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Icarus [read all reviews]
Reviewed By Introspective [read all by] on 16th June 2017
Version reviewed: 1.1 on Mac
9.00
9 of 9 people found this review helpful.
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Icarus is Tone2's magnum opus.

If you are familiar with the company, you will know that there's a particular "quality" to their synths: a fairly digital sound, a fairly scratchy reverb, a feeling of "technical excellence" at the expense, perhaps, of refinement. Those qualities are still here in Icarus, but they seem to have "owned" that, more or less, and produced something that really stands out. Icarus has a striking *clarity* to its sound, a snappiness to its envelopes, and an elegance to its workflow that is quite compelling.

If there is a standout negative to this, it is that Icarus more or less makes the rest of their synths superfluous. My first Tone2 synth was Gladiator, and I loved it. ...Then along came ElextraX, and I felt I no longer needed Gladiator to get the same kind of sound, so I stopped using it. ...In fact, ElectraX was so much easier to use and such a capable synth, that even after extensive demos of their other synths (notably their FM and "transwave" synths), I felt their was too much overlap in the sound to warrant another purchase. And again, when Icarus was released, I listened to the demos and thought "meh: this is just a reskinning of ElectraX."

I forget what the catalyst was—perhaps a YouTube video comparing Icarus to Serum or something—but eventually I broke down and downloaded the demo. I bought it a few days later. Indeed, the workflow here is quite similar to that of ElectraX, though I like that it's not "four synths in one," which is something I always found a little irksome. Everything is a bit more "succinct" here, in ways that are difficult to qualify, but was actually the *sound* that hadn't quite come across to me in the demos I'd listened to. The hypersaw sounds fuller, the wavetable scanning seems smoother, the filters are a little more refined, and the effects ... well.. perhaps they *use* them a bit less in the presets or something; that Tone2 reverb still has a quality to it that I *strongly* dislike (turning off the reverb is always my first tweak for Tone2 patches), but it bothers me much less with Icarus. :)

Tone2 has really outdone Serum in terms of wavetable manipulation: every feature here is a delight, from the drawing tools to the randomize function: you will end up with very pleasing results with MUCH less work. They are really to be lauded here. The resynthesis is always great fun to play with and can result in your own very distinct patches.

(A quick note: I do NOT think that Icarus "sounds better" than Serum. There is still a *crispness* to Serum that Icarus does not capture. Serum sounds much more ... clinical: I am going to play EXACTLY these frequencies, RIGHT here. Icarus reminds me more of a Virus, here: still very digital, but somewhat "warmer" or perhaps "smoother". If you own Serum, you do not *need* Icarus. ...but if you are a wavetable-junkie and really like editing them, you will find Icarus a delightful addition.)

The mod-matrix here meets all the modern requirements: drag-and-drop but *also* right-click assign, and *also* directly editable. Assignments are graphically displayed along with their depth and can be modified right from the affected knob. A good number of envelopes (4), a good number of LFOS (4), surprising number of waveshapes for the LFOs, the arp can be used as a mod source, and one mod slot can affect the depth of another. (This is actually less powerful than a matrix with built-in depth modifiers, but it'll do—it is at least clear, here.) A good number of slots—I haven't found myself wanting for more, yet (though, eventually, I'm sure I will. I always do).

The filters are really amazing here: there are SO MANY of them, and the "typical" ones are very high-quality and the "creative" ones are a lot of fun. The drive is not the highest-quality, but it's available and it does contribute to the quality of the sound. The display is also highly appreciated: while it's not *attractive*, it's actually one of the most useful graphical representations of a filter I've seen: very fast and very detailed. You really feel like you can see *exactly* what the filter is doing.

I'm not personally a big fan of Tone2's effects, so I largely skip this section. They "work," but the controls are a bit weird (rather than knobs, you "drag" text values). There is, as Aiyn Zahev said (of another synth) "a cheeky duck knob" to the effects, though, and that's nice for when you want THAT sound.

The EQ and limiter of limited (har har) quality, but, again, they add to the sound.

Really, the "stand out qualities" to this synth have to be the wavetable oscillators (PARTICULARLY the editor), the diverse filters, and the *cracking* all-on-one-page workflow.

Icarus is one of those synths that doesn't quite scream "we are aiming squarely at synth X." If it did, I would have to say it was aiming at Serum. ...which would be a shame, because I think, ultimately, Serum is a superior overall synth. That having been said, personally I actually find Icarus a more *usable* synth. It's more immediately creative, it's a bit broader in sound and usability. ...I've never really gotten a *truly* satisfying pad out of Serum, for example: that's just not its strength. ...Icarus handles them with aplomb. For me, Icarus is more of a stand-in for an Access Virus or a Blofeld or the like: a decent VA, albeit on the digital side, with that "wavetabley" sound that excels at pads and plucks.

I don't care about making dubstep basses, so don't ask me if it's good for that. ...I doubt it could touch Serum for that sound, though.

[shrug] I am finding this difficult to express, but: I reach for Icarus more often than Serum. Serum, for me, is something *specific, * for cutting, standout sounds. It screams "here I am!" regardless of how you use it. Icarus is more of a broad tool that handles almost everything very well, AND it is best-in-class for wavetable editing, hands-down.

I also own VPS Avenger ... and ... yeah... I would have a *really* hard time selling you Icarus if you were looking at Avenger. You're just going to get more bang for your buck, there: better-sounding (sounds very much like a Virus), better depth ... just a whole lot more "to" it. ...Unless you're still looking for that Wavetable editor, which is decidedly superior in Icarus. ...Think of Icarus like a Blofeld, here: would you still buy one if you owned a Virus? ...If so, then, yeah, you will want both Icarus AND Avenger. If you just want one, go for Avenger, period. (You might also prefer Icarus if you were one of those people who hate REALLY broad synths for being really broad. Icarus has more personality.)

All of that said, Icarus, today, is certainly one of my top-ten VSTs, right up there with Serum, Avenger, Omnisphere, Strobe, Diva, RePro, and LuSH. For me, I would probably even put it in my top five. Perhaps I cannot *quite* tell you why. ...it's probably because I *love* wavetables. :) When it comes down to it, if you are a studio-minimalist (or just don't have the money for overlap), Icarus is a hard sell. You'll probably want either Serum or Avenger. But if you just love sound-design and can handle having another creative synth in your arsenal, you would be remiss to pass over Icarus. It is really something very special.

A final note: I am aware that there is a group of users on KVR who feel it is their duty to downvote all "overly-positive" reviews. Conceptually, I understand their motivation: to account for some of the "hype" that surrounds synths and to point out that "things can always get better." So be it; I am powerless to stop them. I do, however, have a message for them: you are idiots; get over yourselves.

Largo [read all reviews]
Reviewed By Introspective [read all by] on 13th April 2014
Version reviewed: 1.5 on Mac
8.00
1 of 3 people found this review helpful.
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Largo is an excellent synthesizer with a great sound; I'll let the other reviews speak to that.

I do, however, feel compelled to point out to those of you reading the reviews before purchase that there is one frustrating caveat to owning this synth and NOT owning the dongle: you can only change machines once (and it will cost you money). This is the message I got from Waldorf tech support:

[start message]
it seems that you ware using the Soft E-Licenser for storing your License. In this case, your License will be stored on a Harddisk, and can be destroyed because of several reasons. The best way to prevent your Licenses from damage is to store them on the E-Licenser Dongle, and in this way you can also use your Largo License on more than on Computer System. With one License you are able to use on more the one Computer System, but only one time.

We can do a Largo License Replacement but this cost 9,5 € and can be done only one time. That means when you like to have a new Licenser, you need to pay 9,5 € for that Licenser via PayPal and i need a copy of the original invoice (not a copied text, screenshot or photo). You can buy the E-Licenser Dongle in the Shop of your local dealer. We do not sell E-Licenser Dongle. And i would download then your new Licenser on the Dongle.

When you like to buy a new Licenser, please let me know, so i will send you our PayPal Account. Your old Licenser will be deactivated then.
[end message].

Last note: at least for me, Largo tended to crash a lot during patch-browsing, so do be careful of that. Otherwise, it's one of the best soft-synths available. ...Real shame about the licensing.

Predator [read all reviews]
Reviewed By Introspective [read all by] on 29th June 2012
Version reviewed: 1.6.2b on Mac
7.00
6 of 7 people found this review helpful.
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Predator was one of the first synths that I bought after my studio was broken into and everything stolen. Along with this synth, I also bought the Virus Powercore and Spectrasonics Atmosphere.

I ended up selling the Virus Powercore, because I found I was using Predator more often that the Virus.

Okay, I admit: that's a bit of hyperbole. The Virus sounds better than Predator, sorry. But the Virus GUI was much, much worse. I just wasn't compelled to use it, when Predator was there, inviting me to program new sounds... or tweak the bajillion presets. ...the presets, by the way, cover a LOT of territory and are all expertly programmed. I maintain RP is one of the best companies to buy from for preset sounds.

Anyway, the point is: the GUI is what makes Predator a great synth. Everything is laid out perfectly, there's plenty of power there, the modulation options are deep and interesting, and it just looks damn sexy, IMO. You want to play it, to program it. Of all the synths I've ever owned, I have written more patches for Predator than any other. ...many more, in fact.

As for the sound: I found myself most attracted to Predator's pluck sounds. Pads are... okay... not quite magical, compared to other synths in this class (Surge, Massive are better for pads). But for those really electronic-sounding, Berlin-school arpeggios, it's one of the best synths out there. In fact, the closest competitor IMO was Albino... and Predator definitely caries Albion's DNA: they sound very similar in character and soul. Predator has a little bit more "punch" to its arps, though: I suspect that behind the scenes, this synth is secretly adding a little PCM transient to the beginning of each wave and probably affecting the attack of the sound slightly to give it a little more "pop". For example, when I pull up Predator and Largo side-by-side and program the sounds from Predator into Largo, I get a much stronger attack on Predator. (In fact, I end up using the more complex envelope in Largo to match the attack a little more closely). ...By the way, Predator and Largo stack extremely well, I recommend it. Predator has a nice warmth to the sound where Largo has a more metallic quality, and the two together provide a lot of depth. ...You'll have to turn Predator's volume down, though: Largo's outs are not as hot.

It's also worth mentioning that Predator has a few neat tricks in its OSCs that give it more character than other synths (PWM on any waveform, for example). It's also good for simple FM sounds. The waves available make for some really great digital sounds, too: you'll get wonderful JD-like bell sounds out of Predator. Leads are generally very good, though (for reasons I can't put my finger on) I think I actually preferred Albino for leads. Still, passable. The effects are... okay. I usually end up replacing them with external FX, but they get the juices flowing.

BUT! (and it's a big but, I cannot lie, yuk yuk:) I don't use Predator anymore. [shrug] I don't. Never. ...I still have it installed, but I can't recall the last time I actually loaded it. I've become a Diva / ElectraX fanboy, mainly because these newer synths sound better. ...Quite a bit better. The filters have more depth to them and a (much) warmer quality. (The filters on Predator are... okay. The bandpass in particular has a nice quality to it that I enjoy.) ...I also find the digital sounds crisper in ElextraX, and Tone2's synth uses less CPU.

It's a shame, though: this is a wonderful synth, with one of the best GUIs I've used (I do wish patch-management weren't so old-school, I'll add), a great sound, great OSCs, great versatility. And RobPapen's company is very classy. I've contacted them multiple times for support, and they always replied within a day or so, and were very nice and very helpful.

...If Predator added a filter like Diva's, I would gladly and quickly go back to using it: the interface is wonderful and, as I said, I love the versatility of the oscillators. It was my workhorse synth for many, many years, and I love it. :)

Bottom line: it's a very powerful, very classy, surprisingly good synth... but it's getting dated. Not to wax philosophical, but: I think we're entering a new age of VST capabilities. I hold hope that Predator will get a major update and join the ranks of the new wave... but at the time of this writing, that doesn't seem particularly likely.

Surge [read all reviews]
Reviewed By Introspective [read all by] on 20th June 2012
Version reviewed: 1.5.3 on Mac
7.00
6 of 6 people found this review helpful.
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I've owned Surge for quite a few years.

I bought Surge as a replacement for Z3ta+, which I found I was missing after switching to OS X. In particular, I missed the ability to modulate the wave-shape the way Zeta used to. Surge is not as flexible as Zeta in this regard, but it's nice to have some of those features back. I also liked the wavetable capabilities.

That said, I found that I really loved the straight saw sounds out of Surge: they are "crispy"... and while they have a slightly digital feel to them, I really like the tone. Dial up the "Happy" patch for an example. (And though Surge offers three variants of tone toward the top of the interface, I never truly found this tweak to make a big enough difference to be worth using.)

Surge is also adept at handling a myriad of other "digital" sounds... particularly FM. Though this won't replace FM8, it does have some great capabilities in this department, making it my second-favorite FM synth.

The presets are good... though they are not going to make you jump out of your seat, they cover a lot of territory, including basic sounds and really far-out stuff. Claes did a good job, here.

The UI is reasonable. Strange colors, a blocky, windows-like feel... but puts most of what you need in a very small space. I don't especially enjoy editing the FX, however (and by and large, I don't like the FX compared to other synths). Modulation routing is brilliant... one of my favorite synths for this kind of editing. Modulation in general is Surge's trump card: great possibilities with strong LFOs, good envelopes, a decent step-sequencer, and other tricks up its sleeve. The two synths that I find Surge most comfortably compares itself to (at least that I own) are Massive and Largo. ...another two wavetable synths. I own both, and I find myself reaching for them more often than Surge largely because of their UIs. Largo also sounds better, in general (better filers, particularly with drive), and is more flexible. Massive has a larger bass presence, but sounds much more digital than Surge. Massive's modulation routing is also one step up from Surge's, since you can see destinations immediately rather than having to click on each source. ...That said, Surge is capable of modifying the same destination with more modulators, if you need that sort of thing.

The sound of Surge is, overall, good. Not stellar, and it has a hard time competing with more modern synths. As a result, I've really stopped using Surge much. I still have a couple of weird sounds waiting to throw into a track here and there, and I certainly haven't uninstalled it, but I generally don't find Surge capable of keeping up with its competitors. I think it sounds about as good as Massive (though not for bass, where obviously Massive wins). Largo sounds better (again: it's the filters), but when you put Surge next to the most modern synths (Diva, ElectraX, Dune, Zebra, etc)... it's just not as "sweet".

That said, there are a few "weird" lead sounds that I really love in Surge and would be hard to reproduce in other synths ("Back to Tyrel", for example), and will probably make me keep it installed moving forward. ...I also just find Surge "fun". :) It's a synth with an attitude of its own, and I respect that.

Lastly, I'll say that of all the synths I own (about 20), Surge is in my top three for the number of patches I've written for it. It's a synth that invites editing.

I'm glad I own it. ...But I'm afraid I would steer people away from it, unless you're already well-stocked with the better modern synths. If you're looking for something quirky to add to an already-robust collection, then I heartily recommend it: Surge has a character and "spunk" that I'm sure you would enjoy.

FWIW, you can hear Surge presets being used in some of Infected Mushroom's more modern stuff, to give you an idea of how professional it can sound. ...if you like that kind of thing.

I should also mention that I've never had Surge freeze or crash on me, even though I've certainly put it through its paces.

Omnisphere [read all reviews]
Reviewed By Introspective [read all by] on 20th June 2012
Version reviewed: 1.5.6d on Mac.
Last edited by Introspective on 27th June 2012.
10.00
12 of 17 people found this review helpful.
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Yes, I'm giving this a 10. Not because I'm a fanboy, but because it honestly deserves it. Read the bloody review before you say "not helpful" just because I gave it a 10.

Omnisphere is, in my opinion, one of the five best synthesizers ever created. Ever. Hard or soft. It's that good. I have owned it for about five years now, if memory serves, and I use it on pretty much every track I write (and, for the record, I tend to write Berlin School and IDM).

...Now, having said that, do you need it? It depends on what kind of music you write, really. It tends to have a very particular sound that, honestly, can get a little redundant. More accurately, it has a few sounds, and it definitely gravitates toward those sounds.

Hmmmn, this is actually a little hard to express. Obviously, Omnisphere is a very flexible synth! The collection of sounds Is decidedly diverse, and of extremely high quality. Of course, some sounds are "better" than others and some are certainly one-trick ponies... and the presets make use of those one tricks well enough, so you'll never use them yourself. And the modulation matrix is probably the best mod matrix you'll ever use: everything connects to everything (including, VERY usefully, the effects), and you get an incredible number of slots to work with (I have never run out), AND it's usefully visual, allowing you to alter param values right from the matrix: great touch

There are a few gravity wells of sound that you'll find yourself falling into with Omnisphere. ...Or, more accurately, that I find myself falling into: YMMV. One is a Virus-like arpy sound, created by modulating the start-time of a ROM setting. Omnisphere has a lot of superlative synth sounds, and they lend themselves to arps. ...And of course the built-in arpeggiator is (again) the best you'll ever have used. Omnisphere handles trance and Berlin School with finesse and style: if you write this type of music, you'll want to buy it, period. However, when you start applying delays and autofilters and built-in reverb to them, they will start to "sound like Omnisphere". The ability to modulate the attack to add noisy perks also ends up steering you toward a very Omnisphere-sounding noisy attack. There's something about it that is unique. It's great! Don't get me wrong... but it's identifiable and you may get sick of it (a little) eventually.

A word on these sounds, though: I own and use ElectraX, Largo, and Diva: they sound better at the sounds they make. Omnisphere has some great old synths, but Diva sounds fuller and richer because of it's exceptional filter. Omnisphere has GREAT digital bells and attack sounds, but ElextraX is edgier and more versatile with them. If Omnisphere has a comb filter (off the top of my head, I don't think it does), it can't compare to Largo's ability to sound metalic or plastic (which, sometimes, you want). I find that Omnisphere supersedes the other synths when you want something--bear with me, here--either milder or harsher than the other synths. For example, if I want a gentle arp sitting in the background, I'll reach for Omnisphere and dial up, say, a Farfisa sound and turn it into a pluck (which I highly recommend, BTW). Sounds great, doesn't hit the CPU too hard, easy to modulate with the Orb for variation over time. ...Or if I need a sound that's going to tear open the mix and rip it to shreds, I'll reach for Omnisphere again. Yes, the other three can do this, but IMO Omnisphere has a more compelling, rich capability of noise. There's just something that sits right about it. [shrug]

The second type of sound is, obviously, evolving pads. It's full of them, having grown out of Atmosphere. They're all incredibly usable, and--honestly--with all of the mod routings, you'll never run out of variations if you're a bold programmer. When I need a pad, the first synth I reach for is Omnisphere. Period. If you write pad-heavy ambient or the like, buy Omnisphere. You'll love it.

That said... :D ...I own and use both Absynth and Massive. I don't understand WHY (because of Omni's great mods, this shouldn't be the case), but Absynth is STILL better at "weird shit" that evolves dramatically over long periods of time. That said, Absynth lacks the ability to make you say "whoa" at the width and power of the sound being played. THAT said, the two of them stack very very well. ...And Massive has better real-time control, period. Being able to set real-time knobs to MULTIPLE destinations with custom depths makes it a keeper. It sounds very digital to my ear, but in a good way. The pads from massive are still some of my favorite pads ever, particularly when performed with the knobs.

Also, the IN-ability for Omnisphere to layer (easily) more than two oscs for a pad is a mark against it. Yes, you can set up a multi to get four or six or sixteen oscs... but that's a PITA and will devour CPU. I prefer Absynth and Massive's three (plus) oscs for layering up some complex pads.

The third kind of sound Omnisphere gravitates toward is those LUSCIOUS bells. You'll hear them all over the place, once you own Omnisphere, because THEY ARE AWESOME, and it's very, very hard not to use them. :) I'm addicted.

The fourth kind of sound is harder to pin down... but it's those "weird samples" that are characteristic of the synth, like the burning piano or the choirs or Tesla Coil or...or... well, when/if you own it, you'll see: they stand out. And like the bells, they are very cool... but also they are VERY characteristic. Painfully so... so much that I'm disinclined to use them, because they're the kind of sound really stands out, and everyone will be either saying "Whoa! Cool!" or "Totally copied from _this other song they heard that used the same sound_." [shrug] They're nice to have, but I feel like I would never actually use them, so it's a bit wasted. ...Does this make sense?

...Anyway, I stick by my original statement: Omnisphere is a top-five, all-time synth. If you're jazzed about synths for the sake of synths, you really need to own this. But if you're looking for a particular type of sound... listen to the demos. Repeatedly. ...Because you're going to end up sounding a lot like them. ...Don't get me wrong! These are world-class, top-notch sounds. Some of the best ever. ...but they are very... Omnisphere. I think "Omnisphere" is likely to be an adjective that sees more and more use over the years. :D ...Or perhaps "Spectrasonic", since Trilian tends to sound quite similar, too. ...Which leads me to believe (I don't own Trilian and haven't tried it) that it must have a lot to do with the effects. [shrug] ...The effects, BTW, are very, very good. It's like having Guitar Rig attached to your synth.

A few additional specific notes...

The filters on Omnisphere are really, really excellent. Lots (!) of variety and very good sound. "Juicy" in particular is wonderful (I think this is the impOSCar filter, honestly). They are not as good as the filter on Diva... but that's not saying much; nothing comes close. :D

The envelopes on Omnisphere are... good, but a little frustrating. I wish I could get a snappier attack, sometimes, and they seem to jump quickly from short to VERY VERY long... wish there were a little more control on the sliders, there. That said, the complex envelopes are better than (easier to use than) Absynth. Also, as I'm sure others have noted, many sounds come with slow attacks in the sample. This is, of course, easy enough to fix by moving the start time along the sample. Do it.

The "granular" aspect of Omnisphere is weak. I mean, it's useful! And it sounds nice... but it's not *really* granular and it's not very flexible. Ignore this as a feature, really: it's just a way to add a little motion to a pad, mostly.

The "Orb" feature of Omnisphere is INCREDIBLY AWESOME. Watch a video to see what I mean. This really is very, very useful; they cannot oversell it. ;)

Patch-management in Omnisphere is the best I have ever seen, hands-down. No contest. You will grow increasingly frustrated trying to use other synths because they can't handle patches this well. (Native Instruments, are you listening, you bastards?) It's insanely good. Don't underestimate the awesomeness of this feature.

The multi feature of Omnisphere is one of my favorite things about it. I load up one Omnisphere in a song and just patch the channels to other MIDI inputs... I actually don't think I've ever had two instances of Omnisphere in a single song, now that I think of it.

And, of course, Omnisphere is... heavy. It loads slowly, it changes patches slowly, and it has such a HUGE collection that it will take you a while to find what you want (and you will waste at least a week of your life simply going through the patches and rating them, I promise you).


In summary, Omnisphere would be my desert-island synth: I wound't hesitate to choose it. ...But if I were writing music on a desert island (inexplicably wired), my music would definitely smell of Omnisphere. That's probably not a bad thing, but depending on your situation and attitude, it may be something to consider. It is well worth the price tag: no three other VSTs are better-sounding or more capable, over-all.