2020 was like that rubbish album by a legendary artist at the end of their career that tarnished their reputation and left you wondering, “Why on earth did they make THAT?” But we also witnessed some magical musical software machines released by talented developers big and small. What virtual sounds have been soaking up the cycles on your computer this year? Here are our favourites from 2020.
Cherry Audio DCO-106
Blissful is the word that comes to mind when I first encountered the DCO-106. Originally built as a voice for Voltage Modular I was surprised to see it emerge as a standalone synth but this thing is far too good not to be its own thing. Modelled in the Roland Juno-106 is sounds and behaves exactly as you imagine it should. It’s so familiar and comforting it’s like wrapping yourself in a warm synth blanket.
Cherry Audio also released an excellent ARP 2600 emulation and a take on the Realistic MG-1 but it’s this Roland synth that really wins it for me.
They are both still on the introductory price of $25 and that’s an absolute steal.
More information: Cherry Audio website.
New Fangled Audio Generate
It’s not often that something innovative comes along but Newfangled Audio gently blew our minds with Pendulate and then devoured us with Generate. It features 5 types of chaotic oscillator with multiple levels of unpredictability wrapped up in an exciting interface of animation and confusion. It has West Coast wavefolding and lowpass gates, fractal processing and animated equations. It’s brilliantly patchable and full of interesting twists, turns and effects.
Totally brilliant and sounds wonderfully edgy.
More information: Generate.
Non-conventional granular musings and immersive sonic interaction pour out of this strange and engaging complex sound morphing machine. I don’t claim to understand it but it has the ability to transform audio through semi-prepared generative structures and interactions. What does that mean? Well, you keep moving things and extraordinary stuff happens.
It runs in Max DSP and has just arrived on Windows where the potential of a touch interface takes it to all sorts of new places.
More information: GranuRise.
Vital embodies the sort of visual and aural interaction that should be present on every software instrument. It’s animated, full of energy, throbbing away with sound, modulation and endless possibilities. It’s all about wavetables and you can build them from scratch, interpolate between them, extract them from samples, warp existing ones or even generate them from text. It’s a stunning piece of work that sounds brilliant and is made awesome by the way it moves.
More information: Vital
Korg Collection 2
One of the oldest bundles of software synthesizers got a long-overdue upgrade with the arrival of the Triton and its 4,000 PCM based presets. It’s an iconic collection of sounds and synthesizers that have brought up to date with this upgrade.
More information: Korg Collection 2
Roland Zenology Pro
The software version of their ZEN-Core technology that promises to bring deep level editing to classic synths while taking us forward into new realms of synthesis. It’s started well with model expansions of the Juno-106, Jupiter-8, JX-8P and SH-101 plus acres of sound packs and a regular flow of new sounds being added all the time.
We’ve come to expect virtual versions of synthesizer front panels and Zenology doesn’t do that. Instead they’re trying to offer a unified interface to cover all their synths and expansions. It allows them to go past the limitations of the hardware and into some really deep editing but it’s always nice to be able to look at the instrument you’re using and so while much is gained some things are also lost.
However, if authentic Roland sounds are what you are after and a constantly expanding realm of ideas plus the possibility of sharing these sounds into ZEN-Core hardware synths then Zenology Pro is astounding.
More information: Zenology Pro
Softube Model 72
Yet another Minimoog emulation? Well, yes, but this is rather gorgeous and since our love affair with old synths is far from over the Model 72 brings an elegance and nuance to this tired old and adorable synthesizer.
It looks magnificent, sounds as perfect as they come and has an interesting side quest in that it can be broken up and ported into Softube Modular and Amp Room as separate modules; that’s a really interesting idea.
More information: Model 72
Take a brilliantly otherworldly device such as the LYRA-8 from Soma Labs and emulate the idea as a VST plugin. LIRA-8 VST from Mike Moreno doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a tribute to the wonders of the LYRA-8 and it’s full of adventures and thought processes that give you a glimpse of the Soma Labs genius in the comfort and safety of your own DAW. The physicality has gone but there’s enough here to have you droning and modulating in deliciously interesting ways for hours.
More information: LIRA-8 VST
I don’t usually spend much time with Kontakt based Romplers as they can often come off as a bit samey; useful, capable, impressive but not always inspirational. Opacity II turned that on its head. I was immediately stunned by the sounds and the emotion coming out of this virtual instrument. It’s essentially based on guitar playing and draws out performances and riffs, pads and soundscapes of processed guitar sounds. You probably think you’ve heard it all before but I found it totally transforming. It took me to other places, engaged me for hours of twinkling and dreaming. It may simply be a personal connection to a style of playing that resonates with me, but hey, it’s my list!
More information – Opacity II
This only arrived the other day but it’s fabulous. Pipa is a human voice synthesizer that uses wavetables extracted from real vocal performances and then morphed between in real time. The result is stunningly convincing and seems to capture something that’s so often missing in synthesized voices. It’s fun, groovy and absolutely usable. Check out the video and I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
More information: Pipa