The latest release in the Absynth series from Native Instruments.
This review is a little overdue, for various reasons which I won't bore you with. But one thing that came from the lengthy wait was a chance to dig a little deeper then I might have in a shorter time. What I found was a synth that is much bigger on the inside once you dig in, even a little bit. Having used Absynth before I assumed it to be a deep piece of software that is not for the faint of heart, or the un-synth savvy user. What I found after actually reading the manual and checking out some help files was a software synth that can actually be used to extremes by even a novice with just a little reading and practice. They have really changed the interface to accommodate almost anyone with a little knowledge of how a synth works. And even if this is your first adventure into software synth's this is really the easiest software synth to get amazing sounds out of with very little effort. The sound library they have provided is extreme, but I'll get into that a little later. Now onto the detail's.
Whats New Or Modified
This is as it sounds, a way to morph two wave forms into a single new one. Used with the ability to draw your own wave forms this is one important feature for myself and others who do a lot of their own sound design. I was very impressed with how accurate and articulate you can be when creating new wave forms. This tool leads to some very interesting rhythmic forms. The feature is usable anywhere you can use a wave form in Absynth.
SYNC GRANULAR MODE:
This is a new sound source in the oscillator module. It produces some very organic sounds although I was able to get some not so organic ones with a little coaxing. It was designed mainly for creating a sound of blowing into an instrument or strumming. Again this came in very useful when creating very organic rhythmic based sounds. It can be used very mildly or it can also be over done to create some very exotic textures. For me this is a very welcome tool that with other synths I would have to go outside the synth with effects to create that type of sound.
EXPANDED RESONATOR EFFECT:
The new parameter Drive allows you much greater and finer control over the input signal. It can be manipulated all the way to distortion, or simply used to add some warmth. Again this is great as you don't need to leave the software synth for adding this texture to your sounds.
The level of an audio signal can now be used as a modulation source to use Absynth as an effect. The level of an oscillator can also be used to modulate and effect parameter with this as well. Again I found many uses for this in creating rhythmic type sounds, but giving them an extreme life of their own that can change with playing velocity and so on.
These assemble all incoming and outgoing modulation and automation data to allow you to quickly interact with the parameters of Absynth. This means you now have greater control over every aspect of the synth both in a sequencer or live situation. Everything is easily assigned its own control by the user so any controller will work with a set up you are familiar with.
This is something I touched on a little bit in the FM8 review. I have to admit I am completely in love now with NI's sound browser and really miss it when dealing with all my other software synths as well as hardware synths. This can be displayed as part of the main UI on Absynth and really makes quick work of finding exactly what you need, or at the very least narrowing it down to a smaller selection of sounds to start with. It can also be used for the sounds you design and create as well. I'll toss a little extra tidbit in here as well. I am after using this for awhile now investing in NI"s KORE hardware/software package that works in conjunction with the sound browser in NI's bigger synths. It can as well create and maintain your other software synths libraries in the same intuitive way. This is something that does take a little user interaction to create for non NI type software synths but in my eyes it is well worth it. The KORE system comes with several buttons and knobs for controlling your software synths as well which is a big seller for me. It can be templated to do what ever it is you like and for the NI synths it already contains many templates for all the main control configurations. OK, back tot he sound browser itself. It has the ability to let you make selections from type of instrument, articulations, warm, cold, frosty and types of music genre it will be in. This can really narrow down a huge library to a very fine selection of sounds. Just make sure you select all the attributes you want your self designed sounds to be found under before you save them. Although you can still use the traditional folder's and search function if you wish I found this a very friendly addition to an already user friendly synth.
This is a new global operating envelope. The Master ADSR allows easier and faster modification of complex sounds in one final stage. Again this is something I would usually have to send the audio out and apply another effect to achieve some of the effects that this new parameter allows.
STEP MODE in ENVELOPES:
This works when in editing mode for envelopes. You can create either random or precise break points using a rhythm grid to adjust the envelopes movements with. Again I found this very useful for creating some extreme rhythmic type sound scape's. The grid allows you to set up in a manner similar to a step sequencer, then you simply move your break points up or down to change your envelope. You can add up to 64 break points which can add some very exotic textures to your sounds. I found it very useful in creating some moving and evolving textures.
A feature I have not really used yet but look forward to with this synth. You can set Absynth up to run everything from 2 channel stereo mix all the way out to an 8 channel octophonic mix. It has preset configurations for 2.1 Stereo, 2.1 Stereo wide, 3.1 Surround, 3.1 Front, 4.1 Surround, 4.1 Quad, 5.1 Music, 5.1 Pentaphonic, 6.1 Hexaphonic, 7.1 Cinema, 7.1 Music, 7.1 Heptaphonic and the 8.0 Octaphonic. I had a chance to tinker just a bit and play the results on a surround system here and found it to be able to create some pretty interesting movements throughout the sound field. There is an option in the effects section that allows some panning and automation options to take advantage of the surround feature. I was able to set up a mix that only effected one of the 3 oscillators that were running at the time. This gave a very interesting movement to the audio. You can also take advantage of using the LFO's to create even more movement as well. This feature will save some time when doing scoring work. Just one more feature to add to the complex sound scape's that can be created using Absynth.
NEW USER INTERFACE:
This may be last on the list here but is surely not last in many users eyes. As I stated above my first impressions of Absynth in versions past was it could be a pretty tough synth for the novice or for someone a bit fearful of digging under the hood. That is simply not true of this software anymore, nor of any of NI's software synth's these days. The changes that have been made allow for absolute ease of use and quick access to just about anything you will need under the hood. Deeper edits are of course still accessed via sub-menu's but you can access some pretty heavy editing functions right from the front end. The layout is very logical and everything is well labeled.
A little about Absynth
Absynth is based on what is called a Semi-Modular design. This allows you to assemble multiple oscillator's, filter's and modulator's in any fashion you see fit. You do all this in the Patch Window which of course is easily accessed with a single click. There you have 3 channels, each with 3 slots for module's. The top module in each channel will be an oscillator only. But with the myriad of waveforms to choose from and the options they allow they aren't your dad's oscillator's any more. You are not confined by the simple saw, sign and square waves of yesterday, as I stated above you have an entire library of NI created waveforms and you can modify them or create more of your own. You still have 2 more slots to fill with the modules of your choice. There you have 3 choices which include the modulation module which are either ring mod or the frequency shifter. Both these type again go way beyond what I have room to describe, but having grown up with analog modular synths these are a patch freaks dream. The filter module is once again far past anything in the past. You have 14 different filter types to tweak from. Lastly is the waveshape module which allows sculpting the input signal into any waveform you desire. I have to admit I spent at least 10 straight hours finding out what it could do. It really helped create some tones I might not have gotten to in the synth itself without it. Still in the patch window you have the Master Channel which all 3 of the channels funnel into. Here you can also use 3 modules, the first 2 slots can use either a filter or a modulation module. the third position will have the effect module which can of course be bypassed if not needed. The effect module is more along the lines of delay and resonator effects which can add some life to even a dull tone. Absynth has given us the ability to go deep into the modulator's and edit the envelopes as I stated above with up to 64 break points. As I stated above this allows for some very interesting new sounds and very long dramatic evolving tones to be created. I wont get into any more detail on that but it was a key point for me in using it to design some very long and dramatic pads.
As I stated above the new UI for Absynth is well laid out. The navigation bar across the top allows easy access to all the main windows you will need. It also contains the normal buttons for access to save and load, patch change and an import GLO file button form importing your old Absynth files. The main windows are as follows. Browser and attributes window which is all I stated and more above. Especially when linked up with their KORE system.
Perform window which contains visuals on all your macro controls as well as the master ADSR. You can do a great deal with your sounds fright from this window as well. It contains tabs for control groups, assignments, MIDI, Note, Tuning and Audio Mod. It also is home for the audio input section as well.
Patch window, which I described in detail above but forgot to mention that each channel does have its own level control for mixing before you get to the master channel.
Effect window which allows you to set up your effects and tweak away. You have 5 effects to choose from here. I wont go into huge detail here either but you'll get the idea.
Pipe, which is a resonating body type effect. An interesting effect that with a little practice can be used to great success.
Multicomb, which offers up to 6 independent delay lines based on comb filters that use lowpass filters in the feedback loop. You can get a flange type effect or even a subtle phase. You can over do it to get some extreme effects as well.
Multitap, which is a simple delay with 3 taps. Delays can go from one sample to 10 seconds. You can route the delay in various ways to achieve some interesting effects.
Echoes, which of course is the classic echo effect along with its own bank of filters.
Resonators, these are more along the lines of a reverb on steroids. Some interesting sounds can be had here if you work it for a little while.
Wave window, I wont elaborate here either as I've stated were you can go with this. But this is the window to really get at the inner workings of Absynth. All your waveforms can be created and worked on here.
LFO window, here you have 3 freely usable LFO's. You can really get to work on some interesting things here as well in combination with the wave window.
Absynth in my eyes
This review was actually three time the size you see here. I found myself jotting notes every time I turned it on and used it, and they really piled up. I figured I better cut it down to a readable size. I have heard and read many people stating they thought Absynth sounded cold or icy. In part I do agree, some of the factory sounds have the edgy cold hard sound to them that reminded me of some of the first few hardware digital synths. But it is a good icy cold sound in my eyes. I also found some very warm and inviting sound in the patch library as well. However, I managed to take some of the factory patch's and mellow them out and give them a little warm up with just a few minor tweaks. I had also heard that many thought it really didn't do a good job on getting a warm analog sound. That is something I had no trouble finding at all, warm and analog were pretty easy to get out of this software. But I must stress that the best part of Absynth is the very dramatic sounds you can achieve with it. I have a huge arsenal of software synth ranging from free goodies to some pretty heavy hitters. And my honest opinion is that this is a synth I will call my go to synth from now on. And that is saying a lot since I have three years invested in creating sounds and sample's with my other go to synth! Absynth is well worth the investment for the library of sounds alone that would keep most people happy for ages. I must also state here that I have seen third party patch libraries and sound sets for Absynth already.
Yes there is only one con I can truly warn about with this synth. Seeing as it is one astounding synth there is the drawback of CPU usage. That can be tamed by watching how you set up your sounds. But for most of us these days it isn't a huge issue. My main software is Sonar 6 PE and Project 5 ver. 2. Both of these use a freeze function which really saves on the CPU cycles when your using synth like this one. So I really can't call it a huge con, but for some it might be.
Editors Note: Also, be aware the testing system was a 2Ghz single-core AMD processor with 1 GB of RAM. Therefore, on the newer multi-core processors it would likely run with much less CPU percentage being used.
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