Best of 2014: Software Synths and Instruments

In probably our most challenging music gear roundup of 2014, we shine a light on 12 of our favorite software-based instrument and synth plug-ins reviewed this year. (In alphabetical order).  

1. AIR Music Tech Hybrid 3

If you’re a dance producer, composer, or DJ, you’ll likely be extremely interested in AIR Music Tech's Hybrid 3. It’s a synth that can fill many different roles as G. W. Childs discovers in our world-first review from 2014.

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Pros: The best instant gratification I’ve encountered in a synth in a long time. Fulfills many roles and is easy on the processor.

Cons: The setup was a little frustrating. Not a deal-breaker, however.

Price: $149.99

Web: http://www.airmusictech.com/product/hybrid-3#overview

2. Glitchmachines Polygon

Imagine having easy-to-use tools and content that could enable you to design your own sonic effects both easily and with a unique twist... stop imagining... Glitchmachines are here with Polygon.

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Price: $49 USD

Pros: A great sounds design tool and the supplied sample library is worth admission alone!

Cons: No Mod Wheel assignment. Some audio artifacts when using Square wave LFO.  

Web: http://www.glitchmachines.com/products/polygon/

3. iZotope BreakTweaker

The latest collaboration between famous Trance artist, BT and iZotope has caused quite a stir since its release. BreakTweaker was also featured in our NAMM 2014 Top 10 products and with good reason.

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Pros: An amazing sounding pattern-based sequencer with its own synths and sample playback instruments that makes very complex drum and synth edits so simple, a child could do it.

Cons: System intensive for older CPU processors.

Price: $249 (or $299 with 4 expansions).

Bottom Line: A game-changing beat generating/melodic instrument that will easily become first round plug-in pick, every time.

Web: http://www.izotope.com/products/audio/breaktweaker/

4. Madrona Labs Kaivo

Sometimes 'simple' is overrated. Especially in the world of granular synths, it can be more satisfying to spend time getting to know a synth in-depth as Noah Pred discovers with Madrona Labs' Kaivo.

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Price: $129.00

Pros: Elegant design, powerful modulation, unique strategy and one-of-a-kind sounds.

Cons: May require some quality time with the well-written manual before feeling like you're in control.

Web: http://madronalabs.com/products/kaivo

5. Komplete 10 Definitive Piano Collection

Three new sampled pianos were included in the recent Native Instruments Komplete 10 upgrade, and a fine collection they are indeed as Lynda Arnold discovers in our feature review.

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Price: Part of Komplete 10 and Komplete 10 Ultimate, $199 For Definitive Piano Collection and $99 each if purchased separately.

Pros: Stunning acoustic realism and detailed velocity response. Fantastic sound sculpting tools built right into the instrument.

Cons: RAM heavy instruments, especially when adding parameters or using in a large session.

Web: http://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/keys/definitive-piano-collection/

6. Native Instruments Polyplex

Since Twisted Tools' Ultraloop, the idea of manually programming drum patterns feels so antiquated. Now they've teamed up with Native Instruments to create Polyplex, an amazing 8-part drum sampler.

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Price: £59 / $69 / Available in Komplete 10 and Komplete 10 Ultimate

Pros: Affordable. Small footprint. Sounds awesome. Cutting edge kits and effects. Randomization of any or all parameters. Clever design. One-click sound creation. Deep editing if you want it. 

Cons: Using your own samples means a trip to Reaktor’s Sample Map Editor. 

Web: http://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/drums/polyplex/

7. Rob Papen Blue II

Rob Papen continues to raise the bar with his software synths and effects, from Predator to SubBoomBass, RP-Verb to RP-Delay. But how does the highly anticipated Blue II measure up?

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Price: €149 (inc. VAT) / $179 USD

Pros: Intuitive, attractive design. Fantastic sound. CPU-efficient. Huge wealth of oscillator, filter and effect options.

Cons: Oscillator ratios aren't available for automation. Doesn't make toast. Won't marry you.

Web: http://www.robpapen.com/blue2.html

8. Sample Logic XOSPHERE

Is Sample Logic XOSPHERE the new king of creating impressive sonic and musical atmospheres? Hollin Jones puts it to the test in our world first, in-depth review.

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Price: $299.99 USD

Pros: Stunning atmospheres. Near-infinite possible combinations of sounds. Animators add life and depth. Easy to learn. Perfect for film, TV and game sound design. 

Cons: FX are master only, you can’t process individual oscillators separately. 

Webhttp://www.samplelogic.com/products/xosphere

9. Sugar Bytes Egoist

We've already reviewed Sugarbytes' Egoist at AskAudioMag.com. However, it was so popular with us that Lynda Arnold also put finger to keyboard to explain just how cool this loop slicing tool is.

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Price: $99

Pros: Innovative Loop Slicing Tool. Great Programming Controls.

Cons: Bass sound programming is more challenging without EQ capabilities. 

Web: http://www.sugar-bytes.de/content/products/Egoist/

10. u-he Bazille

u-he are at it again with another excellent sounding synth at a great price. Noah Pred puts their digital modular beast, Bazille, to the test and finds lots and lots to like in this in-depth review.

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Price: $129 USD

Pros: Fantastic sound. Incredible routing. Great interface. Very good price.

Cons: Somewhat CPU intensive, particularly on older machines. Requires a bit of practice. Effects routing rather inflexible.

Web: http://www.u-he.com/cms/bazille

11. Waves Codex

Waves new synth, Codex, promises a new paradigm of sound generation, wavetable and subtractive synthesis elements, and a very clean sound. Does it deliver? Matt Vanacoro digs deep and finds out.

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Price: $200 USD

Pros: New paradigm of sound generation. Flexible wavetable element. Standard subtractive synthesis element. Very ‘clean’ sounding. Lots of diverse presets that truly show off its capabilities.

Cons: I would love it if the interface could be configured to be a bit larger at higher screen resolutions.

Web: http://www.waves.com/plugins/codex#

Video tutorials: https://www.askvideo.com/course/waves-302-codex-deciphered

12. Xfer Records Serum Synth

With the handful of wavetable synthesizer plug-ins available today, is Xfer Records’ Serum anything special, or just a massive carbon copy?

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Price: $189

Pros: What Xfer’s Serum manages to do is help you achieve effortlessly complex and intricate sound design with a level of fluidity we’ve not previously experienced. This is an incredibly powerful synthesizer which provides an ultra clean and unique sound with a complex yet simple to use modulation system. Accessibility through such a simplistic interface has been achieved with absolute grace. There really is no reason not to bag this V1 release. 

Cons: In future updates we’d like to have the ability to click and add shapes for LFO rhythm programming, be able to duplicate specific FX modules, have a larger wavetable set size, more oscillator routing options and infinite modulation assignments. 

No major cons here however, this is only our wishlist.

Web: www.xferrecords.com

Rounik is the Executive Editor for Ask.Audio & macProVideo. He's built a crack team of professional musicians and writers to create one of the most visited online resources for news, review, tutorials and interviews for modern musician and producer. As an Apple Certified Trainer for Logic Pro Rounik has taught teachers, professional... Read More

Discussion

AG
Serum is 189$, 129$ was an introduction price

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