A number of modern plugin synths come packaged with effects versions — processors to add onto any audio. But which work best? Let’s find out...
Xfer Records Serum
Another reason to get Serum is the inclusion of Serum FX, an effects-only version of Steve Duda’s supersynth. It’s the same ten effects from the main Serum instrument, including the Hyper/Dimension, Distortion, Phaser, Flange and Chorus with great stereo sounds, Delay, Compression with auto-multiband control, Reverb with plate and hall types, Filter, and two-band EQ. While reminiscent of FM8’s Effects section, all are re-orderable, easy to use and full of features, and have been instrumental in defining ‘that’ Serum sound. You also get access to the synth’s envelopes, LFOs and macros, with the envelopes controlled when a MIDI signal is sent to the plugin from another channel. An excellent way of using the main synth’s effects section, with no distractions.
Anyone familiar with the main Waverazor synth knows that it’s not what you’d call straightforward, and its effect version isn’t far different. If you can get an input signal to reach the output (and good luck to you even with the manual at the ready), you can avail yourself of Waverazor’s unusual but creative way of processing its signals.
The synth itself is certainly interesting — if only for providing a different take on synth controls than the usual suspects. If you need something to throw you out of your Osc>>Filter>>Envelope comfort zone, this is a decent one.
However, you can’t match a new and innovative approach to synthesis with a frustrating and needlessly complicated, inaccessible user experience. Waverazor’s obvious talents and technical power mean nothing if you can’t use them without an
A to Z guidebook. Because of this, we can’t really recommend Waverazor in either of its guises until it's given a serious, logical rethink.
u-he Zebrify (Zebra 2)
The synth with a special Hans Zimmer version also has an effects version, giving you access to 18 effect types in a modular rack-style shell with four parallel chains and modulation devices to boot. Basically, it’s more or less the same setup as Zebra itself, but without the oscillators being commanded by the MIDI channel (although you can call up oscillators in order to create constant tones). The FM oscillator lets you grunge up your input, distortion-style, with frequency or ring modulation, providing something you don’t often get in effects plugins, and which sounds great in stereo.
Filtering is well covered here, with two models offering different levels of operation. Excellent u-he modulation is here too, as are two delays, two reverbs, foldback distortion and more besides.
Zebrify is massively effective and practically limitless, although you wouldn’t necessarily need all that power for run-of-the mill mixing tweaks. A sound designer’s playground, nonetheless. Oh, and you also get the nifty, great-sounding ZRev reverb processor as a bonus addition to the synth.
Rob Papen Predator 2
This one basically loads up the main synth on an audio channel, giving you access to the Filter, Filter LFO, Amp, and of course, Predator 2’s well-endowed effects panel. This is fully stocked with 29 separate effects, although you can only select three of them per instance.
Those 29 include bread-and-butter mixing effects (Delays, EQ, Compressor) as well as more creative entries (Tape Delay, Cabinet, WahWah Delay) and specialised processors (Clipper, Multi Distort). Each has multiple parameters to tweak, and two Source/Destination/Amount setups, including MIDI controls, modulators and oscillators. It’s possible to do a few more ‘synthy things’ by triggering PredatorFX with MIDI, but vocoding and such-like can become tricky to set up. Other negatives don’t quite add up to a laundry list, but it’s more than just a post-it note. A bit of forethought and design work could have specialised PredatorFX for effects duties, Serum-style, but as is, it’s a slightly clunky and fiddly way to process sound.
Native Instruments FM8 FX
Despite a meagre ten presets in the otherwise-respected FM8 library, it’s got it where it counts, with 12 effects processors to line up in a fixed order. Particular favourites are PsycheDelay, the versatile Phaser, and the well-equipped Tremolo... although the line-up feels a bit dated in terms of what it offers for electronic music. In use, however, having FM8 as an effects processor can be painstaking, fiddly and inflexible.
FX versions are also available for Native Instruments’ Absynth and Razor, so you may own them as part of Komplete already.
KV331 Audio SynthMaster One
Like others here, you need to route MIDI to SynthMaster1FX to get a sound out. In this effects version of SynthMaster One, the oscillators can be set to Audio In Left or Right, and the amp envelopes react like a gate to the incoming audio, passing it through when triggered. It’s a pretty cool take on an effect version, inspiring instant trance-gate patterns using the power of an entire synth.
You get access to SynthMaster One’s effects section, as well as its filters, envelopes, LFOs and Arpeggiator/Sequencer. Oh, and activating the sub oscillator lets you add extra tone or modulate one oscillator with FM, AM, RM or PM. Very sweet.
The full synth is well thought-through, powerful but straightforward, and the effect- only version is an added bonus to it.
As well as being an Editor At Large for Electronic Musician, James also dispenses software news and views as the co-host of Appetite For Production Podcast, and tweets on Twitter as rusty_jam. You can find his 'collected works' at his website, XoverFreq.