KEYTOSOUND Nexsyn 1.1r11

Software synthesizer
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Web Clips: Listen to audio examples of KeyToSound Nexsyn

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KeyToSound Nexsyn lets you hide or reveal parameters as needed.

KeyToSound's Nexsyn ($339) is a software synth that combines sample playback with traditional synthesis techniques. It supports AU, VST, and RTAS on the Mac and VST and RTAS on Windows. A standalone version for both platforms is included.

Installation is simple, with a second, separate procedure to install the instrument's sample library. If you decide to move the sounds elsewhere, you can set the new path at any time. A challenge-and-response procedure is used for authorization, and KeyToSound generously allows you to authorize Nexsyn on up to three machines.

I installed Nexsyn on my dual 1.42 GHz Power Mac with 2 GB of RAM and Mac OS X 10.4.10. In addition to testing it as a standalone instrument, I hosted the synth in Ableton Live 6.0.3, MOTU Digital Performer 5.1.2, Apple Logic 7.1, and Steinberg Cubase 4.0.3. All tests were channeled through my MOTU 896 FireWire audio interface with version 1.4.4 driver software.

Unfortunately, I could never get the standalone version to work with my interface; everything sounded as if it were passing through a ring modulator (see Web Clip 1). Nexsyn has had similar problems with other FireWire interfaces, and an update has corrected this problem for Windows users. KeyToSound is aware that the problem persists for the Mac, and it is working on a solution.

Nexsyn Administration

Nexsyn mines the familiar territories of virtual analog and sample-playback synthesis; oscillators can generate standard and band-limited waveforms or load proprietary XWM sample maps. However, its signal flow takes a somewhat different tack. Each oscillator furnishes discrete stereo signal paths, allowing them to be modulated and processed independently. In addition, you can configure two of the filters to process independent left and right channels or use them monophonically. A third filter sums the output of the first two. The instrument's modulation and processing capabilities are considerable, with three stereo oscillators, and three multimode filters with bandpass, lowpass, and highpass modes and a variety of slopes.

Nexsyn's LFO setup is similarly well endowed, with a choice of a dozen possible waveforms, a multiplier for the rate that can take it into audio frequencies, and knobs for the waveform's attack, phase, and smoothing. Other handy sound-design amenities include amplitude and frequency modulation.

Nexsyn's neatly designed user interface keeps modules out of the way until you need them, at which point you can open them up with a single click. For example, you can invoke a filter's envelope generator (EG) with a click in the module section, and then set the typical cutoff, spread, and resonance settings. A click on the triangular Expert button lets you tie the envelope rates and amplitude to MIDI Note Number and Velocity, with knobs that can adjust those sources positively or negatively. You also get knobs to select predefined Attack, Decay, and Release slopes.

Although some modulation sources and destinations are hardwired, three pairs of modulation matrices offer up to two destinations and four sources for each pair. You can invoke as many or as few matrices as you need, and clicking on the small diamond for any module neatly tucks it away without obscuring the overall signal flow.

The Nexsyn Library

However capable its architecture may be, the success of an instrument can often hang on the quality of its presets. In that regard, Nexsyn is disappointing, either due to coarse envelope generator and modulation settings, obvious loops, or, in some cases, mediocre samples. Many samples — especially the violins and violin sections — are harsh and unpleasant, with overly prominent bowing noise in the upper registers.

Considering the synth's modulation capabilities, there is a surprising lack of depth or animation in many of the presets, particularly in pads, where a bit of sonic evolution would be welcome. A visual inspection of the pad and string-ensemble EGs showed almost organlike on-and-off settings, with predominantly linear slopes. Another quirk is that some Programs that are described as monophonic leads are, in fact, polyphonic.

A novel aspect of Nexsyn's design that could make up for the dearth of interesting presets is its direct access to a Web-based sound library created by registered users. Once you have set up an account, you can audition and download files directly from the synth's patch browser. When you contribute Programs, you earn credits to download the work of others, with the idea that this could foster a viable online library. I didn't have the time to audition all the patches, but a considerable random sampling revealed the same disappointing lack of subtlety and expression.

Nexsyn Impeached

Nexsyn has significant barriers to overcome. Anyone with a FireWire audio interface will probably find the problems with the standalone version to be a deal breaker. And it is possible that few will see past Nexsyn's largely inelegant sound design to its true potential. However, there is much to appreciate about the instrument's capabilities, so keep an eye on KeyToSound's Web site for fixes and future developments.

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KeyToSound
www.keytosound.com

BONUS MATERIAL
Web Clips: Listen to audio examples of KeyToSound Nexsyn