Review: Sugar Bytes Unique

Formant-based subtractive synthesis with a friendly interface
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Formant-based subtractive synthesis with a friendly interface
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When it comes to iOS, Sugar Bytes’ apps have always been exotic and versatile, albeit with a crowded GUI. The company’s latest offering, Unique, may look like just another dual-oscillator subtractive synth, but the developer has continued its mission of providing unusual virtual instruments, this time in the form of formant-based filter options, and with a few oscillator modes that deviate from the norm. Moreover, the user interface has a streamlined look and an easy-to-understand, iPad-friendly layout.

Unique’s oscillators offer five waveform types—sawtooth, pulse, triple saw, triple FM, and filtered noise. The sawtooth implementation is standard, whereas the pulse wave includes an integrated LFO for modulation duties.

Judging by its name, I expected triple saw to be another supersaw generator. Instead it is three hard-synced sawtooth waves with a Spread knob that offers 12 different configurations, each with its own specific harmonic spectrum.

Triple FM is another surprise, with controls for FM and Shape that dramatically alter its tone. The noise generator includes its own multimode filter for tuned effects, which I’ve always loved, so it’s nice to see that function baked in. In addition to tuning, volume and pan, each oscillator also includes its own volume ADSR and integrated autopanner—nice!

Unique’s bright, color-coded interface makes navigating its formant-centric approach a breeze.

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However, it is the filter section, with its formant-centric approach, that really separates Unique from other 2-oscillator synths in the crowded iOS market. Each of the classic multimode filter types—lowpass, highpass, bandpass (two kinds) and comb—includes a Vowel button. When this is active, the Cutoff and Resonance knobs are replaced with two selectors that can be assigned to different types of vowels—A, E, I, O, U—with options for umlaut-based vowel formants for extended versatility.

To the traditional modulators available for each of the filter types, such as LFO and envelope, Sugar Bytes added a new option called 4step. This feature lets you set four cutoff points (or vowel selections) that can be scanned like a mini step-sequencer, with controls for Speed, Direction, and Glide. In use, the results are unusual but in a very useful way. And Sugar Bytes implemented the feature in a wonderfully intuitive manner that makes it easy to get interesting results quickly.

At the end of the signal path are two effects in series, offering modes for reverb, delay, phaser, lo-fi (bitcrushing) and either a state-variable filter or chorus. And although the implementation of the effects is straightforward, having a second, smoothly morphing filter is certainly a welcome addition that greatly extends this instrument’s tonal range.

Unique’s Controllers page offers a set of modulation resources including an LFO with a continuously variable waveshape, an eight-step sequencer with glide, an additional envelope, and an X-Y motion pad that includes its own recorder for creating custom sweeps and burbles. As with the rest of the synth’s GUI, these selections provide large, finger-friendly buttons on their menus.

All in all, Unique’s unusual features and familiar interface help separate it from the pack. And thanks to its support for Audiobus, Inter-app Audio and Ableton Link, Unique plays well with others, too.

STRENGTHS
Unusual oscillator types. Multimode filter with formant/vowel functions. Compatible with Ableton Link, Inter-app Audio and Audiobus.

LIMITATIONS
Needs a few initialized presets for starting points.

$14.99 iPad
$4.99 iPhone
sugar-bytes.de

Producer Francis Prève has been designing synthesizer presets professionally since 2000. Check out his soundware company at symplesound.com.