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You all need to buy a Solaris. No, seriously, you just do. :)
Old 5th October 2014
  #1
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You all need to buy a Solaris. No, seriously, you just do. :)

Please pardon the tongue in cheek title, but after waiting a long time for a Solaris and having now played it for a couple months, it's time to heap some well-deserved public praise on John Bowen's truly excellent creation. This isn't intended to serve as a full review of the Solaris, but rather a celebration of its existence (which is not to be taken for granted given its history) and my take on what Bowen's niche instrument means in the context of the larger synth landscape.

Before getting to the good stuff, let's first get the major negatives out of the way:
  • No, you can't simply play or buy a Solaris at your local MI store. If you really want a Solaris, prepare to take a leap of faith, cough up some cash, then settle in for a wait.
  • Yes, polyphony is currently limited to 10 voices (which, FWIW, is 2-5 more voices than many of the most highly sought after polysynths).
  • Yes, there are a number of known bugs, though none of them are showstoppers for my purposes. If you're concerned, read up on the details on the Solaris forums -- there are no secrets there.
  • No, it's not cheap. More on that in a bit...
  • Yes, there's a decent learning curve, but it's not excessive in light of the Solaris' vast power.

So, no, it's not perfect -- what instrument is? -- but all of that goes out the window when you finally hear the thing. I'm not one for hyperbole, but I can safely say that the sound quality of the Solaris bests any hardware VA or VST instrument I've previously played over the years. And though the Solaris is capable of far more than subtractive analog emulation, it is undoubtedly adept at creating classic, warm analog sounds.

Regardless of which synthesis types and component models are employed, the Solaris always exudes fidelity. Playing the Solaris back to back with a Virus TI is an ear-opening experience, and that's coming from someone who admires and enjoys the Virus. The Solaris just leaps out of the speakers with obvious clarity -- it put a huge smile on my face the first time I heard it -- and it achieves a rare balance of sounding precise and detailed without also sounding clinical, sterile or boring. It's organic and lively, and I think that's quite a feat for any digital instrument (it reminds me of some of Kurzweil's best gear in that regard). I was more critical of the Solaris' limited polyphony until I heard it, but I now understand Bowen's decision to run the Solaris at 96kHz/24-bit. His reasoning and priorities are hard to fault once you recognize the consistently impressive sound quality.

Best of all, the Solaris feels like an instrument with its own identity. It's clearly intended to be a sonic chameleon and it's tremendously deep -- I've probably only touched on 25% of its capabilities by this point -- but it's not just another VA and the interface welcomes gradual, natural learning. There's a lot going on with the multiple screens, but I found it relatively easy to develop a quick workflow after a few hours of tweaking. Eventually you get beyond thinking "can the Solaris do X?" and you find yourself asking more powerful questions like "what's the best way to do X?" and "what would happen if I tried Y?" I think many synthheads weaned on modulars could really take to the Solaris and its workflow.

I'm not going to try to convince anyone that the Solaris is worth it's asking price even though I think it is. Certainly you can easily get a lot more bang for the buck with a mix of other hardware and software, but I would urge any doubters not to fall into the trap of thinking of the Solaris as a mere VST in a fancy wrapper. Without diving into the philosophical or semantic battles of what the Solaris is or isn't at its DSP-based core, I'll simply say that the Solaris is the classic example of something being more than the sum of its parts. It's also worth mentioning that it's a beautifully built instrument and, as such, it feels special in hand.

In an age where people openly bemoan the price of classic analog polysynths and lament the dearth of modern analog polysynths, I think the Solaris deserves more attention and credit than it gets. While I predict that people will still drool over Jupiter 8s, Prophet 5s and OB-Xas 20+ years from now, I won't be surprised if they look back and consider the Solaris to be a classic polysynth in its own right. It's good enough to serve as an analog polysynth replacement in many situations, but it also stands on its own as a far more capable instrument with its own sound and vibe. Bravo, John Bowen!
Old 5th October 2014
  #2
Gear Maniac
 

Good for you man. The interface alone makes it worth the asking price I reckon.
Old 5th October 2014
  #3
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Yes I know, in reply to the title.

I've only spent a few hours on one, in a shop no less! Should have bought that one, but had a lot of other things up in the air at the time.

Since then, I've bought a Q and JD800, they obviously have great interfaces and sound pretty darn good
of which I cannot go backwards
am considering selling those yo help fund one.

Thanks for the gas boost
Old 5th October 2014
  #4
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I wish i had the money!
Old 5th October 2014
  #5
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I would, if it was 4 part multi timbral...and I am not quite sure about its step sequencer.
Old 5th October 2014
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Synth80s View Post
In an age where people openly bemoan the price of classic analog polysynths and lament the dearth of modern analog polysynths, I think the Solaris deserves more attention and credit than it gets. While I predict that people will still drool over Jupiter 8s, Prophet 5s and OB-Xas 20+ years from now, I won't be surprised if they look back and consider the Solaris to be a classic polysynth in its own right. It's good enough to serve as an analog polysynth replacement in many situations, but it also stands on its own as a far more capable instrument with its own sound and vibe. Bravo, John Bowen!
these are my exact thoughts on the Solaris and if I had the extra money, I'd have one. it truly seems one of the synth greats.

congrats on getting yours.
Old 5th October 2014
  #7
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As someone who's waiting for my Solaris to ship out as part of batch #4 it's great to hear that the wait is worth it and that you're having a blast with the Solaris. The fact that the Solaris exists at all is really a testament to John's passion and perseverance because he's had to overcome a whole host of production and development issues along the way, some of which he's still dealing with. That none of this seems to have dimmed his commitment to maintaining the level of quality evident in the design of the Solaris and to continue work on the OS is something I think he deserves credit for, even if some of those issues have lead to delays that no one wants (least of all John). I'm hoping that he'll soon be able to move forward with the implementation of the multitimbrality and a few other things he's hinted at perhaps incorporating in the OS.

That said, I think that the Solaris is a fine instrument as it stands, so even if a multi mode and improved effects implementation would be great to have, the synthesis power on offer is pretty unique for a hardware synth of this type. Mine cannot arrive soon enough.
Old 5th October 2014
  #8
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Looping Loddar's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Synth80s View Post
Please pardon the tongue in cheek title (...) having now played it for a couple months (...)
Do you think it's a fresh love for you?
;-)
I am sure a lot of people could make good music with just a rusty JV1080 , a Slim Phatty , a Waldorf Streichfett and some nice FX.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Synth80s View Post
In an age where people openly bemoan the price of classic analog polysynths and lament the dearth of modern analog polysynths, I think the Solaris deserves more attention and credit than it gets.
Okay, this is a good point.

=> May i beg you for some demo sounds?
Old 5th October 2014
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No thanks, for that money (or a little bit more) I'd much rather buy a Studio Electronics Omega.
Old 5th October 2014
  #10
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Thread Starter
Quote:
Originally Posted by Looping Loddar View Post
Do you think it's a fresh love for you?
;-)
It's a fair question, but the answer is no. I've been working with all kinds of music/audio gear for around 30 years now, especially synths, and my tastes are finely honed. Just as I think most people know the sinking feeling when they buy a shiny new thing, get their hopes up, but the sound simply disappoints out of the box, there's also a deep excitement when you play an excellent sounding instrument the first time and you just know it's winner to your ears. While tastes can obviously vary, I'd be surprised if anyone played a Solaris under good circumstances and didn't come away impressed by the sound quality.

Quote:
I am sure a lot of people could make good music with just a rusty JV1080 , a Slim Phatty , a Waldorf Streichfett and some nice FX.
No question. As I initially noted, I don't presume to think the Solaris makes economic sense for everyone -- indeed, I feel lucky to have one -- nor does it take away from what so many enterprising artists can do with minimal rigs or even old/unloved equipment. But take that same person and give them a Solaris and I think it's fair to assume they'll come up with even more impressive sounds.

Quote:
May i beg you for some demo sounds?
I'm still working up new patches of my own and I may post some in the future. For now, I'd urge you to read this article and listen to these excellent samples if you haven't already. They don't substitute for hearing the Solaris in the flesh, but I think they're fairly representative of its sonic diversity if not its impact:

John Bowen Solaris – a life’s work | GreatSynthesizers
Old 5th October 2014
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Originally Posted by tux99 View Post
No thanks, for that money I'd much rather buy a Studio Electronics Omega.
I can understand that perspective. I'm a big fan of SE gear, but the Omega and the Solaris are obviously different synths. While I won't try to convince anyone that either is better or worse for their needs, I will note that the Solaris has sonic capabilities that far exceed those of the Omega, especially in the digital-ish realm (VS waves, Waldorf waves, etc.) and I think the Solaris has a superior interface for programming. For more sonic diversity, one can load up an Omega/Code with multiple filter types -- an enticing proposition -- but the cost really adds up (i.e. significantly more than a Solaris).

If you're ever lucky enough to play them side by side, let us know what you think!
Old 5th October 2014
  #12
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the Solaris. I'd get one in a heartbeat if I had the space and budget for it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Synth80s View Post
I was more critical of the Solaris' limited polyphony until I heard it, but I now understand Bowen's decision to run the Solaris at 96kHz/24-bit. His reasoning and priorities are hard to fault once you recognize the consistently impressive sound quality.
This is something that's always irked me. The Nord G2 came out 10 years ago and also ran at 96k/24-bit. Heck, the G1 ran at 96k in 18-bit and is 15 years old. I don't know much about the DSP power required to create a synth voice, but 10 voices still seems extremely low for a digital synth in this day and age. It would be nice there was an option to add more voices.
Old 5th October 2014
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Originally Posted by Kraut View Post
I would, if it was 4 part multi timbral...and I am not quite sure about its step sequencer.
Yeah, lack of splits/layers is one of the common complaints and I *think* it's on the short list of features slated for the next major OS update whenever that happens. The details are all captured on the Solaris forums. I have spent much time with the step sequencer yet.

When I ordered mine, I made a point of asking myself whether any of the known limitations/bugs would really bother me because I think it's a mistake to buy anything today hoping it will become something else over time. Many of us have been burned by vaporware and wishful thinking at one point or another, right? Bowen, to his credit, isn't making distinct promises about OS updates right now -- he's simply providing updates on the development process as it unfolds.

If the Solaris never receives another update, it's of no consequence to me, though I understand that some people expect more features given the asking price.
Old 5th October 2014
  #14
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Stop, you're killing me! Just kidding, but I think Solaris is my most wanted keyboard/synth. And I can afford it, I just don't think I can personally justify it right now. I've read and listened to everything I could find and the sounds I've heard are in line with the type I'd like to make.

One thing that gave me pause was that there was some guy who developed some nice presets for the Solaris and in the end gave the Solaris back and said he could just get Reaktor and do the same thing. (Maybe I can find that it again and put a link.) I think JB came back and said yeah but he didn't like the sound of Reaktor or NI stuff.

When talking about how the sound quality of the Solaris is so good, people cite the 96KHz processing rate. But you can run plugins at 96KHz as well. So is there more to it than that?

Edit: Here's the link I was referring to above. I wouldn't have mentioned it but he seems to be a very good synth programmer.

Last edited by minorguy; 5th October 2014 at 10:44 PM.. Reason: Add link
Old 5th October 2014
  #15
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Originally Posted by BTByrd View Post
The Nord G2 came out 10 years ago and also ran at 96k/24-bit. Heck, the G1 ran at 96k in 18-bit and is 15 years old. I don't know much about the DSP power required to create a synth voice, but 10 voices still seems extremely low for a digital synth in this day and age. It would be nice there was an option to add more voices.
The Nord Modular G1 only ran the audio signals at 96kHz. The modulation, logic and the slave inputs ran at 24kHz. I don't know about the G2 but I wouldn't automatically assume that everything including the modulation ran at 96kHz, although I guess it's possible (EDIT: I've just checked the G2 manual and the control signals are 24kHz; the logic signals can be either 24kHz or 96kHz depending on the module output used). In the Solaris everything, audio and modulation, is 96kHz 24 bit.

In terms of polyphony, if you created an architecture like that of the Solaris in either of those synths, even if it were possible, I doubt you'd get anywhere near 10 notes polyphony. I suppose the Solaris could have used a more dynamic method of assigning processing power so that you could maybe get more notes on patches that used fewer of the available modules in the Solaris but I'm guessing that would have complicated things considerably in the implementation. As it is each SHARC is responsible for generating two complete voices if I recall correctly.
Old 5th October 2014
  #16
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Originally Posted by BTByrd View Post
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the Solaris. I'd get one in a heartbeat if I had the space and budget for it.

This is something that's always irked me. The Nord G2 came out 10 years ago and also ran at 96k/24-bit. Heck, the G1 ran at 96k in 18-bit and is 15 years old. I don't know much about the DSP power required to create a synth voice, but 10 voices still seems extremely low for a digital synth in this day and age. It would be nice there was an option to add more voices.
I don't claim to speak for Bowen and the polyphony issue is probably more detailed than my simplified explanation, but my understanding is that the original Solaris code was written such that major sections of the synth are assigned to specific blocks of DSP. For example, the oscillator generation may be assigned to 1 of the 6 DSP chips, and I believe the effects section is hard coded to use 1 of the DSP chips. In practice this means that even if you craft a patch using only 2 of the 4 available oscillators and you use no effects, the spare DSP from those sections can't be reallocated elsewhere like they can on a Virus which offers wildly varying polyphony depending on the complexity of the patch(es) in memory.

It sounds like the level of effort required to change the DSP allocation to a more dynamic model is significant. And as I recall reading a while back (I'm paraphrasing), Bowen said there was some discussion over dropping the output to 44/48K to increase polyphony, but he decided to prioritize sound quality. If the DSP allocation model every evolves, I think it's fair to think polyphony will climb, but I wouldn't assume that's ever going to happen. This is one reason why I mentally treat the Solaris like a classic monotimbral 10-voice polysynth.

FWIW, I've never played a Nord modular, but given the time I've spent playing other Nords (I previously owned a 2X and spent some decent time with a Wave), I would be surprised if the G2's sound quality measured up to that of the Solaris.
Old 5th October 2014
  #17
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Originally Posted by MiniDX View Post
I wish i had the money!
Me too, what sounds better this or Modulus?
Old 5th October 2014
  #18
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Originally Posted by thong View Post
Thanks for the gas boost
No problem. That's what friends (enablers?) are for.
Old 5th October 2014
  #19
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Originally Posted by minorguy View Post
When talking about how the sound quality of the Solaris is so good, people cite the 96KHz processing rate. But you can run plugins at 96KHz as well. So is there more to it than that?
It's a great question and I think the answer is yes even if I don't have more details (others may). I'm not suggesting that the 24-bit/96KHz processing is solely responsible for the excellent sound quality -- the credit should probably go to the DSP coder(s).

I completely understand people who make the mental calculation that they can get similar functionality, and maybe even similar sound quality to their ears, by adding something like Reaktor to their existing DAW rig at a significantly reduced cost. That's a valid point, but no VST is a self-contained instrument and there's no question that a big part of the Solaris' cost involves the labor and parts required to deliver a large, detailed, high quality physical product.

FWIW, I run my DAW at 24/96 using decent converters (RME) and I've run Diva on it's most DSP-intensive mode (among other plug-ins). The sound of some modern plug-ins can be very impressive, but I still prefer the sound of the Solaris, not to mention all the tangible benefits of the physical interface. I'll say this: if the Diva engine were offered in a physical synth format, it would be a strong contender in my book as a pure VA, but not a true Solaris competitor.
Old 5th October 2014
  #20
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As an accelerator owner I view the solaris as the jupiter 8 to the accel's jupiter 6. I definitely lust one and am especially excited by idea of the rotors and ability to use samples + a few extra filters. How's the midi implementation and does it have a good arpeggiator? Is the polyphony 'true' or does it get chipped away by adding more bells and whistles to a patch? Can you stack patches?
Old 5th October 2014
  #21
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Originally Posted by Avon View Post
Me too, what sounds better this or Modulus?
I don't know why people insist on making this comparison, to be honest. Besides both being expensive, boutique polyphonic synths (Modulus being more expensive) and both being available in white, I don't think they share much in common. The Modulus 002 sounds great, the Solaris sounds great but they're appealing to different tastes and requirements. Which you prefer is just a matter of opinion.
Old 5th October 2014
  #22
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Originally Posted by dirtROBOT View Post
How's the midi implementation and does it have a good arpeggiator? Is the polyphony 'true' or does it get chipped away by adding more bells and whistles to a patch? Can you stack patches?
There seems to be an issue with syncing the sequencer to a DAW which needs to be fixed, apparently. There's an arpeggiator and a sequencer. The polyphony is fixed at 10 voices and there's no multitimbral mode so no stacking of patches as yet.
Old 6th October 2014
  #23
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Originally Posted by cLoudForest View Post
The polyphony is fixed at 10 voices and there's no multitimbral mode so no stacking of patches as yet.
Afaik there is a multitimbral mode (up to 4 different voices) and yes, you can stack patches. Am i wrong?
Old 6th October 2014
  #24
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Originally Posted by Looping Loddar View Post
Afaik there is a multitimbral mode (up to 4 different voices) and yes, you can stack patches. Am i wrong?
Someone like Synth80s who has a Solaris can tell you definitively but there's nothing in the manual about a multitimbral mode and from what I've read on the Solaris forums it's not been implemented in version 1.0 of the OS and there haven't been any major updates since the Solaris was first shipped.
Old 6th October 2014
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cLoudForest View Post
Someone like Synth80s who has a Solaris can tell you definitively but there's nothing in the manual about a multitimbral mode and from what I've read on the Solaris forums it's not been implemented in version 1.0 of the OS and there haven't been any major updates since the Solaris was first shipped.
Traditional splits/layers are not possible on the Solaris, but I believe that's among the most frequently requested features for a next OS rev.

I think Looping Lodar might be referring to the fact that each Solaris patch can consist of up to 4 parts which, given the capabilities of each part (each has it's own OSC mixer, VCA, filter, etc.), still allows you to create very complex patches even without traditional multi-timbral capabilities.
Old 6th October 2014
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Looping Loddar View Post
Afaik there is a multitimbral mode (up to 4 different voices) and yes, you can stack patches. Am i wrong?
Not actual multi timbrality, but using its 4 oscillators for making different sounds.

They have been talking about implementing actual multi timbrality too, but no promises. If there was multi timbrality tonight, I would order it tonight as well.

^^ah, I didn't notice, it had already been said.
Old 21st November 2016
  #27
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Solaris is nice, but not better spent money than combo of one modern analog polysynth plus several plugin synths and nice PC with interface and keyboard.
Actually, it makes sense for someone who hates computer and screen, but in terms of control softsynths are more convenient than Solaris.
As with any digital synths Solaris cannot replicate exact mojo of classic analogue (although it can do zillion of other things), so for true unlimited joy, we still need OBX, P5, JP8, Sunsyn or Omega.
Old 21st November 2016
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GYang View Post
Solaris is nice, but not better spent money than combo of one modern analog polysynth plus several plugin synths and nice PC with interface and keyboard.
Actually, it makes sense for someone who hates computer and screen, but in terms of control softsynths are more convenient than Solaris.
As with any digital synths Solaris cannot replicate exact mojo of classic analogue (although it can do zillion of other things), so for true unlimited joy, we still need OBX, P5, JP8, Sunsyn or Omega.
As necrobumps go, yours is the weirdest I've seen for a while. So, er... thanks.
Old 21st November 2016
  #29
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SOLARIS or MODAL 002?
Old 21st November 2016
  #30
does it have any sort of unison oscillator or is it just 10 voices of normal 2/3 osc sounds? Im just wondering how it handles modern sounds...
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