When a new synthesizer comes out from a country that wasn’t previously
known for making electronic instruments, I’m always curious and excited,
and the Hypersynth Xenophone is no exception. Persian developer
Hypersynth was previously known for their software instruments and
editors, and this monophonic analog synth module is their first hardware
offering. As we’ll see, it offers a lot of sound-shaping power and a
unique sonic character for the price.
Enclosed in a small lightweight box with wooden sides
(either flat or for a little more money, angled sides that turn the unit
into its own desktop stand), the Xenophone is a ee-oscillator
monophonic synth module with analog oscillators and filters, digital
envelopes and LFOs (like many modern analog synths), and digital effects
to round off the sonic chain. Editing is based on the interaction of
its 26 rotary encoders with the info given by its two-line display. With
two sub-oscillators, three LFOs, three envelope generators, three ring
modulators, a multimode filter with ten modes, and a vast modulation
matrix, there’s plenty to keep a dedicated programmer busy. To store
your creations, you have 896 memory slots, organized in seven banks of
128 patches each. The manual is well written, and while it assumes a
basic knowledge of analog synthesis, it’s quite exhaustive.
On the right side of the Xenophone’s display, you’ll find
the only detented encoder (the other 25 are free-running). Its main
function is to navigate thru the various pages, wherein you can adust
the values of two to four parameters per page via the four “soft”
encoders beneath the display. However, the most-used parameters also
have dedicated knobs, which you can grab at any time on the various
sections of the panel. This
causes the screen jump to the appropriate page, though there’s a setting
if you prefer to prevent that. In addition, a button accesses
frequently used categories of parameters directly, and also a submenu
that scrolls through every category.
Something that left me perplexed is that on several pages,
the “soft” knobs have no effect on the parameters which also have
dedicated knobs on the panel; you have to use their dedicated knobs
instead. I’d prefer both options: Soft for when I’m focused on the
display, dedicated for live performance. Hypersynth is considering
addressing this in a future update.
The Xenophone offers an exceptional choice of
possibilities for the oscillator section. Let’s start with oscillators 1
and 2, which are nearly identical: In addition to the usual sawtooth,
square and triangle waves, you have combinations of square with sawtooth
and with triangle, and also a “stepped” square, which is the
combination of two square waves. For each of these waveforms you can set
and modulate both the shape (morphing from square to sawtooth or
vice-versa, for example) and pulse width. With a midway-morphed
waveform, the PWM parameter only affects the square component of the
wave, leaving the other intact. You can also set the phase of each
oscillator, either forcing them to start at a specific point or letting
their phase free-run. This can make a huge difference in the tone when
combining two or more oscillators.
Oscillator 2 can be hard-synced to oscsillator 1.
Furthermore, you can replace the oscillators with the result of
ring-modulating square waves between oscillators 1 and 2. Impressed yet?
Want more? Both oscillators 1 and 2 have dedicated sub-oscillators
(again, producing square waves), which can be tuned either one or two
octaves below, and also can be put into ring modulation with their
parent oscillators. Another important parameter is Drift, which gives
varies the oscillators’ random detuning and ranges from imperceptible to
There’s also FM: The triangle wave of oscillator 2 can
modulate oscillator 1 in the audio range. Here, the possibility to
disable keyboard tracking for either oscillator comes really handy for
certain types of sounds.
Is a third oscillator necessary when you have all these
goodies? Hypersynth seems to think “well, mayb,” as they treat it as a
afterthought. First, it can only produce a square wave. Second, it
shares a VCA with the noise generator, so you can’t use both it and
noise at the same time This is one of the few shortcomings of this
instrument. On the positive side, the noise source provides white, pink
or red noise, plus something called C64 (an apparent homage to the
Commodore 64 computer’s SID audio chip), which sounds like a kind of
Mixer and Filter Section
There Xenophone’s panel lacks a dedicated mixer section,
but couple of pages in the display let you adjust the levels of the main
and sub-oscillators. The mixer can be slightly saturated by raising the
levels, but be careful not to push to the point of unwanted distortion,
as we’ll see later. There’s also a level control for the ring
modulation between oscillators 1 and 2.
Next to this you’ll find portamento/glide. It has four
modes: Fingered or permanent, constant rate or constant time. I would
have liked a bit more resolution for the fastest settings.
Then, feedback does a lot to make the sound bigger and
tighter, although it reduces the effect of filter resonance. Even more
than for the other levels, you have to be careful with feedback level,
as it could induce some clipping.
The Xenophone has a single filter offering a choice of ten
different types. Both lowpass and highpass modes have a choice of 12-,
18-, or 24dB-per-octave slopes; plus, you get 12dB or notch and two
different combinations of lowopass and highpass in series. Very good.
The Filter FM parameter routes oscillator 1 to audio-rate
modulation of the filter, disengaging it from the audio mixer at the
So how do these filters sound? I’d say that they tend to
sound a bit “pushed,” giving an impression of slight saturation. The
difference between the different slopes is very evident to the ear, but
the overall personality tends to stay constant. As to the resonance,
it’s not the kind that thins down the overall timbre as you raise it; on
the contrary, it seems to add to the basic filter body, contributing to
a generally robust, thick sound.
Envelopes and LFOs
Each of the three envelopes starts with the classic ADSR
configuration, with the addition of delay and hold stages. Then you can
set response type for the envelope: linear, or three different types of
exponential or logarithmic. Next is the Trigger Mode, which is where you
decide how your envelope will restart at each key press: from zero,
from the current level, or it can simply run until the end of its cycle.
The envelopes can loop, too; a very desirable feature. As is often the
design choice, envelope 1 is hardwired to amplitude and envelope 2 to
filter cutoff, but you can set any other routing you like from the
modulation matrix, and envelope 3 can be assigned freely.
Each of the three LFOs has six waveforms: sine, triangle,
sawtooth, square, sample-and-hold, and finally sample-and-glide, a very
useful function which smooths the transition between consecutive values
of sample-and-hold. LFOs 1 and 3 have a separate “Target” section, with a
limited number of often-used parameters (different for each LFO) to be
used as destinations, without taking up one of the slots in the Mod
Matrix. You can set each LFO to restart its waveform with every key
press, only when you play staccato, or to run freely. The LFOs can be
synchronized to clock (MIDI or internal), with note values between half-
When I first read that the Xenophone had eight “free”
modulation slots with a huge list of sources and destinations, I thought
of my Dave Smith Mono Evolver Keyboard, which only has four. So I
anticipated going wild with multiple modulations—but then I noticed the
Xenophone lacks most of the hard-wired modulations the MEK has. So, even
with eight modulation routings, I found myself hitting that ceiling
several times. On the other hand, Hypersynth really did their homework
with the list of destinations. For example, you can modulate individual
envelope segments, which I find extremely useful. You can even modulate
the depth of another modulation routing. Yes, the programmer in me cries
for more, but realizing that many analog synths—especially at this
price—have only a few hardwired modulation routings, I shouldn’t be
complaining too loudly.
Arpeggiator and Sequencer
The sequencer and arpeggiator are of course close
relatives, although only one or the other can be used at any given time.
Sequences are saved with patches.
Arpeggios can go up, down, or up/down. Adjustments can be
made to tempo, division (from half- to 32nd-notes including triplets and
dotted notes), duration, and range (one to three octaves). Latch lets
the arpeggio or sequence run even after the keys have been released.
In the sequencer, notes can be input from either the
screen or incoming MIDI data, and pauses can be inserted. Each of the
four tracks has 16 steps maximum; track 1 is dedicated to notes, track 2
to velocity values, and tracks 3 and 4 can be assigned to any
parameter. Sequences can be gated by MIDI notes or set to run freely.
They can be transposed by incoming note numbers, and incoming MIDI
velocity values can override the velocity track if desired. There’s also
a parameter called Hold Step, which disables the gate-off signal for
any given note. That’s used to make the pitch of one step in the
sequence glide to the next, vintage Roland-style; the Portamento knob
sets the speed of the glide.
Next up are the Slew Rate parameters on the Velocity and
Assignable tracks. The slew rate here works like a lag processor, which
according to the manual “limits the rate at which a signal can increase
or decrease in value.” In other words, it acts as a smoother/compressor
of the values stored in a track. Sequencer tracks also appear as sources
in the modulation matrix, so one application for smoothing between
consecutive steps would be to use the tracks as extra LFOs, driving any
parameter you like.
Output and Effects
At the output stage, in addition to Main Volume and
Balance there are two different effect sections: Distortion and Digital
Effects (DFX). The (analog)
Distortion has five possible settings: Off, Light, Dirty, Harsh and
Massive. They’re perfect for many styles of electronica, but for sounds
that require just a slight amount of saturation, overall the
Hypersynth’s distortion tends to change the timbral character of a sound
a bit too much, even at its mildest setting. Lowering the output level
of the oscillators didn’t really help, so I just had to give up using
Distortion in some cases.
The Digital Effects are essentially reverb and delay, with
different algorithms. They generally sound good and are a nice
addition, especially for live playing. They’re not very editable,
though—for each of the eight algorithms (which include various rooms and
halls as well as a Ping-Pong delay) you can only adjust three
parameters. These are generally well chosen, though, and it’s nice to be
able to bring a true analog synth to a gig knowing that you won’t need
extra effect pedals for a little sweetening.
A word of warning: with such a complex signal path, there
are several places where poor gain-staging decisions on the user’s part
can cause unpleasant clipping artifacts, especially if you apply ample
doses of feedback, resonance, FM, and/or distortion. The solution is
usually to lower the levels in the mixer section.
The Xenophone comes with its dedicated software, which you
can download from the company’s website. With an instrument that’s so
totally editable from the front panel and 896 memory slots for patches, I
don’t use it much. If you’re concerned with DAW integration, however,
it lets you automate every parameter in the Xenophone engine (both MIDI
CCs and NRPNs) from your host software.
When a new synthesizer comes out from a country that
wasn’t previously known for making electronic instruments, I’m always
curious and excited, and the Hypersynth Xenophone is no exception.
Persian developer Hypersynth was previously known for their software
instruments and editors, and this monophonic analog synth module is
their first hardware offering. As we’ll see, it offers a lot of
sound-shaping power and a unique sonic character for the price.
Some on the Internet have cleverly observed that the
Xenophone has a sound reminiscent of vintage Italian synths such as the
Elka Synthex or Crumar Spirit. I find this to be true enough, but the
Xenophone can also show a darker side of its soul. With its wide choice
of waveforms, the robust and beefy filter resonance, and a vast array of
modulation routings, it seems well suited to large, generous timbres.
Brassy CS-80-like sounds are easy to achieve. In addition, the
distortion section, the more complex filter combinations, the ring
modulators, and so on seem perfect for programming more “acidic” sounds.
Several of the preset patches seem to lean in that very direction,
especially when the arpeggiator/sequencer kicks in.
The Xenophone has lots to offer to the synth-obsessed
electronic musician. It can sound both vintage and modern, and its
architecture allows a great deal of flexibility at a very interesting
price. Of course, you have to like its basic sound quality; which, if
forced to try and give a short definition, I would call “clear and
tight.” Then there’s the price: It’s not be the cheapest monophonic
analog synth out there, but it’s far closer to that end of the price
spectrum than to the expensive end.
Rich, clear analog sound with a serious personality. Huge
set of features with lots of modulation options. Good price/performance
Third oscillator can’t be used at the same time as noise
generator. Some aspects of the OS can be confusing. When used,
distortion tends to alter overall sound too much, even at low settings.
A very strong contender in the crowded “modern mono”
market, with a powerful sound and great features at a very attractive
flat sides: $899 direct | angled sides: $922 direct | shipping to USA: $85