Absynth 1.02 (Mac) Virtual-analog software synthesizers are sprouting like weeds, but a look at the Patch Panel in Rhizomatic Software's Absynth ($150)

Absynth 1.02 (Mac)Virtual-analog software synthesizers are sprouting like weeds, but a look at the Patch Panel in Rhizomatic Software's Absynth ($150) suggests that this is no garden-variety model. A quick spin through Absynth's factory presets leaves no doubt. Absynth has an extensive set of unique features and sounds great. You can download a fully functional but save-disabled version from Rhizomatic's Web site.

Absynth is a standalone application and requires Open Music System for MIDI input and Apple's Sound Manager for audio output. Absynth records direct to disk in AIFF interleaved or split-stereo formats and gives you an onscreen keyboard for triggering sounds and controlling any MIDI controllers that you use in a preset. Absynth is not multitimbral - you can play only one preset at a time - but it offers up to 64-note polyphony, which is limited only by your CPU. Refreshingly, the product's creator believes in adding new features only after they are debugged and documented. Future Absynth versions will include multitimbral operation as well as support for ASIO, FreeMIDI, and VST.

Who's on FirstEach Absynth voice has three parallel sound Channels, each of which provides a dual oscillator (two waveforms sounding at the same time or modulating each other), a multimode filter, and an AM/ring modulator. The three Channels are mixed and routed through a master modulation section consisting of a wave shaper for nonlinear distortion, another multimode filter, and a delay processor. The delay can function as a 6-stage multicomb for short delays, a 3-stage multitap for long delays, or a physical modeling-like pipe effect. The pipe effect lets you specify the input point (where the stimulus is applied) and the placement of two separate pickups, called Left and Right Outputs.

The signal flow is represented by glowing blue tubes (aka the plumbing), and you can toggle each module in or out of the signal path by clicking on its name. You control the mix of the three Channels by using sliders below each Channel; an optional Active Balance mode automatically adjusts the other two Channels' sliders as you change one Channel's level. The signal path ends in the Glowball, which appears in the screen's bottom right and glows when a signal is present at the output. (Prolonged operation did result in perceptible Glowball warming but with no apparent effect on the sound.)

The Audible DifferenceUnlike other soft synths, Absynth provides a large number of factory waveforms for its wavetable oscillators plus a waveform editor for rolling your own. You can edit waveforms graphically using Wave mode or by adjusting the phase and amplitude of individual harmonics in Spectrum mode. You can also hear the edits as you make them. That gives you a large sound palette right out of the gate.

Absynth provides envelopes with up to 68 breakpoints for controlling amplitude, filter cutoff, and various modulation and effects parameters (each destination can have its own envelope). A graphic editor lets you freely assign break, loop, and release points. Two envelope modes are provided for simulating step-sequencer effects: Loop and Retrigger. When combined with the three assignable LFOs, you can program a lot of motion into your patches. Finally, there is a separate window for assigning MIDI controllers, velocity, and note scaling to a wide variety of parameters.

. . . Makes the Heart Grow FonderIf you assume that all recent soft synths are alike, Absynth might make you reconsider. It is well documented and easy to learn - you'll be creating your own presets in minutes - and the waveform and envelope editors will quickly take you into uncharted territory.

Absynth sounded great and performed very well on my Mac G3/300. I experienced minimal latency and was easily able to get 16 voices out of the more complex presets. Although the price is on the high end for standalone software synthesizers, the feature set is unique. With the opportunity to fully test-drive the product before you buy, you can hardly go wrong.