I was tasked with finding the best software synthesizers of the summer of 2023. It’s usually quiet on the synthesizer front after the flurry of releases during the Spring but this Summer still managed to deliver some tasty treats!
As the nights start getting longer and nature turns everything a lovely shade of orange, it’s time to look back on the last few months and check out the best new releases! We’ve had some great releases ranging from recreations of classics to new and original offerings. There’s also something for everyone’s budget! In no particular order, I’ve picked out five superb bits of code that will warm your cockles as we enter the witching season.
Arturia – Acid V
At some point during the V Collection lifecycle, Arturia always put out one or two singular offerings. This Summer, they gave us Acid V. When I wrote about this back in August, I questioned the need for yet another 303 facsimile. It’s been done to death, both in software and hardware. Even Roland themselves have revisited the failed accompaniment box in the shape of a plugin and a Boutique unit. One might argue that the software plugin industry itself was born with the 303, as part of Propellerhead’s ReBirth 338.
So to see Arturia join the fray seemed, at first, a little odd. However, what they decided to bring to the game was their distinctive twist on the classics. The Trimming section alone is almost worth the price of admission here. It gives the user the ability to sonically “beat up” their 303.
Cherry Audio – Octave Cat
I think it is safe to say that 2023, so far, has been Cherry Audio’s year. Somehow, they seem to continue churning out amazing synthesizer plugins that contain huge amounts of fun at minuscule prices. Always ones to go a little left-field with their choices, they managed to pull off a masterstroke in July with the brilliant Octave Cat plugin! Not only was this a faithful recreation of a much loved synth, but it was done with the blessing of Octave’s founder, Carmine Bonanno.
The Octave Cat went head to head with the ARP Odyssey back in the day and there are many people who would argue all day long that the Cat gave it a run for its money. It’s got a beautifully simple interface and a fantastic tone. Cherry Audio nailed the screaming characteristic filter and gave us everything we could wish for and more. This Cat had more whiskers in the form of polyphonic aftertouch and MPE support. It also added a superb effects section.
And at a mere $44 USD, this is a must have for any software based studio!
Rhodes – V8 PRO
It was big news when the Rhodes name officially reappeared in the market place. Resurrected by Rhodes enthusiast Dan Goldman, Rhodes Music rose from the ashes in, of all places, Leeds, U.K. With a strong commitment to quality and authenticity, the new Rhodes Mk.8 wasn’t cheap. Prices could reach the giddy heights of five figures before the decimal point, but there was never any doubting the workmanship and fantastic sound. Built for true players, there was a large swathe of us that could only look on and dream. But there was a glimmer of hope in us attaining those glorious tones in the form of the Rhodes V8 Pro plugin.
Reviewed by my boss, Bob Malkowski, a seasoned Rhodes user, the Rhodes V8 Pro promised the most detailed software recreation of the new Mk.8 or even any Rhodes plugin. Bold claims, too! There have been some excellent Rhodes plugins over the years, so the V8 Pro had a fight on its hands. Available in two flavours, Bob’s first task was to download 24GB of content that the Pro required! Each note on the V8 can be individually tweaked in a myriad ways. In effect, you can create your very own, custom Rhodes at a very low level. Talking of effects, there’s plenty going on there too!
Even at $299.95, Bob felt this was the best Rhodes plugin he had ever played. And I’m in no position to argue with my boss! [ED – cheque’s in the post Rob]
Cherry Audio – Harmonia
Given their prolific output this year, it’s no surprise that even over a three month period, Cherry Audio would make another appearance in this list. This time, however, it is with an original synth concept. I’ve always admired Cherry Audio for mixing it up with their releases. They strike a great balance between brilliant recreations of classic instruments and creating new and exciting ideas of their own. Dreamsynth and Sines are two great examples. And with Harmonia, they upped the ante once more.
This time they approached additive synthesis but with a unique twist. Using a vast array of sampled waveforms, Harmonia allow you to sweep through different harmonics or tones in a way that’s not far off how wavetable synthesis works. It’s a compelling sound generation method that pulls off the often difficult feat of being complex yet easy to use and immediately rewarding. Four LFO’s really expand modulation capabilities and the ever-present collection of effects is there to further enhance your sonic explorations.
I was blown away by how much fun Harmonia was when I reviewed it and it will go down as one of their finest original moments for some time yet. And yes, before you ask. It’s a steal at $49.
GForce – M-Tron Pro IV
The Mellotron has always held a very unique place in musical instrument history. Its very inception is a tale of skullduggery and subterfuge. Owners of originals will happily recount tales of mechanical woe, mid-gig failure and hilltop rituals with gasoline and matches. But boy do we love that sound. It is utterly unique and so distinctive. Two traits not often displayed in this industry. And so it was that a fledgling GForce Software, headed up by their Yin & Yang founders, Dave Spiers and Chris Macleod, sought to restore the mighty Mellotron sound for a modern audience.
The original M-Tron Pro was an instant success and many updates and sound banks followed. But it was in June of this year that this legendary plugin of a legendary instrument was brought slap bang back up to date. M-Tron’s GUI was always a bit odd to my eyes, but in the last couple of years, GForce has made a valiant and concerted effort to address GUI shortcomings and with huge success. M-Tron Pro IV now sports a superb, clear and intuitive interface that allows immediate access to all its functions. It is clear to understand and even easier to navigate the huge amount of presets that this instrument is capable of having.
New effects have been added, along with 100 new additional presets. As is the fashion these days, polyphonic aftertouch support has been added and there’s also a complete bundle on offer that gives you all the additional tape banks at a substantial saving.
I hope you enjoyed this round up of the last three months of software synth plugins. Maybe it has reminded you of a purchase or two you need to make! Now we look forward to the onslaught of Winter and the prospect of some more great synths to unwrap over the holidays!
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- Acid V Front Panel: Arturia
- Cherry Audio Octave Cat Wood Trim: Cherry Audio
- Rhodes V8: Rhodes
- Cherry Audio Harmonia: Cherry Audio
- M-Tron Pro IV: GForce Software
- Acid_V_-_Closed_plugin_boutique: Plugin Boutique
- pb: Plugin Boutique