Without a ton of fanfare, Waves recently released their first instrument called Element. Waves is known the world over for its indispensable collection of high-quality effects, but not so much in the virtual instrument world. With two oscillators, additional sub, noise and ring, a single multi-mode filter, 4 LFOs, 3 envelopes, a mod matrix, arpeggiator/sequencer and built-in FX/EQ, Element can produce a surprisingly diverse array of sounds. In this article I’ll be taking a quick look at this great sounding synth so read on.
Element’s two oscillators present a very convincing analog synth emulation. They sound nice and fat. Where some emulations fail to produce sound evenly across a wide key range, Element sounds great even when playing very low notes. Some synths focus more on punch with super fast envelopes and digital oscillators, Element strives to represent a genuine analog feel. That doesn’t mean there aren’t more modern functions too… OSC1 can be modulated with a sine wave allowing you to create a kind of analog distortion. You can really tighten up the sound too by switching the Oscillators into a DCO (digitally controlled oscillator) function… this is the analog equivalent of an “oscillator restart.” There’s also frequency modulation and Phase Modulation on OSC2 and Pulse Width control when using a square wave. Directly below the two main oscillators, you can add in nice sounding sub, noise, or ring oscillators. The blend for OSC1 and OSC2 are in this area also.
The virtual voltage controlled filter is smooth and gets the job done well. Everything you’d expect from a high-quality multi-mode filter is here like type selection (Low Pass, High Pass, Band Pass and Band Reject), and slope options, but there’s also a frequency modulation knob that grits up the filter in a very musical way by using OSC1’s selected waveform as the carrier. The filter’s envelope is also conveniently located directly below the filter for easy shaping. It’s great when a hardwired envelope like this is located near the filter… you’re reminded of how easy it is to put a bit of motion on a sound. You also have control over how much the envelope has an effect on the filter with the ENV knob, there’s a Shape knob for contouring the envelope, and more.
Element has three envelopes. Much like the one in the filter section, the main VCA envelope has the addition of a Punch button that puts a bit of snap at the heads of your notes. It seems like an odd addition, but it definitely needs this option to keep it in league with other instruments. The envelopes can also be re-triggered when the mono mode button is on in the additional oscillators and mix section. The third envelope is technically part of the Element’s modulation section and can be easily assigned to a destination in the Mod Matrix.
There are four LFOs in Element. Two are free and can be set to very high rates, and two are tempo synchronized to each note press, based on your DAW’s tempo. Each has 6 different wave types. There’s also a 6 source Modulation Matrix that easily lets you assign LFO, a third envelope, MIDI controllers, and its built-in step sequencer to nearly any of Element’s parameters.
Not surprisingly, the built-in FX are great sounding but the options are a bit limited. It’s like Waves are reminding you to use their free standing effects over these! You get distortion, delay, chorus, reverb and a bit crusher. The delay being the most powerful, allows you to separately assign different tempo synchronized delay times to the left and right channels.
Element has a basic 16 step arp/sequencer. There are several modes like up, down, up/down, and more. Each step can be set to transpose up or down by up to two octaves. You can set the rate by tempo synchronized musical vales. There’s also a gate for controlling the length of the steps, and swing.
Here’s a sample I made with three instances of Element and no other effects besides a bit of compression on each one. The drums are from NI Battery:
Element can be put into an “HD” mode that really shines up the analog feel. It’s like throwing a warm blanket on your sounds! There’s also portamento with legato, and every parameter can easily be “learned” to your MIDI controller by right-clicking. You can easily do a full reset for programming sounds from the ground up.
A single window gives you access to all parameters. As expected, Waves first dip into the virtual instrument world has given us a virtual analog synthesizer at the same quality level as their plug-in effects. Element pays mad respect to the past no doubt, but still gives you plenty of modern-ish functions like FM, tempo synchronized LFOs, switchable oscillator styles, a modulations matrix, and built-in EQ and FX.
It’s a bit simple, but to be expected for a synth called Element! There are noticeable clicks in sounds when played with flow filter settings. Just like an actual analog synth, it needs a bit of compression to compete with other louder soft-synths.