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15 interesting synths

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Big Tick Rainbow

Bit Tick Rainbow was released about … 10 years ago. It was a commercial product priced at 70 EUR but not anymore. About a month ago Big Tick changed it’s license (as well as their other ‘old’ products such as Angelina, EP-Station) to freeware, which means it requires a some attention 🙂

Even if it’s antique synth, it’s still quite interesting. First of all – it was a commercial product. Second – well, this will be obvious – it’s … CPU friendly 🙂 Third – current version is 2.50 while first public release had 1.63 number which means that Big Tick were improving their synth over time.

So, what kind of synth Rainbow is ? It offers quite a variety of synthesis types including FM, AM, additive, and subtractive, and features up to four identical oscillators, and up to 24-voice polyphony. There’s Hi-, Low- Band- pass filter, built-in chorus, step sequencer, oversampling – quite nice features for 10 year old product, don’t you think ?

There are about 300 presets available – you can find there some analogue leads, powerful basses, FM pads, pianos, bells, arpeggiated sequences etc. Overall, it’s quite nice freebie with pretty interesting structure (it’s not another standard, boring subtractive synth 😉 ).

Download: Big Tick Audio (requires free registration)

Angular Momentum Freehand

Angular Momentum Freehand is quite unique freebie – I find it useful especially for basslines. First of all – Oscillators. There are three oscillators with 135 factory waveforms each. Each oscillator has a wavedraw ability which means that you can draw your own waveform or generate the random one. Neat 🙂 Like I said, AM Freehand is nice for all kind of evolving sounds but, in my opinion, it shines especially for wobbly bassline sequencies. Why ? It offers double FM CV Sequencers as well as pitch sequencer. Each sequencer has neat “smooth knob” which creates the smooth curves (it reminds NI Massive curve abilities a little bit but of course it’s not as sophisticated – it’s just a smoothness).

AM Freehand is offered as free plugin, limited with 8 voices, 100 presets (which to be honest I don’t like 🙂 ) and as donationware plugin which brings 32 voices and additional presets.

Audio demo: Sequencer (with smooth knob automated) + LFO

Download: AM Freehand

Phase Distortion Synth – Kassiopeia! 2.0

Phase distortion synthesis is quite forgotten synthesis method, introduced in 1984 by Casio, in its CZ range of synths. It’s similar to FM (frequency modulation) synthesis in the sense that both methods “dynamically change the harmonic content of a carrier waveform by application of another waveform (modulator) in the time domain”.
While Casio introduced the term ‘phase distortion’, it’s actually Yamaha who produced the first Phase distortion synthesizers in their DX series (which were promoted as FM synths).

Kassiopeia! 2.0 is free (and probably the best) Casio CZ Inspired Dual Line Phase Distortion virtual Synthesizer. Quite often I hear: “FM Synth ? Nah, that’s not for me”. How about PD Synth ? 🙂 Kassiopeia is entertaining, easy to use and you don’t need to be a master of Phase Distortion synthesis to create some interesting sounds. It offers 32 presets – not much, but very clean gui (I love it) almost invites to create new presets 🙂 It’s worth mentioning that Kassiopeia is very CPU friendly and included PDF manual has a commercial product quality 🙂

Speaking about commercial products. If you’re looking for commercial Casio CZ like synth then released in 2003, ReFX PlastiCZ, reviewed at Phatso Brown seems pretty nice vst toy 🙂

Download: Sonic Assault Kassiopeia! 2.0
More info: Phase Distortion Synthesis described and FM / PD comparison

H. G. Fortune AlioNoctis

If you recognize any of H. G. Fortune’s audio plugin then you probably know what to expect. If you don’t then … Well, H. G. Fortune AlioNoctis is described as “Sounds from the Other World” and it seems to be a very good description. If you’re looking for quite “out of this world” atmospheres, soundscapes, pads then AlioNoctis should fit your needs perfectly.

It offers, three PCM-wave oscillators powered by 128 waveforms, two resonant filters and tons of various modulations which can be randomized by LFO-s or manually thanks to nice X-Y Pads. Free version of H. G. Fortune AlioNoctis offers just 5 voices but still it’s an improvement compared to other HGF plugins and to be honest, it seems pretty enough. After all, if you need all of features then consider buying Pro version.

I like this synth quite a lot because it’s quite unique, it’s easy to use and it’s easy to create some nice atmospheres.

Audio Demo:

Download: H.G.Fortune – AlioNoctis

Morfiki MassTurboTar VSTi

Morfiki massTURBOtar is a hybrid synthesizer powered by quite unique morphing capabilities. The basic goal is to let you manipulate your sound easily. How it is done ? Every preset has up to five so called MORFIKI sub-presets. Thanks to “morph” knob, you can morph between these sub-presets.

It’s very easy, very intuivite (and fun too :D) and actually it helps to create (almost instantly) interesting presets. I’m surprised that no one (?) tried this approach before. I mean, imagine Waldorf Largo with it’s 4 layers and a possiblity to dynamically morph between them just to create an unique preset. But it’s not about the morfiki system only. I really like the FM Modulation functionality merged into one knob along with Oscillator’s Waveforms. It’s amazingly easy to create nice presets just by tweaking 2-3 knobs (Osc1 Ctrl, Osc2 + Morph knob).

massTURBOtar is one of the entries for KVR Developer Challenge 2009 and judging by the comments it’s definitely one of the favourites.

Download: massTURBOtar | Morfiki.blogspot.com

EVM Occam SE

EVM Occam SE (Special Edition) is a very rare gem. It’s two oscillators wavesample synth. Each oscillator has 13 atmospheric, warm, pad samples so Occam is naturally some kind of … pad machine 🙂 There are of course some basic tools to shape the signal like filters, envelopes, modulation and pretty useful thing for pads – stereo enhancer. The GUI is nice and clean, the patches are ok (16 patches available).

Overall, It’s a nice, small synth. It doesn’t offer reverb, chorus so I suggest using external ones (if you need it), as well as EQ (brighter sound). Layering two, three instances of Occam also seems nice idea.

Audio Demo:

Download: EVM Occam SE

Messiah – a Prophet 5 inspired synth

What would you say if I asked you about Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 Vintage Synth emulation ? Most of you would probably point me at Native Instruments website and their Pro-53 virtual synth for 199 EUR. Others would say – pick SCI Prophet 5 or Prophanity, they’re freeware.
But, is there a third option – cheap / average priced, commercial, quality soft synth ? Fortunately, there is. It’s called Messiah, it’s created by Gunnar Ekornås (remember Minimogue VA ?) and after 3-4 hours testing session I’m really wondering why this synth seems hmm forgotten. To be honest, even I, vst instruments freak ;), had problem to notice it. Actually it was one Vst Cafe user who recommended me this softsynth and it convinced me to give Messiah a try.

First I started with the presets. Factory bank contains 128 presets – there are leads, arps, basses, effects, chords, guitars – it’s almost everything. I was surprised because many presets sounded very nice. At this moment I didn’t know anything about the whole concept of Messiah. All I saw was an upper gui part which looked quite similar to Pro-53 (or maybe I should say Prophet5 VA 🙂 ) and the keyboard at the bottom.

But then I started the real testing. It turned out that there are additional three pages with knobs, buttons, switches. I remember this moment perfectly because it was just – “woow” 🙂

Messiah has three very innovative oscillator types:
1. Morph oscillator – you can morph between 4 waveforms (11 waveforms to choose such as: sine, saw, square, triangle, ramp, soft ramp, peak ramp, peak, octava, cluster1, cluster2)
2. Unison oscillator – 7 voices (and you can put this oscillator into 5 voice unison for 35 voices) for creating fat detuned sounds.
3. Flexi oscillator – two separate waveforms that can perform PWM, Ring Mod, Phase distortion and more

Messiah development took over one year. An author has been analyzing Prophet5 soundfiles (for example at filter design stage) to reach the best effect. Sure, it’s not 100 % accurate emulation but it’s actually more than just an emulation. These oscillators are really doing the great job and they’re NOT killing the CPU – Messiah is very low CPU hungry.

Is it worth ? To be honest I don’t remember the sound of Pro-53 but one thing I do remember – I didn’t like the unison – the more detuned sound (and since I’m much into trance, I like to detune everything 😉 ) I had, the less brightness and more noise I heard. Fortunately, Messiah unison sounds as it should – fat, detuned (if you want to), but still pretty bright and without noise.

The most important thing – it’s very hmm creative synth. I was giving myself about three hours to write this short review but I failed miserably. “Tweaking knobs” part just took too long 🙂 I managed to create few nice presets ranging from Usher – Yeah, Deadmau5 plucks to trance pluck. Factory presets are very nice too – especially I like presets called “Depeche” – I spent half an hour playing “just can’t get enough” 😉

Don’t forget to check the demo – you shouldn’t trust the guy you virtually know nothing about 😉 The demo is fully functional + silence effect, which to be honest is too frequent. At first I thought that there’s some bug in Messiah hehe

Last word – Messiah needs more attention. It’s an amazing, powerful synth. Sure, there are tons of free plugins – some (for example Synth1, Outmeal, Atlantis) are as good as commercial. But if you have them all and you need something new – Messiah will give you that new feeling. It’s pretty unique synth – good enough to be a commercial product. Great work Gunnar! 🙂

Here are some examples I did during Messiah testing (there’s tiny amount of external reverb – rest is Messiah)

Price: 30 $ (or 40 $ with Memorymoon – plugin inspired by Memorymoog polyphonic synth).

More info: http://memorymoon.com

Jeremy Evers Atlantis – updated & skinned

On 2nd June, Jeremy has released heavily updated version of his Atlantis virtual synthesizer plugin. If you don’t know what Atlantis is then click here. So what actually has changed ? Lots of new features, bugfixes and since now – fully skinnable ui. To be honest ui was the weakest part of this amazing synth but not anymore. Click the thumbnail – it’s the custom skin created by Limeflavour.

What’s so special about Atlantis ? It’s probably the most complex free vst monstersynth (along with Green Oak Crystal) available. You can load your own single cycle waveforms into one of three oscillators. You can shape these waveforms in almost every possible way. Atlantis really reminds me commercial Audjoo Helix for example. There are 49 (!!!!) different filters, 7 signal flow chains, 6 distortion alghoritms, choruses, reverb, phasers – it’s almost everything there.

Now, with the skinnable UI it’s already up there – amazing stuff.

ps. skin installation info: Atlantis default user settings is Documents and Settings / User / My Document / Atlantis folder. You need to create there an additional folder called “skins” (you should end up with folders: bank, chips, presets and skins), and copy the unpacked Limeflavour Mimic Skin there.

Download: Atlantis 0.9m
Download Skin: Limeflavour the Mimic Skin

Smart Electronix Augur

Vector Synthesis is a type of audio synthesis introduced by Sequential Circuits in the Prophet VS synthesizer during 1986. The concept was subsequently used by Yamaha in the SY22/TG33 and similar instruments and by Korg in the Wavestation. Vector Synthesis allows users to dynamically four distinct waveforms with a joystick and as a result it can break free of the relatively static waveforms of both analogue and sample based instruments. By crossfading between different waves over time, we can achieve tones that range from slowly shifting atmospheres to harsh, industrial tones.

Smart Electronix Augur is free, Prophet VS Synth recreation. It has everything you need to explore vector synthesis (well, shame that there’s no manual included).

Download: Smart Elecronix Augur

Scanned Synth Pro

Previously available for 60 EUR, Humanoid Sound Systems Scanned Synth Pro is now available at an astonishing price of whatever you want to pay!
Scanned Synth uses a unique new form of synthesis inspired by advances in digital music theory. It is designed to create rich complex digital tones and fantastic sound effects, while using simplifed controls and traditional synths techniques such as filters, lfo’s and effects. Perfect for biting metallic growls, movement filled pads, and weird modular-like sound effects, ScannedSynth Pro provides a unique sound that is constantly changing and new every time you press a key. Featuring a revolutionary synthesis engine, combining the powers of both Physical Modelling and Wavetable synthesis, with simplified controls and full MIDI automation, ScannedSynth Pro is both simple and complex, powerful and easy to use.

As usually, don’t forget to check the demo version first (host compatibility etc.) 🙂

Sam Inglis, Sound On Sound, October 2007

“…I like Scanned Synth Pro a lot. I like a synth with an individual sound, and Scanned Synth Pro has personality and character in spades It seems to create an unsettling, ominous atmosphere without even really trying SSP is also capable of producing some surprisingly punchy analogue-style bass and lead parts that would work in the most conventional of dance tracks… It seems to produce sounds that fit well into an arrangement, whether its surrounded by electronica or live recordings. Theres little of the glassy, unreal quality that can make other types of digital synthesis so hard to work with in a mix… Scanned Synth Pro has already brought a new dimension to the projects I’ve used it on.”

Hollin Jones, Music Tech Magazine, November 2007

“When it comes to unusual synth noises, there’s a lot on offer in the VST world – and Scanned Synth Pro competes with the best of them… A VST plug-in for Windows, it combines physical modelling and wavetable synthesis to create a new method of sound generation that the company calls scanned synthesis. Using this method, Scanned Synth Pro can create unique and unusual digital tones and sound effects, but its interface retains the kind of terminology and controls that are familiar to synth users.”

PRICE: whatever you want (50 euro cents is the minimum I guess – paypal processing cost)

More info: www.humanoidsounds.co.uk