Thick Audio FREQ review: An amazingly simple, unique and powerful synth
Combining processed samples of classic synths and intuitive processors, does this stripped-back soft synth compare to its vintage forebears?
Powerful macro control
Wide variety of sounds
Ability to use own samples
Installation is fiddly
Sounds can be quite harsh – some softer presets would balance this out
Thick Audio is the brainchild of Darren King, former member of indie-rock band Mutemath. Music by Mutemath and Darren’s solo project DK the Drummer has always included sounds from Darren’s enviable arsenal of vintage synths – and it’s this collection that forms the basis of Thick Audio’s latest product, FREQ.
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FREQ is a sample-based synthesizer and runs as an instrument within Kontakt or Kontakt Player. The refreshingly simple interface is dominated by a large macro knob – essentially the eponymous FREQ control – flanked by two knobs whose functions are dependent on the selected preset. There are ADSR controls for the envelope at the bottom left, and a sample selector and built-in reverb bottom right. No complicated patching, no deep dives, no sub-menus.
Thick Audio’s interface design in FREQ is unique – certainly not like anything we’ve used before. You’re able to effortlessly find sounds that will work in a variety of projects and styles. FREQ uses samples from original classic synthesizers and harnesses the power of several processors to create something new.
FREQ’s macro control provides smooth control between any three user-defined settings to create movement and discover new sound combinations. Set the macro control to one of its three positions and set the other controls to where you want them – FREQ automatically remembers them and will return them to that position whenever the macro control is back at that position. Repeat with the macro control set to the other positions.
All settings are remembered as you do this – simple. Then, as you automate the single macro control in your DAW, all the other settings move themselves. This is a powerful method of creating big sound changes.
You can also drag in your own samples to manipulate via FREQ. Because the function of the knobs changes for each preset, it’s best to locate a preset to start with and drag the new sample on to the sample selector of that preset. Once you’re happy with your settings, you can add it to the user library in Kontakt.
The presets are helpfully broken up into categories such as lead, bass and pad. There are also useful synth effect sounds that can be used as risers for building in and out of sections. These sounds are truly unique and don’t appear to be designed for subtlety – they are all distinctive (we particularly enjoyed the bass patch reminiscent of Mr Oizo’s 1999 hit Flat Beat) but very usable.
It’s welcoming for a synth to encourage quick and accessible music-making, and not put the burden of synthesis minutiae on the user. The integration of FREQ’s macro knob, with which to adjust multiple settings at once, is a stroke of genius. Get to grips with it and you’ll be building FREQ’d out sounds in no time.
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