When I got the beta I had no idea that they were working on an SH-101 type synth. I remember being impressed with the GUI and ease of use. I was mostly relieved that it was not full of bugs to be honest; nothing breaks down my workflow more. I made some presets for the factory bank as I was finding my way around the synth, I made a demo track also and went back to my normal duties.
A little while passed and in need of inspiration I thought I would open Lush. Whenever I get stuck for ideas I often will open up the most easy to use, basic and analog sounding synth I have at the time. As much as I love electronic music, without good raw synth sounds it doesn't quite hold my interest. I love electronic sounds and synths like Lush get me right back to the basics. They make you appreciate again exactly what is the square wave and the saw wave in their raw simplicity. Too many soft-synths sound dull, flat, lifeless, sterile, until you engage at least the filters. Not so with the best, Largo, Diva and Lush have some of the best raw oscillators around. Not the only ones mind you. This is when you fire up the init patch, hit some low keys and wonder if you really want to modify it anymore.
This brings me to my next point, In my review of DIVA I stated that some synths don't seem to respond very much to parameter changes. Sure the sound changes, but you don't get much feeling that the sound has transformed. In fact we seem to have problems in other digital algorithms too, reverbs sitting on top of a vocal and not enveloping it, Eq'd sounding just sounding the same except with some extra frequency sitting on top of it, "character" compressors not really taking on the sound, spitting out the sound compressed but somehow not really changed. I'd add to that list filters that don't seem to transform the sound of the synthesizer. I feel with some synths changing the filter actually changes the character of the sound, while on others it merely changes the timbre. Lush is a synthesizer which yields real changes with every tweak. There are so many great sounds to be found just by moving the controls a little at a time. This is the quality you want in a synth, unless you have some really good tweaks available.
Speaking of the filter, there are two models here, with LP HP and BP modes, Normal and SH-101. The SH-101 of course being the model of the Roland filter which they say is rougher and less even. There are some important hidden features in options which you should know about, although they are among the few hidden options on the synth at all, including sound quality and envelope behavior, which by default is not set up with the SH-101 mimics (!) so make sure to change that if you are looking for absolute faithfulness.
Speaking of faithfulness, I don't have and have never used an SH-101, so I don't know honestly how it compares. I've heard audio demos where they sound fairly different and audio demos where they sound identical. So not sure what's going on there, but it does sound good, and honestly that is what counts. If you are thinking of dumping your SH-101 on eBay make sure you give Lush a good run around first as peoples opinion on this varies.
Where this differs from the sh-101 is of course in its extra layers, effects, mixer, polyphony, unison and so on. The effects are top notch by the way, ranks above most other synths out there which is great for patch design and sketching ideas. The 8 layers can hold any preset timbre you make and combine them in the mixer, which by the well is fully featured with Eq, FX sends and a compressor with adjustable ratio. There are all well implemented and really do add value to this synth.
I won't run through every feature, most of it is on the front panel and one glance at the GUI will inform you of most of it, but I will mention it has a supersaw emulation for the sawtooth waveform which is very good, a hidden sync oscillator so you can still make sync sounds on this one osc synth and a great unison mode. This will give your CPU long term psychological disorders, but it sounds in a word: Lush. As I've said before, just because a synth has features it doesn't mean it has those features in a well implemented form. Some synths are really not up to standard in every area and we can forgive them, but polyphonic unison is not all that often implemented at all, and where it is it is not always very good, again Lush really delivers here.
You get the feeling D16 really took their time with this synth (three years I think) because the whole thing feels solid with clever features throughout.
As you can tell I really like Lush 101. There are some drawbacks however. There is no mod matrix, (which for me is actually a nice change as it forces me to be more creative with the basics), it can get very heavy on CPU with effects and unison enabled and it's also a little expensive. Although when you put it in context it's not far off the price of DIVA, Largo (which is actually more), and Sylenth1. I suppose though as Lush has not been around as long as these time will tell how people feel about its price. I am pretty sure it's going to be a widely used synth however, and I am pretty sure D16 intend to back this synth all the way. Not long after releasing this synth they put out 1.1, which included among other things the ability to hide the keyboard. Many users were complaining that the GUI was just too large and the keyboard took up much needed space on their screens, this also have a road map listed on their website which also includes a more extensive mod matrix. I would like them to make the GUI a little larger though (excluding the keys) as the text is a little small, although by now I know where everything is anyway so it's not a big deal.
Though a great all-rounder I wouldn't go so far as to call it the only synth you need, it's much harder to create an entire track from one synth than it is form a mix of synths, and even if you did it's still not versatile enough to be the only synth you'll ever need for any production. I think Lush is a great all-rounder though and really excels at pads, plucks, keys and interesting analog style sounds.
One point is knocked off because the sync sound isn't the nicest to my ears, I don't like the sound with resonance very high, it doesn't sound sweet to me. The price is not going to affect my rating, since it is priced around the same as DIVA and is cheaper than Largo and I think for the overall quality and originality it is suitably priced.