DUNE is deceiving! At first glance, it looks like your average subtractive synth, but in reality there is a lot more going on under the hood. DUNE distinguishes itself from the vast majority of it's counterparts in several important ways. First of all, and most importantly, the sound it produces is outstanding. Even the simple raw sound of an oscillator has bite (Sawtooth, Square). The sound is crisp and clean from the get go. DUNE produces clear tones with lot's of energy. The Mod Matrix, where you assign sources to destinations, is very elaborate. It can hold up to 24 rows of data. You can use an LFO to modulate another LFO's parameters or even it's own. You can use the arpeggiator's notes or velocity data to modulate parameters. You can also use the Mod Matrix rows to modulate the level of other rows. There are many available sources and destinations. You can even modulate extra parameters that don't appear in the GUI . A quick run through the manual was all it took to familiarize myself with the multitude of choices. Something very unique about DUNE is that it enables us to modulate up to 8 distinct unison voices using the ModMatrix. Unison voices can also be combined and modulated in unique ways. This is a brilliant new concept. One that opens doors to many new sonic possibilities. However, while this "Differential Unison Engine (DUNE)" is a very nice, unique tool, the merits of this synth should not be based on this revolutionary feature alone. DUNE shines in many respects, and even without the unison voice mangling, it would still stand up to the very best in terms of sound quality.
Indeed, is my opinion that DUNE rivals with the best software synths currently available. My first impression was that it sounds very similar to another very popular and very good 2 Oscillator "Dance music" synth. The more I play with DUNE, the more I am astounded at how good it sounds. It's sharp and punchy but also silky and smooth depending on how you handle it. It makes screaming leads and blissful pads. Punchy basses, percussive/plucked sounds that are vibrant with energy. Not to mention the organs...
DUNE features 2 main Oscillators and one sub oscillator. Each of the two main Osc's have their own FAT knob. Put simply, DUNE stacks copies of the Oscillator (7 copies) and the more you turn the FAT knob, the more the tuning diverges between the stacked Oscillators. In essence, this instantly makes the sound fuller and richer. If that's not enough, as mentioned previously, DUNE also offers up to 8 Unison voices. You can solo one or more of these for precise tweaking. You have control over the amount of detuning and spatial positioning of the Unison. To use DUNE to it's full potential, you will end up using up many voices. But not to worry, it appears that this has been carefully thought out. DUNE features 72 note polyphony. More than double the maximum polyphony available in many synths.
Some very good synths give you a great sound but at a high cost. You trade great sound for high CPU usage. The wonderful thing about DUNE is that it sounds great and is CPU efficient. This translates to 5% to 20 % CPU per patch on my i7 920, depending on the complexity of the patch and on the number of voices being used at any given time. I'd say 15% is the average CPU hit. Not bad at all considering the wonderful sound coming out of it.. Bank C039: IDM Sine MK. What a great sound. It only uses one Oscillator, but each of the 8 Unison voices are pitched differently using the ModMatrix. So although only one Osc is being used, we're in fact hearing many voices. It's a wonderful patch. Simple and effective, and it only uses 5%CPU. I'm going to have to use this one in a lounge project!
Back to the oscillators, it is possible to sync the two main ones. In addition, an automatable and modulatable OSC MIX knob blends the volumes of the 2 OSC's so one can easily morph between the two or create changes in the sound over time. Other basic but effective sound manipulation tools include Pulse Width Modulation, Ring Modulation, A white noise generator, and 2 FM knobs that are used in conjunction with 3 different FM Modes. DUNE's filter is very good. There's a choice of 18 different filter configurations. You can get a smooth to harsh sound depending on what you're after. Turn that resonance knob way high for some serious ringing. Keep it low for some beautifully smooth filter sweeps. There's an envelope knob to control how much the Filter envelope affects the cutoff frequency, a key track knob, and an Offset knob that behaves in different ways depending on the type of filter selected. I am a sucker for quality filters. I own many excellent dedicated filter effects. DUNE's filter is of a great caliber. Another major plus for me.
The GUI is rather simple. All of the main synth parameters are displayed on one page. It's very easy to get the job done without having to click on a bunch of different tabs. There are 4 tabs but not for the main synth parameters. I personally love the grey skin. I use Fl Studio as a host and DUNE matches it's color scheme perfectly. The majority of the parameters displayed can be automated and are available as destination sources in the Mod Matrix.
The presets are mostly dance music oriented with some exceptions. I make Lounge/Trip Hop/Electronica and some of the included presets work very nicely for my style. Other presets require some tweaking and others I will need to make from scratch. It is possible to love this synth even if you don't make Trance/House, etc.. I'm living proof of it. I do hope we'll see some more variety in the presets over time, but it seems a few folks are already working hard on some new banks. If you're into making Dance music though, you have no excuse not to check out this synth.
DUNE also features quality effects. The distortion, phaser, flanger, chorus, and reverb are my favorites.
Customer support is very efficient. The developer, Richard, will go out of his way to make sure his customers and potential customers are happy. My inquiries have always been addressed in a timely manner. The Synapse forum seems like a cool place to hang out and the developer has a presence there. You can talk to him directly.
Conclusion: Very high quality sound. CPU efficient. One of the top 10 best softsynths ever made (yup, I'm going to go there), but that's just my opinion. DUNE can be simple to program, but you can also go very deep with the Mod Matrix and spend lot's of time coming up with new interesting ways to create new sounds. It is going to take me some time to understand all of the possibilities. Playing with DUNE is fun, and very rewarding. Such a good sound. I do hope it evolves over time. I wouldn't mind having one more mod envelope, for example. I have a few feature suggestions that I have now posted in the Synapse forum. I highly recommend trying out the demo of DUNE. Great job Synapse. Your best product to date. Superior quality. And I thought Junglist was great...