- CPU friendly
- amazing "super-saw like" sound thanks to up to 16 waves detuned per oscillator

Audio Demo:

Final word:
A little bit forgotten by the community because there are virtually no promotions, discounts for this synth :) But people who own Helix, love it.

Price: 149 $

KV331audio Synthmaster 2.5 - website

Released: October 2010

Secret weapon:
- wavetable/wavescanning synthesis added in 2.5 version
- rich wavetable content - over 400 factory wavetables !
wave-table-shaping oscillators (waveshaping concept combined with wavetable synthesis)
- clean GUI inviting to program own presets

Audio Demo:

Final word:
With 2.5 version, totally redesigned and very affordable (compared to features it offers) synth

Price: 99 $

Madrona Labs Aalto - website

Released: September 2010

Secret weapon:
- old synth Buchla-inspired complex oscillator
- simple functional GUI

Audio Demo:

Final word:
Madrona Labs Aalto is heavily praised on Gearslutz Board (analogue synths lovers board ;) ) and not without a reason. It's a very nice synth, different than the others. It's like - even if you have Arturia Moog Modular V (based on Moog Modular), even if you have Xils-Lab XILS 3 (EMS VCS3) or Xils-Lab PolyKB II (RSF PolyKobol) there are still some old school analogue and unique goodies available, such as Madrona Labs Aalto.

Price: 99 $


Anonymous said...

Not even a single freeware ?
Change your "about" man.

Greeg said...

i guess the explanation is written in the beginning of this article :)

Anonymous said...

Synthmaster is also very nice plugin, definitely not as popular as it should be

Greeg said...

small update - two additional synths that are very nice for sure but somehow pretty unknown to the "masses" ;)

Impulslogik said...


Circle now for €49/$69!

Josh said...

discovery pro: it can make some ripping aggressive leads. good for dutch/electro/complextro.
big ups to toxic and glass viper too.

Anonymous said...

m1 comes with lots more data but I would get the 61 key keyboard controller they just came out with it has that plus the rest of the synths for about $170

Anonymous said...

Just get Komplete you cheap bastards. It's all you will ever need. I promise you.

LooneyJetman said...

Audjoo Helix is absolutely awesome. I had it on the Mac a few years ago and it was a bit troublesome to use (possibly because I was running a G5 Mac when Apple had switched to Intel), but now I'm back on Windows, it's a blast.

Anonymous said...

I am having a hard time installing audjoo helix.

Can anyone help with a step by step?

i will run the exe and it unpacks it somewhere in my computer and it has no vst dll


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