With a simple synth interface, familiar to anyone who's programmed a synthesizer and not terribly hard to figure out for those new to synthesis, Vanguard is an excellent synth for virtual analog sounds that remain being popular.
If assigned a score for smooth and suave vs. hard and nasty Vanguard leans a bit towards the hard sound, say a 6 or 7 with 10 being a 303 in full squelch mode. The instrument has the character of an 80s synth with 70s mono-synth sensibility. The sounds are fat and big. In a war with Pentagon which is my standard bearer for high output, big sounding synths it was a tie with Vanguard.
Quite a bit of preset and the synth engine is spent on arpeggiation and the now famous "trancegate". There is a bit of remembering to consider here. It may seem petty but Vanguard was the first synth to seriously entrench the easy to program step sequencer that became known for it's name "trancegate". Also of historical importance is a unfair backlash on the synth for jumping from a pleasant Alpha Juno clone to a further extended synth. The jump into a "large" synth puts Vanguard into a new class of synths.
No longer a somewhat simple mid-priced synth it was playing with the then new z3ta, Albino and Rhino synths. And to be blunt, it does not beat any of these semi-modular synths in terms of flexibility, but it comes close to competing at a considerably smaller price and with a much simpler interface. In fact, it's the easiest of the "big" sounding synths and also the least expensive.
Money matters as you can only expect so much at certain prices and to ReFX's credit, the price was closer to a more limited synth which has shown over time to be a smart move.
There are three oscillators with 31 wave choices, octave, semitone and minor detuning all routed to a "fat" control. :) There are 11 filter types from LP to Formant which give a good deal of diversity to them. Vanguard enables velocity and keyboard tracking which makes for some beautifully complex leads and pads. There are also two highly controlable analog style envelopes, LFO with retrigger for each oscillator along with filter and PWM fixed controls. The amplitude section works similarly.
There is the combination of arpeggiation and trancegate, something that's quite enjoyable considering you can set up the synth to modulate several different possibilities rather than what may seem the fixed resonance that so many Trance tracks have made this chopped up, highly note gate controlled sound. Going past it's Trance roots this is a very useful and easy to work with 16 step stepsequencer. Also, each assigned part can be chopped at different timing values for great sounding analog sounding evolving timbres, great for almost any sound you decide to use, and although Vanguard is a big sounding synth it isn't as complicated nor expansive as rgc:audio's Pentagon.
The question to ask is, is this necessary for you? If so, you'll probably be happier with Pentagon and that's about that. But Vanguard has it's own character and it's a bit more fatter and harder than the other large scale VA VST instruments.
Basically, Vanguard ends up being a very good sounding, very fat and typically pleasing sounding synth. Take away the trancegate and remove that whole element and you have a modestly powered big sounding synth that makes sense at it's price point, about $100 USD. If you want the gated sequencer you'll want Vanguard over some of it's similarly priced competitors and the unchanged in 4 years Pentagon which is the synth that shares the most sound qualities with.
If you want harder you've got your decision again, Vanguard. Similarly, if you want that smooth sound like a LinPlug you're going to pay for that, about $100 extra.
Presets are techno based but that can easily be changed. If you're learning this is a good synth to learn on. What it comes down to is ReFX's very good customer service vs less expensive synths with unproven track histories. In terms of patch banks you'll need to select if you aren't using Vanguard for techno. Still, it is an elegant design that makes learning easy and most likely fun. Like all great synths there are all kinds of patches available for free and purchase. This is a important feature for seats at a studio or a producer's DAW.
Try the demo if you like VAs, it's not whether you'll like it, whether it fits your needs or not. Pay attention to what works well with your setup and decide that way.
Vanguard is certainly worth the money but is in a price range that is highly competitive and viewed as a serious purchase. Only you can decide what is best for you.
I asked today through a reFX support ticket wether it is somehow possible to purchase Vanguard legally. The response:
"Vanguard 2 will be releasing very soon. I don't have an exact ETA on its release though. You'll receive an email once it's released since you're signed up for our newsletter. Shouldn't be much longer."
I even have a screenshot! Just can't attach it here.