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Interesting Soft Synths released in 2011

Quite often I read forum threads where people ask for some latest, good soft synth recommendations. So here it is - short article which introduces commercial synths released in 2011. Remember that my opinion is totally subjective. I don't have all synths, some even don't offer demo version so this article shares hmm my first impressions rather than fully detailed reviews.

Feel free to post your own thoughts about presented plugins too :)

Dmitry Sches Diversion - website

Dmitry Sches Diversion is, I believe, one of the biggest surprises this year. It came out of nowhere and just sounds great. I mean, it doesn't try to replicate some old analogue, hardware synth, it's not another sine / square / saw subtractive synth (do we need more of such synths ?) - it's a pure digital sounding synth. It does sound very clean, bright. The GUI and overall workflow is very nice. I also love Osc Morph windows and Main morph which quickly offer lots of variation to existing presets.

I would say that if you're looking for some modern synth, if you liked for example Sylenth, then you'll definitely like Diversion. But don't get me wrong. It's not another trance machine - it's more like a digital monster synth :).

One thing that people won't be happy about is serious CPU consumption but it's like with U-He ACE for example. Do you like the synth ? Then deal with CPU consumption :) There is a demo so everyone can test it and decide if CPU usage is acceptable or not. Or you can just learn how to freeze track(s) in your DAW :)

This plugin costs 150 $ and it's an introductory price.

Audio Damage Phosphor - website

Honestly, I don't know anything about this synth (except some official informations of course). There is no demo, the synth is modeled on the alphaSyntauri - vintage digital additive synth which required an Apple to operate. Judging by forum, blog posts it's not the most popular / hyped synth. On the other hand Audio Damage guys are well known from designing great, creative effects so Phosphor can't be that bad ;) The price set to 59 $ seems ok.

Cakewalk Z3TA+ 2 - website

I wasn't happy with the announcement of Cakewalk Z3TA+ 2 release. Why ? Because 2-3 days earlier I released new soundbank for Z3TA+ 1.5.3 and it took me quite a lot of time :) Then I heard that the "old" presets will work with new version too. I quickly realised that Z3TA+ 2 will be more like an update, rather than new synth. And indeed - it's an old, legendary Z3TA+ 1 synthesis updated, with totally changed GUI, workflow.

So, what's new ? In terms of synthesis - not much. The most noticeable changes are 2-3 new waveshaping options, more modulation destinations, 4 new filter types (I don't know which one, to be honest :) ) and that's pretty much it. The biggest changes are when it comes to GUI and workflow. Z3TA+ 2 is just much more user friendly and controls (sliders, knobs) are where supposed to be :)

Z3TA+ 2 offers 2000 presets: 1000 "old" presets, and 1000 "new" presets. To be honest I like the old factory presets more.

Overall, it's very tough to judge such synth. One will say that there are not enough changes (for example, I would like to see some additional waveforms introduced as well as improved unison because "multi mode" known from old Z3TA is just old and it sucks), others will say that current version has too many bugs. Yes, Cakewalk is working on it but indeed, there are too many bugs (on the other hand, I can use it so it's not that bad ;) ). The third group are people who loved old Z3TA+ and are just satisfied with workflow, GUI and patch management (I like it) changes... I'm in the third group.

Image-Line Harmor - website

Harmor is a bigger (much bigger) brother of Image-Line Harmless synth, which means that it, to create some interesting sounds, uses additive synthesis. One thing Harmor really stands out is audio resynthesis. The reproduction, if precision set to high, is really faithful - very often better than in bigger, more expensive products (guess which ;p). It also offers image synthesis - simply load just some 2d image and you'll have a new sound :)

Overall, it's a very deep and interesting synth. The introductory price is 99 $ and will change into 149 $. Definitely, this synth is on my "i want to have it" list. It's just easy, fun to tweak and not as bloated as other synths. Also I like the factory presets which introduce many, modern sounding presets. It worth mentioning that CPU consumption seems to be pretty low.

discoDSP Corona - website

When I first loaded Corona demo (plus for the author that there aren't any stupid 60sec noises :) ) I was a little bit surprised. I mean, the general trend is that the synths are getting more advanced, more complicated and overall require more knowledge - both from designers and users. Four ElectraX layers, Harmor resynthesis, Diversion Osc morphing possibilities. It's all great, creative and fun but requires time to program.

What if I want to go back to something hmm let's say typical 3x Osc architecture (Novation V-Station anyone? ), where you can program new sound in almost seconds without tweaking hundreds of parameters, without going through tabs, screens ? Well, then you have Corona synth :) It's a 3xOsc synth which offers very typical architecture - three oscillators, 2x LFO (+ Vibrato unit), 3x Envelopes (Amp, Filter, Modulation), Filter, Unison unit, Mod Matrix and that's pretty much it. Boring / Old ? Sure ... until you realise that each oscillator has about 300 timbres (classic VA timbres + single cycle waveforms + wave (piano, choir etc.)) and you can combine oscillators using 14 operators (Add, Sub, Or, And etc.). Then the real fun starts :)

What I really like about Corona is that the overall architecture, interface allow me to create new sounds quick, without losing the inspiration. It's totally opposite compared to other 2011 synths where creating the sound is more like a crafting something complicated :) There are some really nice tweaks, such as selecting timbres by mousewheel, or randomize them :) It's a very nice synth, especially if you like to program your own sounds fast.

G-Force ImpOSCar 2 - website

For some reason, I couldn't install the demo (just had some weird "Japanese" letters), so there's really not much to say here other than some official infos. ImpOSCar2 is the successor to impOSCar software synthesizer. While the original impOSCar was a component emulation of the rare and classic OSCar synthesizer with a few added bells and whistles, such as polyphony and on-board effects, impOSCar2 soars to new sonic heights via new features and enhancements, each designed around the wishes of those musicians, programmers and producers who loved the original.

Since the original impOSCar release G-Force carefully compiled user feedback and over the course of eighteen months, in another true labour of love, they incorporated the best of these within impOSCar2 creating a synth that positively oozes more character, more playability, more expression and more detailed sound sculpting opportunities than could have been imagined a few years ago.

All in all, it's a recreation of old, classic synth. If you're into such stuff - try it.

XILS-lab Synthix - website

Synthix is inspired by (which means that it's not a strict emulation - it's more like an emulation + additional features) classic Elka Synthex analogue synth. I don't know if it sounds similar to original but by reading some forums, blogs I heard that this classic VA is just best analogue sounding virtual synth along with other XILS-lab synths such as Poly KB II. Of course I couldn't compare it to impOSCar 2 but I guess it's fully safe to say that indeed it's one of top three classic virtual analogue sounding synths.

It also offers some unique features. For example Synthix supports key splits with individual patching and MIDI on both upper and lower sections of the keyboard. So for example you can play some bassline presets with left hand, and some arpeggios with right hand. And there is "multi-layering" which let's you stack up to 8 patches into one voice.

It's a really deep VA synth which has an amazing sound but also requires a lot of "power". It's actually pretty funny that in XXI century, to have some old analogue sounding synth, you need to make sure first that your digital computer can handle it :D

If I would have to criticize something, I would say that a top class synths support scrolling through next / previous preset via computer keyboard (ie. U-He Zebra) - not some arrows you need to contantly click on :) After 100 mouse clicks I usually have enough of such synths :) Yes, that is a request. I don't like that developers create their own preset browsers (ok, that's good) and cripple (that's not good) the functionality of default patch browser which supported (ie. in Ableton Live) scrolling through the next preset just by hitting "cursor down" on keyboard. Ok, maybe it is possible to make a patch change by sending midi CC but and not sure (demo didn't allow it) and still it's worse than a simple keyboard button hit :P

Adam Szabo JP6K - website

Compared to other synths from the list, this is a pretty small and very limiting synth. But it offers probably the best supersaw-like oscillator known from the legendary Roland JP-8x series. It's actually pretty amazing, how many sounds you can create just by using two "supersaw" oscillators (there aren't classic VA waveforms like Sine, Square etc.).

If you're into smooth, trancy sounding pads or leads, you should definitely get this synth. It's really worth - the price is pretty low 25 EUR.

Tone2 ElectraX - website

Technically, Tone2 ElectraX was released on 5th December 2010 (so not 2011) but I decided to just bend the rules a little bit :). Maybe one day I'll go back to 2010 and wrote similar article so I could move ElectraX there. Anyway, ElectraX is third Tone2 synth, after Firebird and Gladiator. I own all these synths and actually can't decide which one is the best. Firebird is tiny, little beast which was not enough for me (just bought it too late) so I quickly decided to get the bigger brother (or sister ;) ) Tone2 Gladiator which was mainly about unique HCM (Harmonic Content Morphing) synthesis which naturally set this synth as perfect for all kind of pads, evolving sounds, atmospheres etc. ElectraX, on the other hand, is totally different story (but definitely you can feel there Tone2 flavour too). I see ElectraX more like a very deep lead / bass / synth machine.

The oscillators support custom single cycle waveforms, "real" wavetables (you know, similar to Waldorf products), typical virtual analog synthesis, some supersaw-like synthesis, FM and others. So it's a very versatile synth. It's also low CPU hungry which was quite a surprise to me (judging by the sound quality I expected bigger consumption). In this case CPU usage matters a lot because each patch / preset can use up to 4 layers / synthesizers ! Honestly, ElectraX offers so many options that quite often I just don't know where to go - should I use some real wavetables, or maybe Ultrasaw, or maybe just load some waveform ? Or better just turn on another layer ?

I like synths that offer strong, modern sound and ElectraX is definitely there. If I would have to choose the "best" synth from this list I would pick Tone2 product. But the truth is that it's a personal thing. It's just fits my needs, my style etc. Other people, who like for example virtual analog synths, should pick something like XILS-lab Synthix for example.

Native Instruments Razor - website

It's totally unknown synth to me. It's based on additive synthesis, it requires NI Reaktor 5.5 or NI Reaktor Free, it costs 69 EUR and that's pretty much all I know about it.

Hamburg-Audio Nuklear - website

Nuklear is the first virtual instrument based on pulse train synthesis. What does it mean ? According to the manual, it's the form of granular synthesis named after spinning neutron stars that emit periodic signals in the range of 0.25 Hz to 642 Hz. Basic pulsar synthesis as desribed by Curtis Roads generates a monophonic periodic pulsar train controlled by the two parameters: fundamental frequency (pulsar frequency) and duty cycle frequency (formant frequency). The pulsaret is characterised by the pulsaret waveform and the pulsaret envelope.

I only had a short demo with this synth so it'll be a totally first impression or something like that. First of all pulsar train generators (it's an "oscillator") require learning or at least reading the manual :) I don't read manuals so for the first time I really felt hmmm weird - I didn't understand most parameters. It's not that this synth is overcomplicated or something, it's just a new synthesis which requires some learning curve.

Judging by the presets, the synth really brings some new, interesting sounds on the table. Some distorted (but in a good, musical way) presets sound very nice, modern. On the other hand, there are also interesting pads.

Well, my overall impression is: Nuklear is an intersting synth which requires some learning first :) One thing I don't like is the GUI or maybe I just should say: knob labels. In 1900x1200 resolution they're small and blurry. Also dark grey (almost black BUT not black) color is not helping. Some bigger GUI for bigger resolutions (like in U-He Zebra) would be great, or at least some sharper and darker fonts.


Anonymous said...

A very interesting review. Thanks for taking the time,



Greeg said...

thanks mate :) the are still 3 months left - i wonder if there will be some more interesting synths in 2011 :)

Greeg said...

article updated with another entry - Nuklear synth :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, I just stumbled unto your site while searching for googling for Prophet 5 info. Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge and experience. I know I will be spending a lot of time here :)

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