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Serum [read all reviews]
Reviewed By Yorrrrrr [read all by] on 2nd February 2015
Version reviewed: 8.1 on Windows.
Last edited by bitcrusher on 5th February 2015.
11 of 15 people found this review helpful.
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Many good things in here. Features (the oscillator section, the unison, the wavetable features, the noise and sample loading section, the crazy amount of filters), GUI (visual representation and animation for nearly everything) and sound (clean oscillators, oversampling) are very good.

I didn't like the stock presets as much, but there are third party patches (like Ayin Zahev, Simon Stockhausen, etc.) that really show the quality of this synth. I'm loving the function and sound of this synth.

However, I find the CPU usage way too high, and quickly becomes unusable for me (and I have a pretty powerful system i7 4790K at 4.4 GHz, 16 GB DDR3 2400 RAM, Samsung 850 Pro SSDs, an RME Babyface audio interface, an optimized for audio Windows 8.1 OS, etc..). I always end up using DUNE 2 instead in a production. But for messing around with the synth alone, Serum is good.

I made a little, quick and easy test on FL Studio:

1. A 7 voice unison (density in DUNE 2) saw wave, 16 polyphony, longest amp envelope release possible and filter activated on Serum drove my system close to 30 to 35% CPU load with all voices playing, and if I mess with the detune knob, ugly spikes drive it to 50-60%;

2. Meanwhile DUNE 2 is 3-4% CPU load and it stays stable no matter what. Even if I bump up the DUNE 2 unison voices to 8 (that is, 8 copies or layers of the same sound playing at the same time), I still can't reach the 30% Serum demands for its single layer.

3. Sylenth1...6-7% CPU load... (this is a surprise to me, DUNE 2 even outperforms Sylenth1, the gold standard in sound/cpu usage ratio..).

4. Spire...15-20% CPU load.. (this one is also considered a CPU hog, not as bad as Serum, though)

EDIT: I did the test again, with same settings on all synths. As suggested by Steve Duda himself, the settings are: Long sustained notes in the piano roll (FL Studio), no release at all, 16x polyphony, 16 notes playing at the same time, filter enabled. The results are:

1. Serum: 34%
2. DUNE 2: 3%
3. Sylenth1: 6%
4. Spire: 6-7%

Not super scientific tests by any means, and certainly not indicative of a real world performance for everybody, but it could give a very rough idea of the CPU load situation (as of the time of this little test, with Serum version 1.04b3).

IMHO, Serum seems like an unfinished product and it needs optimization. If you want to buy this synth, make sure you have the CPU power to back it up.

But it is one fine sounding synth (not better or worse than DUNE 2 or Sylenth1 in this respect, just different) and it deserves better. I guess those fancy animations come at a price [:?].

It has a great potential to be one of the greatest.

[comment from Steve Duda]: DUNE is multicore and you're not looking at the activity across your cores so it could be up to 8x what you're reporting. Sylenth caps at 32 polyphony, if you allow Sylenth to play 256 voices it's consumption is about 3x what you report, at least here. I don't trust your tests. Serum takes more CPU than the others (and for good reason, there is a measurable difference in oscillator quality compared to some of your test comparisons) and runs single-core, which can be prohibitive if you need 256 voices from a single instance but that isn't really a real-world example. There's users that have used up to 90+ Serum instances in a single project, as hosts should be spreading things to various cores which is in most cases the optimal way of operating, rather than a single instance spreading it's workload across the cores (as there is overhead doing such a thing).

DUNE 3 [read all reviews]
Reviewed By Yorrrrrr [read all by] on 22nd May 2014
Version reviewed: 10 on Windows.
Last edited by Yorrrrrr on 9th January 2016.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful.
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DUNE 2: Features such as...

1. The oscillators. 2 stacks of up to 32 voices + 1 Sub Osc/Noise per stack. Very high quality oscillators, on all the frequency ranges. Almost non existent aliasing on the VA, but none on the wavetables. Deep low end, excellent high end. Very balanced sound.

2. The detuning options, with various modes (linear, non linear, random, major and minor chords, etc..), detuning amounts, etc. Detuning sounds good and can be tailored for taste and need in a variety of ways.

3. Virtual Analogue + Wavetables + Frequency Modulation synthesis. In addition to the usual VA, iIt comes with an excellent set of wavetables, and you can find more in KVR or Synapse forums. But you can even load your own wavetables with the proper format. You can use with the free Audio Term tool to create more Wavetables to load them on the synth, or wait for the official Synapse's own tool for creating wavetables for DUNE 2. This means the synth will just grow more and more on possibilities, as more wavetables become available. The FM capabilities are basic, though. Nothing super fancy but just enough to have a taste of FM sound and capabilities, without being a full FM synth.

4. Amazing UNISON implementation with full control over the voices. The unison engine allows to have up to 8 synths stacked, up to 8 different sounds working together, each part with its own filters, envelopes, etc., effectively turning DUNE 2 into a multi-part synthesizer. So you can have 8 synths in one, 8 independent sounds, and you can even detune and spread them (like they were simple oscillators). Crazy. The unison in Dune 2 also mean that there can be up to 8320 oscillators working simultaneously at full 16x polyphony. You can have a multi timbral synth, if you edit the parameters directly, or you can offset the parameters in the mod matrix using the 'const' mod source, to maintain common controls.

This differential unison engine is the defining part of the whole synth, the concept unique to DUNE 2.

5. Various different filters, including Clean multimode ones, plus Sallen Key, Transistor Ladder, Acid Lowpass, and even the filters from DUNE 1 to make similar sounding presets. The new Expander filters (in v. 2.5) sound great, with oversampling and better resonance and drive behavior; It has Zero delay feedback filter design, to mimic analog designs; It also comes with some special "filters effects" (which include various distortion types, comb, notch, etc.), pre or post filter, to spice up filter sound in various ways. All filters sound beautiful and different. Some of them have saturation (Ladder and Expander). It's possible to make them scream with the Drive parameter, which acts as some kind of a mix knob between the resonant part and the not resonant. Very flexible filter design.

6. Very nice set of effects. They all sound great, with the reverb being the best I've heard inside a software synth. There are 2x effect buses, which allow to use different set of effects for different unison voices. The synth even allows to change the order of the effects processing too.

7. 4 multiple point graphical envelopes (MSEGs) included. They allow for things like custom shape envelopes and curves, custom shape LFOs (in 'loop' mode), gating effects, custom arpeggiator, and crazy modulation of nearly every parameter on the synth. The normal knob envelopes for the filter and amplitude are snappy or punchy when the 'analog' switch is enabled (new in v. 2.5), and more linear when not.

8. Extensive modulation matrix of 32 slots and so many sources and destinations. Very nice set of sources and destinations. The mod matrix even allows to modulate its own parameters, or set the modulation of parameters to apply just for some of the unison voices. The "Const" modulation source has so many uses, like offseting a parameter value for a specific unison voice, or to set parameters only available in the mod matrix (like initial phases for the oscillators, phase of the LFOs, etc..), and more.

9. Excellent arpeggiator, with MIDI import, in addition to the usual step sequencing. It can even be used as a yet another modulation source (note and velocity).

10. Oscillator synchronization.

11. Ring modulation.

12. Pulse Width Modulation.

13. Audio rate modulation. The synth can work sample by sample, not by blocks. It allows, for example, the output of an oscillator to modulate any parameter.

14. Full multithreading support. The CPU usage is low for the excellent sonic quality you get. Sylenth1's level of CPU optimization, with similar settings of course, while capable of doing so much more if you really want to.

15. Simple, easy to use, functional, clear, uncluttered, good looking, inviting GUI. The color of the main panel can be changed. You can create and use third party skins as of v. 2.2. There are great skins available out there.

16. And more....

...make this a masterpiece of a synth. Definitely better than similarly priced synths like Sylenth1. Well, better is not the correct word...just 'different'. It's just that it has so much more to offer.

It is a modulation beast. Inmensely powerful, flexible, quick and easy to use. This is pads and sequences heaven. But it can do everything under the sun with flying colors and it's very hard to make it sound bad. But at the same time it's so easy and fast to work with. It's flexible, versatile, quick to dial in. Bread-and-butter kind of synth. Not only it is quick and easy because it can go incredibly deep. It is a sound designers plugin too.

Beautiful sounding. Clean, rich, lush, expensive, musical are all words I would use to describe its sound. It has its own character too.

Excellent patches included, and more are coming. Amazing sound designers behind. Check the patches made by Rob Lee (RL), Kevin Schroder (KS) and Ed Ten Eyck (EDT), for example. They really show the capabilities of this fantastic software synth.

Not enough words to describe this incredible synthesizer plugin. I hope it sells well and gets all the recognition it deserves in then music production community. It's already getting raving reviews everywhere that confirm what I say.

Thanks, .