Waldorf has a long and distinguished history as a builder of highly desirable hardware synths.Largo bundles the synth engine from their Blofeld (reviewed May ’08) with features and sounds from their earlier synths, into a soft synth.
Largo is four-way multitimbral, so you can insert it once and sequence separate lead, bass, pad, and whatever on MIDI channels 1 through 4, or layer all four sounds. Each part has its own dual effects processors, three-band EQ, and arpeggiator. Setting up independent arpeggios on the four parts is a quick path to Largo rhythm bliss. The voicing (again, separate for each part) includes three oscillators, two filters, four envelopes, three LFOs, and plenty of modulation routings.
At the risk of writing an old-school, lab coat-wearing Keyboard review, there’s not much to talk about in Largo other than voicing parameters, so let’s dive in.
Oscillators. The first two oscillators use high-quality versions of the original digital wavetables from the PPG and its successors, including the Waldorf MicroWave and Q. There’s none of that eight-bit PPG grunge, though — sweeping the wavetable is super-smooth. There are upwards of 60 wavetables, each with 128 waves. By sweeping through a wavetable (under envelope or LFO control, for instance) you can create analog-style pulse width modulation or much broader harmonic changes.
Like other Waldorf wavetables, Largo’s all have identical, virtual analog waves (sawtooth, triangle, and so on) in the top six positions. This design made sense in the old days, but it makes less sense today except to nostalgia buffs. It’s confusing, because if the wavetable position parameter is set to one of those top six waves, switching to a new wavetable won’t change the sound.
The third oscillator is strictly a saw/sine/pulse/triangle model. Oscillator 2 can be synced to oscillator 3. To produce those classic sync sweeps, use the modulation matrix to control oscillator 2’s pitch.
Each oscillator’s output can be panned between filters 1 and 2. Other oscillator features include good-sounding FM, a ring modulator, sub-oscillators (sawtooth only) for oscillators 1 and 2, and fractional keyboard tracking. The noise source is separate from the oscillators, and has its own color, level, and filter pan controls.
Filters. The two filters can operate in series or in parallel, and they’re basically identical. They can self-oscillate at high resonance settings, but you should turn down the output knob before trying this — don’t do it while wearing headphones! Each filter has two dedicated inputs for cutoff modulation, one of which can receive an audio-rate signal from an oscillator. This is a luxury feature — one found on real analog synths but often omitted on virtual “analog” clones.
Filter drive types include tube distortion, hard clipping, and a couple of options called “pickup.” The variety of tones you can get by cranking up both the drive and the resonance is spectacular — and don’t forget to try patching the filters in series and using drive on both of them at once. Modes include 12dB- and 24dB-peroctave high-, low-, bandpass, and notch, plus comb filtering.
Envelopes. Two of the envelopes are dedicated to filter cutoff and amplitude, respectively, but all four can be used as modulation sources to drive other parameters. The envelope generators offer a choice of several modes — classic ADSR, six-segment, one-shot, and looping. The envelope shape graphics are small, but they can be edited with the mouse, as can the filter response contours. You can switch between multiple- and single-trigger modes, but this only works in monophonic mode.
LFOs. They’re syncable to host tempo, of course. The choice of waveforms is basic, but includes delay, fade-in/out, and phase settings, and a “free” mode that lets the LFO run continuously without re-triggering from the start at each note-on. LFO 3 can work as a step sequencer with up to 16 editable step levels. There doesn’t seem to be an easy way to constrain these to equaltempered half-steps when modulating oscillator pitch from LFO 3; for that, the arpeggiator is a better choice.
Modulation Matrix. Largo gets full marks in the modulation department. In addition to many dedicated front-panel sliders, it sports a matrix with 16 routings. The depth of the first four routings can be modulated for secondary effects, such as controlling LFO depth from an envelope. In addition, four modulation processors can perform a few operations (min, max, multiply, add, subtract, and so on) on two inputs. The outputs of these processors can then be used as mod inputs elsewhere.
Arpeggiator. Largo’s arpeggiator has a strong array of useful features. You can program loops of up to 16 steps. For each step, you can control the velocity, the duration, and the start time offset. The interface for doing these edits is rather fiddly — you have to click and drag in a tiny gray rectangle with the mouse — but it does work. Each step can also be a rest.
The usual directions (up, down, up/down, etc.), sort orders, step rhythm values, and octave range choices are provided. Both hold and one-shot modes are available, plus a normal mode in which the arpeggio runs for as long as you’re holding down keys, then stops when you let off. A maximum notes parameter will remember up to the 16 most recent notes you’ve played.
The arpeggiator shows its prowess when several Parts are active. By creating different patterns for each Part, I was able to produce quite rich patterns. Read this review at keyboardmag.com to hear an MP3 file of this.
Effects. Each Part in Largo has its own pair of effects processors. The first processor can be a chorus, flanger, phaser, or overdrive; the second adds delay and reverb to the choices. I got a peek at the beta of version 1.03, which has an improved reverb. It sounds very, very rich. [Version 1.10, the final release of the beta we tested, is now a free download for registered owners. –Ed.]
The effects do the job nicely, but offer few surprises. You can automate the wet/dry mix or on/off state for each effect in each Part, but because the VST plug-in spec allows only 128 parameters to be automated per channel, Waldorf had to limit the automation inputs to the effects: Largo can only automate three parameters for the first processor, but eight for the second. If you choose a phaser for effect 1, for instance, its feedback amount can’t be automated. This is not a big deal, just a limitation to be aware of.
Largo worked very well on my PC. In Steinberg Cubase 4.5, fine control over the sliders with the mouse (done by holding down the shift key) was a bit awkward until I spotted the Control Mode menu in the Common area and switched to linear mouse control.
I loved the factory patches — they’re exciting, varied, and useful. Organizing sounds into program banks was both easier and more difficult than I expected. For one thing, Largo can’t load or save a single part of a multitimbral program, only the entire program. To set up, for instance, a bass on channel 1, a lead on channel 2, and a pad on channel 3, I had to use the “Copy Part” and “Paste Part” commands to juggle parts between programs.
Switching sounds within the current bank doesn’t lose the edits from the previous sound: All edits will still be there until you save the song, bank, or program. This is a good feature, but potentially hazardous, as you’ll be changing data in the loaded bank when you start trying out edits. Save a copy of the factory bank someplace safe, so you can get back to those sounds after you’ve done some editing.
The programs in the factory bank jumbled together in no detectable order. I tried using the “Sort by Category” command, but since the category indications aren’t displayed in the menu, this was less than effective. Numerous extra programs ship with Largo, but they’re not assembled into banks, so you have to load them one at a time.
There’s a lot to like about Largo. The sound is very warm and analog thanks to the great filters, yet the oscillators can also produce crystalline and aggressive digital tones. The clear, effective panel layout ensures that even beginning synthesists can jump in and edit sounds without cracking the manual. The arpeggiators are excellent for producing pulsing rhythm patterns. The bank and program loading and category sorting could be improved — but no matter. I’m jazzed to have the gorgeous Waldorf sound of the Blofeld, MicroWave, and Q hardware synths available as a very programmable plug-in.
Big sound. Four-way multitimbral per instance. Four independent arpeggiators and effects.
No keyboard zones for layers. Envelope single-triggering only works in mono mode.
$299.99 list/approx. $250 street, mvproaudio.com
The oscillators do virtual analog waves, PPG-style wavetable modulation, and FM.
Both resonant multimode filters feature overdrive.
Dedicated modulation inputs are horizontal sliders. The little triangle above each one opens a menu of modulation sources.
You select six sub-panels in the lower area with these buttons.
Four envelopes can be the familiar ADSR types, or more complex six-stage types, adding a second sustain level and decay stage just before it.
These buttons select from up to four multitimbral parts per instance of Largo.
NEED TO KNOW
What is it? A soft synth that incorporates Waldorf’s latest technology, plus features from hardware synths such as the Q virtual analog and MicroWave wavetable synths.
What types of synthesis does it do? Virtual analog, FM, and wavetable lookup modulation.
What’s wavetable synthesis? It’s when an oscillator can play through a long list of analog or digital waveforms in sequential fashion, producing complex harmonic changes you can’t get by other means.
How’s the filter? That’s filters — two of them. They can be warm, or they can scream.
Is it multitimbral? Yes. Four separate parts can be controlled on separate MIDI channels, or layered. Of course, you can also insert multiple instances in your host.
Copy protection? Syncrosoft eLicense per copy (no dongle required), or you can put the license on a Syncrosoft USB dongle (not included) to use Largo on multiple machines.