Review: SubLab, Hard Hitting Sub Bass

With great sound, powerful low-end, an intuitive interface and a very attractive price, Noah Pred found much to like about Future Audio Workshop's SubLab.  

Berlin’s Future Audio Workshop are renowned for their elegant, flexible, and highly powerful Circle2 virtual synthesizer. In a market flooded with new products on a near-weekly basis, FAW’s lengthy absence implied an exciting new product was on the way. Now, with their recent unveiling of SubLab, FAW have applied their distinctive aesthetic to a highly innovative take on subsonic synthesis.

Designed to satisfy a market niche with the emergent demand for melodic 808 kicks and sub-driven hooks, SubLab patches are constructed from three core layers: Synth, Sampler, and the proprietary, psycho-acoustically designed X-Sub.

The Synth layer offers a choice of four basic oscillator types: Sine, Triangle, Saw, and Square, which can be tuned by octave and semitone. Three ADSR envelopes are available for the Synth’s Volume, Filter, and Pitch, which are color-coded and visible simultaneously, overlapped. While this might seem confusing, it’s a simple yet brilliant innovation: being able to see the shape of a sound in all three domains at the same time makes sound design that much more intuitive. An in-line oscilloscope displays the resulting waveform, so long as the Synth’s mixer level is up.

The SubLab Synth section in focus, using a Triangle oscillator, with the Pitch envelope in focus.

The SubLab Synth section in focus, using a Triangle oscillator, with the Pitch envelope in focus.


SubLab’s oscillators sound every bit as pure and juicy as you might expect from FAW – but on their own, they may not offer the depth of texture modern producers require – which is where the Sampler layer comes in. A simple drag-and-drop interface allows for easy import of user samples – or you can choose from a selection of 250 onboard kick samples. The Sampler can track along with incoming MIDI, or remain triggered at a default pitch regardless of MIDI.

Samples can be looped for longer tonal textures, with Start and End points along with loop Start, End, and Xfade, and overall In and Out fades helping shape playback. Root note and octave are manually detected – a nifty feature to keep everything in tune – and can be manually adjusted, along with fine tuning. An Impact control adds harmonic excitation in the upper register, while a Delay of up to 99 ms can be applied for flam-style rhythmic effects.

SubLab’s Sampler section.

SubLab’s Sampler section.

Dedicated Low and High Cut sliders further contour the Sampler section, while a resonant Filter circuit featuring Low-, Band-, and High-Pass modes with optional key tracking can be applied to both the Synth and Sampler layers to varying degrees via individual amount controls. Before passing to the master output, a color-coded mixer blends the Synth, Sampler, and X-Sub together as desired.

SubLab’s Filter and Mixer.

SubLab’s Filter and Mixer.

The sumptuous X-Sub pushes SubLab into arguably uncharted territory. The “newly invented oscillator works as a sub-bass maximizer to achieve consistent, accurate and deep subs on any speaker system.” Think of it not unlike Waves’ MaxxBass or UAD’s Little Labs VOG, but built directly into a bass synth – in other words, right where you need it most.

Dividing the resulting sub harmonics output into Sub, from 30 to 65 Hz, and Main Bass from 65 to 260 Hz, you can adjust levels for each component – and slide the Main Bass harmonics control left or right to adjust the frequency range in focus. A display below shows the resulting X-Sub note triggered – generally, one octave below the incoming MIDI notes. The results are impressively thick, to put it mildly, even when used along, without any Synth or Sampler layers blended in.


SubLab’s unique Glide section features an adjustable curve and optional legato mode, with portamento time cleverly measured in musical intervals. As a result, even with just the Synth section engaged, SubLab can be deployed as a convincing monophonic bass synthesizer; just add a touch of resonant LP Filter Envelope to a Saw or Square wave for a surprisingly passable 303 emulation.

For additional grit, SubLab comes equipped with a Distortion circuit that can be applied independently to the Synth and Sampler sections, along with an overall Drive control. Four distinct modes offer a variety of flavors: Tube for valve warming, Grunge for rabid bite, Overdrive for a crunchy solid state circuit, and Darkdrive for a mellower distortion with deeper low-end focus. In-line Low and High Cut controls help tame the results. Given that it can be shaped fairly intricately and focused on just a specific layer of the sound, the Distortion circuit can add everything from a slightly more natural sound through subtle harmonic enhancement to howling maniacal intensity.

A Compressor circuit helps glue things together. Featuring not only real-time analysis to help set an optimal Threshold level, it allows for sidechaining the Sampler to the Synth layer, creating dynamically interactive sounds in a pinch. Combine this with the loudness maximizer built into the master output, and SubLab gives you plenty of dynamics control to boost levels and tame or emphasize transients as needed.

SubLab’s effects, with Distortion applied to the Sampler, and Compression applied to the Synth layer.

SubLab’s effects, with Distortion applied to the Sampler, and Compression applied to the Synth layer.

A width control beneath the master output spreads upper frequencies for welcome stereo enhancement while leaving crucial low frequencies focused in mono. SubLab’s color-coded spectrogram clearly displays the results of all three layers simultaneously, while hovering the mouse helpfully displays frequency in both Hz and corresponding MIDI note value – perfect for identifying and addressing any problematic tones that might arise.

The SubLab spectrogram with -4.2 of gain applied to the Maximizer along with a touch of width.

The SubLab spectrogram with -4.2 of gain applied to the Maximizer along with a touch of width.

Taking a quick tour through the wealth of included sound packs shows the versatility of SubLab. With more packs on the way, it’s interesting to note you can grab new packs online directly via the interface from the Settings menu – which also grants direct access to the included kick samples, painstakingly recorded from Roland’s TR-707, TR-808, and TR-8, Dave Smiths’ Tempest, Waldorf’s Blofeld, Korg’s Volca Kick, Jomox, and more.

While SubLab doesn’t feature the LFO or other modulation one might expect with a Bass genre-focused instrument, there’s no question it delivers all the low-end you might need, and then some. Ostensibly designed to provide trap producers with their fix of tuned 808s, SubLab goes above and beyond with some truly unique features that should interest electronic producers of all stripes – especially at its affordable price-point. If your kicks and bass lines just aren’t cutting it, SubLab’s depth-charged low-end is definitely worth a try.

Price: $70 USD / $40 USD Introductory Pricing

Pros: Fantastic sound, powerful low-end, intuitive interface, great price.

Cons: Limited modulation options (ie., no LFO), no Frequency Modulation, no bit-crushing option in the Distortion circuit.


Learn more about bass synthesis:

Noah Pred is a Canadian record producer, sound designer, technologist, DJ, and Ableton Certified Trainer living in Berlin, Germany. Releasing dozens of records and touring extensively since the '90s, he currently teaches a wide variety of techniques for stage and studio at the BIMM Institute. For more information, please visit: http://... Read More


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