Review: Waldorf Nave

If you own an iPad, new and more powerful music apps

Although Nave’s colorful wavetable display—which you can rotate in three dimensions—is its most visually striking element, it only hints at the sounds it can generate on your iPad.

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If you own an iPad, new and more powerful music apps constantly demand your attention. The most formidable iOS-based synth I’ve seen yet is Nave, from pioneering hardware and software synth maker Waldorf. The depth and versatility of its sound engine and the sophistication of its user interface make it well worth your attention.

In addition to blending internal wavetable and analog-style synthesis, Nave generates new sounds by resynthesizing audio files and performing a type of text-to-speech conversion I’ve never seen before. Because it’s compatible with Core MIDI and Audiobus, you can control Nave from sequencer apps or external hardware, and you can route its output to effects processing and recording apps on your iPad.

Architectural Engineering All oscillator and wavetable parameters are on the Wave page. (Note: A wavetable is a series of individual waveforms arranged in a particular order.) Various modulation sources let you control the part of the wavetable you’re hearing at any given moment. You can also open a full wavetable display, which has a ribbon controller to scroll through the wavetable or manually freeze playback at any point. To supplement the two independent wavetables, Nave has a pair of analog-type oscillators and an Überwave function that multiplies the oscillators to create as many as eight signals.

To create your own wavetables, type any word or phrase into the Talk tool, and Nave will generate a wavetable that duplicates what you’ve typed. Yes, it sounds robotic, but it’s rich in formants. You can also export a WAV file from your computer to the Nave Documents folder in iTunes (or copy it from other apps), and Nave will resynthesize the audio into a new wavetable.

Nave’s resonant low/high/bandpass filter offers selectable slopes and a Drive stage with five types of distortion. It also has three loopable ADSR generators, an assignable X/Y control pad, a modulation matrix with eight scalable slots, and a comprehensive arpeggiator. Alongside effects such as chorus and flanging, you get delay, reverb, compression, and 3-band EQ. An onboard 4-track recorder called Tape lets you record, import, and export audio files, as well as loop, edit, and mixdown your recordings.

As an alternative to the standard piano-style keyboard, you have the choice of using the blades, which resemble the capacitive keypads on a Buchla synthesizer. You can control filter cutoff or other modulation parameters based on the vertical position of your finger on the blade. You can also specify whether the blades play chromatically or in one of 23 other scales and modes.

Hands on in the Real World Nave’s implementation of wavetable synthesis is an impressive accomplishment on any platform. I’m doubly impressed that it’s written for the iPad. I can only hope that Waldorf will someday port it over to Mac and Windows.

Many of the included sounds are downright inspiring, and I often got lost (in a good way) programming new sounds myself. If you’re new to wavetable synthesis, Nave does a laudable job of helping you grasp how it works. With my iPad connected to my audio interface and monitors, I heard the same subtle coarseness I hear from all iPad apps, but I wouldn’t hesitate to include Nave on any recording. Whether you’re a serious synthesist or you just like to dabble, you’ll never be sorry you downloaded Nave.

Former senior editor Geary Yelton has been writing for Electronic Musician since its first issue. He lives in Asheville, NC.

STRENGTHS: Powerful synthesis capabilities. Resynthesizes audio files. Comes with some spectacular sounds. Astonishingly low cost.

With so many included sounds, it cries out for a searchable database.