5 MORE Firmware Updates that Totally Changed the Game

US Part 2 on revisions that made synths into brand new machines      07/05/24

5 MORE Firmware Updates that Totally Changed the Game

We've seen some doozy firmware updates over the years. Revisions that added new sound shaping features, workflow improvements or even full-blown synth engines! Here's a few more that totally changed the game.

Roland System 8

When System 8 initially came out, I felt kinda "meh". A capable VA for sure, with a sequencer & the classic Roland sound, but nothing too spicy for Industrial weirdos like me. The quality Jupiter & Juno 106 emulations were undoubtedly a holy grail for many synth players, but it was only with v1.20 where my ears pricked up.

v1.20 added a load of cool, weird stuff. In addition to the initial exponential FM & cross-mod options; various 5-operator FM configurations appeared, making for flexible, tweakable FM sound design. New filters included a pair of formant designs (yeowwwlll) and a bizarre, overtone-bending harmonics filter. Plug outs grew to include more models - the System 100 was of great interest to me because you can actively patch it using the sub menu's of the System 8, then split two instances for duophony!

v1.30 made me actively seek out a used System 8. I'd always wanted a JX3p, but not enough to put down money. Being able to explore that instrument's sync & metal modes is the icing on the System 8's cake. Magical update.

Novation Bass Station II AFX

The Bass Station II is a proper flexible analogue workhorse. Multiple filter types, ringmod and flexible LFO's create a synth that could happily be your only analogue sound source - if you were willing to multi-track! v4.14 added a number of cool features to the little blue beast, including more-flexible envelope re-triggering, glide divergence between oscillators and extended sub-oscillator tuning. However, AFX mode turned the instrument into a very different prospect.

Each patch is now linked to an overlay. An overlay is a group of 25 variations on the original patch (tweaked to be similar or completely different). Each variation may be assigned to a different key on the keyboard, creating complete percussion kits or unusual textures that can be cycled via the arpeggiator. Here's the talented CALC demoing the potential of AFX mode:


Novation Circuit

Novation Circuit

When Novation's affordable groovebox landed in 2015; containing 2 Ultranova VA/Wavetable synth engines and PCM drums - it was an instant hit. Over the next few years, Novation released a huge amount of updates to the machine, making it a powerful live/songwriting tool.

2016's v1.4 was a highlight, offering features like:

  • Loading of user samples - 64 slots total 60secs (mono)
  • Sample flipping during playback
  • Instant session and pattern switching - pick up the beat during playback
  • External MIDI input
  • External MIDI sequencing
  • Poly rhythms on drums
  • Web MIDI based backup and restore sets
  • Improvements to MIDI clocking

At the time, our own Gaz Williams made this inspirational review, using samples from the Treorchy Male Voice Choir!

Although discontinued (replaced by a whole range of Circuit machines), updates continued until 2019 and features like tied/drone notes, advanced pattern chaining, non-quantised record and per-note velocity were added. I'm tempted to pick up a used one myself, seems very powerful!

Waldorf Quantum

One word: Kernels. At launch, the Quantum was already a powerful synthesizer, featuring Wavetable, VA, Particle (Granular) & Resonator oscillators. But v2.0 kicked things into hyperspace with a modular Kernel engine.

Six "Kernel operators" may be freely combined, via FM or ring modulation, into one complex oscillator. Choices for these operators include VA waveforms, noise or indeed, wavetables!

The updates continue to this day, adding functionality like a formant filter, a modulatable tilt parameter between the left & right channels and exciting noise modes like "Pings" and "Geiger."

Pajen's Volca Sample

Not all firmware updates are written by the manufacturers! Pajen, somehow, re-wrote the original Volca Sample's firmware to add a bunch of amazing features, whilst keeping the original experience intact:

  • Keeping the original MIDI implementation for people that actually like it.
  • Adding a "sequencer channel" – cramming all parts into one MIDI channel, including all standard CCs.
  • Adding true chromatic response to note in.
  • Adding velocity sensitivity on MIDI in.
  • Making note triggering, pitch and velocity sensitivity optional per-part, per-pattern.
  • Adding new CCs for changing patterns, reverb, mutes, reverse etc.
  • Unlocking 2 new reverb programs.
  • "Omni mode" – helping connecting a midi keyboard for live playing with a variety of features.
  • Probability triggering for variety; per part, per pattern.
  • "Bar filtering" – adding capability to tell parts to skip certain bars in a 4-bar sequence. Makes it possible to create patterns that are up to 4 bars, while keeping full motion seq resolution.
  • Optional instant drone mode for noise fiends.

Honestly, I love this firmware! This is how I generally use the instrument:

  • Put the Volca into Pajen's 4 voice mode (which plays polyphonically using the first 4 tracks)
  • Plug in your MIDI keyboard
  • Choose similar or different sounds for tracks 1-4 - round robin samples are so interesting!
  • Pop some trigs/gates onto tracks 1-4, these will control the rhythmic element of your piece, whilst the MIDI simply imparts polyphonic note data onto those gates.
  • Change the sequence length of some of your tracks, if desired.
  • Revel in complex, rhythmic wonder!


There's plenty more examples of game-changing firmware that we can explore in future articles, let us know which updates you enjoyed the most!

Posted by MagicalSynthAdventure an expert in synthesis technology from last Century and Amiga enthusiast.


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