Review: Tone2 Electra2

Don't overlook this stunningly powerful software instrument

Each of Electra2’s four layers gives you access to all of its parameters at the same time. The only time you’ll need to view another page is when you want to list all its patches. Your choices may be overwhelming when you enter the world of software instruments. In addition to synths that emulate analog, FM, and sample-playback hardware, software leads the way in modeling, granular, and other algorithmic techniques. One of the most accessible plug-ins combining multiple synthesis technologies is Electra2, an update of Tone2’s ElectraX. It supports VST in Windows and AU and VST in Mac OSX, though not AAX or RTAS.

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Electra2’s architecture provides four layers, each with three oscillators, two filters, four ADSR generators, four LFOs, a modulation matrix, and a sophisticated, programmable 16-step arpeggiator. Because layers can receive on separate MIDI channels, Electra2 can play four independent parts.

Three identical oscillators, which can sync to and modulate each other, generate waveforms using various methods. I was impressed that you can combine three sound engines (one for each oscillator) in a single layer. Five synthesis modes include wavetable, sample playback, and Ultrasaw, which layers detuned sawtooth or pulse waves. Custom Wave resynthesizes user samples into wavetables, and Tone2’s exclusive Noise/Fractal mode relies on real-time algorithms that take advantage of chaos theory. Wavetable mode lets you choose from simple and complex wavetables that were produced using virtual analog, FM, phase distortion, and additive synthesis. Electra2 can import user samples (in WAV format only). The Edit menu enables sample trimming, waveshaping, automatic tuning and looping, and much more, but the current version doesn’t let you undo your edits; nor can you map multisamples.

Twin filters supply numerous lowpass, bandpass, and highpass modes and EQ types, as well as comb, vocal, aliaser, fractal, and other options. Two filter types model plucked strings and blown pipes.

You can apply effects such as reverb and delay to the output of all layers and process individual layers using any of those effects.

Electra2’s GUI displays every control for the selected layer, divided into functional sections. Change most parameter values by turning a knob or clicking on the parameter’s name, which toggles on and off or displays a popup menu for making selections. Animated displays help you visualize dynamic processes.

The easiest way to create a patch from scratch is by clicking on the Init button, which reveals a list of 18 templates that include SubtractivePad, Phase Distortion, Waveshaping, and the two physical modeling types. A Quick Import Vocoder selection in the File menu lets you instantly create a vocoder patch by setting up the appropriate parameters and importing an audio file to use as the modulator.

Clicking on the Browse button replaces the layer controls with the patch browser window, which has an onscreen keyboard for quickly auditioning sounds.

The browser displays 24 patch types, such as Bass, Pad, ArpMultilayer, and SemiReal. More than 1,200 patches are included, and you can buy hundreds more online. The browser’s Info box displays information about each patch, like what real-time modulators are available and what type of synthesis is employed.

Electra2 has features you won’t find elsewhere and gives you a broad range of creative possibilities. For sound designers who want extraordinary flexibility and surprising depth, Electra2 is near the top of my list.

Flexible synthesis architecture. Four-part multitimbral. Impressive patch library. Quick patch templates. Bang for the buck.

No standalone version. No multisampling. No Undo command in current version. Not Pro Tools-compatible.

Tone2 Electra2: