IK Multimedia Syntronik by Sound-Guy
IK Multimedia Syntronik
Product Info: IK Multimedia | Syntronik
All prices in US dollars or Euros
Syntronik Free is free! Includes 50 instrument presets, 38 effects, multis and arpeggiator - can be used as a plug-in or standalone virtual instrument. Definitely try this out!
The paid version of Syntronik includes all the synth families and is $/€299.99.
There is a cross-grade version (from any IK product priced over $/€99.99) for $/€199.99.
Individual synth families run $/€49.99. If you want all of them, it's much cheaper to buy the full package. The break-even point if you just get the free version and buy modules is about six modules.
Note: in January, 2018 IK Multimedia provided 84 new presets free to owners of a paid Syntronik version. A very nice new year's gift.
The Great Humongous
If you’ve been recording or mixing audio for any length of time you’ve no doubt found IK Multimedia (IKM), who have been developing software tools and hardware for most of twenty years. I’ve used several of their programs and a couple microphones for years, and all have proven very fine.
Syntronik is their latest sound generating program based on the classic analog synths of the 1960's thru early 2000's, and it is huge if you get the full package. Even the free version is useful and covers a lot of variety, albeit with only 50 presets and some reduction in ability ('some "light versions" of the Instruments with a reduced key map range and fewer round-robin oscillator samples in some cases.') but if you like what you hear with the freebie, you'll love the full monster!
Let's get one downside out of the way first. This is big, about 42 GB of sound files alone in zipped format. And because IKM organized the purchase packages as separate units, you get to download any and all you want, one at a time! In the full package this takes on the order of an hour with a fast connection - and you must select each one separately, so you need to sip your tea while at the computer. You can buy a USB version for $/€29 more, that should load faster and keep all your samples for future reloads if needed. I downloaded to a spare USB hard drive I had since I do not let my audio system ever see the Internet (and that saves me hours a month screwing around with updates and other Internet messes). So it took me an additional hour to upload and unpack all the sample files. But, it was worth every minute! Imagine trying to find the source synths on eBay or some music equipment site, buy them, and get them shipped to you (in perfect working order). Not likely to happen - and would cost as much as a small house!
So, What is It?
As you can see on the IKM website ( IK Multimedia | Syntronik ) Syntronik is a synthesizer compilation with samples made from a very fine collection of well maintained hardware. See the IKM site for all the details. There are 17 families of classic synths which include 38 total models (ie, 11 Moogs, 3 Oberheims, 10 Rolands, etc.). There are over 2,000 presets from these synths using over 70,000 total samples. That alone would keep you busy for days (weeks?), but that's just the tip of the iceberg.
As you select any family of synth you will see a panel with several sections, modeled on the style of the original synth, along with some nice digital additions. This panel actually has about the same set of controls for all synth models, just arranged to look like the original, but has some extra features. You find a filter control section with seven filter types (and Off) which is more than any particular synth had since these are modeled on filters from different manufacturers over the years (as well as a few extra types). There is a Moog transistor ladder, Roland's IR3109 chip, the Curtis CEM3320 chip, and the Oberheim SEM state variable filter, as well as a formant type, a phaser, and an IKM classic style.
Thus, you can apply a Moog type filter to a Roland sound or vice versa, etc., for a lot of variety. And of course there is a filter envelope, as well as the amplitude envelope and LFO section. These features enable stretching the preset sounds in many wonderful ways. The filters are very analog sounding and resonance can even be taken into wild squelching oscillations at the extremes. And all settings act very analog in that you can change them on-the-fly while playing and results flow nicely, unless you really flip resonance or cutoff rapidly to extremes, in which case you can get some wild glitchy sounds.
And speaking of on-the-fly, MIDI learn is very fast and simple, and worked very smoothly with my controller keyboard. You can right-click any Syntronik control, then select MIDI Learn and wiggle a knob or fader on your controller and it is done. However you can also open a MIDI Assignment window and change assignments, set upper and lower ranges, and set latching for button controls. This window also is where you can deactivate the normal vibrato function of your Mod wheel so that it can be set to control a Syntronik parameter if you like (I found this very handy) and in doing so use aftertouch to control vibrato. And at the same time you can use aftertouch to control another parameter - just select the Syntronik parameter you want and press your keyboard hard enough to activate aftertouch. I found with some patches using aftertouch for both vibrato and LFO pitch control resulted in a pretty good theremin sound! Very slick!
There is one weakness in this assignment function that I hope IKM can fix in the next release or so, you cannot reverse the sense of the MIDI controllers. You can set upper and lower range, but up is always the positive movement of a controller. You can assign the same MIDI controller to more than one Syntronik parameter, so it would be excellent if you could reverse one for cross-fade effects. IKM previously added some great functionality to Syntronik after user inputs, and they've heard this one before. I'll keep my fingers crossed.
What Does it Look Like?
I won't add in lots of illustrations since they are shown in fine detail on the IKM site. But as with all IKM software products, the graphics (as well as the sounds) are excellent, and if you ever had any of the original hardware of these sampled synths (I had two of them I sold years ago) you'll enjoy the nostalgia. Controls are not exactly as on the originals, but are comprehensive and just fun to twiddle. And there are more very useful features not on the main synth panel views: the arpeggiator, the sequencer, the multi-panel and the FX rack.
More on the Extras
The arpeggiator is flexible and easy to use, and if you modify a patch and add arpeggiation, it gets saved when you save the patch. You get Up, Down, Up/Down, Down/Up, Random, as Played and Chord mode where it plays the full chord repeated at the set rate. The manual is a little vague on this function since there is clearly both an arpeggiator (which I view as playing notes sequenced in time from held chords and being able to change the chord at will) and a sequencer where you define relative notes, velocity and position in a sequence. But it all works very well and makes it sound like you can play very fast riffs if you want.
There is a sequencer view in the middle of the arpeggiator window that defaults (if the patch hasn't yet used arpeggiation or the sequencer) to showing one vertical 'bar' at the left side, and this setting will run the real-time arpeggiator mode with the above indicated note sequences (Up, Down, etc.) but you can grab the marker below the sequencer table and drag it right to include up to 32 notes. Then you can set the relative note value, up to +/- 12 semitones, and the note velocity, and pressing just one key will them play the sequence (which can be latched). Playing a chord will play the chord in successive positions according to the relative note values. And clicking the small three-dot figure below any sequencer step position will turn on a momentary chord, like a ‘stab’, for that position rather than the sequenced note. There are also controls for pattern velocity, global duration of events in the arpeggio, swing, trigger modes, key split, pattern rate and number of octaves. You can even lock in a pattern so it will be usable when you change to another preset instrument. The possibilities are nearly endless!
More Synths at Once?
The Multi-Panel enables using up to four different synth models layered together, with either keyboard splits, or velocity control of what plays where. All Parts of the Multi always respond to a single MIDI channel - this is not a multitimbral instrument. However, there is currently no way to smoothly cross-fade between the models, either across the keyboard (hard split only) or according to key velocity (can hard split by velocity or have a range of both/all parts playing), but we can hope for such control in the future. Still easier than using a MIDI router/splitter (or CV control) to a pile of hardware synths!
The FX rack is very nice to have in standalone mode, and also useful when using Syntronik in a DAW since the FX are excellent and comprehensive. You can now drag and move a module within the rack, which you could not do on the original release - very handy. There are 38 effects modules derived from the T-RackS mastering suite and AmpliTube guitar workstation - not exactly the same as in those products since they have been turned into a vertical modular system format, but with the same fine sound quality. You can have five modulars in the rack, and of course in your DAW you can add another dozen or more if you really think you want that! I really like the tape echo machine, and there are great reverbs, delays, dynamics, EQs, filters, distortion units, modulators and even amp models, at least four modules in each category. Makes standalone operation really handy.
How Does it Sound?
I won’t describe all hundred trillion sounds Syntronik could create - that would take over 30 million years to just audition that many sounds! It is true that there are many possible similar sounds, but there is also a vast range of tones, movement, and color available, and adding FX and arpeggiations makes it very flexible indeed. You can get very ‘fat’ analog bass sounds as well as thin, tinkly bell sounds, roaring leads, amazing sweeps. The sky's the limit! Sound quality is superb with multisamples used rather than just frequency stretching, and round-robin samples add small changes to repeated notes. In addition, IKM have introduced a process they call “DRIFT” which simulates the small variations over time/temperature of real analog synths. All of these features lead to a real analog feel and let you warp sounds many wondrous ways in real-time.
Not really anything major, just a few minor quibbles mentioned already, and IKM are very good at listening to their customers, so these may be addressed before long. There is a minimum latency even in standalone mode - 256 samples, which is 5.8 msec at 44.1 kHz. This is small enough not to be noticed with any sounds I tried. Even a real acoustic piano has latency of about 20-30 msec from the moment when the finger touches the key to when the strings start moving, so 5 to 10 msec is not a big deal in my experience. You can increase the latency in Syntronik up to 2,048 samples which becomes noticeable at 44.1 kHz (over 46 msec). Not sure why you’d do that unless you’re using a 20 year old computer!
As mentioned, you get over 2,000-plus preset sounds, but you do not have the full modulation-matrix connections that a real Prophet 5 provides, for instance. But with such a rich range of good basic sounds, I had no problem spending hours making all kinds of very analog sounding tones. There are products that recreate extensive modulation features, and you could spend many hours twiddling such boxes and possibly come up with something unique, but Syntronik really makes it easy to cover a lot of sonic space.
Another excellent sound package from IK Multimedia with a reasonable price considering the quality and capability. The free version can actually do a lot, and will likely make you want to audition more of the synth models, which you can do for free before deciding which to buy, so other than possibly depleting your check book, there is little risk involved! The bundled version with all 17 synth families saves you a lot of money over buying all the modules separately, so if you want all of them, go for it. Of course no one needs any synthesizers at all - you can just learn to sing and perform a cappella! But if you like the iconic synth sounds of the 60's thru early 2000’s Syntronik is a pretty fine way to go.
Pro: Standalone version is very easy to play and has a lot of capability with the FX and arpeggiator/sequencer.
DAW version adds a whole garage-load of synths to you system, and using multiple instances can get you a real monster set-up.
Low cpu usage - the standalone version measured 0-2% cpu resource as measured by the Microsoft task manager, and in my DAW (REAPER) I measured a maximum cpu resource under 6% with four instances playing at once. So call it 1-1/2 % per instance using a modern PC with a 64 bit OS (Win 7 on an Intel CORE i7-4770k cpu, 3.5 GHz, 16 GB RAM).
In short, maybe not ‘cheap’, but good value for money - the full version ends up about $/€13 per module at the year-end sale price and $/€17.60 per module at the normal price, unless you already have some credits with IKM that get you more discounts.
Con: IK Multimedia make it very easy to audit and purchase any of the synth modules you do not already have, so you can quickly max out your credit card!
Standalone version cannot use your stash of VST, AAX or AU plug-ins, but IKM provide a fine array of FX.
Both standalone and DAW versions are 64 bit programs in case you are using an ancient 32 bit operating system.
Some missing functions as I mentioned (like cross-fade effects), but still a lot there.