I've been approached about reviewing this synth, presumably because of my other numerous reviews on here. Will I gush as usual? ;) Synthmaster isn't something I particularly would have bought at the moment, seeing as I've spent a huge amount of money on my DAW setup recently and pretty much have everything I need and way more ;). However, if I were just starting out and needed a high value, high-quality way of covering pretty much the entire synthesis spectrum, I would probably go for Synthmaster.
First up the name tells us that Synthmaster pretty much does everything, and with additive, subtractive, vector and wave sequencing, unison (available both in the oscillator, or as a multiplying of the entire synth line including filters, with variable spread of pitch, filter cutoff, ect), AM, PM, PWM, FM, sync, audio input processing, and a healthy range of what are very high quality effects and MORE all available and combinable, I feel the name is justly deserved. This all works on a dual layer principle per patch, and each layer has two oscillators and two filters, all the ENVs and LFO modulation you could ever need, and even four modulation oscillators for each audio oscilllaor pair, meaning you can set up FM and similar functions without the fuss of connecting oscillators. All of these oscillators have all the waveshapes you could ask for, and you can bring in your own as single cycle waveforms or.SFZs!
I was disappointed to see little in the way of timbral morphing in the oscillators - PWM is for the square/pulse wave only, and the vector and wavetable oscillators are powered by crossfading, with no spectral morphing options between waveforms *(see note below). There are plenty of ways around this, as you have plenty of oscillator mangling power via the modulation oscillators, but I am a fan of being able to "animate" an oscillator right off the bat, before the modulation magic happens. Other than this, the oscillators have every single parameter you'd possibly need, and you won't go wanting in that regard. Particularly nice is ability to dampen high frequencies with an LPF before you've even got to the filter, and add pitch "slop" without having to set up a random LFO.
Tone quality of the oscillators is very present and well balanced across the spectrum, with the only real aliasing happening right at the very top of the range, in ultra-treble pitches. Clearly this isn't a problem as nobody creates riffs at stupidly high pitches such as these. This brings us on to the filters.
Each oscillator gets two filters, and they're some of the most well spec'ed and complete filtering solutions I've seen! Analogue-style (Moog ladder emulation) and digital-style (razor accurate) filtering is available in almost every filter mode you've heard of, you can change filter slopes smoothly, morph between filter modes, set up double "two in one" filters for dual-peak sounds and super complex filter profiles... Then there's drive and distortion, which can be customised with a designable transfer curve and placed before, after, or IN(!?) the filter. The latter tends to produce extreme sounds which are very interesting to me, and this is a very esoteric and desirable option to have!
The filters sound great - among the best you'll hear. My only gripe is that I couldn't find a way to do filter FM, but I'm pointing this out as a way of saying, this is pretty much the only hole in an otherwise perfect set of filters. And with all the other audio rate mangling going on in the oscillators, it's no biggie. The analogue filters in particular have a pleasing "life" to them, without going overboard in instability. The way the resonance backs off near the fundamental, avoiding those horrible "eoowwwWHUMP"s you get in simpler filters makes me happy. It's tedious callibrating filtersweep ranges so the rez doesn't crash into the first harmonics, so it's good to see this taken care of. Combined with the snappy and flexible envelopes and built in configurable overdrive/fuzz of the filters, a wide range of filter sounds from punchy to fizzley, clean to ripped open, are possible at the filter section. The ground these filters cover is simply huge! The distortions are musically useful, and quite inspiring in themselves, as well!
I'm not going to dissect every parameter in the synth, but rest assured, every other part of it is oozing the same quality and configurability. Overall the end result is a very professional sound which is versatile and dependable enough at extreme settings to be your only synth.
Visually, Synthmaster looks sleek and sexy. WYSIWYG displays for waveforms, filter profiles, envelopes and 2D envelopes, etc, are everywhere, laid out in a common-sensical way. Being new to the synth I found it all a bit overwhelming at first, since there are lots of pages and options crammed into each page, but I can easily imagine how the logical layout would soon become second nature. The modulation matrix felt a bit clunky with it's drop down menu leading off into a maze of options, but it is organized as well as it could be, and it's hardly it's fault - there are TONS of parameters on offer, and these seem to be growing as the synth is in active development with users playing an important part in that development. As far as I can see, pretty much every parameter can be modulated or automated, an impressive feat! To greatly tame this little modulation menu maze, matrix slots can actually be sorted via a few different ways - a very cool idea to add to the workflow streamlining. I also loved the option to switch each LFO between uni- and bi-polar, this makes, for example, pitch trills easier to set up.
In a funny way, Synthmaster could be Zebra's sister in a parallel universe. It covers the same huge ground, wide parameter range, and confident sound, yet operates on a completely different philosophy both in terms of workflow and sound. In this regard, I somewhat prefer, and am more used to Zebra's approach, but I can't dock points for this, because it's a matter of taste. Synthmaster and Zebra play in the same league, but play somewhat different games. If you didn't get on well with Zebra but was wooed by it's power, I'd especially recommend this behemonth of a synth!
This is one of the most powerful and versatile multi-purpose non-modular softsynths available, and for the asking price, it's a steal! If I didn't already have a ridiculous amount of synths in my VSTi folder, I would have bought this a while ago by now. Despite this, I can easily imagine Synthmaster working it's way into my production process, in part due to those lovely filters, and the possibility of using samples as oscillators.
* - EDIT: As of reading the review the developer is looking into ways to impliment some kind of timbral morphing and/or modulation at the oscillator level.