Nearly five years ago, Waldorf won the hearts of many jaded analog devotees with the release of the Q analog-modeling synthesizer. With ancestry dating to the PPG Wave days, the Q showcased a hybrid nature drawing from wavetable synthesis, in addition to analog modeling. Capable of being both warm and highly animated with a searing digital bite, it became renowned as the only modeling synth that didn't sound, well, modeled.
With the much-anticipated (and delayed) launch of the Q+, Waldorf decided to crank up the thermostat a little more, this time adding some hardware — 16 discrete, true-analog filters with resonance and analog distortion to be precise. Add to that a juiced-up Motorola processor capable of a whopping 100 notes of polyphony, and you have a much more radical approach to the term revision. Frankly, this delectable dish is so rich that it's hard not to get a little queasy over it.
NAVIGATING THE Q+
The voice architecture of the Q+ consists of three oscillators, three LFOs, two independent multimode filters, four envelopes and a highly flexible modulation matrix. Elsewhere in the unit lives an advanced arpeggiator and one extremely funky step sequencer, not to mention the ability to route external signals through the filters, vocoder or effects sections, or directly into the sound's oscillator path, for that matter. All of that makes one superpotent concoction!
Although the Q+ can reach a theoretical limit of 100-note polyphony, depending on the complexity of voices used, no voice-expansion option will be made available. (The original Q had an expansion option.) The same 16-part multitimbral operation, though, remains unchanged from the original.
The Q+ offers four types of programs: Multis, Sounds, Drum Maps and Patterns. Sound mode consists of four instruments, each capable of holding a sound that can be played and edited separately or layered together and played at once without much to-do. That is terrific for tweaking sounds on the fly. Multi mode, explained in an upcoming section, is a little more in-depth.
Memory allocation consists of 300 single programs arranged in three banks (A, B and C), 100 multiprograms, 100 step-sequencer patterns and 20 drum maps (bank D). All locations are user programmable.
In the end, it's all about the sounds, and the Waldorf programmers have given you all of the goods to play with, straight out of the box. Describing them individually would be insane, but they're all rock-solid: The basses are punchy and tight, and the leads scorch. With the potential for five oscillators per patch, pads and comp sounds are gigantic. Not as many presets make use of the wavetables as I'd like, but that leaves the fun of exploration up to you. Drum and percussion sounds range from plasticky (but extremely useful) 606-styled beatbox fair to full-on, ball-busting 909-type sounds suitable for hip-hop, techno and house. All of the sounds are synthesized, not sampled.
The Q+ is housed in a deep ruby-red version of the same built-like-a-tank metal case as its predecessor, playing host to 58 endless rotary knobs, 39 buttons and a bright-blue 2×20-character backlit LCD with decent viewing angles. The knobs can send out MIDI-controller values or SysEx data, making sequenced moves possible. This is a Waldorf, and it's loaded with functions. Kick into Shift mode, and these controls take on dual functions.
The actual changes to data value are only viewable on the LCD. This is somewhat cumbersome, as it requires you to bounce your eyes back and forth between knobs and the LCD. For that reason, I prefer marked knobs such as those on the Access Virus C or the LED circles on the Clavia Nord Lead 3. Similarly, it's a little odd that a performance machine in this price range would come with translucent plastic knobs that are not lit to help identify currently active knobs in low-lighting situations. A Peek mode button lets you check values of parameter knobs or buttons without actually engaging any changes.
In the tactile category, I like the firm action of the five-octave keyboard, which has slightly more resistance than an organ. The thumb wheels, made of a nice firm neoprene with good grip, feel like hockey pucks. Two assignable function buttons above each wheel provide one-finger control of a multitude of real-time parameters during play.
Connections are dutifully handled by six analog outputs (three stereo pairs), two analog inputs (one stereo pair), a coax S/PDIF output (44.1 kHz), two switch inputs, two CV inputs and a MIDI In/Out/Thru. Unfortunately, the unit has no dedicated headphone jack, as the master left output handles that.
For sound generation, the Q+ offers a hybrid approach consisting of classic analog waveshapes (pulse, sawtooth, triangle and sine) spread across three main oscillators; users have the option to assign two sweepable wavetables containing 128 alternate waves each, as well as one suboscillator per alternative wave, across the first two oscillators. This makes possible a total of five oscillators per voice. Oscillator effects include PWM, FM, sync and colored noise (new for the Q+).
In the mixer section, volume levels of each signal source (oscillator, noise, ring modulator, external audio) can be adjusted and balanced individually between filter 1 and 2, or a combination of both. This makes it possible to send, for instance, the signal of oscillators 1 and 2 to filter 1 and the ring-modulation signal to filter 2.
Perhaps one of the most advanced features of the Q+ is its completely flexible filter-routing configuration. It all starts with a handy front-panel diagram clearly illustrating the simple yet powerful options. The Q+ offers two independent filters with integrated left and right panning units. A single routing control knob allows you to blend the signal flow continuously from a serial to a parallel filter configuration and vice versa. What's more, the routing control can be bent in wildly new directions via the modulation matrix. This highly dynamic scheme makes the Q+ an instant favorite.
The filters are broken up into three loosely specified categories: Xpole, PPG and analog. The Xpole filters are the familiar Waldorf offerings, and they include resonant 12dB/24dB-per-octave variations of lowpass, highpass, bandpass and notch/band-reject filters. Waldorf's famous Comb+ and Comb- filter types are also available for integrated chorus and flange effects, with the Cutoff knob controlling the number of teeth (frequency of colorization) and the Resonance knob controlling the feedback depth. Filter drive produces surprisingly analog-sounding results with a warm and aggressive character.
The PPG filter type is a 24dB-per-octave resonant lowpass filter modeled after the legendary PPG Wave synthesizer's SSM 2044 chip. Its distinctive resonant tonal character makes it ideal for lead and bass sounds, but it also gives wavetable sweeps a particular charm. Staying true to the original PPG Wave, FM isn't possible when using the PPG filter.
Of course, the big news items in the Q+ are its 16 discrete analog-pulse and Xpole-based filter-circuitry modules with self-oscillation and analog distortion. These monsters bring a whole new dimension to the Q+, with the filter-drive parameter instantly kicking over to analog drive, adding a distinct warmth and a volume boost to sounds. The 12dB lowpass filter sounds extremely rich and smooth, absolutely bloating when used in unison mode and transporting me back to days of the Minimoog and the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5.
When I combined the 24dB analog lowpass with a comb filter, modulating resonance and tweaking noise color, I was able to produce unbelievably rich textures filled with gorgeous levels of saturation. No modeled filter simulation can come close to this. I also loved how the resonance sounded extremely musical with an aggressive edge. The zone around which these filters begin their self-oscillating chaos, screaming and squawking away in pain, can be downright scary-sounding at times.
Invoking the analog-type filter once shrinks a sound's polyphony to 16 notes. If both filters are set to analog type, polyphony is further reduced to eight notes. That's the nature of the beast, folks. Also, FM is not available for the analog filter types. And if the filters go crazy, tuning is available in the utility menu.
The Q+ offers four independent envelopes: two dedicated to filter and amplitude, respectively, and two general-purpose varieties. All four have a twist: What at first appear to be standard ADSR envelopes actually turn out to be highly customizable with provisions for secondary decay and sustain times, one-shot status for percussion sounds and two looping modes for cyclical sounds. I love these alternate envelope designs. Strangely, I find myself thinking of the Q+ in the same way I do with samplers and my Korg Wavestation. Sweeping wavetables with loopable filters and amps are pretty sweet.
LFO AND MODULATION OPTIONS
The Q+ has one incredible mod matrix consisting of 16 independent paths split into two parts: one for extremely fast modulation calculations and one for standard controller modulations. The basic building blocks are three LFOs (sine, triangle, square, sawtooth, random, and sample and hold), each with adjustable delay and fade times, phase sync on/off and keytracking. Their cycle frequencies can range from minutes to fractions of a second. They can also be synched to MIDI or internal tempo, and their start phases can be controlled. Other sources include envelopes, velocity, pressure, assignable buttons, voice divisions and so on.
Supplementing all of this is the modifier matrix. Essentially four logic calculators, it performs math between two sources or between a source and a constant. The resulting calculations can either be fed as a source to the modulation matrix or to another modifer — powerful but pretty esoteric.
To be honest, there's nothing smashing about this section. Eight separate effects units are split up, two to a sound, across the unit's four instrument slots in Sound mode. Garden-variety chorus, flange, phase, delay, tap delay, reverb and overdrive are present with basic parameters. One standout, Five FX, is a combination algorithm containing sample and hold, overdrive, ring mod and chorus/delay and is great for giving a sound lo-fi character. Two 5.1-surround delay types are also on hand.
The 25-band vocoder has suitable parameters for tailoring it to nearly any input source. Results can range from a bad case of the jitters to fairly smooth and intelligible vocal processing, depending on how you tune the number and range of frequency bands. Only one vocoder is allowed at a time but can be placed in either the first or second effects slot of a sound. The newly added Direct Mix function accepts an external audio signal into the effects section without any loss of voices.
SET TO THE BEAT OF THE MACHINE
Deceiving from the outside, the Q+ packs one heck of a chord tickler. The 16-note arpeggiator section contains 15 basic preset patterns. Creating your own is easy, and patterns are stored within a particular sound, not globally. Note values for each step within a pattern can be edited from whole notes to 1/32 triplets.
In addition to standard up and down variation controls, you can adjust sort orders, shuffle amounts and pattern lengths. The fun really begins at the step-data level. There, you can adjust individual note accents, swing times, glides, playlist characteristics (for example, repeat previous note, insert rest, play as chord and so on) and step length. Panel controls include knobs for note length, octave range and tempo. Handy one-shot and hold modes are provided for live work and editing.
Clearly laid-out — and thought-out — Waldorf's take on the classic step sequencer brings several modern amenities. It starts you off with an ergonomic panel approach of eight step-selection knobs lined up in a row. The sequencer contains a maximum of 32 steps broken up into four banks of eight. Capable of playing chords, each sequence pattern can hold as many as 256 notes, each step as many as eight notes. Programming is as easy as selecting a step and entering notes or chords from the keyboard. From there, you can adjust individual step lengths (how long a step is held before the sequencer advances) and note lengths. Note lengths can be shorter or longer than the actual step length. Pauses and held notes are also possible.
Not just ideal for playing back sequenced notes, the sequencer in the Q+ can also modulate various parameters of the tone generator. Fortunately for users, these changes are relative, which means that you can adjust multiple selected steps by the same amount all in one process. You can further assign two controller values per step as sources for the standard modulation matrix. For those looking for instant gratification, there are dozens of exciting preset patterns ranging from bass and lead lines to electro beats to the extremely odd.
Multi mode offers as many as 16 instruments organized into four banks of four. Individual instruments can be set to their own MIDI channels (for 16-part multitimbral sequencing) or grouped together on as few as one MIDI channel. Instrument parameters specify volume; MIDI channel; audio outputs; transpose or tuning functions; receive and transmit status; and controller, key and velocity ranges for each sound. Additionally, Waldorf has kindly implemented a Multi Mixer offering fast graphical editing of volume, panning and effect-send values for all 16 instruments. All clocking, synching and interaction between arpeggiators, step sequencers and LFOs seem to be air tight in Multi mode. A global tempo may even be set for all instruments in the selected Multi program.
LIFE IN THE KEY OF Q
If money grew on trees, I'd have no problem giving the Q+ an overall value rating of 5 out of 5. I love this synth, but I have to think realistically about the value. Offering the best oscillator and filter sections I've encountered in any virtual synth, as well as a kick-ass modulation system that leaves no stone unturned, the Q+ can dutifully handle all styles of electronic music, and it sounds insanely good!
Unfortunately, it is an elite board with an elite price tag. I realize that a good chunk of the Q+ price sits in the analog filters. But for something costing more than four grand, I expect a little more front-panel real estate with more elaborate value indicators. Also, as has been plaguing the Q series since its inception, Waldorf's manuals are somewhat lagging behind the current OS. To its credit, Waldorf revises its OS frequently, and it tries and keep PDF updates current on the Website. All in all, the Q+ is a wonderful piece of gear, inside and out, but a dream purchase for most.
Q+ Analog Filter Synthesizer
Pros: Awesome sound. 100-note maximum polyphony. Dual multimode filters featuring PPG Wave lowpass filter type. Sixteen true-analog, self-oscillating resonant lowpass filter modules. Elaborate modulation matrix and LFO control. Advanced arpeggiator and step sequencer. Stereo analog inputs and digital outs. Software-updatable OS.
Cons: Panel layout cramped in frequently accessed sections. No global arpeggiator user-pattern library. One drum map in Multi mode. Expensive.
Overall Rating: 4.5