In probably our most challenging music gear roundup of 2014, we shine a light on 12 of our favorite software-based instrument and synth plug-ins reviewed this year. (In alphabetical order).
If you’re a dance producer, composer, or DJ, you’ll likely be extremely interested in AIR Music Tech's Hybrid 3. It’s a synth that can fill many different roles as G. W. Childs discovers in our world-first review from 2014.
Pros: The best instant gratification I’ve encountered in a synth in a long time. Fulfills many roles and is easy on the processor.
Cons: The setup was a little frustrating. Not a deal-breaker, however.
Imagine having easy-to-use tools and content that could enable you to design your own sonic effects both easily and with a unique twist... stop imagining... Glitchmachines are here with Polygon.
Price: $49 USD
Pros: A great sounds design tool and the supplied sample library is worth admission alone!
Cons: No Mod Wheel assignment. Some audio artifacts when using Square wave LFO.
The latest collaboration between famous Trance artist, BT and iZotope has caused quite a stir since its release. BreakTweaker was also featured in our NAMM 2014 Top 10 products and with good reason.
Pros: An amazing sounding pattern-based sequencer with its own synths and sample playback instruments that makes very complex drum and synth edits so simple, a child could do it.
Cons: System intensive for older CPU processors.
Price: $249 (or $299 with 4 expansions).
Bottom Line: A game-changing beat generating/melodic instrument that will easily become first round plug-in pick, every time.
Sometimes 'simple' is overrated. Especially in the world of granular synths, it can be more satisfying to spend time getting to know a synth in-depth as Noah Pred discovers with Madrona Labs' Kaivo.
Pros: Elegant design, powerful modulation, unique strategy and one-of-a-kind sounds.
Cons: May require some quality time with the well-written manual before feeling like you're in control.
Three new sampled pianos were included in the recent Native Instruments Komplete 10 upgrade, and a fine collection they are indeed as Lynda Arnold discovers in our feature review.
Since Twisted Tools' Ultraloop, the idea of manually programming drum patterns feels so antiquated. Now they've teamed up with Native Instruments to create Polyplex, an amazing 8-part drum sampler.
Price: £59 / $69 / Available in Komplete 10 and Komplete 10 Ultimate
Pros: Affordable. Small footprint. Sounds awesome. Cutting edge kits and effects. Randomization of any or all parameters. Clever design. One-click sound creation. Deep editing if you want it.
Cons: Using your own samples means a trip to Reaktor’s Sample Map Editor.
Rob Papen continues to raise the bar with his software synths and effects, from Predator to SubBoomBass, RP-Verb to RP-Delay. But how does the highly anticipated Blue II measure up?
Price: €149 (inc. VAT) / $179 USD
Pros: Intuitive, attractive design. Fantastic sound. CPU-efficient. Huge wealth of oscillator, filter and effect options.
Cons: Oscillator ratios aren't available for automation. Doesn't make toast. Won't marry you.
Is Sample Logic XOSPHERE the new king of creating impressive sonic and musical atmospheres? Hollin Jones puts it to the test in our world first, in-depth review.
Price: $299.99 USD
Pros: Stunning atmospheres. Near-infinite possible combinations of sounds. Animators add life and depth. Easy to learn. Perfect for film, TV and game sound design.
Cons: FX are master only, you can’t process individual oscillators separately.
We've already reviewed Sugarbytes' Egoist at AskAudioMag.com. However, it was so popular with us that Lynda Arnold also put finger to keyboard to explain just how cool this loop slicing tool is.
u-he are at it again with another excellent sounding synth at a great price. Noah Pred puts their digital modular beast, Bazille, to the test and finds lots and lots to like in this in-depth review.
Price: $129 USD
Pros: Fantastic sound. Incredible routing. Great interface. Very good price.
Cons: Somewhat CPU intensive, particularly on older machines. Requires a bit of practice. Effects routing rather inflexible.
Waves new synth, Codex, promises a new paradigm of sound generation, wavetable and subtractive synthesis elements, and a very clean sound. Does it deliver? Matt Vanacoro digs deep and finds out.
With the handful of wavetable synthesizer plug-ins available today, is Xfer Records’ Serum anything special, or just a massive carbon copy?
Pros: What Xfer’s Serum manages to do is help you achieve effortlessly complex and intricate sound design with a level of fluidity we’ve not previously experienced. This is an incredibly powerful synthesizer which provides an ultra clean and unique sound with a complex yet simple to use modulation system. Accessibility through such a simplistic interface has been achieved with absolute grace. There really is no reason not to bag this V1 release.
Cons: In future updates we’d like to have the ability to click and add shapes for LFO rhythm programming, be able to duplicate specific FX modules, have a larger wavetable set size, more oscillator routing options and infinite modulation assignments.
No major cons here however, this is only our wishlist.