Waldorf have emulated the original PPG Wave digital synthesizer in software for use as a VST Instrument. Paul White tries out the virtual Wave.
Those old enough to remember the original PPG Wave 2.3 will recall a large blue instrument that tended to stop working if you didn't transport it with extreme care -- something to do with the circuit boards popping out of their connectors, I believe. It cost a fortune, but created an interesting sound as it used digital wavetables instead of analogue oscillators. These wavetables contained relatively simple waveforms arranged into sets so that by playing back sounds from different parts of the table, different timbres could be produced. More importantly, by using various modulation sources to move up and down the wavetable while playing, it was possible to create rich, moving textures that analogue synths rarely matched -- even when using pulse-width and filter modulation. Depending on the programming, the wavetables could produce smooth, moving textures or abrupt, nasty jumps, and the classic Wave sound came from the routing of these sounds through more traditional analogue filters within the instrument.
The PPG Wave 2.V plug-in is designed to emulate pretty much all the idiosyncrasies of the original, apart from the unreliability, and it comes loaded with the original wavetables. It's produced by Waldorf, th
PPG WAVE 2.V £149
Not over-greedy when it comes to CPU power.
Has the essential character of the original PPG Wave 2.3.
Easy to program.
Wavetable structure not adequately covered in the manual.
No facility to import custom wavetables.
Wave synthesis is currently popular because of its hard-hitting sound, and the virtual vintage Wave 2.V provides a useful alternative to the various hardware interpretations.
Available for both Mac and Windows, the software comes on a copyproof CD-ROM, which you are asked to insert at random intervals for copy protection. Once installed, Wave 2.V opens just like any other VST instrument within your sequencer. Latency depends on the computer, audio interface and host software you use, but with a Mac G4 running Logic Audio, no latency was detectable. Several banks of example sounds are provided to get you started, including one from Andy Thomas, and you can store as many of your own patches as you have drive space for.
The synth has up to 64 voices available, though switching to a smaller number might be wise in most cases to conserve processing power. Only voices that sound use processing power, but if you set a long release time and play a fast run, you can soon end up with lots of notes sounding at the same time. Set to 64 voices, I found I could get my CPU activity meter up to around 40 percent by leaning on as many keys as I could at the same time. Played normally, though, it barely nibbles at the CPU resources.
Conventional on-screen knobs, buttons and sliders are used to control the interface, though there's also a useful graphic mode for editing envelopes. A virtual keyboard lets you play sounds on screen, although this can be hidden if not needed. The white buttons to the right of the front panel bring up simple menus which mainly contain multiple choices, selectable via the mouse. It's here that things like modulation routing and the onboard arpeggiator are accessed, although I was unable to try the tempo sync facility as my current version of Logic Audio doesn't actually support this feature. Selecting True PPG mode introduces the aliasing and minor instabilities of the original, while switching it off tightens up the performance at the cost of a little authenticity.
Controlling the machine is much like setting up any analogue synth, except that instead of static oscillator waveforms, there are 32 different wavetables, each with up to 64 waveforms, to choose from. There's also an Upper Wave table that can be used to expand the selected wavetable -- though the upper waves are always the same regardless of which main wavetable is being used -- and a sub-oscillator wavetable. The position within the wavetable can be controlled via key position, modulation, key pressure, pitchbend, or one of the envelope generators, while the sub waves can be detuned relative to the main waves.
The only real omission is a set of notes in the manual to tell you what the various wavetables are based on or how best to use them, though checking out some of the examples shows you pretty much what to expect. One catch for the unwary is that the standard synth waveforms are stored in the same place at the end of each wavetable, so if you scan too far through the table, you hear glitching as these waveforms come into play. Some of the more wacky patches, in fact, rely on this feature.
PPG Wave 2.V is a nicely quirky instrument with an enviable pedigree. Most of the sounds might best be described as sharply defined and analogue in style but with a harder edge -- bass sounds, for me, seem to be what the instrument does best. You can get everything from hard techno to deep Oberheim-style swells, with the wavetables providing a lot of movement. The instrument is also great for some DX-like sounds and has a very punchy character that cuts through in a mix. It can be used for creating delicate pads, though I've yet to get a good string sound out of it. Personally, I prefer the sound when the Real PPG mode is switched off to get rid of the aliasing. If it's faithfulness to the original you're after, however, note that Andy Thomas feels that, although the instrument isn't an exact replica of the facilities offered by the original Wave 2.3, it sounds pretty authentic -- right down to the vicious click you get when you set up notes with a very fast attack time. In some ways, by sticking to the limitations of the original, some opportunities have been lost (Oh to be able to load Wavestation wavetables into it!), but this is still a very flexible and distinctive-sounding instrument that fits in just as well with modern music styles as it did 20 years ago.