As iPad CPU speeds increase, it becomes possible to
deliver truly breathtaking soft synths that are swiftly becoming
incredibly powerful. Long gone are the days of simple analog emulations
and clever samplers. In June 2014, we covered Waldorf’s shockingly
powerful Nave wavetable synth. This month, we’re taking a closer look at
Cakewalk’s new iOS port of their popular Z3ta+ plug-in.
For those of you who haven’t yet checked out the original
Z3ta+, here’s a summary of its extensive feature set. At the heart of
the sound engine is a group of six waveshaping oscillators, each capable
of generating a wide array of single-cycle waves ranging from replicas
of vintage analog waveforms to additive and PPG-like options. Now, six
oscillators is a lot to play with as a starting point, but Z3ta+
ratchets everything up a notch with tons of options for transforming
these waves via warping, twisting, overdrive and a slew of other unique
tools that mangle the results in highly musical ways.
UPDATE: As of August 15, 2014, Cakewalk has updated Z3ta+ for iPad with these new features
Things get even more interesting (and complicated) when
you delve into Z3ta+’s grouping options. Each oscillator can interact
with the following oscillator in a variety of modes including FM, phase
modulation, hard sync, ring mod and a few others. These are set up in a
signal-processing loop, so that when you get to the end, oscillator 6
can then modulate oscillator 1. If this sounds a little like Dave
Smith’s Prophet 12, that’s because it is. It’s also reminiscent of Rob
Papen’s Blue soft synth. Regardless of these comparisons, the bottom
line is that this approach is absurdly powerful—and if you’re a sound
design nerd, you’ll be in heaven.
Each oscillator can feed a pair of filters in either
serial or parallel mode and the filter options are rather extensive as
well, with the usual collection of lowpass, highpass, bandpass, and
notch modes along with formant, comb, and a wonderful six-pole
(36dB-per-octave) mode that’s quite musical. Additional filter amenities
include resonance boost and limiting options (to help tame the results
of those resonant peaks, which is handy).
Matrix modulation amenities abound, with six envelopes,
six LFOs (with wonderfully complex waveform options), and an arpeggiator
that includes over 200 patterns, many of which are extremely melodic
Finally, there’s the now de rigueur assortment of
effects that rounds out pretty much every modern iOS synth. Distortion,
compression, EQ, delay, reverb, chorus, flanger, and phaser are all
present, with a nifty touch-based routing section that allows you to
rearrange the series of effects, greatly increasing their flexibility.
As for iOS connectivity, Audiobus, CoreMIDI, and inter-app audio routing
make Z3ta+ a team player for power users with complex iPad
In porting the Z3ta+ architecture to the iPad, Cakewalk
has added some really nice touchscreen optimizations. For example, you
can massage oscillator waveshaping with your finger and select envelope
curves by tapping on the appropriate segment. That said, with so many
deep synthesis tools, the user interface ends up feeling a bit cramped,
especially if you’ve got big fingers. Here’s hoping Cakewalk offers an
update with the option to double-tap on a synth module to expand it
on-screen for easier editing, because Z3ta+ is a real powerhouse.
PROS: Comprehensive waveshaping tools. Huge waveform palette.
Six each of oscillators, envelopes, and LFOs. Dual filters.
Comprehensive effects and processing.
CONS: All these features on one page makes the interface feel a tad cramped. Requires iPad 2 or newer.
Bottom Line: Next-level waveshaping synthesis for iPad users.
$19.99 | cakewalk.com