FabFilter Twin 3 review: A virtual analogue synth with a fabulous filter and a slick new look
FabFilter’s virtual analogue softsynth finally gets a shiny new update, but was it worth the wait?
⊕ Fluid GUI with useful visual feedback
⊕ Extensive and flexible modulation options
⊖ Presets are lacklustre
⊖ Effects somewhat basic
⊖ Overhauled design takes some getting used to
We’ve had to wait 14 years for FabFilter to release a new version of its flexible virtual analogue soft synth but it’s finally here. Twin 3 ups the oscillators and filters to four a piece, and sports a stylish and refined new look, improved sound quality, an new effects section, plus a host of other features and workflow enhancements. However, it’s entering an incredibly crowded soft synth market, so how does this returning champ fare against the new contenders?
Twin 2’s GUI was getting a little dated, so it’s unsurprising that FabFilter dramatically redesigned it to resemble its newer brand style, as found the excellent Volcano 3 and Timeless 3.
The new layout is much more sleek and modern, with minimal text, heavy use of icons and a visual language for most of the controls. You have up to four analogue-modelled oscillators, each with controls for waveform, volume, tuning, oscillator sync, phase sync (for retriggering), ring mod and pulse width, which pops up when you select a square wave. In fact, one of the GUI’s strengths is the way that oscillators, filters, modulators and certain features are only shown as you add them, so a simple patch isn’t overcomplicated by unnecessary controls.
This does take some getting used to though and, on first use, it’s not as intuitive as some other synths. This is especially true of the powerful modulation section, although if you’ve used FabFilter plugins in the past then this should be familiar to you. Of course, as with many things, spending some time learning each function will pay off greatly, and we were soon able to navigate it with ease.
Twin 3’s best feature is undoubtedly its beautiful-sounding filter, which is actually four filters in one. This is put centre stage and is represented as a filter graph rather than with dials. You can double-click to add a new filter and then choose from a variety of shapes and slopes. There are then 11 filter styles including clean, raw, tube, smooth and extreme, and all have slightly different characteristics and harmonics, which are emphasised once you start to increase the resonance.
We’re happy to report that this thing really screams when driven hard and you can get some lovely, rich-sounding sweeps that move satisfyingly through the sweet spot.
The four filters can be run in series or parallel, or assigned to each oscillator for the creation of some complex evolving sounds. Alternatively, you could use all four to pick out some harmonic peaks, making it a highly flexible option for designing sounds. You then have cutoff and resonance offset dials, so you can move or modulate all four filters at once, and a unique touch adds panning for each, so you can get some quite intricate and wide-sounding patches.
Below the filter, you have controls for portamento, master tune, and an ADSHR amp envelope graph with newly added slope controls. In fact, all the envelopes have slope controls, which we’d love to see on every synth and sampler moving forward as they can really help to give you more control when dialling in movement.
On the right is the new effects section with six simple effects. These include a reverb, delay with built-in filter and ping-pong, chorus with single or double options, a phaser/flanger, a tasty sounding drive that can be placed pre- or post-effects, and a useful compressor with auto gain to keep everything under control.
They’re all decent-sounding and the simple controls make them easy to use, although this also makes them slightly limiting from a sound design perspective. Given how well the drive sings when driven by the filter settings, it would be nice to have a few different algorithms to help give a variety of saturated flavours. Or perhaps to have more than one reverb algorithm.
The bottom of the GUI is where things get a little more complex, as you have an incredibly flexible and powerful modulation system with up to 100 slots. You can click to add mod sources as needed and these include simple sliders and XY pads that can be used as Macros, XLFOs that can do basic shapes or be used as 16-step sequencers, ADHSR envelope generators, and envelope followers. The latter has a new transient mode that turns the Envelope Follower into a transient detector.
You also have velocity, pitch bend, Aftertouch, keyboard tracking and the like for additional MIDI sources, plus the ability to use a sidechain signal as a modulator or trigger source. Once added, you click on the minimised image to expand and edit the settings, and you can drag and drop to assign modulation to any control. We found the XLFO a little fiddly to edit, but thankfully each modulator comes with a dropdown menu of presets. With this many options, things can get quite complex, so it’s useful that there is decent visual feedback when controls are being modulated.
Other features include MIDI learn, polyphony and unison settings (up to 64 voices), several alternate tuning options, and width and volume controls. There are also plug-in favourites like undo, redo, A/B, GUI resizing and even a full-screen mode. The final major feature, however, is the Arpeggiator, which has some useful features such as groove, note length, retrigger and an offset dial that scales the speed. It’s fairly basic overall though, and unfortunately, we found its behaviour a little erratic in Logic Pro, although things improved when we tested it in Ableton Live. Hopefully this issue can be fixed in an update.
Aside from the ability to get Twin 3’s filter to scream when pushed through the distortion, the sound of Twin 3 could overall be described as quite smooth. It arguably doesn’t quite leap out of the speakers with the same grit that some other virtual analogues do. To be fair, at the regular quality setting, it has a fairly low CPU usage, but we found the top end to be lacking. If you turn on High-Quality mode, then it uses 4x internal oversampling, and the sounds become brighter and a little more tangible.
Twin 3 comes with a medium-sized batch of presets that are a mixed bag. The improved Preset Browser now allows quick searching by keywords, and there is a handful of excellent, well-designed and interesting sounding presets. However, a large portion feel quite pedestrian and don’t really show off what the synth is capable of. It can create your more commonly-heard synth sounds, but there are other synths that arguably do them better and are quicker and easier to use. Perhaps where Twin 3 excels is more in the realm of deeper sound design and making use of the delicious resonance and different characters of the flexible filter.
For some, there may not be enough new here to make it stand out in a crowded market, but we would recommend you try the demo. If the workflow and sound clicks with the kind of music that you’re creating, then there’s no reason why this couldn’t become your favourite new synth as the modulation options make it very powerful. It’s not a master of all trades like some other recent synth releases, but it’s a decent virtual analogue, and the filter is the element that really helps it shine.
- Four-oscillator virtual analogue softsynth
- Redesigned and simplified GUI
- Effects with reverb, delay, chorus, phaser/flanger, drive and compression
- Four versatile filters with panning and adjustable slope and shape
- Drag-and-drop modulation with 100 slot mod matrix
- 64-voice polyphony and unison
- Polyphonic portamento
- Live modulation visualisation for targets and sources
- VST, VST3, AU, AAX Native formats (32/64-bit, Intel and Apple Silicon)
- £109 / €129 / $129 (log in to FabFilter account for discount upgrade prices)
- Contact FabFilter
- Buy: Gear4music, Eastwood Sound & Vision
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