A new synth and a new company all in one go, this is the new instrument from Ashun Sound Machines - a company formed to design new instruments. The mother company also happens to have been making instruments and tech for other people for many years, so the combination of manufacturing experience and design experience from Glen Darcy (formerly Arturia) makes for an interesting combination.
HydraSynth - is a purely digital synthesizer with 8 voices, the specifications are really quite impressive.
Each voice has 3 oscillators, two filters (one multiple model, and one fixed SEM like).
2 Oscillators are wavetable morphing with an additional 2 Mutators each for more processing (sync, PWM, FM etc)
5 LFOs, 5 Looping Envelopes, a polyphonic aftertouch keybed plus a ribbon strip for expression, multi-algorithm pre and post FX, plus dedicated, mult-ialgorithm Delay and Reverb units.
Add to that a 32 slot mod matrix, per patch programmable macros and you are going to struggle to run out of options.
First impressions are that this feels like solidly built machine, one that belies it's price. Hydrasynth has some weight to it due to the metal top panel and side cheeks, knobs, buttons and keybed all feel well constructed. Power is via a tiny external 12v 1Amp unit.
Connections: USB (class compliant MIDI), full size MIDI ports, Expression and pedal inputs, stereo master out, plus a dedicated headphone port with volume on the front left side.
All oscillators have access to the 219 on board waves, but the first two give you wavescanning - you can load up to 8 slots with 10 morphing positions between each, interpolation is nice and smooth.
Mutators then can modify these even further with Linear FM, PW (3 kinds!) Sync, WaveStack - five osc clones with detune and Harmonic - a sort of sing-song harmonic scan.
It sounds good to my ears, it's not analogue, it's digital, and there is so much you can do to modify the sound, it's rather mind boggling. But having said that, the sheer number of parameters are accessible via the well considered UI. I didn't read the manual once. The clever use of module buttons, 8 knob rotary controllers and central display together with a dedicated filter control section means its easy to use.
Filters are legion, in Filter 1 you have plenty of models, Ladder, Fat, MS20, Vowel and a large sounding emulation of an unnamed boutique Eurorack which also sounds pretty huge. The drive really works wonders on the available colours and there’s no stepping - good job on these.
One thing that I struggle with on this is the time black hole Hydrasynth represents, literally I am just back from checking a few things for this written part of the review, but I got side tracked into 20 minutes of noodling and sound creation. But I guess that's hardly a criticism.
It’s A MOD World
Okay so now you have all this stuff to work with, Hydrasynth doesn’t skimp on the Modulation Matrix it has 32 slots. I would consider that to be more than adequate. The only downside is figuring out how to set the right depths for some of the more unfamiliar aspects such as the Mutators, and yes it can get a little menuey, but the way it has been implemented feels very natural and straightforward to explore. If you are experienced in synthesizers and sound design, you will have a ball with this, and for the less adventurous, there are 640 patch memories (I dont know how many will be filled at shipping). Oh and you will learn for sure.
FX are also accessible via the Mod matrix for incorporation into the sound design process and the range of effects is good, the reverbs are especially nice with plenty of tonal shaping available.
If anything, there’s too much to choose from when it comes to options, most patches I created were one or two oscillators, a couple of LFOs and a couple of envelopes max, and still sounded pretty good.
A big part of this is the poly aftertouch keybed, patch 1 on boot is a beautifully expressive CS-80 like sound which is lovely to play, the keybed feels good and you can dial in the feel that suits your style easily enough if you don’t like the defaults. The ribbon is also cool and can be used in pitch bend mode, mod mode only, and theremin mode - where it plays a single voice on top of what the keyboard might be doing - a nice touch - though I couldn’t quite figure out the pitch reference points, they don’t line up with the keys eg (C3 might be D#3).
Oh, and there’s an arpeggiator - with ratchet and chance controls as well as the usual rate, clock division, gate, swing and mode controls.
Also provided are two CV inputs (mod 1/2) and CV/Gate Mod 1, Mod 2 and Clock outputs. In my experiments it did seem to interface well with the Eurorack gear I tried and there seems to be quite a lot of settings to tweak the voltages, polarity and whatnot - a nice addition.
Hard To Complain
Honestly I think this is a prime example of how to design a heavily featured digital synth. I can’t really find fault with it. Sure some analogue purists will just not want to go there, but honestly, this is an impressive first instrument. I will say you do have to work a bit at getting some sounds, there are lots of sweet spots here but they need to be discovered, which I think is as it should be.
Hydrasynth is expected to ship in November priced at £1,299/$1299, which I think is a very reasonable (possibly under-priced) proposition. I have asked a few visitors to our studios how much they think this synth costs, and most of them have estimated $2K.
I am impressed.
There is also a desktop model with the same synth engine, but no ribbon or keyboard for £799/$799.
The philosophy of designing organismic instruments