In this era of simulated or virtual analog synthesizers andsoftware synths, few manufacturers are putting out bona fide analogpolyphonic synths. Sure, some notable analog modular units are onthe market, but if you're looking for a genuine analog synth withconvenient modern features such as programmability and MIDI, wheredo you turn?
Try Studio Electronics and its impressive history of buildingmonophonic analogs. The company is producing two new polyphonicprogrammable analog synthesizers: the Omega 8 and Omega 2, whichare 8-voice and 2-voice rack-mountable models, respectively. Forthis review, I looked at the lower-priced Omega 2, which offersmany of the same features as the Omega 8.
TWO FOR TWO
Offering two voices and 2-part multitimbral performance, theOmega 2 is a true duophonic synthesizer. You can arrange bothvoices to separate note ranges and perform keyboard splits, stackthe voices, or assign them to separate MIDI channels for individualcontrol. You can also assign stereo panning settings to each voice.The Omega 2 features individual stereo outputs for each voice, amain stereo out, and a mono out. The front panel has a rotaryencoder for making rapid control changes, 12 individual knobs, 30switches, 21 LEDs, and a 16-by-2-character backlit LCD for viewingpatch names and parameters. The Omega 2's memory stores 256 soundpatches and 128 multipatches. Flash ROM capabilities allow users toburn in new operating systems and sounds as they're updated. Thiswell-built and sturdy 2-rackspace device weighs about tenpounds.
The Omega's voice architecture consists of two discretevoltage-controlled oscillators per voice, along with one subwave ofoscillator 1. You can access the oscillators' triangle, sawtooth,and variable-width square waveforms independently, use them intandem, or synchronize oscillator 2 with oscillator 1.
Equipped with two filters per voice — including a 24 dBlowpass classic Minimoog ladder filter and a 12 dB Oberheim filterthat offers highpass, bandpass, lowpass, and notch settings —the Omega 2 also sports built-in slots for an optional RolandTB-303 — style filter ($129) and an optional Arp 2600 —style filter ($139). With both filters installed, the Omega 2provides a total of four filters per voice.
Other features include a single VCA per voice; three LFOs; threeexponential multicurve, invertible envelopes; a white-noisegenerator; audio frequency modulation; multiple triggering;autotriggering; an external audio input; and an arpeggiator.
The Omega 2 offers more than 30 modulation-routing possibilitiesthat can run simultaneously. You can assign almost everyparameter in the machine — front-panel knobs, switches, andbuttons — to a continuous controller, including the extremelycool exponential polyphonic glide and dynamic autosensitiveglide.
I hooked the unit to a Latronic Notron performance sequencer andmaster controller and found that the Omega 2 responded flawlesslyto the Notron's controller features. In fact, the stock internalpatches offer a good array of standard analog bass and lead sounds.The well-laid-out controls make it easy to modify soundsimmediately, and it didn't take long to get up and running. If youwant to create sounds from scratch, the Omega 2 offers anincredible number of sonic building blocks to get you started.
With the Minimoog filter turned on, I instantly noticed thatincreasing the envelope amount subtracts from the filter frequency,causing a bright-to-dark frequency sweep that is a lot deeper thanthat of most analog synths. This feature lends itself to extremesubsonic bass tones. While running a sequence from the Notron, Iturned up the suboscillator and created an irresistible bass and alead line patch that was fat and punchy but retained excellentdefinition between the two discrete elements. When I fed the Omegaa stereo audio source that consisted of a full mixed track andprocessed the sound while triggering the oscillators, the synthyielded bizarre textures that warped the source material beyondrecognition (in a good way). Besides letting you process soundsthrough the external inputs, the Omega allows you to controlexternal sounds through breath- and trigger-patches.
If you long for a fat-sounding analog synth with the characterand quirkiness of certain classic, discontinued American models,the Omega 2 is the machine for you. It easily duplicates any numberof vintage sounds and goes beyond that to create vibrant new tonesand timbres.
Dave Longo, a Los Angeles — based engineer andproducer, performs drum ’n’ bass under the stage nameDpro.
PROS: Genuine analog synthesizer sounds. Expandable filteroptions. Extensive modulation-routing possibilities.
CONS: Very expensive. Polyphony is quite limited by currentstandards.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4.5