Review: ROLI Equator2

The second version of ROLI’s unique software synth, Equator, is finally here. Even with a ton of new features and over 1400 new patches, is it worth the six-year wait and the rather steep price?

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ROLI Equator2

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When ROLI released Equator back in 2015, there was great interest from the music tech world. It was the first software synthesizer built specifically for MPE (or MIDI Polyphonic Expression). This made sense since the company had also released the Seaboard RISE and their BLOCKS line of MPE controllers. ROLI developed Equator to take advantage of this multi-dimensional approach to performance. And the sounds were pretty good.

Now, years later, ROLI has released the second incarnation of their MPE synth, and they’ve worked hard to add everything (including the kitchen sink) into it.

Hybrid theory

ROLI calls Equator2 a ‘hybrid synth’ because it now has up to six sound generators per patch, each with access to four source types: granular, sampler, wavetable and noise. Combined, these can lead to some exciting and never-before-heard sounds that are perfect for EDM, future pop, hip-hop, trance and more.

Via a drop-down in each of the six generators, there are over 240 pre-loaded wavetables and 250 samples to choose from. Its closest competitor only offers 144 wavetables and 450 presets. And you can also load your own samples and wavetables (with a window size up to 2048). And although you cannot currently edit imported samples, that is planned for a future update.

Sampler controls are somewhat limited with only start offset, a 12dB boost and a filter section. The other engines, however, have much deeper capabilities.

Equator2 has two main sections: the top and the bottom panels. The top panel houses the synth view, with the six generators flanking a central output oscilloscope. Clicking a generator replaces the oscilloscope with expanded, context-specific controls making editing each oscillator extremely easy.

Below the generators in the top section are the two filters. Each offers several filter types, with cutoff frequency, resonance, drive and keyboard tracking for each filter. Helpfully, both filters also have high-pass and low-pass filters for further shaping. These filters are silky smooth, analogue-sounding and are very pleasing to our ears.

There are two other views in the top panel: routing and effects. The routing view lets you specify how much signal from each generator you want to go through filter 1 and 2, and the effects sends. And, if things start getting too wild, there’s a handy Dry control for mixing the unfiltered signal back in.

The top centre section displays the filter configuration and allows serial, parallel, summed or mixed routings. Below the filters is a ring mod section where you can send the ring mod to the filters and effects, just like with the generators. Below are three more panels in the top section: filter 1, outputs (VCAS) and filter 2. Each allows you to route their outputs to FX1 and FX2 and send any amount of the dry signal for experimenting with unique effect combinations.

The effects view gives you 12 slots. The 15 available effects are of decent quality and can go a long way to helping you refine your sound. The usual suspects are here: dynamics, distortion, EQ, modulation, two reverbs and a fun grain delay that allows you to develop spacey, bouncing rhythms and pitched echo effects that are reminiscent of drunken alien choirs.

Modulation and macros

The bottom panel displays the mod panels. Here, you can modulate almost any parameter from any source. There are two ways to route modulation. The first is to right-click on the parameter you want to modulate to get a routing menu. Or, you can click the Mod Matrix button at the top of the Mod Panels section and then select your source, destination and amount from the dropdown menus and sliders, respectively. This makes modulation routing very fast and intuitive. Well done, ROLI!

In the bottom left is the macros panel, which lets you assign control over any parameter and save it with the preset. Showing their consideration for users who have bought into the ROLI hardware ecosystem, clicking the refresh icon in the macros panel turns it into a Seaboard RISE macro panel sporting three faders and an X/Y pad. This also works with a Seaboard BLOCK and Lightpad BLOCK – the Lightpad switches between faders and X/Y pad when you click the Lightpad’s function button.

Of course, these macros can also be assigned to any knob or fader on your favourite controller if you don’t happen to have a Seaboard. And ROLI included two versions of many of their presets: one Seaboard-friendly version and one standard for LUMI Keys and controllers without MPE.

Preset power

Equator2 comes with a vast library of presets. It includes the sounds from the original Equator, as well as 1,400 new patches. With a library this large, ROLI felt it necessary to give their browser a refresh. The new browser is both powerful and intuitive. Numerous search filters allow you to filter by Type (MPE or Standard), Engine (Equator 1 or Equator2), Source (Acoustic, Analog, Digital, Electric, Granular, Hybrid and Wavetable), Instrument, Articulation and Timbre. The list of filtered presets is presented with a brief description and tags. Finding what you want has never been easier.

Fun Factor

While Equator2 is very advanced and has loads of sound generation and modulation options, above all, it’s fun to play. The layout is intuitive, with all controls easily accessible. Layering the different engines can lead to some fantastic and weird results. We’re able to develop some excellent analogue lead sounds and bizarre soundscapes in no time at all. Equator2 is a sound designer’s dream synth – especially considering the powerful granular tools that can warp samples into oblivion. This plug-in will do wonders for ambient alien filmscapes, war-torn gaming atmospheres and anything else you need.

Looking through presets and reverse engineering leads to a lot of ‘Aha!’ moments. It lends itself to exciting discoveries as you start modifying sample offsets or experimenting with different wavetables and the granular oscillator. Suffice to say, Equator2 is extremely powerful and, although not cheap, is an excellent tool for building unique, multidimensional sounds that show off what MPE has to offer, as well as very analogue-sounding patches ripe for blazing performances.

System Requirements

  • MacOS 10.14 (x86) and higher
  • Windows 10 1909 (x64) and higher
  • 2.5Ghz Intel i5/AMD Ryzen 5 CPU
  • 8GB RAM (16GB recommended)
  • 13GB free disk space required for installation
  • 6.78GB installed

Key Features

  • 6 layers per sound (each with 4 sources)
  • Over 1,400 presets
  • 12 effects slots, 15 creative effects
  • Click-and-drag modulation system
  • User sample/wavetable import
  • Flexible macros
  • Powerful library navigation
  • 6+ GB sample library
  • Very deep MPE configuration
  • Resizable interface

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