Choosing a Synth … Still

Almost a year and a half ago I wrote an entry about possibly deciding on a new synthesizer to add to my little home studio. Well I never did, and since then have once in awhile tried to keep up with new releases, discontinued models, etc. to see if I could and would ever make a decision. So, compared to the list from the previous entry, how’s it looking now?

Subtractions

Out of all the synths I listed in my previous entry, there’s a few that I have removed from my list of considerations:

  • DSI Prophet 08 PE – this is still a great synth at a somewhat-good price, but the main reason I’m removing it from the list, as seen in the Additions section below, is because there’s a new REV2 model coming from DSI that’s replacing the Prophet 08!
  • Elektron Analog Keys – I just really don’t like the interface or the super-small screen.
  • Novation UltraNova – Similarly to the Analog Keys, I just don’t like the interface.
  • Waldorf Blofeld – Yet again, another synth that I don’t think has that great an interface, and with a possible still-buggy OS and questionable knob/encoder quality I don’t want to spend money on this.

Whew, that’s quite a few deletions from my list of considerations! So do I have that many additions to make up for them? Well let’s see…

Additions

DSI Prophet REV2 8-Voice

As mentioned above, DSI has recently unveiled the REV2 as the sucessor for the Prophet 08. It borrows design cues from the Prophet 06 and Pro2, including a really easy and logical face, as well as a nice (but still kinda small) OLED screen. Unlike the Prophet 06 and the OB-6, the REV2 maintains a 5-octave keybed rather than 4. It may mean more space taken up (although the pitch and mod wheels are above instead of beside), but it does give the most range. The REV2 comes in 2 versions (8- and 16-voice), and for my needs the 8-voice is plenty to work with (it’s also $500 less, and I have a feeling it’s gonna be easier to get for awhile than the 16-voice). This is really gonna be hard to pass up, even though its is a little higher priced (but like a Moog you’re paying for an American-made tank!).

Korg Minilogue

The Korg Minilogue has been wildly popular ever since it was announced. At $500 for a 3-octave, 4-voice analog polyphonic synthesizer, Korg impressed synth enthusiasts and seemed to finally have a worthy successor to the MS2000. The only negative I would give would be the slim keys, but at least it’s not mini keys! The Minilogue will be a really hard choice to pass up, not just due to its price but also its sound and features.

Moog Subsequent 37

The Sub 37 Tribute edition has been around for a little while now, and it’s only recently that Moog has decided to try and improve on it. The Subsequent is intended to be a very limited edition synth, but it does claim to make a few improvements. First is an improved keybed; second is a tweaked multidrive circuit and improved mixer headroom. Are these improvements worth the extra $300? That’s no small change for me, but if paying for an American-made classic synth, it’s really not that much more if I’d want the current best synth from Moog aside from the Model D. Of course by the time I might decide the Subsequent may already be discontinued.

Those Still on the List

Clavia Nord Lead A1

Nord has released many new Electro and Stage models in the past year and a half, but nothing has changed with their Lead line. That makes me fairly wary. Add in the fact that I’m not too happy with A1’s interface, and the Lead 4 hasn’t had a price drop since its release, this one is fairly low on my list. I still like its sound, its looks, and its stellar build quality. If I knew for sure I wouldn’t care about excessive programming and knob twiddling, then perhaps the A1 would be near or at the top of my list.

Moog Sub 37

Although I added the slightly revised Subsequent 37 in the Additions section, it’s not that different from the Sub 37. I do like the darker look of the Sub 37, and I really doubt the Sub 37’s keyboard is that much “worse” than the Subsequent’s. While still pricey for a mono-duophonic synth, there’s no doubt the build quality and sheer sonic bliss of a Moog!

Novation Bass Station II

It may “only” be a monophonic synth and just 25 keys, but it’s hard to argue how good a value the Bass Station II is at its price. Novation is also a pretty good company as far as support goes, at least that’s what I’ve heard. The interface is OK for some things, while deeper settings rely on using a Function button and the keys. I’m not sure this is near the top of the list, but it’s at least sitting comfortably in the middle.

Monophonic vs. Polyphonic

With the exception of the Moog Sub and Subsequent 37 and the Novation Bass Station II, all the synths on this list are polyphonic, ie able to make more than 1 sound at a time. As I like to play ambient and have decent piano-playing skills and knowledge of music theory, I know I would enjoy having a 4- or 5-octave keybed with the capability to fill the room with lovely lush sounds. Would it matter so much having a smaller keybed (in the case of the Bass Station II, a really really small and cramped keybed) and only able to make 1 sound at a time? Perhaps if I used a larger MIDI keyboard with Reason or another synthesizer I wouldn’t mind, but I think for having just 1 good synthesizer I need the polyphony. Now is the 3-octave keybed on the Minilogue too small, even though it’s “just” 4 voices? There’s no doubt I’d like that it wouldn’t take up as much space, and perhaps for my needs it could be enough room. I think I just have to weigh if it’s worth the money to jump from the $500 Minilogue to a $1500 REV2.

What About the DeepMind?

Some may read this entry, and note my affection for ambient and lush sounds, and wonder why the hell I don’t have the Behringer DeepMind 12 (or 6) in my list of considerations. There’s no doubt the massive value you get for the DeepMind, as far as number of keys, voices, and sheer amount of features for the money. What still nags me in the back of my mind is that it’s still a Behringer. Now yes, I do get a 2-year warranty through Sweetwater, and I know I’d be fully covered for anything in that time period. But because the DeepMind is still so new (the 6 isn’t even out yet), I just don’t know how reliable this synth would be longer-term. If more time passes and the reviews for the DeepMind are still pretty good, then I may indeed have to consider putting it on my list.

Seven Kingdoms

I had heard about Seven Kingdoms long ago when they were on Century Media, and they had recorded the album Seven Kingdoms at Morrisound Recording in Florida, where Iced Earth had recorded many of their albums. As the years passed they fell off my radar, even though they released another album, Fire Is Mine, in the meantime.

Well, for whatever reason I recently remembered about them and went looking to see what had happened to them, and lo and behold they are now signed to Napalm Records. I’m not sure how long they’ve been on that label, but this month they have a new album out, Decennium. While some of the members have changed, Sabrina is still the powerful frontwoman and her vocals sound just as incredible as ever! I’ve missed listening to power metal such as this, and I’m really glad they’re still releasing new material and re-invigorating the power metal genre.

Seas of Infinity

One of the albums that I’m happy to go back and listen to is Mega Drive’s 198XAD. It’s very atmospheric while always staying in your face, and it never lets up until the end. Well Mega Drive is back with Seas of Infinity, released through Lakeshore Records (also home to the amazing Mr. Robot and Stranger Things soundtracks!). There’s some definite evolution and growth, but it’s still his signature sound; you can’t mistake the hectic yet somehow structured chaos that is the very essence of Mega Drive.

Soundtracks – Part 2

Three years ago I wrote about my favorite soundtracks, focusing on computer and video games. I’ve discovered a few more since then, and I also wanted to include a few notable film soundtracks. It’s hard to talk about each soundtrack without also going into the game or film that it accompanies, but I’ll try to keep it short. Let’s go!

The 7th Guest



It’s hard to describe the music for The 7th Guest. It’s a weird, jazzy kinda thing. It’s definitely something that’s not heard very often, and I sure wish there was more of it. Checking out their horrifically-designed website, I don’t see a whole lot of material produced since this game. I’m glad I got to discover this music, and I highly recommend you do the same.

Alan Wake

 

The Alan Wake soundtrack is pretty hard to distinguish from a film soundtrack. It’s polished, dynamic, and emotive. It sometimes feels a little too polished and subdued, but there’s no doubt this is one of the best soundtracks for an incredible game. Petri Alanko has worked on several other projects, including Quantum Break and the Nightwish Imaginaerum soundtrack.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

 

During the limited time I played Amnesia The Dark Descent, the music definitely contributed to my uneasiness and encouragement to not explore very far at a time. While I enjoyed watching Markiplier’s playthrough of Amnesia I couldn’t hear much of the music; but when I took the time to listen to this soundtrack composed by Mikko Tarmia, I was very enthralled as well as unsettled. Check this link for a short Youtube video where Mikko discusses his process while creating the Amnesia soundtrack. Along with this soundtrack, Mikko has worked with Frictional Games to create the scores for the Penumbra series of games as well as Fricitional’s latest hit, SOMA. A soundtrack for a cancelled game, Tempest, is now available on Bandcamp as well.

Bastion



The Bastion soundtrack took me by surprise; like the music for The 7th Guest, it’s not what I was expecting at all, which is a good thing. With the use of acoustic guitar I couldn’t help but get a Firefly feel, but there’s still a subtle electronic base to it. Along with Bastion, Darren Korb has worked with Supergiant Games on their latest release, Transistor.

Blade Runner

 

A movie by Ridley Scott with a soundtrack by Vangelis. It’s hard to describe this combination other than monstrous, or even colossal. Using the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer, Vangelis crafted one of the most sublime soundtracks ever heard, with notes of sorrow and wonder intertwining throughout. This perfectly fit the movie, blending sci-fi with noir. This is definitely one of those soundtracks you have to have!

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

 

While Bethesda released Fallout 3 between The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and V: Skyrim, it still didn’t seem that long after Oblivion that Skyrim came out. Every screenshot and preview I saw involved snow. And hills. And tall mountains. Yay, more areas that the player has a hard time if even possible to travel! My experience with Oblivion was mixed, and I wasn’t sure Skyrim would be that much of an improvement, again with so little time seeming to pass between Bethesda’s games. Well, most of my worries were put to rest with Skyrim, and it is much closer to my ideal computer RPG.

As far as the music goes, it can be hard not to compare this soundtrack to Oblivion, Guild Wars, etc. Like Hans Zimmer, Jeremy Soule does have the ability to craft a certain signature sound for each project, but underneath it’s still the same composer, and for better or worse the listener is going to get a consistent experience in regards to the music. In Skyrim there is a bit more vocal work that fits in well with the Nord motif. We still get the beautiful strings and other soft sounds that help fill the void of sometimes slow exploration in the game, but even that is a bit more subdued and sparse compared to other games.

The Fifth Element

 

Released in 1997, The Fifth Element was one of the biggest-budget sci-fi movies at that point. Directed by Luc Besson, this movie went above and beyond when it came to everything: story, design, and even the music. Tapping the talents of fellow Frenchman Éric Serra, this movie has a very unique soundtrack, often moving from hard, explosive, face-hitting notes and accents to soft and subdued saxophone and keys.

Firewatch



Chris Remo has worked on several game soundtracks, and before the score for Firewatch he was probably best known for his work on Gone Home. Now a full-time member of Campo Santo, Chris worked on Firewatch as a designer, writer, and scorer. Compared to Gone Home, the music for Firewatch is much more subdued, utilizing electric piano and acoustic guitar for its outdoor vibes. Like many game scores each track is painfully short, and I always want more!

The Last Door


The Last Door is a short but excellent retro-style adventure game, featuring creepy visuals and a very emotive soundtrack by Carlos Viola. This soundtrack makes astounding use of cellos and other stringed instruments, and you can’t help but feel sucked in. Along with the soundtrack for the first game/season, Carlos also produced the soundtrack for Season 2.

Mirror’s Edge

 

Released in 2008, Mirror’s Edge was lauded for its incredible lighting and unique gameplay. The score, by Solar Fields, is an incredible electronic composition. Fitting perfectly with the game’s motif of running and climbing, this soundtrack would make an excellent workout accompaniment.

Mr. Robot



I had heard about Mr. Robot quite a lot before I finally got around to watching the first episode on Amazon Prime, and to say it floored me is an understatement. And the key reason for that wasn’t the acting, story, editing, etc.; not to say all of those weren’t fantastic, because they all were! It was actually because of the music. To say it’s stunning, or even superb, doesn’t serve justice to Mac Quayle‘s work. I would at least put this on par with Daft Punk’s Tron Legacy soundtrack or maybe even a notch above; it’s THAT good.

Shadowrun Returns

 

While I’ve played Shadowrun Dragonfall on PC, it was the music of Shadowrun Returns that I remember hearing in the game, as well as what’s available to listen to if purchased from GOG. It hasn’t been since the Deus Ex games (as far as being more cyberpunk rather than general sci-fi) that I’ve heard such outstanding music featuring synths and drum machines (but these days just as likely sequenced all via software, who knows!) that elicit the streets, clubs, gunfights, and more that the cyberpunk genre encapsulates so well. If I was to consider running an RPG session in the cyberpunk or near-future genre, this soundtrack would be an absolute necessity!

Silent Hill 2 & 3

 

While the music of the first Silent Hill was very sparse, somewhat atmospheric, and leaning towards industrial, it was the release of the next two games that Akira Yamaoka really upped the ante for video game music. They were also the games that ratcheted up the personal emotions and terrors that made the Silent Hill series such a success at that time. Bringing in more use of synths and electric pianos, electric guitar, and drums and other rhythmic sounds, the soundtracks of both Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 capture the horror and sadness of the games in a unique manner.

The Social Network

 

Anyone my age or older will recognize Trent Reznor first and foremost as the founder and key member of Nine Inch Nails. These days, he’s likely to be recognized just as much if not more for the outstanding film scoring he’s created along with Atticus Ross. The Social Network was the first film scored by this duo, and the first of 3 films of David Fincher‘s they worked on (the others being The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl). While I can hear some NIN influence in the soundtrack, there’s also a lot more subtlety as a film soundtrack demands. It’s one of the few soundtracks I can still listen to over and over.

Tron: Legacy

 

When it comes to electronic music mastery I don’t think anyone could argue that what Daft Punk did for Disney’s Tron Legacy was nothing short of an astonishing masterpiece. It’s just that good. The movie itself was received with mixed responses (I personally think it’s far better than the first one), but there was no denial that what was pouring out of the speakers was true analog bliss. Utilizing monster modular synths and their decades of experience, Daft Punk delivered in spades. If I could only listen to one soundtrack ever again, I would choose this without hesitation; if I could only listen to one album period, this would be in the top 5 contenders.

Inner Demon



It seems like yesterday that Meteor came out with his first album, Parallel Lives. That was in March 2016, and a little over a year later he’s back with Inner Demon. While I had a pretty good impression of his debut album, I went into listening to Inner Demon with my expectations in check, as I’ve been let down on new releases in the past. My initial listening impression for this album? Pretty darn good! There’s a lot of similarities to Parallel Lives, but I’m also picking up quite a few new and different things. It will still take me quite a few more listens before I can form a final opinion, but overall I’m quite happy to see this new release from Meteor, and I look forward to more!