Review: Waldorf STVC

A modern string machine with a vocoder-tastic tinge
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Waldorf’s new STVC takes the premise of their 2015 Streichfett module — an impressive homage to the iconic sound of paraphonic string machines of the 70s and early 80s — a few steps further, adding roadworthy construction, full-size keys, and an included gooseneck microphone for the in-built vocoder. The company has also incorporated several innovations that modernize the whole package, setting it apart from its predecessors and contemporaries…

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The string section is distinguished by a continuous Registration knob that smoothly morphs between synthesized violin, viola, and cello, followed by brass, organ, and choir. Switching off the section’s ensemble lets seasoned users analyze the gradual tonal shift as the knob is turned. For the first 50% of its travel, the morphing performs as a complex macro that governs pulse-width and octave layering. From 50-100% this shifts to a more choir-like range of saws and stacked pulses and a touch of filter sweep mixed in for added complexity. In a way, this behaves like a specialized wavetable, optimized for vintage pads. Activating the ensemble immediately transforms those timbres into the familiar spectral pads associated with legendary string machines from ARP, Siel, and Crumar.

SOLO

While this section includes a monophonic mode, the “solo” moniker is a bit of a misnomer. Instead, it emulates the “paraphonic” timbral layering included on many vintage units — notably the Sequential Prelude and Siel Orchestra. Here, a Tone knob sweeps between bass, electric piano, clav, brass, and a few more impressionistic flavors with names like “Pluto”. While both Strings and Solo sections include independent envelope controls, Solo also offers a percussive attack and envelope sustain switch. Several of the sound types include a bit more filter “wow” than would have been found on the originals, but they layer beautifully with the strings.

VOCODER

The integrated vocoder section is what really distinguishes the STVC from the original Streichfett and veers it closer to the Roland VP-330. It’s got a whopping 256 filter bands that evoke both Kraftwerk and Daft Punk, with impressive intelligibility thanks to the resolution. The front panel offers only on/off, freeze, and a jack for the included gooseneck microphone. Freeze is of special interest as it functions as a very short sampler that’s great for capturing specific formants and conjuring unique textures solely by vocal articulation. In practice, the results are inspirational. What’s more, the string section’s Registration knob directly affects both timbre and a formant-shifting “gender” parameter in this context.

In addition to the front panel’s array of knobs and buttons, direct customization is available via the Tweak button, which accesses up to five parameters in the microscopic OLED display. Here, you can fine-tune filtering, tone, vibrato/tremolo, as well as the reverb and phaser at the end of the STVC audio chain. Adjustments in this section can then be saved as presets.

While the STVC is roughly twice as expensive as the Streichfett, its tank-like construction, detailed vocoder, and additional synthesis features make it the only game in town for touring keyboardists who want full-size keys to go with their retro strings and robot voices. As a whole, the experience is a trip down memory lane for veterans — and an inspired departure from mainstream polyphonic hardware for a new generation.

STRENGTHS
Layered vintage strings and polysynth. Integrated vocoder with sampling “Freeze” function. Vintage effects tailored for retro strings and choir. Robust and roadworthy construction. USB-based power and MIDI.

LIMITATIONS
OLED is small with tiny lettering when editing.

MSRP, $1200
Street, $899

waldorfmusic.com

Francis Preve is a journalist, sound designer, and college professor. Find out more at francispreve.com