Folks, if you are looking for a synth that breaks from the norm, THIS IS IT! Scanned synthesis creates sounds that are markedly different than what we have all heard before. These aren't hyped up claims...Humanoid Sound Systems has created something that IS different. SSP has a metallic character, but not in the same way that either FM or Phase Distortion does. Additive-like tones are possible, but with a cold, mechanical twist. Organic, warm, VA-ish textures are in here, too, but they move and breathe in ways unique to scanned synthesis. Features-wise, I think the developer would do well to go balls out and add more features as well as a second oscillator for even more sonic possibilities in version 3.0. There is certainly enough in there right now to justify the price tag (which is very reasonable, BTW), but with any genuinely new form of synthesis, it makes sense to be able to manipulate it in as many ways as possible. The user interface is practically idiot-proof. Anyone familiar with VA synths will be right at home with SSP's controls, but will be manipulating entirely new parameters unheard of in a VA synth on top of the usual filters, amplitude and pitch. I particularly like the way the MIDI hookups are set in SSP. Right-click on any knob and select MIDI learn, twiddle a knob on your hardware, then set the MIDI range for that hookup. Bam! Done! Couldn't be any more convenient :). These settings are saved individually on every patch. I think other developers should look to this idea for inspiration in their own works as it would save a LOT of time when creating patches, leaving musicians more time to work on composing. As for presets, well, there are about 300 of them and they show Scanned Synth Pro's capabilities well. I did preset work for the 2.0 release and most of my contributions were for niche styles like glitch/experimental, filmscores, drum and bass, IDM, etc. I think some additional features might make way for more presets that would satisfy the Tranceheads, however, there are indeed many basses and pads in there that those folks might find useful.
I have always had a weak spot for more exotic sorts of synthesis, and while these sometimes even come at the cost of having to learn complex programming languages, Scanned Synth Pro delivers a very complex technique in a straightforward and easy to use Vsti.
The interface is arranged quite logical, divided into different pages for synthesis, modulation, effects, filters and master (as well as an info-page and a link to humanoid's homepage.) Waveforms, modulation sources and various other functions are selected via drop-down menus, most other parameters via big black knobs or sliders. Grey knobs are used to set the amount the "random" function affects the parameters. Right Clicking knobs, etc. brings up a context menu with midi-learn and other functions.
The synthesis engine is maybe the most complex part of this instrument, and it takes some time to figure out it's intricacies, but rewards you with a vast spectrum of timbres - which has just increased x-fold by the inclusion of 55 new waveforms in the latest update (1.1.1). You can compare Scanned Synthesis to wavetable synthesis in a way, however here the wavetables are not stored waves, but created by a physical model involving a hammer waveform hitting a mass waveform and a center waveform, which is read out in real time in a complex scheme, with different algorithms. This is not as easily understood as subtractive or even additive synthesis, but even if you never fully understand the full scheme behind it, some time spent programming sounds gets you familiarized with many aspects, and should get you to your intended results quite quickly - albeit always leaving room for surprises. The newly included waveforms have telling names (Moog, OB Brass, FM, Rhodes, etc.) and can sound the like - or not at all, depending on how they are used, and in which combinations. (To go into full detail here would go over the top...) Most of the parameters on the synthesis' page can be modulated, so you can create lively, varying spectra.
This section is probably where the "Randomize" button - located on the "master" page of the interface - comes in most handy, especially for those just starting out, as it provides you with a good ratio of usable sounds.
The synthesis engine's output can then be further sculpted with an array of effects such as phaser, chorus, delay (syncable) and reverb, and of course the two filters: There is a polyphonic filter with pitch tracking function and frequency modulation, and then the master filter, both with frequency, gain and q-value. They can be switched on/off independently and both offer various types such as lowpass, highpass, bandbass, notch, peakEQ, lowshelf and highshelf.
Another vital feature is located on the filter page, namely the "psycho!" button. I do not know exactly what algorithmic magic lies beneath that, but switched on Scanned Synth Pro goes into a somewhat more rough behavior, and can give you both a warm analoguish saturation, or rather harsh, digital distortions and artefacts - depending on where you take it. The sound gets richer and more organic.
There are two trigger-able lfo's with rate/attack and phase, with the usual waves & random, as well as two envelopes on the modulation page. The master page has controls for pitch (& modulation), portamento, polyphony (up to 12 voices) with stereo withs and retrigger function, the master envelope and the master volume, preceded by a gain knob, which can give you overdrive. Not to forget the before mentioned "Randomize" button.
As the presets demonstrate, Scanned Synth Pro is good at atmospheric, lively sounds. It can give you some interesting drones, evolving soundscapes and weird sound fx, which makes it well suited for soundtrack work, sound design or similar, but also many kinds of electronica. Organic and lively pads are also provided a-plenty, while the lead presets are probably more interesting to people looking for somewhat experimental sounds, then analogue fetishists. Basses come in all shapes and sizes, from squelchy, to growling deep. The presets are rounded off with the inclusion of "Randomize Profile" presets for Bass, Lead, Pad and the like.
Scanned Synth Pro is quite a complex beast, offering an interesting approach to synthesis, while still easy to handle. Appart from the synthesis engine, it's structure with effects, filter and amp, should be familiar to anyone using (subtractive) synthesisers. Playing around with a randomize button can often be an inspiration in a track, and the ratio of good and interesting results is more than reasonable.
It is clearly "synthetic" in sound and has it's own character, so not your choice for emulating "real" instruments.
The synth won't fullfill everybody's all synthesis needs, but is probably a good recommendation for "experimental synthesis geeks" looking for a good sound sculpting playfield, sound-designers and anybody looking for a creative addition to their arsenal.
There are workhorse synths that can do a lot of useful things. Then there are specialized synths that can do a couple of useful things remarkably well. And then there are innovative synths that break new ground and can do some things that most others can't. ScannedSynth Pro belongs to the latter category without a doubt. It implements a fairly recent (late 90s I believe) synthesis method called scanned synthesis to generate a wide range of pretty original, unheard of, timbres which makes it excel at flavoured basses, leads and pads, out-of-the-ordinary resonances and weird and rare fx. In short: it won't be your workhorse bread&butter synth, but it can easily become your go-to synth when you need something "different". But above all, what I like the most about SSP is that it offers a fairly fresh and complex synthesis method packed in a self-explanatory and very easy to use gui that encourages tweaking and creativity: it doesn't even try to offer lots of modulation possiblities or a gazillion of parameters, yet it's rich enough to keep you busy for quite a while and achieves a nearly perfect balance between functionality and ease of use. Along with Tone2's Firebird this is a breath of fresh air in the current vst world of "my-mod-matrix-is-bigger-than-yours" and "my-synth-does-71-different-synthesis-methods-all-at-the-same-time". These 2 synths hide a remarkable complexity and a fairly deep sonic palette behind a deceptively simple, functional and fun to use gui.
User Interface SSP's gui is a pretty self-explanatory paged affair with relatively few controls per page, which allows for big, clearly labelled controls and a very comfortable "in-place" modulation approach (no mod matrix here!). It also offers a nice midi learn and a couple of very useful tricks, such as the ability to show the value of any control permanently on screen. I actually preferred the skin used while in beta (by Amoebe I think) to the default one in the current comercial version, but since the gui is skinnable there will probably be other nice skins in the future.
Sound As mentioned before, it ranges from gorgeous to out-of-this-world and it's capable of very original and different timbres by taking full advantage of its unique synthesis method. This is another thing I love about SSP: the main focus is on the actual synthesis, and the filters and effects are there to enhance the great timbres, not to hide a boring sound.
Features Again it's not a workhorse but it offers a nice range of sonic possibilities along with a couple of very nifty features (independent poly and master filters, psycho button...) and one of the best randomisation schemes in the business. The randomisation alone makes its free counterpart (ScannedSynth Mini) quite a powerful beast in its own right.
Documentation Nicely written, to-the-point manual with links to deeper technical explanations of the synthesis method. You could actually fire up SSP and start tweaking here and there without knowing much about it and still get nice results, but a quick read of the manual provides the extra knowledge that you'll need to take full advantage of it.
Presets Well, with more than 200 presets provided there's going to be a bit of redundancy and I'm actually left with the slight impression that sometimes they only scratch the surface of what's possible with this synth, but being a novel synthesis method this is kinda expected. Still, the provided presets offer a lot of good starting points and there are quite a few AWESOME ones in there. And with the superb randomisation scheme, they could have provided 16 presets and you could still get great results out of the synth in no time.
Customer support I've had no support inquiries yet, but everytime I've dealt with the dev behind Humanoid Sound Systems (John Proctor) he's come across as very responsive and an all around good guy.
Value for money If you want a workhorse synth or a virtual analog, this is not your best option. However if you are after something a bit different this is certainly one of the best options out there. Being a novel synthesis approach the dev could easily ask more money for it, yet still he offers a free version and he's selling the comercial one at a popular price. You could do waaay worse with your money.
Stability I did some betatesting for this synth and it has come a long way since the first betas. I've had no crashes whatsoever with the comercial version, and apart from the gui consuming a bit of cpu (particularly the synthesis page) the synth is very solid and performs well. No complains here.
Overall imho this is one of the synths of the year. Not much else to say really.
The wonderful thing about software synths is that occasionally this format attracts developers who have fresh ideas and think outside of the box. One such stunning find is Scanned Synth Pro.
From the first beta release, the unique sound demanded attention; there was nothing else quite like it. After much development and refinement, the synth is finally available in an easy to use package. Online documentation and support will get you through any hiccups while getting started. But, what's inside?
Since this is a new type of sound generation (like the DX-7 was) there will be some confusion about programming sounds. This is where the Randomize button comes in handy; the user can control the amount of randomization for parameters. So, for example, you could drastically alter the oscillator and filters but not the pitch and effects.
Two LFOs, three ADSRs, two filters and four effects add sonic sculpting possibilities and MIDI learn lets you control them in real time. The modulators are easy to assign to the desired destination. There is only one oscillator so don't expect "hoover" leads.
The more than 200 presets cover many bases. Remember that this beauty is not designed to replace the bread and butter synths you may already have. Rather, it is the spice that brings the soup to life.
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