NI finally gets it almost completely right. First-class sound, elegant and intuitive UI, extensive modulation routings that don't get messy, an extremely useful randomizer etc. CPU usage is extravagant and you can't see two envelopes side-by-side but other than that this is a home run. Presets run towards the edgy & noisy but you can soften it up pretty easily. Completely stable and crash-free in Logic and Live. The manual is detailed and readable and shows the strengths of larger developers like NI that can affort to hire professional tech writers.
The macro modulation system is brilliant too. Much more musical than manually assigning midi controllers to individual parameters. You can easily control whole groups of params with a single knob *and* control the modulation ranges to roll your own performance instruments.
NI customer support is lousy but aside from registration and activation you shouldn't need it for Massive. Massive runs towards the expensive end of the VI spectrum but if you wait there are usually deals and bundles from NI that bring it down considerably.
Simply put, Surge currently occupies the sweet spot between features, ease of use and programmability in the vst world. It presents extremely flexible oscillators and a variety of very good filters in the most intuitive and efficient UI of any softsynth on the market. It's not a character synth like impOSCar and falls clearly on the VA side of the timbral spectrum but it's capable of a huge range of sounds in that flavor and is a sound designer and tweaker's dream.
Surge owes most of that flexibility to its oscillators. Unlike most synths that require you to coordinate two or more oscillators and a handful of modulation routings to move beyond a vanilla saw or pulse waveform, each of Surge's oscillators can do as much as most synths' entire oscillator bank. Each osc can run in a standard VA-style mode or in wavetable mode. In VA mode each oscillator provides modulatable shape, width, sub-oscillator level and width, self sync and detunable unison. In wavetable mode each osc provides modulatable shape, skew, saturation and format controls. This flexibility makes it a snap to create new timbres with a minimum of work. Surge also provides inter-oscillator ring modulation and limited FM routing to allow an even wider range of sounds.
Surge provides two multimode filters with arbitrary oscillator routing, several feedback loop modes and a complete array of filter types, from basic lp/bp/hp filters to comb filters and an unusual sample and hold filter for glitchy digital sounds. Sonically the filters aren't quite in the class of the very best vsts like impOSCar or Minimonsta but they still sound great. A bank of different wave shapers provides many options for dirtying up the sound.
In addition, Surge comes with one of the most comprehensive arrays of effects available on any synth, including not only the usual delay/chorus/reverb but also very useful pitch shifter and distortion effects. These can be used as inserts or routable sends and sound very good for onboard effects. Surge provides a simple preset system for effects which makes it quick to get back a favorite setting. Unlike most onboard effects, most effect parameters are modulation targets themselves.
Instead of hardwired lfos and envelopes, each modulation source can operate as an lfo or an envelope or as a simple step sequencer. The standard lfo waveforms can be further shaped by per-lfo deformation and envelope controls, making it possible to create the kind of complex modulation shapes that require multiple mod matrix entries in more conventional designs.
The thing that really sets Surge apart from other synths in this class with similar feature lists is it's phenominal UI. All the available modulation sources are laid out as small buttons at the bottom of the interface. Setting up a modulation routing is as simple as clicking on one of these sources and then clicking and dragging on the target control to set the degree of modulation. Suble highlights on the controls and mod sources give a quick overview of existing modulation routings. It's hard to appreciate how much faster and easier than a typical mod matrix approach is until you've spent some time working with it. It makes the whole process so effortless that you're much more likely to experiment with different routings and to come up with new sounds. In combination with the extremely flexible and modulatable oscillators there simply is no better synth for quick, on-the-fly sound design and tweaking. If you like to build sounds from scratch in the middle of a tracking session or you tend to extensively tweak sounds as you work them into a track you'll find Surge to be your new secret weapon.
CPU usage is quite moderate. The included documentation is somewhat minimal but covers all the features well enough and is more detailed and polished than that of most small-developers. In many hours of use I've yet to encounter a single bug or crash using Surge, in any combination of features. Surge isn't tied down by any annoying and counter-productive copy protection.
I can really only make one complaint about Surge, and it's that the bundled preset library, while good, doesn't really show Surge at its absolute best. There's plenty of good bread & butter sounds and a nice assortment of more exotic patches too but compared to synths like Blue or z3ta, the lack of top-notch professional sound designers shows. Hopefully Claes will be able to commision some sound design from someone like BigTone in a subsequent version. If you prefer synths with a big library of ready-to-use professional sounds then Surge might not be for you but otherwise Surge is simply a big step ahead of all the competition. It's not inexpensive but compared to everything else in its price bracket Surge is worth every penny. More than anything else released in 2005 it shows that the real innovators in the vst world are still the small independent developers.
impOSCar can appear at first glance to be a somewhat boring synth. Subtractive synths, especially those modeled on classic antiques, are a dime a dozen these days and impOSCar does't radically depart from a design that was in many ways fairly conventional decades ago. Once you start to browse through the presets however, you're in for quite a shock. Beneath its simple and unassuming UI lies one of the richest and most verstatile software instruments on the market. Listen to the patch "ToDieFor" in the default factory bank and you might have to convince yourself you're not playing Absynth by mistake.
The secret to impOSCar's versatility is the suble interaction of some individually mundane features:
1. Crude additive oscillators. 16-band static oscillators may seem boring but they open up a huge range of timbres most subtractives can't touch.
2. A superb filter. Ok, perhaps this isn't so mundane, but impOSCar's filter is quite possibly the fullest and warmest software filter yet. With a full range of single and dual-filter combinations and a user-definable peak separation you can do anything from bruising drum & bass growls to gentle resonant filter sweeps.
3. Retriggerable envelopes. This may seem like a novelty at first but careful staging of both envelopes with the lfo can lead to some very complex repeating phrases. There are several examples of this in the supplied sound banks but suffice it to say that with some work you can do things with these that normally require complex graphical multi-point envelopes.
Of course GMedia's covered all the other bases. Great printed manual, nice on-board arpeggiator, rock solid stability, midi learn, simple but effective built-in delay and chorus, and unintrusive serial number protection round this out to what has got to be the software instrument closest to perfection yet. CPU usage is shockingly low. If I were to pick nits I'd complain that each patch bank only holds 32 patches and that there's no way to map aftertouch as a modulation parameter, but that's really just about all I can think of. The lack of a few standard synth features like ring mod and oscillator sync means you probably won't be able to get by with this as your *only* synth, but I can't really fault GMedia for sticking to the original design.
Let's hope that the Minimonsta is evidence that they intend to experiment even further with whatever they do next.
With all the additives out now it's a little easier to evaluate C5000 than it was when it was one of the only additive synths available. I must admit I'm not a big fan of additives in general. I find their sound a little plastic and hollow and samey. Most of them need a lot of effect processing to have much presence.
C5000 is especially guilty of this. A quick spin through the preset banks reveals quite a few very nice airy soundscape pads and lots of very unconvincing and thin leads & basses. It's a bit of a one-trick pony, but it does perform its one trick quite well. If you're looking for a pad machine with a very digital and synthetic sound that allows for some fairly complex evolving sounds then this might just fit the bill. C5000's resynthesis functions are pretty poor compared to things like Vertigo, Doppelmangler, and Cube2, so don't expect to use it to construct believable hybrids of real acoustic or electric instruments.
The interface is nicely laid out and fairly intuitive. CPU usage is modest, especially considering all the effects that are enabled on most patches. The onboard effects are good enough that you'd probably just leave them on instead of replacing them with better, dedicated alternatives most of the time. Overall though, I think this has been outclassed by some of the other additives. If you really want to explore these kinds of sounds I'd suggest you first look into Cube2, Vertigo, Doppelmangler, White Noise's Additive, or even ConcreteFX's Adder. I can't imagine why this is currently the top-rated synth here at KVR.
This is the best sounding analog emulation available at the moment. Korg have really outdone themselves with the sound. It has a beautiful organic liquid smoothness even at it's grittiest and most ugly. I was skeptical of the hardware controller at first but it really does give the MS-20 a hands-on tactile feel that software alone can't match. It's not the most sonically versatile synth ever, but it does great basses & leads and simpler pads beautifully.
The software UI alone can be frustrating, with two views, one of which is way too small and one of which is so big that it requires a lot of unnecessary scrolling. This isn't such a big deal really, since you'll generally be using the controller to program it. CPU usage can be on the high side, but it's easily worth it for the sound quality.
It doesn't come with many presets, but it's easy enough to program that you'll be making your own right away. I hope Korg applies their analog modeling technology to a more flexible and versatile synth next time around but right now this is my go-to instrument.
Another home run for the GForce team. Straying even further away from a straight emulation than they did on their previous synths, Minimonsta combines a first-class Minimoog emulation with the wild & crazy Melohman performance features. This means that it's not only one of the best analog synth emulations available, but also one of the most fluid and flexible for live playing.
The huge preset library covers all the standard Minimoog bass & lead sounds but also takes advantage of the Minimonsta's polyphony and open-ended modulation routings to do some very convincing pad and effect sounds that would be completely impossible on a real Minimoog. Each of the supplied meta-patches covers a nice range of variations on the main sound without going to the wild extremes of Symptohm, which makes most of them suitable for improvisation right out of the box.
My only two minor complaints are that the UI is a little hard to read, with small labels and controls that don't indicate their position very clearly. And, unlike previous GForce synths, this thing can be very cpu hungry with certain settings, especially in unison mode. Reducing the polyphony helps this quite a bit.
Overall this is one of the very best sounding and most playable software instruments available. It's a steal for the current price. If you're in the market for a Minimoog emulation, you'd be nuts not to get this. If you're just looking for a great analog sounding instrument that's a blast to really *play* then you need this too.
With ZeroVector White Noise, previously known for more experimental additive synths, has jumped to the head of the pack with this excellent subtractive. ZeroVector is a fairly conventional subtractive synth architecturally but stands out with a lush, rich & sweet sound and a distinctive sonic personality.
ZV's *huge* unison mode is the best I've heard in any softsynth. It's simultaneously big and very clear, unlike the noisy unison modes on a lot of other softsynths. Combined with the oscillator cloning feature ZV sounds bigger than anything except perhaps Vanguard, and it sounds a lot cleaner than Vanguard can.
ZV also has an excellent filter. Comparable even to impOSCar and Albino for a warm analogue sound with a very musical resonance. The vector pad makes it possible to make some very dynamic and interesting sounds, great for pads and ambient textures. The effects section is pretty complete and easy to use.
My only complaints are that the UI is a little hard to read quickly and that the vector pad needs a loop mode. Replacing the knob graphics with something more obviously directional controls would help a lot. With these changes and White Noise Additive-style midi learn this would be an easy ten. As it is now it's a very, very solid 9.
I picked this up in a bundle with Unison and Adder for $70 from ConcreteFX. I wasn't expecting to get much use out of this but I've been very pleasantly surprised to find that this is my favorite of all the additives out there.
First, I love ConcreteFX's unconventional GUIs. They're one of the few developers bold enough to abandon the hardware-style guis most developers favor. Their guis are more simpler and clearer and appear much more at home on a computer screen.
Second, this is easily the best *sounding* additive out there right now. I've been pretty disappointed with the new additive synths that have come out recently because, while they offer tremendous flexibility, they just tend to sound thin and hollow. Adder has a thick, rich sound that holds it own against a good subtractive synth.
Third, the modulation possibilities are mind-boggling. Adder includes a step sequencer, a HUGE mod matrix, fm modulation among all of the partials, a full-featured fx section, and a good randomizer. The gui is so straightforward that it isn't immediately clear how deep Adder can be, but the possibilities are endless.
Fourth, at a price around 1/3rd of the competition, Adder is scandalously cheap. It would be well worth the $200 or so other companies charge for their additives but at the current price it's a must (even more so with the current bundle that throws in Unison/Micron and Digital for no extra charge).
Documentation is somewhat sparse but adequate and the gui is very intuitive for a synth of this complexity.
Adder comes with a somewhat smaller preset library than the other additives but there are a lot of very commanding presets in the library.
ConcreteFX synths are highly underrated and the unconventional guis and low prices probably make people take them lightly. Don't make that mistake.