I first noticed the Sledge a couple
of years ago at the NAMM Show. It was hard to miss thanks to its Tonka-yellow
livery. At the time, I thought it was a decent sounding virtual analog synth,
but given its nearly 2,000-dollar price, I was more interested the real analog
gear on display. Now the improved Sledge 2.0 has arrived with a street price
just under an even grand, so it’s time to give it another spin. Like the
original (reviewed Nov. ’13), the Sledge 2.0 sports a Waldorf-designed
synthesis engine, but with more polyphony, expanded features, and user sample
import via USB.
Love or hate the cosmetics, the
Sledge 2.0 is actually a very nicely designed synth. Its most impressive aspect
is its large array of front-panel knobs and switches. In fact, almost
everything (except the MIDI and arpeggiator features) is available for
real-time tweaking. This is one of the biggest draws for me as a synth player
and, in practice, it makes sound design and patch editing quite enjoyable.
What’s more, the knobs are rather substantial in size, with important knobs
like filter cutoff and wavetable selection even larger.
The casing is
plastic, which makes the Sledge surprisingly lightweight. Even so, it feels
quite sturdy. All I/O is on the left cheek: USB, MIDI, expression and sustain
pedal inputs, stereo outs, and a headphone jack. I found this easier to manage
than reaching around back of the unit during setup, but you’ll need to do some
cable management if placing the Sledge on a tier above another keyboard.
The signal path
is straightforward: three oscillators feed a multimode filter followed by an
amp, with three LFOs and a standard complement of effects at the end of the
All three oscillators include saw,
square, triangle, sine, and variable pulse as their core waveforms, but each
also has individual extras, giving the synth a much more complex sound than
several of its competitors.
also offers wavetable synthesis, with scanning through the table handled by the
same knob that controls pulse width. Many of the wavetables are derived from
the PPG Wave, a really nice inclusion for vintage buffs. Newer tables are
thanks to Waldorf’s participation. While many of the wavetables sweep smoothly,
some include a touch of the zippering found in the original PPG. It was great
to hear some of these classic morphing textures on a modern synth and it’s a
fantastic resource for sound design.
also includes multisampled piano, Rhodes, Wurly, Clavinet, acoustic bass, and a
small selection of odd but useful drum loops. All of these sampled instruments
have a late-’90s workstation vibe, but sound fine and would definitely work in
a pinch. Studiologic informs us these are demo sounds and that new sounds will
be downloadable from their website.
As an added
bonus, you can now load your own sample data into oscillator 1 over USB via a
free downloadable app called Spectre. The user-accessible sample memory is a
mere 60MB. That’s tiny by today’s standards, but the intent is for your samples
to be raw materials for synthesis, not your go-to acoustic instrument
and 3 include FM, with oscillator 2 modulated by oscillator 1 and oscillator 3
modulated by oscillator 2—and the results are even more dramatic when both oscillators are in FM mode. In
addition, oscillator 2 can also be hard-synced to oscillator 3 for those edgy,
combination of virtual analog, wavetable, sampling, FM, and sync gives the
Sledge 2.0 oscillator bank loads of sonic horsepower, and it’s capable of
everything from traditional analog textures to extremely nuanced digital
Filter and Amp
The Sledge 2.0’s multimode filter
includes lowpass, bandpass, and highpass modes and a choice of 12dB or 24dB
slopes. The resonance sounds quite juicy at medium settings and will self-oscillate—loudly—at
maximum. There’s also a Drive knob for adding a bit of distortion.
The filter has
a dedicated ADSR envelope, with intensity controlled by a bipolar Amount knob.
Interestingly, I heard audible zippering—from turning the Amount knob, not
the envelope stages themselves. In 2015, this surprised me. Then again,
envelope amount isn’t usually something you reach for in live performance, so
you’ll likely notice this only when tweaking patches.
The amp section
includes an ADSR envelope and a Velocity knob, and that’s it. At first, it
looked as though the only parameter you could modulate via velocity was volume,
but the most recent firmware adds filter cutoff as well—though this is
not clearly documented.
The Sledge 2.0’s modulation section
includes assignments for three LFOs, one of which is controlled by the mod
wheel. The LFOs offer the expected waveforms—saw, square, sine, triangle,
and sample-and-hold—and can be routed to oscillator pitch (in various
combinations of oscillator groupings), filter cutoff, volume, or
pulse-width/wavetable, and the depth knob is bipolar. As a group, these LFOs
are capable of adding some lovely animation to filter sweeps and pulse width
modulation. For wavetables, it gets trickier, as some of the zippering
artifacts become more pronounced when modulated by the LFO.
another option called “ramp.” At first I thought this might be an alternative
sawtooth until I realized it only cycles once then stops. That is, it’s an
adjustable one-shot slope that can be applied to parameters instead of the LFO.
This a funky yet essential addition, in light of the fact that neither of the
Sledge 2.0’s filter or amp envelopes can modulate additional parameters.
At the end of the chain are two
effects units. The first slot is for effects like chorus, flanger, and phaser,
and the chorus sounds especially nice on heavily detuned oscillator
configurations. The second effect unit is capable of delay and reverb at once,
both of which are one-knob affairs.
Also on hand
are niceties like single and multiple envelope triggering, glide being
available in both mono and poly keyboard modes, and a fat unison option. More
importantly, you can now quickly set up splits and layers for live gigs.
There’s a two-part maximum, but the old Sledge couldn’t do it at all. Also, an
arpeggiator can sync to external tempo via MIDI or USB. Finally, a free desktop
app called Sound Mapper serves as a basic patch librarian.
Over several days of testing, I
really grew to like the Sledge 2.0’s character and versatility, and was able to
quickly whip up fresh new sounds thanks to the front panel with its comfortably
oversized knobs. Its oscillator bank is capable of an astonishing range of
virtual analog as well as unashamedly digital textures, many of them massive.
The paucity of modulation routings is offset by the presence of three LFOs,
which combined offer a lot of animation possibilities. It’s also a baby PPG if
you’re a fan of classic ’80s sounds.
story here, though, is polyphony for the buck. The Sledge 2.0’s 24 voices are
more than what any real analog polysynth offers at any price, and competitive
virtual analog hardware starts at about $300 more (for a KingKorg) and goes up
from there. If your gig demands big chords, splits, and layers, this makes the
new Sledge a serious contender.
Three versatile oscillators with
virtual analog waves, digital wavetables, sampling, FM, and sync. Wavetables
are based on the vintage PPG Wave. Can load user samples. Knob-per-function
panel layout. Integrated effects. 24-voice polyphony.
Turning some knobs causes audible
zipper noise. Limited envelope modulation. Sample memory capped at 60MB.
Vast improvements over the original
Sledge make version 2.0 a bang-for-buck leader among “synthy” synths.
$1,799 list | $999.95 street | studiologic-music.com