John Bowen Solaris

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The first thing that most people notice about the John Bowen Solaris is the price as this is a synth that falls far outside the "impulse" buy category. However, the name John Bowen should also sound familiar as it is associated with decades of experience in synth design. After working with legends such as Sequential Circuits, Moog Music and Korg, the Solaris is the culmination of all this and more and features the personal vision of John Bowen in terms of what a dream-come-true synthesizer would be.

Where the Solaris excels over other modern hardware synthesizers is programmability and versatility. This is a synth that can make use of up to four oscillators, four amplifiers, six envelope generators, five LFOs, four filters and much more to generate sounds. This means that the Solaris is able to offer the same sounds as some of the most historic vintage synthesizers. Obviously, it accomplishes this through purely digital means, but the end result is still pretty impressive.

Since this synth features more than 1,200 parameters, it's a good thing that it has six backlit character displays to make adjustments. These feature a nice retro look, but the response time is not quite as fast as we would have liked. There are rows of buttons and knobs above and below the screens, which makes it easy to adjust parameters without having to navigate dozens of pages. On the back of the synth you will find a wealth of audio inputs and outputs. Along with eight analogue outputs and four analogue inputs, the Solaris also has an S/PDIF in and out. The Compact Flash card slot is also on the back, along with the expression and sustain pedal inputs, MIDI and USB. Despite the size of the Solaris, it still features an external power supply, which is not the most elegant solution, but it does prevent too much heat inside the instrument. It's not just the price tag of the Solaris that is hefty, the actual hardware also weighs about 15kg. It features a 61-key after-touch sensitive keyboard with a very high quality feel.

Considering the price tag of the John Bowen Solaris it is not something that casual synth players are going to want to rush out and buy. Not only does it take up a lot of space, but a lot of the things that it offers can also be accomplished with VSTs these days at a much lower price. However, that doesn't mean that the Solaris is not worth the investment as it is still one of the most in-depth musical instruments available on the market. However, if you have the time and desire to go beyond working with presets and crafting your own unique sounds, then the Solaris is still a great hardware option for doing so.

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Demos & Media

Solaris general demo


Polyphony - 10 note polyphony
Oscillators - 4 Oscillators
Waveforms - All common waveforms (sine, triangle, ramp, etc.) plus sample and hold
VCF - 4 Filters, each with selectable inputs
LFO - 4 free LFOs, 1 Vibrato LFO
VCA/Envelopes - 6 ADSR envelopes and 1 loopable 8-stage envelope
Control - MIDI In/Out/Thru
Sequencer - 16-step sequencer
Arpeggiator - Multi-mode arpeggiator
Effects - Phaser, chorus/flanger, delay, and 3-band EQ effects
Keyboard - 61 keys that are weighted and after-touch sensitive
Memory - No internal memory - All sound-, sample- and sequencer data stored on Compact Flash card