- The browser and main editing windows are
accessed with these buttons.
- Signals flow down; the oscillator modules are at
- Each oscillator can be followed by one or two
- Inactive modules are hollow.
- Here’s the filter mode pop-up menu.
- In the three master modules across the bottom,
the signal flows from left to right.
- Each module can have up to three small edit
windows, accessed by tabs.
- The effect module is so complex that it has its
own window of settings instead of packing them
- Mouse up or down on the little hexagons to
change the numbers.
Amazingly deep palette of cutting-edge
sounds. Unlimited modulation, including
a multi-segment envelope for each
parameter. Unique granular filter and
filter feedback processing. Waveform
designer. Intelligent patch generator.
Loads user samples.
User interface requires study. Factory
sample library can’t be installed to
external drive. Lacks standard effects
Some synthesizers are like great big
friendly puppies, all warm and snuggly and
panting to be played with. Absynth is not
like that. Absynth is scary. And that’s a
good thing. If your music cries out for edgy
sound design, the kind that leaves listeners
wide awake and a little nervous, Absynth
will do the job.
Version 5 doesn’t supply a huge raft of
new features, but then, Absynth 4
(reviewed Dec. ’07) was already richly
endowed. New in Absynth 5 are a granular
effect module called the Aetherizer, a preset
generator called the Mutator, new
Granular Cloud and Supercomb filter
modes, and the ability to insert waveshaping,
ring modulation, or a frequency shifter
into some of the resonant filters. Also,
there’s support for 64-bit processors in
Windows XP and Vista.
For those who just arrived, let’s take a quick
tour of Absynth before turning the spotlight
on the new features. The voice design is
semi-modular: You can use up to three
oscillators, each of which can send its signal
through two more processing modules
of your choice (filter, waveshaper, or ring
mod). The three signals are then summed
and sent through two more processing
modules, followed by an effect module to
finish off the signal path. There are 16 filter
modes and nine oscillator modes. The oscillators
will do both sample playback and FM,
and their audio input mode turns Absynth
into an effects processor.
Three LFOs can be assigned very flexibly.
You can also use a separate looping
multi-segment envelope for each parameter
if you need to, so the number of LFOs is
effectively unlimited. A handy utility is provided
for setting up rhythmic attack-release
envelope patterns, and each breakpoint of
an envelope can be modulated from a MIDI
controller. Surround mixing outputs, usertunable
scales, point-by-point editable keyboard
scaling curves, and other precision
tools are on call. You can design your own
waveshapes using the slick features in the
wave edit window, and use them in either
the oscillators or the LFOs. A built-in audio recorder is available in standalone mode, to
let you capture ideas on the fly
What Absynth lacks — by design — is
a standard multi-effects rack. Instead,
Absynth has one effect processor, which
can operate in any of half a dozen modes:
pipe, multicomb, multitap, echoes, resonator,
or Aetherizer. Basically, it’s a set of up to
six fast delay lines with various parameters
and modulation inputs. It will do phasing
and reverb, but even these “normal” effects
have an exotic edge.
Included with Absynth is a sample
library of about 1GB. Absynth isn’t supposed
to be a full-featured sampler: It
doesn’t do multisample key layouts, and
the loop editing is straight out of the ’80s.
The included samples are intended mostly
as attack transients and as sources for
granular synthesis. You can use your own
The sample library has to be installed on
your system drive. Since the C: drive on my
PC is nearly full, I used Absynth on my
MacBook Pro, as an AU insert in Ableton
Live 8. It was rock-solid: I encountered no
glitches of any kind.
Random patch generators have been around
since the late ’70s. The idea is to let the
machine stir the pot and come up with a
new sound that you can then fine-tune.
Absynth’s Mutator takes this to a higher
level. Using the built-in Browser, you select
a few attribute keywords — for instance,
sounds in the database that match “metallic”
and “processed.” This produces a list of
three to a few dozen patches.
You then adjust a pair of sliders to control
how much randomness you want, click
on oscillator and processor modules in a
little graphic diagram to include them in the
“mutation,” and click the Mutate button.
Absynth will combine your current patch
(which might be anything) with the patches
in the list. A row of macro knobs lets you
make basic adjustments without going over
to the edit pages.
A history stores all of the mutations
you’ve come up with, so you can save the
ones you like. They won’t all be winners, but I
came up with some great-sounding patches
using the Mutator — check out the audio
example at keyboardmag.com to hear them.
The Aetherizer (see Figure 1 above)
adds granular processes to Absynth. It
can add a subtle “cloudy” quality or spit
out sparse and randomly repitched snippets,
giving the input a glassy, robotic
sound. Grains are randomly positioned in
the stereo field for a spacious spread, and
if you turn on the surround panner, you can
control the spread’s width. You can’t control
grain attack and release times, but the
default grain envelope sounds great, with
Like Absynth’s other effects, the Aetherizer
has a single controller input for realtime
MIDI control. The depth with which this
affects eight separate Aetherizer parameters
can be adjusted, and the control input
can be inverted for any parameter. But having
this input on the Effect page itself is
just a convenience: In fact, all effect parameters
are available as MIDI destinations in
Absynth’s flexible Performance page. LFOs
and envelopes can also modulate any
effect parameter. I got an evocative tone by
modulating grain transposition from one
LFO and grain duration from another LFO
at the same time.
FILTER FEEDBACK FUN
The ability to insert a waveshaper,
frequency shifter, or ring modulator into a
filter’s feedback (resonance) loop is
unique. Other than Reaktor, I can’t think
offhand of another synth that will do this.
The results depend both on the waveform
used for modulation and the amount of
resonance. Turning up the resonance
strengthens the effect.
Using a square wave for shaping gave
me some tones reminiscent of soft sync.
Frequency-shifting at an extremely low
frequency produced bumpy gargling
noises. The ring modulation was more traditional-
sounding, but with a great ’50s
Absynth doesn’t just generate sounds —
it evokes moods. If you want rich strings
and a mellow Rhodes for a pop ballad,
stay away! But if you’re doing film soundtracks
of almost any kind (not just sci-fi),
angst-ridden cyberpunk, or experimental
concerts in a loft or at a university,
Absynth is the secret weapon that will
make you truly dangerous. It’s really one
of a kind.
NEED TO KNOW
What is it?
A feature-rich soft synth
for sound design maniacs.
What types of synthesis does it
Virtual analog (with userdesignable
waveforms), FM, basic
sample-playback, and granular.
What do you get for filters?
different modes including comb and
allpass. Uniquely, you can insert a
waveshaper, frequency shifter, or ring
modulator in the filter feedback loop.
What effects are included?
effect module has a choice of six
modes, including a resonator,
echoes, pipe, and the new Aetherizer
Is it multitimbral?
No — each
instance can respond on only one MIDI
channel, and will load only one preset.
Mac or PC: standalone,
VST, AU (Mac only), RTAS.
authorization via Native Instruments
Service Center app (supplied).