I bought Ultra Analog a while ago, and for whatever reason It just sat in my folder not used for a long time. I kept thinking however that there was something special about it, this thought had been the reason I'd bought it in the first place. I had planned to give it a thorough check out but never did, until finally I thought it would be a good idea to make a trance sound-bank for it.
Now, at least when it comes to trance, Ultra Analog is not one of the big name synths. This comes down to its simplicity of features and marketing. However despite its simplicity it does have enough features to make it quite versatile. As has been said, the features have been chosen carefully. A choice of both exponential and linear envelopes, multiple filter types, 6 distortion algorithms, dedicated pitch modulation and vibrato, up to 4-voice polyphonic unison, legato, an arpeggiator and the ability to route filters in series or parallel add up to a lot of flexibility.
Two filters with 8 types each to choose from give this synth a lot of character, they include notch and formant, and they are very good. If you were to class sound as warm dark or clear and bright these are warm and it is easy to make this synth sound fuzzy, characterful, soft, harsh but never sterile. It is very easy to get all kinds of colourful tones out of these filters, especially at high resonance.
A few complaints I did have though is that it is easy to make the sound distort (I mean in the bad way), this is partly because the knobs and level displays are all quite small making it a little more difficult to judge the gain levels. I remember it took me quite a while to get used to properly setting up patches to avoid huge gain jumps at certain filter intervals. The Envelopes are loop-able but not sync-able. Finally I wish the LFO had a sawtooth waveform, but this could be overcome in other ways sometimes.
On the one hand the GUI is a little annoying because it is small, but on the other hand this compact view helps the work flow. It is really nice having every control immediately visible and it really helps you visualize the signal flow.
Once you get used to the its parameters it is very quick to use. I initially intended to make 128 patches for it, but in no time I had made 180 and although I've called it a day for my first set I could easily see myself going back to it to create more. The filters can morph the sound of this synth so much that you really feel that you have a whole world of sound to discover, especially when routed in serial. They change the character more so than many others I have used. It is easy to make beautiful sounding patches on this synth, especially once you learn to avoid overloading it, and in the end that is what you want a synth for.
One final thing, I have had problems with some analogue emulations before when trying to get them to work in a modern style. Sometimes their sound is just not flexible enough to get away from a "vintage" sort of sound and sometimes they have such an unstable sound that I simply could not make them work in trance music. I think it might be due to the phase of the oscillators. I am happy to say that VA-1 really does well here. It does have the warmth of analogue and yet it worked really well for trance music.
Finally, as AAS are well known for their acoustic emulations, I did not think it was strange to describe the sound character of this synth as "at times acoustic". If you listen to the first piece on my audio demo you may agree with me. I've made patches like this before on other synths, but they do not sound like this.
This is a really useful sound to have in a synth and It is one of the things that makes me want to come back to it later as I feel it could do with a lot more exploration. I really do think it has a unique sound.
About the score, for me 10 does not represent perfection because I believe there is no such thing when it comes to something like this. 10 is where I really feel that a synth meets all expectations for what is actually has. What I mean is, I wouldn't dock a point because there are no wavetables when its clearly designed to be an analog-style synth. I gave it 9 because there were some minor annoyances with the levels and couple of other things I mentioned already.
Still sounds very good to me. I am more impressed now than I was then. I have lowered the score to reflect
1. It has some glitches occasionally.
2. As useful as its features are it is also very expensive. For this price you can get more features synths and more realistic analogue emulations.