Review: Tone 2 Icarus

Interesting combination of synthesis tools
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Interesting combination of synthesis tools
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Ever since Native Instruments introduced Massive in 2007, there’s been a steadily growing resurgence in wavetable synthesis in music ranging from pop, hip-hop and EDM to soundtracks and ambient music. While Tone 2’s products have something of a cult following in the hip-hop and European trance communities, they’re not as well known in the U.S. As a result, Icarus has flown under the radar.

In terms of synthesis tools, Icarus features vocoders, a wavetable design reminiscent of Xfer Records Serum’s tools, and a resynthesis mode that will be familiar to users of Wolfgang Palm’s newer products. These are all wrapped up in an interface that has most elements on one page, though in my tests, its responsiveness felt a tad sluggish at times. Because there is a lot crammed under the hood, we will take a high-level view of its features, here.

The oscillators are based on a set of 50 wavetables that can be customized using a secondary wavetable editor. These do all of the usual tricks and include both hard-edged and crystalline options, along with classic analog-style fare. As with almost every element in the synth, there are pull-down templates for tuning, hyper-wave (supersaw) effects and a variety of “morphing” algorithms that waveshaping fans will immediately recognize.

Icarus’s vocoding tools let you import a WAV file, which is then used as the modulator for one of five vocoding carrier options, ranging from classic polyphonic sawtooth to legato solo templates. In this case, the oscillator wave and morph knobs control sample start and vocoder formant, respectively (though the labels don’t change to reflect this, sadly).

Going beyond wavetables and vocoding, the resynthesis tools are good for experimentation. I tried pianos, vocals, and drums, which were quickly sliced into a wavetable, then automatically played via instant LFO assignment to scan the wavetable (see my March 2016 Sound Design column on creating wavetables from samples). The feature can be useful in conjunction with Icarus’ array of filtering options, which includes an assortment of formant vowels and physical modeling resonant curves in addition to the standard multimode options.

Modulation tools include four envelopes, three LFOs and a step-sequencer that can be assigned to a variety of synthesis parameters or combined using secondary matrices. While the LFO waveshapes can be customized with a mouse, the envelopes rely on knobs, despite their graphic display. Assignments are handled via the mod matrix, which can be a bit tedious if you’re used to modern drag-and-drop interfaces—especially when setting up performance controls like mod wheel, aftertouch and velocity for your keyboard controllers.

As you would expect, the end of the audio chain provides an array of effects including reverbs, delays, modulation and distortion/mangling tools. There is also an EQ and limiter to top things off, so you can get sounds to mix consistently in a live performance rig. The overall sound of the effects is decent and there are a few gems in the saturation tools, if nasty and hard textures are part of your sound.

Icarus enters a busy market with features you may already have in your arsenal within other software instruments, but it’s neat to see everything in one place. While other softsynths have much more advanced drag-and-drop functionality, Tone 2’s collection of pull-downs for preset starting points helps in this area. (Drag-and-drop should be added by the time you read this.) That said, the preset collection works for hip-hop and trance, and there are numerous features to encourage sound designers. Download the trial version and give it a whirl.

Snap Judgment

PROS Wavetable, vocoding, and resynthesis oscillator modes. Extensive filtering options. Matrix modulation. Integrated effects.

CONS Inconsistent interface elements can be a bit confusing. Complex modulation assignments are more laborious than in other wavetable synths.

Bottom Line

Interesting combination of synthesis tools.