Talk to an organ enthusiast long enough and you might hear this chestnut: “The Hammond was the first additive synthesizer.” This is true in a foundational sense: You could blend nine drawbar harmonics into an overall tone, albeit without control over synthesis essentials such as envelopes, filtering, or base waveforms. (Pipe organs did pretty much the same thing as early as the 13th century.)
But what if a software instrument took this concept literally and expanded the classic drawbar architecture into a true synthesizer with robust sound-morphing and modulation capabilities? You’d have Revival.
Four sets of drawbars form the core of Revival, but they play different roles from the four sets you’d find on a B-3 or similar console organ. There’s an Attack set, two main sets (Primary and Secondary), and a Release set. These morph into each other as you play, and the default (but changeable) behavior is this: The Attack’s drawbar registration is the first thing you hear when your fingers strike the keys, coming in according to an attack knob and then morphing into the Primary set.
Then the Primary and Secondary sets can be blended in a crossfader area. Lift a finger from the keyboard, and the Release drawbar combo takes over before fading to silence. All this envelope behavior is triggered independently per note. The Primary/Secondary crossfade works manually or via one of six hands-free options, which cover several one-way and back-and-forth behaviors. The fade rate is adjustable in Hertz, but not syncable to host tempo. This is odd, as I could see instances where you might want to ping-pong between Primary and Secondary sounds in sync with your project’s rhythm. The workaround here is to use manual mode and automate Revival’s X-Fade knob in your DAW.
Revival’s sound-shaping options go much deeper, but since it’s an organ-based soft synth, let’s first put the basics into organ terms. Skilled Hammond players sometimes work the drawbars and expression pedal as they play to create fades and harmonic shimmering. Imagine that happening in sync with your key-ons, sustained passages, and key-offs, with nine extra fingers to handle the drawbars, and you get the idea. Make that ten fingers, because Revival adds a drawbar to the usual organ complement—the seventh harmonic, located between the 1-1/3' and 1' drawbars.
Waveforms and Modifiers
Here’s where Revival really turns into a synthesizer. Each drawbar section can employ one of 17 waveform sets including pure sine, tonewheel and transistor organs, white and resonant noise, sawtooth, square, and triangle among them. If different drawbar sections use different waveforms, the morphing and crossfading works in parallel with the drawbar settings themselves.
The Modifiers have 14 options each, including low-, high-, and bandpass filters with various cutoff slopes; FM options that apply fixed and variable ratios; and a simple gain-booster. The depths of whatever Modifiers you’re using can, in turn, be modulated using the Animators, which amount to an envelope or LFO turning each Modifier’s Amount knob; 22 shapes are on hand here.
Now things get seriously surgical. Every drawbar section can use three Modifiers, each of these with its own settings. Furthermore, you can handpick which drawbars each Modifier affects by toggling the little dots above the drawbars. (The other little dots below these are drawbar solo buttons.) In theory, you could carve any drawbar set into three subgroups with subtle Modifiers on some and more aggressive ones on others, all happening inside of the overall movement between drawbar sections. Two further controls over each Modifier’s response are a Velocity knob and the Note Map slider, which adds keyboard tracking that can favor any key range.
All this adds up to mind-bending potential for harmonic variation and motion within a single preset. Be aware that some of the FM Modifiers can detune harmonics such that some drawbars play the “wrong” frequency in organ terms.
Voicing, Effects, and Rotary
The Voicing pane handles settings that affect all drawbar sections globally. Overtone selects tuning temperaments while Overlay covers different vintage organ traits such as foldback (recycling of high and low frequencies at the extreme ends of the keyboard), and whether harmonic percussion speaks on the first or every note and/or “steals” the 1' drawbar. (To set up the pitch and level of the harmonic percussion, you co-opt the Attack drawbars.) Key-click options live here, as do portamento, vibrato, and chorus.
The five multi-effects include a preamp, phaser, mod filter, reverb, and delay with stereo ping-pong capability. These sound very good, with the preamp being your source of any desired overdrive and the phaser being especially sweet. From the PDF manual, it seems like the mod filter’s rate is the only Revival parameter that syncs to host tempo. My tests confirmed this.
A separate rotary effect offers 15 models running a gamut of ostensible Leslie and guitar cabinet sims and stereo mic angles. Anything you might expect from a dedicated high-end simulator is present and adjustable, including separate rotor speeds and even belt tensions. Most importantly, it sounds authentic. If you’re content to source your organ from software, you could use just the Attack, Primary, and Rotary sections in Revival to get a “straight clone” sound that really does the job.
Sounds and Use
From what I’ve written so far, seasoned synth geeks might imagine organ drawbars spliced into a PPG spliced into a DX7—and yes, many of the patches sound like that. But Revival is so much more. Owing to the waveform selection, it can sound credibly virtual analog, though its interface probably wouldn’t be your first choice for quick subtractive sound design. That said, it dished up some positively gorgeous Eminentstyle strings and pads, for example, as well as wormy sawtooth leads and basses ranging from analog-rubbery to digital chainsaw.
One unexpected twist was that being able to control how the Primary and Secondary drawbar sets interacted (along with the Modifiers and Animators therein) translated quite well into mimicking the Yamaha CS-80, whose dual sound layers happen to use a superficially organ-like interface. That’s not exact, but when programming, that’s what popped into my head.
Other than the paucity of tempo-sync functions, my main operational complaint is that, although all of Revival’s parameters are available for DAW-based automation, there is no quick MIDI learn, as in “click something onscreen and grab a knob on your controller.” Instead, parameters respond to factory-set MIDI CC messages, listed in the PDF manual. So if you want to tweak sounds or record automation passes from a MIDI controller, make sure it is programmable enough to transmit the required CCs.
Revival is possibly the most pleasant soft-synth surprise I’ve come across in the past five years. It’s a multi-stage morphing organ with enough waveforms, modulation, and control stuffed into each stage to be far more flexible than a first glance lets on. I heard it sound like a B-3. I heard it sound like an analog synth. I heard it sound like wavetable and vector synths. I heard it blend and morph these characters in a way that usually takes stacking different plug-ins or reaching for a hardware workstation that has multiple synth engines—and definitely takes more than $99.
Revival is just weird enough that you should see if its “thinking” is a good fit for you, so be sure to download the free demo. Weird instruments often pull ideas out of us that familiar tools don’t, and Revival unfailingly did so for me.
PROS Unique four-stage drawbar synth. Multiple waveforms, filters, and modulation sources can be applied to individual drawbars or subsets. Surprising sonic flexibility with great sound quality across patch categories. Doubles as an excellent “straight” clonewheel.
CONS No stand-alone version. No quick MIDI learn. Host tempo sync is all but non-existent.
A unique hybrid of organ and synthesizer, and a virtually bottomless sound design tool.