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IK Multimedia Syntronik Virtual Instrument 

Episode V: The Analog Strikes Back

 

by Craig Anderton

 

 

To say this virtual instrument is an “ambitious” attempt to assemble and organize a comprehensive library of synthesizer sounds would be an understatement. But it also delivers exceptional value. For $199.99, you receive almost 50 GB of samples, over 2,000 editable instrument presets, and a veritable “greatest hits” of synthesizer sounds—all wrapped up in a logical, efficient browser and user interface.

 

What’s more, a free version is also available, as are 17 expansion packs as of this writing. These are grouped by instrument, and each one costs $49.99. So if you’re already loaded up with virtual analog synths, but need to fill in a gap or two, you can do so…sort of like assembling a vintage synth museum on the installment plan (there are audio/video demos on IK’s site to help you decide which would be most useful in your studio).

 

Unlike the source instruments in the first image, you never need to use contact cleaner with Syntronik

 

What You Need to Know

 

  • A free version is available so you can explore the basics, and you getuseful sounds as part of the deal. You can add on to this with expansion packs.
  • Depending on how much content you want, downloading and installing can take quite a bit of time—like a few hours. However, a version is available that ships on a USB stick; this adds $30 to the base price, but saves  installation time.
  • As to the synth architecture, there are four “Parts” so you can layer up to four synths.
  • There are five main Syntronik sections: Browser, Synth Panel, Layer Panel, Effects Panel, and Arpeggiator.
  • The Browser is the “front end” for a database that filters presets for category, source instrument, timbre, style, music genre, and mood—all of whose tags you can modify with a “Save As”—as well as a user category to enter your own key words, and the option to tag presets as “favorites.” I figured the best way to test this would be looking for particular sounds for songs; maybe I was just lucky, but it was easy to find the kind of sounds I wanted quickly.

The Browser has four sections: a scrollable list of the instruments, filters for search, available presets, and a thumbnail description of the selected preset.

 

  • The Synth Panel is where you edit synth parameters for one of the 17 instruments that’s the basis of the selected preset. These represent 38 different synths and string machines. Note that you can mix and match different oscillators and filters for added flexibility.

The Galaxy synth is how Syntronik represents the gone-but-not-forgotten Alesis Andromeda.

 

And of course, no synthesis collection would be complete without a nod to Dr. Moog.

 

  • The Layer panel provides splits, layer overlaps, stacks, etc. for the four parts.

Here's the Layer panel.

 

  • Each Part has a comprehensive effects section, with up to five effects (derived from AmpliTube and T-RackS) per Part. You choose from 4 amps, 6 distortion, 6 dynamics/EQ, 12 modulation processors, 6 reverb/delay, and 4 filters. Unlike the hardware synths of yore that often had sketchy onboard effects, these are excellent and useful.

Did someone say...effects? You have plenty of options.

 

  • As to the Arpeggiator panel, this is helpful for stand-alone use, or if your DAW doesn’t have integrated arpeggiation. In addition to saving patterns with instrument presets, you can save them to call up in any preset. Extra features like playing a chord on each step instead of individual notes, and velocity for each step, make this somewhat of an overachiever.

The arpeggiator adds considerable flexibility, particularly because you can also save arpeggiator settings independently of presets.

 

  • The interface is painless and more or less resizeable (i.e., it can’t go any smaller than a particular size). I was selecting synths, editing them, adding effects, and more before remembering it’s kind of a good idea to look over the manual (PDF, 105 pages).
  • IK touts their DRIFT technology as adding subtle variations to replicate analog synth drift. While not the first instrument to add subtle, analog-style randomization, it remains a welcome addition.
  • In addition to MIDI learn for instrument parameters, you can map CCs to functions like Browsing, loading instruments, and selecting Parts. MIDI assignments are unique for each part, so one CC could control different parameters in different synths.
  • Instruments load quite fast; by and large, they’re not memory hogs.
  • The sounds can also load into SampleTank 3.

 

LIMITATIONS

 

  • MIDI Learn is limited to MIDI continuous controllers. Syntronik does not respond to aftertouch or polyphonic aftertouch.
  • The layers are not multitimbral; they respond to a single MIDI channel. However, if you have SampleTank 3 you can load Syntronik instruments into it and trigger them over the MIDI channels of your choice.
  • The synth control panels aren't 1:1 copies of the originals. For example, the Minimod doesn’t provide white noise as an audio output, or allow for an audio input. However, it does offer 7 filter types with 4 filter modes and 4 filter slopes, so the "mix and match" possibilities can give you more flexibility than the original.

 

 

CONCLUSIONS

 

There’s something about Syntronik that’s very smooth and easy. Although it’s faithful to the analog vibe and sound, this isn’t about 100%, “down-to-the-last-dial” emulations. Instead, Syntronik is a curated, “greatest hits” of analog synthesis where the browser and patches are the stars of the show because of their ease of use, but the editing panels get “supporting actor” credit because they let you tweak controls for your specific sonic needs.

 

As to the cost, while the ability to get the free version and add expansion packs is helpful for those on a budget, if you end up buying four expansion packs to accessorize the free version you might as well have saved up to buy the full version.

 

Overall I was impressed not only by Syntronik's design, but by the realistic nature of the samples. Having a great collection of effects also means you can “master” the sounds for specific musical contexts. But perhaps  Syntronik’s strongest attribute is focus. It gives the sounds you want, when you want them, and the sound quality is excellent. As mentioned earlier, maybe I just got lucky...but when I wanted a sound, not only could I find it fast, I usually didn’t even feel compelled to edit it. IK has done a fine job of putting together a streamlined, accessible, yet comprehensive collection of the world’s most iconic synthesizer sounds.  -HC-

 

Resources

Syntronik landing page (with link to download Syntronik Free)

Syntronik instrument expansion packs

Introductory video:

 

Syntronic is available from:

 

IK Multimedia

Sweetwater

Reverb

  

 

 Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.

 

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