Another In Depth Review/Comparison
Things have now gone beyond the world of simple ROMpler, Wavetable, VA, FM, or Sampler.....so with the three hardware beasties that have dared to take things in this direction, I thought it'd be interesting to do some side by side comparisons.
*yes, I know things like the EX5, Waldorf Q, Blofeld, and a couple other things out there could have are arguably should have been in this lil bit, but for practical purposes, I've left them out*
In the short of it, I think the biggest loser here is Clavia's Nord Wave. This isn't to say that didn't create a notable beast, but it is to say that it's closest comparison can be made to the V-Synth, and what it offers up in benefits in comparison to the V I feel ultimately falls way short of it's short comings in comparison to the V.
At the same time however, it fails to measure up to the TI's poly count, multi-timbrality aspect, graintable/wavetable aspect, "atomizer", and of couse the TI's intergration with DAWs.
In the sound design domain, the V-Synth I feel is the winner by a mile. It doesn't have the memory for user waves that the Wave carries (it's primary shortcoming in comparison to the Wave), but otherwise it pretty much matches or supercedes the Wave in just about every area. Similarly, though it drops the TI's "Atomizer", it pretty much matches or supercedes the TI in just about any given area.
In the area of serving as a one stop shop and (potential) ease of use, I think the TI wins out. It's DAW integrational capabilities coupled with it's "true" multi-timbrality and (potential) poly count pretty effectively resolve the need of someone running into a "I wish/I need another one" type situation.
Now for a bit more of a detailed view.
For the purposes of these comparisons, as the V-Synth and TI come in different flavors, I'll be using the V-Synth GT and regular ol TI keyboard as the bench lines in my comparisons.
I'll work my way up starting from what is typically the start of a synths signal flow chain and work my way towards the end.
Access Virus TI: Access states the typical voice count to be around 80, but capably above a 100. What an accurate repsentation of this is, is as with previous Viri, hard to nail down. Use it as a simple 2 osc synth and you're sitting pretty high. Throwing in the 3rd osc can cause things to take a hit, things like Reverbs can cause it to take a hit, it's complex granular capabilities can cause it to take a pretty notable hit, etc.
Roland V-Synth GT: The voice count capably hits up to 28, but is dependent on what is going on in the "COSM" blocks and osc section. In particular, I've found (no surprise here) that heavy Variphrase action tends to eat away at polyphony like h**l. Emphasis on "heavy" though, you keep things pretty straight forward and it doesn't seem to take away all that much. At present, the lowest I've seen the voice count go is 6 voice poly.
Clavia Nord Wave: This comes in at an 18 poly voice count. So depending, on the circumstances, it actually can come out with the top voice count or the lowest voice count. I'll note here that I'm surprised the voice count isn't significantly higher; granted in a VA / Sample based combination, the EX5 was limited, but even it in it's VA / Sample based configurations could hit capably hit right around this range (with some fancy finagling). Similarly, though it calls on some finagling to take place, the Alesis Fusion completely blows this voice count out of the water (hitting above even the Virus) if one converts it into functioning as a VA/Sample based synth.THE WINNER
The Virus TI. Simply put, even when at their best, the Wave and GT simply don't come close to hanging with it.OSCILLATORS
Access Virus TI: The TI comes in with arguably the highest amount of tonal sources on tap per instance. There are three main Oscillators, a sub osc, and then a noise source. Making for a total of 5 tonal sources on tap per instance.
Roland V-Synth GT: This one is a bit weird as it varies. If we break a V-Synth patch down into halves (which is somewhat logical here), we can say that it has 2 Osc, with each one of those Oscs SOMETIMES having a sub Osc (this is generally the case with it's VA waveforms). The sub can be set to the same octave as it's commanding osc and detuned from that commanding osc, which arguably can make it like a limited 4 Osc synth.
Now if we think of a V-Synth patch as a whole, that obviously doubles....giving us 4 Oscs on tap per instance (or arguably
AP Synthesis can then be mixed in with these, which arguably gives of 3, 5, or 9 Osc per instance.
(Like I said, the setup though logical with how the V works, is rather odd in comparison to other things).
Nord Wave: This, though not quite as weird as the V, is also a bit weird. Again, like the V, if we break each patch down into halves (which again may be logical here), we have simply 2 Oscs. However, if we consider what sums up an entire patch in the Wave, this actually doubles, and we have four Oscs.
*I'll note that in both the case of the V and the Wave, you have what arguably equals out to two full blown synths in each patch. With the V these are called "tones", but in the case of the Wave they are called slots. These "slots/tones" are largely independent of each other [lets not get into fancy finagling that can unite them], but can be mixed with each other.*THE WINNER:
I'd say the Virus TI and GT pretty much tie here. But even in their tie for first, the Nord Wave is anything but far behind them. I almost want to say it's a tie between all three, but I think the TI and GT ultimately just barely edge out.WAVEFORMS AVAILABLE PER OSC
Access Virus TI: The Virus ends up being the weirdo on this one. Basically, there are 64 sampled ("additive") waves, a saw, and Square/PWM that can be available to any of the three main Osc. Blends of these can also be made (making for arguably even more waveforms). Now this can be eliminated, and swapped out for an Osc simply being a "Hypersaw" (9 detuned saw waves). Or again, both of the fore-mentioned can be swapped out in favor of a wavetable/graintable. So at the least, there is one continously variable wave form (from sampled "additive" wave, to saw, to square), one hypersaw, or one wavetable/graintable available per main oscs.
Outside of the Three main oscs, there is a simple noise source, and a sub oscs that produces either a square(s) or a triangle.
*I'll note that the third Osc can not do wavetables/graintables or hypersaw*
Roland V-Synth GT: The wave types available are arguably infinite given it's sampling ability. On the VA side, each main Oscs can carry either a sine, saw, LA Saw, Super Saw (7 detuned saw waves), Non-aliasing Saw, square/PWM, LA Square/PWM, Non-Aliasing Square, triangle, ramp, Alpha Saw, feedback osc, white noise, or (in the case of Osc 1 only) a cross modulated Osc. In all of these cases, with the exception of the alias free waveforms, Supersaw, Feedback Osc, and Crossmodulated Waveforms, there is an accompanying Sub Osc that produces squares that can be set to the same octave, 1 octave, or 2 octaves below it's master and detuned. If the VA side is forgone, then an Oscs can be of a sampled variety (obviously, what these can be is potentially infinite), or simply derived from an external source. On the AP side, there's also a fairly wide assortment of waveforms that can be selected; and though finite, the list is long enough so that I'll bypass listing them all and simply state that it's a wide assortment.
*I'll note that one might as well say that any sampled wave form in the GT is a graintable*
Nord Wave: In the case of the wave, selectable wave shapes for both Oscs are Square/PWM, saw, and triangle. After this, things get a bit weird, as Osc 1 has a selection of 62 pre-defined sample based wave forms it can use instead of it's VA based waveforms. Conversely Osc 2 can use user created/loaded waveforms instead of the 62 pre-defined that Osc1 has.AND THE WINNER IS:
In the game of considering Oscs, I'd say the GT and Nord Wave come out on top by far. Both of them lack direct ability to do continuously variable waveshapes in the way that the TI can, but with careful programming equals can arguably be achieved and with the ability to load sampled waves, one may argue that they simply have no need for such an ability.
On the surface, the TI offers the most simultaneously available tonal sources per patch, but as I noted, this is really more of how things appear at first glance. In all reality, I'd say that the Nord Wave stops just shy of matching the TI, and the GT is capable of matching it (and arguably out doing it).
The TI has it's ability to sweep through wavetables and manipulate graintables over the Nord Wave, but the fact that one is stuck with simply the wavetables that are already present I think makes the TI comes up short in comparison to the overall amount of tonal characters and such that can be derived from the Waves (second) Oscs.
The GT simply out does the TI (by miles really) in the granular game and given it's flexibility in this area and it's ability to have user samples created, it arguably negates any kind of need for (Waldorf) like wavetable capability.
Between the GT and the Wave, I'd say who comes out on top depends on the angle approached.
The Wave offers up more sample memory and can deal with multi-sampling; which are the two things it holds over the GT.
The GT conversely negates the need for multi-samping at times due to it's Variphrase capabilities which speeds up the sampling process. Also, as noted earlier, samples are simply VASTLY more malleable with the GT then the Wave.
So gain additional sample memory and multi-sampling and lose out on Variphrase and "Elastic Audio Synthesis", or lose out on multi-sampling and memory and gain Variphrase and "Elastic Audio Synthesis". Which is worth more is largely dependent on the individual. So I'll say the Wave and GT tie here.
*I'll note, that interestingly, the GT can deal with multi-samples, and in fact it ships out with numerous multi-sample sets contained in it's wave selection banks. The thing is that users can not create/import such things. Who knows, maybe Roland will change this with a future OS update*
Moving on past the Osc Section, will now deal with the filter section.FILTERS:
Access Virus TI: The TI features two multi-mode filters that can be configured in parallel, series, or split between Osc. The filters can of a Low Pass, High Pass, Band Pass, or Band Stop variety and come in 6, 12, 18, and 24 pole varieties. The balance between the two filters can be user set.
*going with what seems to be a semi rage right now, there's also a Minimoog emulated 24 pole filter*
Roland V-Synth GT: The GT is a freak in this area, as it doesn't offer a filter section in a traditional sense, but instead two COSM blocks. These blocks can be ran in series, split between the Osc, or made so that Osc 1 hits one block but the second block doesn't come into effect until after Osc 1 and 2 have been combined in some fashion.
O.K., now, what these blocks can be is any number of things. They are two numerous to bother listing here, but amongst them they can be Acoustic emulated Resonators, dual filters of Low Pass or Band Pass combination (ran in series or ran parallel), wave shapers, overdrive or distortion pedal emulators, Side band filters, comb filters, amp simulators....just to name a few (the list continues).
*I'll note, that additional filters can be added into the mix even post these two COSM blocks at times, and included in is a limited though interesting formant filter*
Nord Wave: Featues a single multi-mode filter that can be of 12 or 24 pole low pass, band pass, or high pass variety. This selection can be bypassed in favor of a vocal formant filter, comb filter, or "multi-filter" (creates 3 different resonant peaks).THE WINNER:
The V-Synth GT is so far ahead in this area it's no longer even within the same league, or even relatively close to being in the same league as the Virus and Wave.
The Virus drops out on things like vocal formant, "multi-filter", and comb filter abilities of the wave, but it's dual filter configurations allow for similar results to be achieved at times while also hitting into many areas that Wave simply can not match. Thus, though I'd say the GT is the actual winner in this area (by leaps and bounds so far ahead they defy logical description), I'd say the TI comes in a a VERY distant second place.AMP SECTION:
You'd think this is a section so basic it'd be unworthy of discussion, but for various reasons, with these I believe it's worth bringing up.
ACCESS VIRUS TI: Pretty much just the basics are offered here. A simple ADSR envelope for the main amp section, the ability to define how far in the mix Osc 3, the sub Osc, or the noise generator are, and not so much the ability to turn down, but to establish the balance between Osc1 and 2 is available.
Roland V-Synth GT: Again, this is another area the V-Synth simply jumps into areas of craziness. Each Osc is given it's own independent Amp section. There is an ADSR envelope available, modifications to the attack, Decay, and Release can be made to be INDIVIDUALLY velocity responsive (a carry over from the JVs and XVs) and the velocity curves in this regard can be either none existent, or one of two different selections (one very atypical, the other forcing high velocities in order to trigger responses). As is common, all of this can also be key tracked. At the end of the chain, where the actual (TVA) regular amp section lies, all of these controls are again repeated.
On top of all this, the amplitude of Osc 1 can be modulated by the amplitude of Osc 2.
Nord Wave: Again, we pretty much run into the basics. It's essientially a repeat of the Virus description with the exception that the third Osc, independent noise generator, and Sub Osc no longer are applicable.The WINNER:
Again, the V-Synth GT.
The amount of flexibility it offers up in this area is simply staggering and far beyond the norm.
The Wave and TI pretty much tie in this area.
That covers all are basic parts of (subtractive) synth architectures, so now we'll move on to the area of modulators and modulation matrixes.MODULATION SOURCES:
Access Virus TI: The TI offers up a total of 2 ADS(D)R envelopes and 3 LFOs with something like 68 wave shapes available (that in turn offer some additional flexibility), the LFOs can also be converted into one shot envelope generators and are temp syncable. Worthy of note, the the wave shape of the LFOs can also be user modified to a degree. Key tracking is also available for the filter and all the regular to be expected things.
Where the Virus Scores mega big points is in it's modulation matrix, which allows for pretty much any modulation source to be routed to just about anywhere in the synth. There are 6 possible sources that can be routed to 3 destinations a piece....sources can be more than simply the envelopes and LFOs and can be such things as after touch and other CC related things. The system is sort of like having 18 different patch slots that have been condensed into 6 patch slots (it's a somewhat odd, but very workable system)
Roland V-Synth GT: More oddities again with this thing. I'll try to make this at least appear straight forward, I'll note first, that I'm sort of chopping a V-Synth patch in half when giving this description.
In all likely hood one will typically have 11 to 13 ADSR envelopes available on tap. This number can go higher, it can also go lower; it's largely dependent on what is sitting in the aforementioned COSM blocks.
As noted earlier, these envelopes work in such a way that each one can almost act as 2 envelopes in one as the Attack, Decay, and Release can all be made individually velocity dependent with a small selection of velocity curves on offer in this regard.
One will then typically have 4 to 5 LFOs on tap that come in Sine, Triangle, Saw, Square, Random (Truly random), Trapazoidal, sample and hold, and noise ("Chaos") varities. These LFOs can be offset in order to modify their behavior....so they may only function in a positive domain, only a negative domain, or both.
There are then 4 16 step programmable modulators that can pretty much deal with any given area of the foundation of the synths architecture. These modulators can run at varying (syncable) speeds, move through there steps in a small number of different ways, and can be ran as one shots or continuously running modes.
The modulation matrix is a bit odd as it doesn't deal with connecting one part of the synth (a module) to another for modulation, but instead deals soley with UI based affairs (with a pretty hefty amount of different sources that can be used). In this regard, there is a total of 8 source slots that can be routed up to 2 destinations a piece.
*I'll note here, that again, for sake of convience, I considered only half a GT patch when describing this*
Nord Wave: The wave comes in with 2 ADSR envelopes, one AD/AR envelope, and 2 LFOs which come in square, saw, inverted saw, stepped random (essentially sample and hold), and smoothed stepped random (essentially sample and hold with ran through a lag generator); the shape of the LFOs can be modified to a degree. The 2 LFOs can be routed to modulating any given PRE-DEFINED 7 sources, all of these seven being pretty much your basic candidates for modulation with the exception of that panning is thrown in for good measure. Similarly, the AD/AR envelope can be routed to pretty much the same 7 sources (panning swapped out for things like the pulse width of Osc 2).
You won't hear Clavia mention a "Mod Matrix" in regard to the Nord Wave, as instead they have elected to term the capable results of an an in depth mod matrix "Morphing". Whatever one wants to call it, the Nord Wave is stacked fairly well in this regard, though like the Roland design, it's pretty much UI based affairs that are used as sources (though much more limited than in the Roland design).
Sources can include velocity, mod wheel, and a weird but useful sort of key tracking.
As I noted earlier, each full on patch of the Wave is kind sort of like two totally unique synths, so this morphing stuff can get kind crazy were certain things start potentially not only modifying parmaters on the synth, but doing an equal of full on jumping the sound to a totally different synth.The WINNER:
I'm going to once again say the GT here.
It lacks the user defined flexibility of the Virus system, but simply between the sheer amount of envelopes it carries, coupled with a pretty decent amount of LFOs, and the 4 programmable 16 step modulators, the thing really doesn't have the same kind of need for an assignable mod matrix like the Virus.
The TI and Wave I think are almost tied in this area. It's really quite a toss up. There are things that can be done with Wave system that are really darn unique, that neither the TI or GT are going to touch. But in other regards, it just comes off with somewhat of a feeling of limitation.
The TI on the other hand uses it's modulation matrix system to take a rather small amount of parts and expand on them greatly. There's a limitation to be found in the amount of parts (or modules if you will) that are physically on tap, but again, you really are allowed to get the most out of them and coupled with this, as with the Roland and Clavia systems, UI based things can be used as sources as well.SONIC POWER/SHEER PROGRAMMING DEPTH AND FLEXIBILITY:
Access Virus: Access really brought the Virus a long way, and the TI is an absolute beast. It's a strong VA like synth, it not only brought on Granular synthesis, but did so in such a way that made logical sense (it was a sensible limited version of Granular synthesis), and has come to top all of this off with some niffty real time performance applications like Atomizer. All in all, I'd say the TI has pretty much completely redefined the Virus and has managed to do it to such a degree that I'm really not sure where else Access can look at taking the Virus line (yep, I'm saying it, I expect Access to finally move on to making something other than Viri after this). That all said, I think even Access realized there was something really crazy out there that had been unleashed on the world that it's Virus just wasn't being able to truly compare to.....and that said, I think to a fairly large degree, it's last batch of new features kind of shows whom Access felt they had to catch up to in regard to providing a sheer synthesis/sound design monster.
Roland V-Synth GT: The first V-Synth I really feel began to redefine the world of synthesis and how it could work. Some of the things it introduced had been around before, but simply not in hardware form. Other aspects it brought into play were simply a sensible and rather ingenious combination of Roland developed technologies thrown all under one roof. In a certain way, I think the V is almost a "Best of Roland" in regard to where they have come to stand today. One can see traces of the D-50, JD, JV and XV in it's design. There are echoes back to the the little failure that would be king (the TB). Remanants of TR record style programming. VG guitar effects system workings. The sampler that would be much acclaimed in the late 90s...the VP-9000. Etc. etc.
The GT simply took what was already a pretty high reaching bar that had been set by the original V-Synth and managed to push it a little higher; doing things like adding new takes to Physical Modeling concepts (AP Synthesis). The end result was a synth that is darn unique, and though it can lend itself to acting like various other synths out on the market, brings on enough new and unique ideas so that there are pretty much no synths on the market that can begin to claim themselves as being truly similar. It's FM capabilities are rather limited, but outside of this, it truly feels like Roland attempted to make not just a one stop sound design shop, but a one stop sound design shop that had numerous facets to it that were unique to only it.
The Nord Wave: Nord finally did right what I'm surprised wasn't done years ago. That is to say present the fusion of multi-sample based synthesis and VA synthesis together. Not only fusing these worlds, but doing so in a very comfortable and performance oriented way. When you combine these two worlds, the sky truly is the limit. There's really no end to the wave forms you can produce....and it even very often provides work arounds to it's apparent short comings. Wish you could have a Saw Wave with a sub Osc? Really, the solution is as easy as loading a sample/sample set of a Saw paired with a sub into the user wave slot of Osc 2. Of course what can be done in this regard is not at all limited to simply trying to make the Nord act like a bigger VA than it is; in fact one might argue that the real interesting stuff comes in bringing what once didn't lie in the VA or analog synth domains into play. When this is all coupled with the craziness like the "morph" system and a fairly hefty amount of UI controls on tap, the results are pretty darn far reaching.
Another intersesting note on the Wave is that when dealing with FM, each Osc is serving as it's own complete an independent Operator (Modulator and Carrier). This facet of the Wave really makes it by far the most capable in regard to FM based synthesis.
For sound design, I gotta say the V-Synth GT. In most regards it's simply not just on an angle of "Whatever you can do I can do" (or in the world of synths, more like "A lot/Most of what you can do, I can approach doing"), but there's just so much to the V that doesn't allow the converse to be said of it. It's more like a combination of various things would have to be combined in order to start approaching the V, and even then, there'd still be some aspects of the V left that were largely V unique (AP Synthesis, and to a lesser degree, Variphrase for example).
The runner up on this one I'd have to give to the Nord Wave. It loses out on the granular capabilities of the V and the TI, but what it lacks in granular it makes up in sheer wave source capability. It would have been really nice to see Clavia go outside the two Osc system and add a third osc or even just one sub, but in all honesty, given the capabilities of the Wave, it's not like there is a DRAMATIC loss of some sort by such not existing.
It also would have been nice if both Osc were capable of using user waves, as there's numerous times where this could be desirable.
I don't want to undercut what can be done with the TI's graintable capabilities here, but like I said, the mere fact that one is stuck with just one set of wavetables/graintables where as the Wave has a potentially infinite amount of samples it can deal with I feel ultimately puts the Wave ahead.
Finally, We'll deal with what I call the WORK HORSE FACTOR:
Access Virus TI: Between it's capably high poly count, the fact that it is truly 16 part multi-timbral, can interface directly with DAWs as an appearent VSTi and MUCH more I'd say this is an area where the Virus simply blows away the competition. It arguably promotes a thinking towards, "You will not need another VA style synth or controller, I will serve all your needs; and give you some granular abilities to boot."
I mean really, the only thing keeping the Virus away from being some sort of major work station is it's lack of any kind of serious internal sequencer. And on top of this, it blows away most workstations in regard to how well it's able to get along with DAW systems.
Roland V-Synth GT: Again, this is a strange beast. Despite not being "multi-timbral" in the common sense, it is multi-timbral. The various parts of timbrality come in the form of keyboard splits, and I have to confess, though I've never been a fan of major keyboard split working, I found this to very often come off quite sensibly with the V. Not only that, the thing actually felt like a workstation at times.....with some applications almost having it feel as if it were some strange cross between Ableton Live (in Session View) topped off with Korg's Karma system. In all honesty, I don't know that I've ever felt that I was able to squeeze so much out of what many would consider a single timbral synth by todays standards......able to punch out very full pieces (capably songs) with a good amount of intuitive flexibility on tap.
Despite all of this, which I'll just say adds up to it being a performance synth along the lines of which I can think of no comparison, it still has a fair amount of things to it that are rather unintuitive.
Despite USB Connectivity, samples can not be directly imported to it without a minor amount of finagling. Once brought into the V-Synth information in regard to any loop points the sample may have had are lost and have to be redone inside the V itself. Setting up complex key splits is really more labor intensive than it needs to be. As so many of it's UI controls throw out Sysex, it's really not all that useful as a major controller.
In essence, despite all the things capabilities, it's a synth that I feel is very much catered towards specific individuals. It's a sound design beast, it's a performance synth beast, but then it begins to fall flat in just about every area outside of that.
Nord Wave: Uniting VA and Sampling into one system is definitely really cool. One might almost argue that it's a best of both worlds. Though Variphrase can do much, it does not eliminate the need for multi-sampling, and outside of the V, the last synth I can think of that began to try to unite these worlds was the Yamaha EX5; which it accomplished in only limited fashion. The Wave takes what Yamaha had attempted in the late 90s (or was it just the start of 2000) and nails it down right.....Or does it?
The morphing system of the Wave is unique and a really cool modulation matrix type system. And as forenoted, the whole union of multi-sampling and VA is also very cool.
But also consider this, if someone were to simply grab an Alesis Fusion, have one of it's sampler parts route itself out (via Auxillary) and back into itself for use as one of the Osc parts on a VA portion, they essientially end up with something like a Nord Wave. The only difference being that poly is upped from 18 to the hundreds, 6 times as many LFOs are made available, envelopes are dramatically increased, the effects section is arguably beefed up etc.
Yes, there are some losses like the Morph system and multi-filter, and most notably the abundance on the UI side, but there are arguably very high gains made on the programming depth side of the fence just by simply undertaking an annoying bit of finagling (and considering what Fusions are selling for these days, it's notable that someone would have spent under half the amount they would blow on a Wave to achieve largely the same results).The WINNER:
On the Sheer Work hourse side of things, I'd say it's the Virus TI.
No, it doesn't have the programming depth or sonic range of the GT. But it still has a fairly hefty amount of tricks up it's sleeve and it really really likes "playing with others." As a sheer tool with multiple applications, the thing is in many regards without equal.
In second place I'd say the V-Synth tops out. It's sheer real time performance capabilities are simply staggering and allow it in some cases to very much feel like a workstation.
Behind all of these I'd say is the Nord Wave; with it's low poly count, single timbrality, and more than anything, price, I simply don't understand what this instrument is supposed to do that is so startling or justifiable by any means. As noted earlier, I give it a second place in regard to sheer sonic capability, but this largely has more to do with the mere fact that it can spit out pretty much an infinite amount of waveforms than with it's ability to conduct any kind of highly unique "synthesis". I ultimately almost view the Wave as simply something to get if one doesn't want to take the time to simply route a sample source into a VA system (which there's numerous was to do this in software, and even varying ways to accomplish this in the hardware world; with varying degrees of complexity). Maybe there is something to the Wave that I'm simply not getting, but as stands, I think it's a nice performance synth that unfortunately ended up with a price tag that doesn't fit it's actual capabilities.