Gear Of The Year: Best soft synths of 2019
A new category this year, taking into account the sheer quantity of high quality software synths we’ve encountered. But which have come out on top?
WINNER: Kilohearts Phase Plant
2019 was a great year for soft synths, and one where Native’s Massive X stole the headlines. However it was not quite complete (Komplete?) enough to steal the crown (although v1.1 looks like the update we all want) and instead that honour goes to the lesser known company Kilohearts. Phase Plant is a modular synth but not quite the one you might be thinking of. You add your own Generators, Modulators and Effects to very much create your own bespoke synth set-up. The Generators highlight the flexibility on offer – basically this synth is anything you want it to be – and comprise Analog, Noise, Sampler and Wavetable. There are Filter and Distortion blocks plus plenty of Utilities, making this a highly creative synthesiser with unheard of flexibility.
Reviewer Andy Jones said: “Starting with a blank canvas might fill you with fear on most synths, but here, it’s just a matter of dragging blocks in, connecting, modulating with ease and hearing the results. It’s a synth that might be attempting to be the best of all worlds but its strength really lies in this creation. And in a world of attention-grabbing synths, what a strength that is to have. Phase Plant starts off promising to be a ‘best of’, but ultimately delivers on its creative power – which is what all synths should do. Truly inspirational.”
Highly commended: Audiaire Zone
Zone stands out as a synth because it features a quite unique function called Parameter Sequencing. You get sequencer lanes in which you can draw shapes which are representations of parameter changes for each of the synth’s controls. It’s incredibly easy to implement and each lane can run independently and at its own speed.
The results are hugely evolving and dynamic, giving Zone a very unique character. “Zone is a powerful and flexible synth that invites – and hugely rewards – experimentation,” we said in our review. “This synth can sound like no other – but do look further inwards to the synth’s more emotive sounds for a richer idea of where Zone can head. You’ll be rewarded by one of the most varied-sounding synths out there.”
Pigments is a fantastic-looking synth, it sounds great and has an immense engine or two, but really, this synth is more about what you hear than what your see. Arturia has spent 20 years studying and recreating classic synths and has put all that knowledge into Pigments. The VA engine has three oscillators with their waveforms shown. Modulate them, change their shape, speed… but whatever you do, watch them move. We found this a brilliant synth to use with loads of features to sink your teeth into.
Brainworx bx_oberhausen is an exceptional emulation of a classic synth, with two oscillators offering 32 voices of polyphony. Its Tolerance Modeling Technology introduces random analogue character that puts it up there with some of the best soft-synths, and with fantastic modulation options to spark interesting ideas. Brainworx bx_oberhausen comes with a great selection of flexible effects, bringing 21st-century luxuries to classic Oberheim sounds. If this was your favourite soft-synth of the year, vote for it!
Scenic was introduced with Reason 11 this year, available both as a plug-in instrument and included in the full version of Reason. Scenic is described as the perfect instrument to deliver “thrill-inducing electronic rhythms, mood-setting orchestral textures and morbid drones for blockbuster impact”. This soft-synth offers atmosphere by the bucket load, with hybrid sample playback and granular synthesis rolled into one. Scenic boasts five effect processors, over 100 multi-sampled instruments and effects and expressive performance controls.
Native Instruments Massive X
If you’ve not heard of Native Instruments Massive over the last decade, you would have definitely heard it’s power in a piece of music somewhere along the line. This year NI dropped Massive X on us, the new edition of its acclaimed wavetable synth. The Massive X bonuses are the stupid numbers of modulation options, the insert effects that can be oscillators, the Reaktor-like Routing section, the noise generators, the sounds and the looks. Not to mention the 170 wavetables and 10 wavetable modes available for the two oscillators. If Massive X has won your vote, head to the bottom of the page – after checking out the competition of course.
We all need bass sounds, and where Monoment scores very high is with its simplicity of use and ability to morph from contemporary to vintage sounds with the minimum of effort. It’s equipped with a diverse range of timbres, which are simplistic to work with while offering pretty immediate and good results. It sports a classic synth architecture, making it easy and familiar to use, and offers a comprehensive effects section and artist-made presets. All in all, it’s a fantastic synth for big bass and is fully equipped for both modern and vintage sounds. What did you think?
UVI FM Suite
Frequency Modulation synthesis is having something of a renaissance since its inception 40 years ago, and UVI FM Suite only builds on that movement. The soft-synth dusts off some of those FM classics and packages them into an extensive new instrument set, drawn from both popular and ultra-rare models from the original FM era. FM Suite offers a vast FM-based library with many sonic surprises certainly achieved with its extensive collection of onboard effects such as reverb, delay, drive, chorus and phaser. This is not merely a DX7 in software form; it goes way beyond that and is a highly usable package for contemporary production. Will it win your vote?
Rob Papen Vecto
This is a really exciting and very powerful plug-in synth, which offers a pretty bewildering amount of sonic possibilities, while being intuitive to use. We scored Rob Papen’s Vecto a 9/10 for it’s elegant, simple to use design with possibilities to get complicated sounds with minimal hassle. Vecto boasts four oscillators, with a wealth of waveforms, 28 filter types, an onboard 16-step sequencer, arpeggiator and effects. A big X-Y control in the centre of the interface provides easy control over sounds. Could Vecto’s vector synthesis engine be your victor?
Check out all the Gear Of The Year 2019 categories here.
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