Not really impressed so far...

Discuss John Bowen Synths - Solaris
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TheFilterKing
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Not really impressed so far...

Post by TheFilterKing » Wed Jan 27, 2010 12:08 am

Hi all. After reading, and hearing, and viewing many things about the Solaris, I must say that so far for a (close to)$4000 price tag I'm not really that impressed.

First, the choice of using encoders makes me shudder. I really hate those puny things.
Second, the looks remind me very much of the Oberheim Matrix 12, with it's many displays and multi-purpose knobs, not too innovative. (but that's a personal thing I guess)
Third, there are still too many parameters lacking enough resolution, I hate zippering effects like the ones heard on some of the audio demos on this very site.
Fourth, there isn't any REAL audio demonstration of the particular behaviour of the different emulated filter types anywhere yet. I mean, a slow sweep of a lowpass filter cutoff (from max to min) having a fixed frequency (220 hz) single sawtooth oscillator as input signal with resonance on the threshold of self-oscillation, demonstrating the peculiar "cutoff frequency locking to harmonics of input signal" effect of some of these famous filters (which my Alesis Ion doesn't reproduce faithfully, read on...)

I'm 44 years old and I am the owner of an Alesis Ion (it is my only VA and I own many other real analog synths). The Ion which, so far, seems somewhat of a low cost version of the Solaris. It has 20 different filter types, some of which are modeled on famous ones like Minimoog, Oberheim, Arp, Roland, and a few others (but not the CEM however). It has a 12 virtual patch matrix with 35 sources and 75 destinations. It has real (endless) potentiometers with 12 bits resolution. Its layout is more related to an analog synth than a "computer with many small displays".
But it also has serious shortcomings: frequency response is limited to about 10khz because the engineers were sooo afraid of aliasing, that they took every step to ensure that there wasn't any. AND the behaviour of the emulated filters is not 100% faithful to the originals (I know, I've compared them side-by-side since I have access to a Minimoog, Oberheim SEM, Arp 2600, Jupiter 8, and others).

Did I mention I hate everything digital (in synths at least)? Because so far, we've been drowning in loads and loads of digital Virtual Analog crap, since about 1990 ! Underpowered JP8000 from Roland, overpriced Nord Leads full of coldness, Korg's MS2000 full of aliasing, and extremely limited polyphony, Novation overheating buggy aliased hardware, all those lousy interface Software Synths junk, etc etc...

The only significant products (synth wise) to come out in the last 10 years is the Moog Voyager (overpriced for what it offers, but hey it's a Moog!) , the Andromeda from Alesis (a bit expensive and buggy as ----) and Dave Smith's Prophet08 (reasonably priced but with those crappy encoders although a PE now exists).

But the Solaris at least uses a theoretical 32 bits high enough resolution and a reasonable (for 2010) 96khz sample playback rate. Let's see if we can FINALLY have oscillators and filters going into the 20khz frequency response like the old analog beast could with ease! (although not always in tune ':roll:')

If I were asked to fork out $4000 for a VA synth in 2010, I would want a true 10hz-20khz +/- 0.0db frequency response, INFINITE pot resolution (or at least 65536 values) for EACH analog parameters (not 1-100% in 1% steps amounts displayed, I mean like a REAL analog synth with 1-100% in .01 steps minimum), at least ALL the famous analog oscillators and filters emulated to 99.99% behaviour of the originals (not approximated reproductions), a traditional analog-synth type layout, a high quality semi-weighted action keyboard with at least 76 notes.

All this is easily possible with current technology, and the technical knowledge acquired from all those years of trial-and-ERROR VA's.

So when I read (in another thread) that John Bowen is already giving excuses for using encoders on the Solaris because of price concerns, I feel worried about what other corners did he cut, to keep the price at such an elevated level (but no higher?).

Who knows, I might be wrong. And we maybe on the edge of finally having a VA worthy of being called a "Virtual Analog Synthesizer". But I would need to be convinced further... I've been promised the Moon before only to end up with a small simili-Regolith pebble.

Sorry to ramble on...

A.H.

BF
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Re: Not really impressed so far...

Post by BF » Wed Jan 27, 2010 7:41 pm

TheFilterKing wrote:So when I read (in another thread) that John Bowen is already giving excuses for using encoders on the Solaris because of price concerns
Not to put words in anyone's mouth but I took that comment to be about the range of quality available in encoders, and DSI's choice in encoders to meet a price point.

Carbon111
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Post by Carbon111 » Wed Jan 27, 2010 8:55 pm

Thats what I thought too. As an example, the encoders on my Waldorf Q are still going strong...and thats about a decade now.

Also, the encoders on the Solaris have a massive resolution. The only Solaris demo that I can think of that had stepping was one where the encoder was sweeping semitones...

I've played with it numerous times and can honestly say the Solaris doesn't suffer in any appriciable way because of its use of encoders.
Best Regards, James
--
http://www.carbon111.com

ThreeFingersOfLove
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Re: Not really impressed so far...

Post by ThreeFingersOfLove » Thu Jan 28, 2010 12:38 am

TheFilterKing wrote:If I were asked to fork out $4000 for a VA synth in 2010, I would want a true 10hz-20khz +/- 0.0db frequency response,
Lots of vintage synthesizers owe their characteristic timbre to the fact that they don't have a linear frequency response. After maybe something like 2 KHz the exhibit something which can be approximated with a 6dB lowpass filter. They don't have as much energy past that frequency region and that has to be either "built-in" directly into the algorithms of the Solaris or be concocted from the user.
TheFilterKing wrote:INFINITE pot resolution (or at least 65536 values) for EACH analog parameters (not 1-100% in 1% steps amounts displayed, I mean like a REAL analog synth with 1-100% in .01 steps minimum)
There is no such thing as "infinite" pot resolution. 65536 values are more than enough but the problem that arises here is how are you going to display 65536 values! Take for instance the Voyager, if I remember properly Rudi told me it has 2^15 resolution, but in the LCD only 2^8 values are displayed. In some cases this is problem where for instance you want a barely percepible detuning: values 1, 2 or 3 don't do anything then 4 is already too much! If you want to have the in-between values you need to use the Voyager's editor where you can dial very precise settings.

An approach which was partially correct was the one used in the Andromeda: you have Coarse, Fine and Ultra Fine tuning controls, essentially giving all 2^16 in 3 different knobs. Could this be implemented somehow in the Solaris? I don't know.
TheFilterKing wrote:at least ALL the famous analog oscillators and filters emulated to 99.99% behaviour of the originals (not approximated reproductions)
In my opinion this is an unrealistic request for many reasons. You cannot even expect two Minimoogs sound alike, let alone a Minimoog and a Solaris! Emulations can never be more than an approximation, in fact it can be proved scientifically that there are certain behaviors that cannot be studied, let alone be emulated, let alone be emulated succesfully.

What, I would like to see sometime in the future is... analog filters. Something that would turn the Solaris into Solaris+ (like the Waldorf Q+). I don't know if it's possible at all with the current design (it might be plain unrealistic as well), but hey it's not bad to dream. :D

Regards,
Yannis

Fidgit
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Re: Not really impressed so far...

Post by Fidgit » Thu Jan 28, 2010 12:55 am

TheFilterKing wrote:Hi all. After reading, and hearing, and viewing many things about the Solaris, I must say that so far for a (close to)$4000 price tag I'm not really that impressed.
perfectly fine, King. solaris is not for everybody, john put this very clear from the beginning.
simply ignore it and focus on gear that fulfills your requirements (which available gear is that, btw?).

marzzz
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Re: Not really impressed so far...

Post by marzzz » Thu Jan 28, 2010 6:40 am

TheFilterKing wrote:Hi all. After reading, and hearing, and viewing many things about the Solaris, I must say that so far for a (close to)$4000 price tag I'm not really that impressed.
As was I. Until I played it at NAMM last year....

3rdConstruction
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Post by 3rdConstruction » Thu Jan 28, 2010 5:26 pm

i think tossing off the solaris as just another VA is a superficial assessent at best. as JBowen has explained elsewhere, the emulative features of the synth, OB & Moogish osc & filters, are there to give a starting point or familiar frame of reference, but where you go from there is up to you. solaris has such flexible modualtion options, and unique new features like the rotors, that there is no reason for the synth to be restricted to imitation. i think the emulative algorithms are just the start & i would bet future solaris development could very well involve new & unique oscillator & filter models.

i would also say that the osc-filter-amp structure works just fine for me as a starting ground for sound generation, but i'm thinking the modulation & routing options will allow you to go in new directions as well.

you mention you don't like the layout. i, & others, happen to love it. it's somewhat conservative but i find it classy in an understated way, & the mutliple displays & knobs are quite functionally layed out & minimize menu diving.

as carbon pointed out, i think the only apparent "zippering" somewhere in the audio demos isn't zippering at all, but course tuning adjustment with semitone resolution.

although my experience with solaris is limited to what is online, i would have to say that most of the audio demos do NOT seem to do the character of the solaris justice. you've already heard testimonial from two who've got hands-on exposure. for me, i got a better impression of the solaris' character & capabilities from the NAMM (2009 & 2010) & Musikmesse videos that are online. sure the sound quality is not ideal, but you can hear enough, i think. in particular, the demos using filter feedback & resonance, & the rotors, those things just gave me goosebumps.

i have no prior experience with digital synths. my only synths at present are a mini model D, oberheim two-voice, and jupiter-6. when i listen to something like the virus, as great as it is, it's missing a certain something for me. a lot of digital & software synths sound flat or two-dimensional to me. not the solaris. i've heard enough to know it can be big & beefy, and that because of its abundance of oscillators, filters, & modulation, i am sure it'll be able to do pretty well most or all of what i'd want to do with a polysynth.

everyone's entitled to their opinions. i would just encourage you to check all the available info & demos out before drawing your conclusion.

i am hoping JBowen will update the onsite audio demos soon.
... speaking at length about something is no guarantee that understanding is advanced.

scope4live
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Post by scope4live » Thu Jan 28, 2010 8:26 pm

The big point here that people are missing is that most of us already have Analog synths, not access to them, but rather ownership. I also use Analog live because Digital cannot reproduce accurate Filters that low yet.
But I gave up on comparing a Digital to an Analog back in the beginning of this century.
If you want Analog , you buy one. If you cannot afford one don't blame the Digital synths for this, use their strengths along with the Analog, or just use 50% of the synthesizer sound spectrum.
I never played one synth that did it all, and after using Analog synths for decades I can safely say there isn't one.
Use a real Analog synth for the lowest Filterings which Digital cannot perfectly emulate and use the Digital for the perfectly high polyphony and highest synth frequencies that Analog cannot emulate.
The fact that Solaris has the performance characteristics of a real Analog like the seperate Oscillator glide, means that with a real Analog synth blazing away for the low end, that Solaris can not only fit in the mix and make the biggest Analog afficiandos happy but also cover the Wavetable and Rotor stuff which IS SOLARIS's uniqueness, and nobody including myself can tell the difference.
So all of the Scientific facts and figures are moot in a world of live perfromance.
But I suppose at home, one track at a time and before any other Analog synth is used, a Scientist with his VST meters and tools could possibly tell that it's OMG a DSP synth.
Meanwhile those of us on a stage somewhere are enjoying making music and seem to be far away from the guys in the white coats.


Ankyu
Magnus C350 on a TV Dinner Tray Stand with 2 x PigNose Amps for stereo


https://soundcloud.com/jimmyvee/wormhole

seamonkey
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Re: Not really impressed so far...

Post by seamonkey » Fri Jan 29, 2010 5:51 am

Of course many of us who have pre-ordered feel differently about the Solaris than you do, and that's fine. I think it's fine to voice what one perceives as weaknesses or shortcomings in the Solaris, as long as it's not done to start a flame war or just the simple act of trolling, which I don't believe is the case here.
If everyone were Yes Men to John, than I'm sure some of the features which have been implemented into the Solaris which were suggested by his customers, may not have been included, making the Solaris less than what it is today.
John has welcomed suggestions and criticisms throughout this whole process while Solaris evolved from concept to actuality.
TheFilterKing wrote:
The Ion which, so far, seems somewhat of a low cost version of the Solaris. It has 20 different filter types, some of which are modeled on famous ones like Minimoog, Oberheim, Arp, Roland, and a few others (but not the CEM however). Oberheim SEM, Arp 2600, Jupiter 8, and others).
To compare the Ion to the Solaris because it has many of the same modeled filters is mind boggling to me. I had a Alesis Micron for several months, which is the same synth engine, and I was quite impressed by it's filters but they are far from the quality of the filters in the Solaris.
Many people think they are based on the code from the Creamware days, they're not, the code had to be competely rewritten and it is my understanding and belief they are even better.
TheFilterKing wrote: The only significant products (synth wise) to come out in the last 10 years is the Moog Voyager (overpriced for what it offers, but hey it's a Moog!) , the Andromeda from Alesis (a bit expensive and buggy as ----) and Dave Smith's Prophet08 (reasonably priced but with those crappy encoders although a PE now exists).
I have both the Voyager and the Andromeda. I love them both, I was concerned the Andy and the Solaris would cancel each other out in the studio but I no longer feel this way. The Andy has it's own unique sound and so does the Solaris.
Of course, price is always a consideration for most people. I had to sell a lot of gear..Roland V-synth, Access Virus Indigo and other things to buy the Solaris but I feel the Solaris will more than fill the gap of these synths and I'll have more space.
Btw, I remember reading Dave Smith saying he personally preferred the encoders but went with the rotary ones in response to customer requests.
TheFilterKing wrote: So when I read (in another thread) that John Bowen is already giving excuses for using encoders on the Solaris because of price concerns,
I'm a bit offended by that remark. As a fully prepaid customer John has maintained email contact with each one of us and whenever problems have arisen regarding the production of Solaris, he has always been truthful and upfront and I never got the impression he made excuses for anything.
TheFilterKing wrote: Who knows, I might be wrong. And we maybe on the edge of finally having a VA worthy of being called a "Virtual Analog Synthesizer".
The Solaris is so much more than a VA, yes, that's part of what it does but there are so many sound design tools, the potential for new and unique sounds are endless.

I hope once the Solaris is released and the members here begin putting Solaris to work in songs and scores, many of those who have seen it as not being worth the price will understand why 125 people have invested in it.
If the positive reaction at the 2010 NAMM show are any indication, the Solaris production facility will be quite busy.
:)
Last edited by seamonkey on Sun Jan 31, 2010 5:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

TheFilterKing
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Pleasantly surprised...

Post by TheFilterKing » Fri Jan 29, 2010 10:47 pm

Hi all again.

Well, I was expecting to be "in the line of fire" after my somewhat negative comments on the Solaris. And I must apologize for being a bit harsh in some of them. But I was pleasantly surprised to read, respectful, well mannered replies that brought a few things to my attention. And this is an indication of the quality of members on this forum.

You have brought up some interesting points to my arguments and, although they didn't always change my view of things, some of them have been well taken.

One thing that we can all agree on though; for those of us who didn't have the opportunity yet, we can't wait to try one out! (I trust my ears and hands much more than my mind :wink:)

Thanks, and Cheers!

A.H.

qtuner
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Post by qtuner » Sat Jan 30, 2010 8:36 pm

I've been a lurker on the synth community for years, and I've seen carbon111 in discussions of the "new" synths for years. P08, Oasys, etc. From my recollection and a little bit of googling, and i don't ever remember him being as excited about a synth. I doubt carbon111 would trash his reputation over the solaris. He felt the same way about the P08 a lot of us did.

I started the encoder thread, and i backed off because of the enthusiasm of a lot of posters and john's explanation. With the right software, i don't think the encoders will matter. My motivation for the thread was just to bring the discussion to the table before v1.0. Having not touched a Solaris yet, I will not qualify anthing about it until it arrives at my house. This reminds me of a very important lesson I learned as an undergraduate EE student. "Good software makes bad hardware look good, but bad software makes good hardware look bad."

I was also concerned about how the solaris would sit with the andromeda and the voyager. I'm glad to hear that it holds its own, but now I'm curious which of the two i'll put on my two tier stand in front of me in the studio.

marzzz
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Post by marzzz » Sat Jan 30, 2010 10:40 pm

Two years ago, I got a ticket to NAMM courtesy of the Analog Haven people, and I spent time at their booth on the second floor. Across the way was the China Joy Keyboard Company (who had no idea what hit them with all the bloops, bleeps, and noise hits coming out of AH), and just to the left was John Bowen, with an early prototype of the Solaris, so raw you could see circuitry through gaps in the sheet metal, and John demoing a synth that at that point could barely make a sound ("when this works, it will do this!"). I politely listened to his spiel and wondered why anyone would want to build (or buy?) a large, expensive hardware VA/digital synth, especially with all these great, affordable softsynths available.....

Last year, I got a NAMM ticket courtesy of a well-known synth enthusiast who works in the music industry, and was instrumental (no pun) in getting the last great polyphonic analog synth into production. I have a thing for polyphonic aftertouch (even to the point of owning a CS-80), and I was very interested in the VAX77 MIDI controller and made a specific point to check it out, in Hall E (the basement). I was very disappointed when I finally played the VAX77- the feel of the keyboard was just terrible! As luck would have it, just a few feet up the aisle there was JB again, this time with a much more advanced prototype of the Solaris, and in two colors no less. After the disappointment of the VAX77, I just wandered over and said hello....and this time was taken by surprise and blown away by the sounds I was playing, even though the Solaris was still no where near close to completion. I waited long enough to get home and ended up putting my deposit down.

Fast forward now to just a couple of weeks ago, and once again thanks to the kindness of people in the music industry (you know who you are!), I made a beeline to the Solaris booth (now well situated in the middle of Hall B), and had a chance to play a nearly fully functional Solaris (minor details and the pitch ribbon non-withstanding). If I had walked up to the booth without prior knowledge, about 15 seconds of playing the "Ober Time" patch would have been all I needed to get me to put down a deposit. The proof of this instrument is in the playing- there is a power and weight to the sound that is just completely lacking in other softsynths and "VAs" I have played. Those who have reasonable doubts need only to actually spend some time with the Solaris to know why we are all excited about it.

Oh, and right next door was the VAX77 guys again- this time around they had greatly improved the feel of the keyboard, to the point where I would seriously consider getting one (except for the fact I have to get the Solaris first!). What was really cool was hearing how powerful the Solaris sounded from 50 feet away....

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