Since their introduction back in 1996, Waldorf’s original
Pulse and Pulse+ synths have become collector’s items. With three
oscillators, a beefy lowpass filter, and some exotic cross-modulation
options, the original Pulse synths had an aggressive, punchy sound that
cut through a mix and were therefore loved by the early-’90s rave scene.
Now that Waldorf is back, it was only a matter of time before they
released a more modern edition of this beefy monophonic synth.
PROS: Beefy, aggressive sound. Great sounding multimode filters
that can push near to self-oscillation. External input for processing
audio. Paraphonic mode for simple eight-voice polyphony.
CONS: Parameter grid doesn’t allow custom assignment of knobs.
Bottom Line: An aggressive analog hybrid synth with a ton of useful amenities.
$849 list | $799 street | waldorfmusic.de
The Pulse 2 keeps the original’s grid-plus-knobs approach
to navigating parameters. Over the past few years, I’ve been spoiled by
my one-knob-per-function collection of analog synths, but as the Moog
Phatties and several Dave Smith synths show, this approach is easy to
adopt. In fact, since Waldorf has sensibly arranged the parameters
according to synthesis function, the only thing I really missed was
being able to adjust the decay, release, and cutoff simultaneously.
The Pulse 2’s oscillators are analog but digitally
controlled, which allows them to do some interesting tricks that purely
analog oscillators simply can’t. Digitally controlled oscillators (DCOs)
are extremely stable in terms of tuning, which means that they’re
fantastic for bass, with none of the phase issues that often happen when
using multiple analog oscillators for a bass patch. Of course, you
trade away some of the organic chaos that true VCOs deliver. That’s not
to say that these oscillators sound subpar at all. But it does make
Pulse 2’s overall character more authoritative in some ways, if a wee
bit static in others.
Now, as to those nifty tricks that straight-up analog VCOs
can’t do. There’s an “XOR” oscillator mode that, according to the
manual, produces “inharmonic spectra unlike anything associated with any
analogue synthesizer other than the original Pulse.” In practice, this
is a sophisticated cross-modulation feature. It really does give the
Pulse 2 a wider range of nasty sounds, especially in conjunction with
its ring modulation and new filter FM options.
The Pulse 2 can be switched to a “Unison 8” mode that
layers eight detuned pulse oscillators for super-fat lead sounds. Also, a
paraphonic mode allows for up to eight-note polyphony, but with the
trade-off that you get a single oscillator (with pulse waves only),
filter, and envelope. This and the unison mode sound amazing and are
incredibly useful, but if no one told me the Pulse 2 was analog, I’d
expect to find capabilities like these only in synths with at least one
digital oscillator, e.g., Waldorf’s own Rocket tabletop synth.
Filter and Modulation
The Pulse 2’s filters are distinctly analog, with options
for 24dB-per-octave lowpass as well as 12dB-per-octave modes for
lowpass, highpass, and bandpass. All filter modes are fully resonant.
Speaking of resonance, you can push these filters right to the edge of
self-oscillation for massive sweeps and whistling tones that sound
downright raucous when the oscillator FM is applied.
All the essential modulation sources are present and
accounted for, including amp and filter ADSR envelopes, as well as a
pair of LFOs with sine, triangle, square, sawtooth, and sample-and-hold
waveforms. LFO 1 can be clocked to tempo via standard MIDI or USB,
making rhythmic integration with your DAW a simple task.
All of these modulation sources, along with a collection
of MIDI controller options and velocity, can be assigned via an
eight-way modulation matrix, which allows for a ton of performance and
animation possibilities. The destination routings are similarly complex,
with every essential synth parameter covered.
At the end of the Pulse 2’s signal chain is a VCA that
includes a clever distortion effect that’s switchable between “tube” and
“fuzz.” Both of these emulations sound fantastically nasty in context
and really give the unit a distinctive sound compared to most of the
current generation of analog synths. There’s also a complex arpeggiator,
with step-sequencer functions such as accents, ties, and glide that
make it great for TB-303 emulations. While it’s a tad fiddly to program
these from the front panel, the results are well worth it.
The Pulse 2 includes stereo outs, MIDI I/O, USB, and a headphone jack.
In addition, a 1/4" audio input lets you route external signals into the
filter and amp sections for warming up tracks in your DAW or more
dramatic effects. A pair of CV and gate outputs can function in either
volt-per-octave or Hertz-per-octave mode, making the Pulse 2 compatible
with wide variety of analog gear. Waldorf’s attention to detail here is
I was extremely impressed with the Pulse 2 and its beefy
sound. Analog purists may huff at the DCOs, but the fact that the Pulse 2
is capable of paraphonic polyphony makes it one of the few analog-based
polysynths on the market today, which is quite a distinction in itself.
The Waldorf filters sound great and can process external audio—another
big plus. Plus, its CV/gate outs let it convert both MIDI and modulation
sources to analog voltages, making it a possible bridge between your
computer and modular worlds. For $800 street, the Pulse 2 is packed with
more than enough synthesis resources to earn a place in your analog