Beat Magazine review

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John Bowen
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Beat Magazine review

Post by John Bowen » Fri Jun 15, 2012 4:32 pm

I just got news that the review of the Solaris for Beat magazine (a German publication) has been released. Here’s a picture of the cover:
SolarisInBeat.jpg
SolarisInBeat.jpg (1.15 MiB) Viewed 13880 times
A translation of the review is forthcoming....

john b.

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Re: Beat Magazine review

Post by galaxiesmerge » Mon Dec 03, 2012 7:17 pm

Any progress on the review and translation?
Solaris, Jomox Sunsyn,Modcan, Prophet-T8, Rhodes-Chroma, Pacarana,CS-80, Andromeda,M3,Nord-G2X,DK-Synergy

John Bowen
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Re: Beat Magazine review

Post by John Bowen » Mon Dec 03, 2012 7:54 pm

No, I never received the promised translation.

Anyone out there want to make an attempt?

Christopher
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Re: Beat Magazine review

Post by Christopher » Tue Dec 04, 2012 2:17 am

I guess I could give it a go.
I don't have a copy of that magazine though, so someone would need to scan it first.

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Re: Beat Magazine review

Post by John Bowen » Tue Dec 04, 2012 10:00 am

Here it is online:
http://www.maclife.de/beat/hardware/syn ... en-solaris

Christopher, if you could make a translation and post it here, I'm sure everyone would be very appreciative!

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Re: Beat Magazine review

Post by Christopher » Fri Dec 07, 2012 1:56 pm

OK, I've just finished translating that review. It may not exactly be the best english you've ever read, but hey, i did my best. :wink:

There are some passages, where the original text is a bit sketchy, for instance the author writes: "Mittels AM-Modulatoren sind auch einfache FM-Experimente machbar." which translates to: "By means of AM modulators, basic FM experiments are also possible."
Of course that doesn't make a lot of sense.

Anyway, here we go:
For a long time, John Bowen has been a name well known among synth lovers. Back in the eighties he already created successful instruments such as the Sequential Prophet VS or Korg's Wavestation. Now Mr. Bowen presents his masterpiece with the Solaris, a virtual analog synthesizer which offers the flexibility of a modular system. Multiple types of oscillators and filters allow the user to combine different sonic characteristics, and thanks to six powerful DSPs, even the most complex patches can be played polyphonically. This set of features instantly intrigued many musicians, but for several years the release date was postponed again and again. Now the Solaris is finally available and the excitement is rising. Did John Bowen succeed in creating a unique blend of flexibility and sound quality?

Starting with its visual appearance , the Solaris is very different from other VA-synths. They usually only have a single display, whereas Bowen's instrument sports a whopping six of them. Each is dedicated to one or a few functional blocks, e.g. oscillators, mixers & insert effects or envelope generators. Underneath the displays there are rotary encoders which provide immediate access to whatever parameters are displayed above. Additionally there is one large alpha dial. For all encoders there is a choice of coarse or fine resolution. Furthermore there is a large number of push-buttons which allow for the selection of individual instances of the virtual modules and various edit pages. The instrument can be directly played via the 61-note velocity and aftertouch sensitive keyboard. Additionally, a versatile ribbon controller is provided. Pitch bend and modulation wheels as well as a joystick round off the assortment of performance controls, there is probably enough on offer for just about any purpose. The array of connectors is equally diverse. MIDI data can be sent and received via DIN or USB. Eight 6.3mm jacks output summed or individual signals. Four similar input jacks allow you not only to send audio to the Solaris, but also to utilize CV signals from modular equipment. That's a first truly unique feature which will make this synthesizer appealing even to analog freaks. Digital connectivity is provided in form of an S/PDIF interface. Last but not least, pedal jacks are also present.

Its dimensions of 98 by 42 by 15 centimeters make the Solaris a full-sized instrument, weighing a hefty 15 kilograms. However, in comparison to its analog counterparts it appears almost tiny. A similarly equipped modular system would be considerably bulkier.
As fundamental sound sources there are four oscillators available. Not only can multiple waveforms be selected, but also different oscillator characteristics. The VA side of things is covered by emulations of the Minimoog and the CEM chip, which was used in many analog classics. Both deliver typical vintage sound, but the Moog model sounds particularly vigorous and fat. In addition, the Solaris also has a proprietary Multimode oscillator which sounds more straightforward. Besides a large number of standard waveforms, it also offers a 'Super Saw' as well as two morphing waveforms. 'Digital' sounds are easily created using either the 64 wavetables taken from the 'Waldorf Microwave' or 94 'Prophet VS' waveforms. Last but not least it is even possible to use samples which are loaded via a Compact Flash card. For the time being this procedure is still a bit laborious, however there are plans for a corresponding software editor.
Additional sound sources comprise noise generators and two so-called 'Rotors', which can chain up four waveforms and interpolate between them. This is a great addition, especially with regards to experimental sounds. The number of parameters on offer for each module is enormous and in no way inferior to more specialized synthesizers. By means of AM modulators, basic FM experiments are also possible. In terms of sound quality, we have to give the Solaris our highest rating. Apart from the deliberate quirks of the vintage oscillators, the sound of the Solaris is crystal clear and high resolution. The bottom end is particularly impressive. Few, if any, other VA synths are able to produce such rich basses.

Internal sound sources and external signals are initially run into one or multiple mixers. The routing is completely flexible and up to four instances can be used. In addition there are also two Vector Mixers available, which employ the joystick or other means of modulating the X and Y axes to blend between signals in the style of the Prophet VS. Thanks to the availability of feedback paths, the signals can be freely routed, even back into earlier stages. However, a good amount of caution is advised since levels can quickly add up. But when used in small quantities, nice saturation effects can be achieved.
As with the oscillators, the filters are also provided in various flavors. Besides the Multimode and Moog types, emulations of vintage Oberheim and SSM circuits can be found. Furthermore, Comb and Vocal filters are also present. Again, the sound quality is impeccable. Ranging from classic timbres to modern VA-type sounds to whacky special FX, all needs can easily be satisfied. The Multimode filter alone sports a total of 23 different filter responses and combinations. Even all-pass types are included. By arranging the filters in serial and parallel configurations, it is possible to create incredibly lively evolving sounds, integrated amplifiers allow for the modulation of levels already at this stage.
Insert-effects can be placed before or after the filters. The algorithms on offer are Decimator, Bit Chopper and Distortion. Apart from their usual application in creating typical Lo-fi sounds, we were particularly delighted when we combined them with the Vowel and Comb filters, which resulted in very intense sound colorations. Having passed a final amplifier section, the signal can eventually be refined by a number of send-effects. There are four FX channels, the choice of algorithms comprises Chorus/Flanger, Phaser, Delay and EQ.

Of course the Solaris would not be complete without a comprehensive selection of modulation sources. First off, there are five LFOs, one of which is specifically dedicated to Vibrato. Their frequency range extends well into the audible domain, in terms of wave shapes all the usual varieties are covered. Control signals can be smoothed out via Lag Processors. Six DADSR envelope generators provide further animation. The attack time is snappy enough to allow for the design of percussive sounds. Complex changes over time can be achieved using a looping multistage envelope or a 4-track step sequencer, the latter of which can also be used to trigger notes. The sequences can be up to 16 steps long. Tempo can be set internally or per MIDI-Clock. A Tap Tempo function is said to be part of an upcoming firmware update. As another playing aid, the Solaris is also equipped with an arpeggiator. While this is well constructed, it certainly can't match the more elaborate phrase recorders of contemporary workstations. That however is not really an issue because the Solaris is not primarily aimed at simulating acoustic instruments. Finally, the included envelope follower will be especially interesting for processing external signals. Should all this still not be enough for your purposes, you can even make use of analog control voltages.

Verdict
With the Solaris, John Bowen has created a truly exceptional instrument. While the form factor may not be suited to carrying it on a regular basis, compared to its analog peers it still is quite easy to handle. The selection of functional modules will satisfy even the most demanding synthesists, yet despite its roughly 1300 parameters, the Solaris is very easy to use. From the get-go, the (digital) sound quality delights with great richness of detail. Contrary to other VA-synths, there is no audible aliasing. Especially the bass register is exceptionally massive. Thanks to the sheer endless modulation capabilities, creating beautifully swirling pads is a snap. A wide range of Leads and FX-sounds is equally possible. Even with the most complex patches and in Unison mode, the polyphony never drops below ten voices. This is where the Solaris outshines all digital competitors by far. All things considered, the steep price point seems well justified. If you have the necessary budget at your disposal, there is no reason not to get one.

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Re: Beat Magazine review

Post by John Bowen » Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:29 pm

Wow, very nice!
There's only one small point - Tap Tempo has always been there, working...I wonder why he thought it was going to be an update?

Thanks, Christopher, for providing this lengthy translation! I really appreciate it.

john b.

Christopher
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Re: Beat Magazine review

Post by Christopher » Sat Dec 08, 2012 3:38 am

John Bowen wrote:There's only one small point - Tap Tempo has always been there, working...I wonder why he thought it was going to be an update?
Murphy's law strongly suggests that he found out about that 'Tempo' button one minute after his review went to press. :wink:

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Re: Beat Magazine review

Post by synthwalker » Sat Dec 08, 2012 9:43 am

The Solaris on the cover is not the actual version... :?

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Re: Beat Magazine review

Post by John Bowen » Sat Dec 08, 2012 10:28 am

synthwalker wrote:The Solaris on the cover is not the actual version... :?
True - that is the original prototype, when I had 2 rows of knobs under the ADSR section (so you could quickly adjust 2 envelopes, typically being filter & amp EGs).

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Re: Beat Magazine review

Post by synthwalker » Sat Dec 08, 2012 11:14 am

It would be interesting to get all prototypes pictures and years of production

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Re: Beat Magazine review

Post by John Bowen » Sat Dec 08, 2012 2:54 pm

I have some photos of the various protos posted online (including the "pre-original" proto...which means the one on the cover is really the 2nd paint job using the original proto metalwork)...I just need to group them all in one place.

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Re: Beat Magazine review

Post by John Bowen » Mon Dec 10, 2012 10:34 am

OK, here's some pictures with comments of the various prototypes. I made a set on flickr for all the ones I had (but not all prototypes are pictured).

Start with this photo and click through for a 'guided tour' (make sure you can read the notes I added for each).
http://flic.kr/p/bifvXv

Technically there was only a Proto 1 with 2 graphics jobs, but for clarity, we called the very first creation Proto 1, and the one with Axel's graphics Proto 2.

synthwalker
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Re: Beat Magazine review

Post by synthwalker » Mon Dec 10, 2012 1:35 pm

Excellent, thanks to share this !

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