ASM expand their popular Hydrasynth range with two new options.
Three years is not a long time. Yet, in that short period, Ashun Sound Machines (ASM) have managed to sneak one of their excellent Hydrasynths into half of the studios I know. The Hydrasynth is an 8‑voice digital synth often categorised as a wavetable synth, although it isn’t really. In his May 2020 review, Paul Nagle praised it for its unique approach to digital synthesis, solid build, and inclusion of polyphonic aftertouch. I am fairly sure Paul still has one in his studio.
The Hydrasynth appears to have sold well for ASM. Well enough, it seems, to expand the range. The new Explorer and Deluxe versions join the original Keyboard and Desktop models to make a total of four Hydrasynths from which to choose.
The Explorer is the baby of the bunch — the most cost‑effective way to jump on the Hydrasynth train. Its compact design, mini‑keys and reduced number of controls make it the perfect choice for anyone constrained by budget or space. The Deluxe, on the other hand, is the Rolls Royce of the group, with a six‑octave semi‑weighted keyboard and dual synth engines, giving you two Hydrasynths in one high‑end package.
We won’t go into the fine detail of our original Hydrasynth review, but a recap is undoubtedly helpful. All Hydrasynth models share the same powerful synthesis engine. Everything revolves around three oscillators capable of wave‑scanning, FM and virtual‑analogue synthesis. There’s 8‑voice polyphony in all models except the new Deluxe, which gives you 16.
The Hydrasynths are often referred to as wavetable synthesizers, although this isn’t strictly accurate. Wave‑scanning allows you to choose up to eight static digital waveforms and morph between them. The sonic result is similar to wavetables, even though you can’t save or import your own.
Two of the three oscillators can be further manipulated by an independent pair of ‘mutant’ modules. Each module can choose one of eight processors, including FM, phase‑shifting, unison, sync, pulse‑width modulation, and other harmonic treatments. Ring modulation and noise can also be added before the mixed signal passes to the dual filters.
There is a healthy number of digital filter types. There are various flavours of low‑, band‑, and high‑pass filters, and even a vowel filter. They sound excellent, whether routed in series or parallel. Filters can be overdriven for analogue‑style saturation too. One aspect of digital synths I appreciate over their analogue counterparts is a stereo signal path, which is present here. Any audio signal can be panned before it reaches the filters, and that stereo information will be maintained for the rest of the signal path.
Many modulation sources are available to add movement to your sound, including five LFOs, five envelopes, and the usual MIDI suspects. All of which are handled by a generous 32‑slot modulation matrix.
Hydrasynths offer four effects slots, which can all be active at once. There are two multi‑effects slots with flanger, chorus, phaser, rotary, lo‑fi, tremolo, EQ, compression and distortion, plus dedicated reverb and delay slots. I’m not usually a fan of onboard effects on synthesizers, but here they sound impressive and are flexible enough to feel like part of the synthesis rather than a cheap add‑on.
ASM round off the synthesis options with a moderately powerful arpeggiator. The usual modes and options are present, as well as some more unusual options like chord mode, phrase mode (64 to choose from), cycle length, octave ordering modes, and ratchets with probability. I’m not usually a fan of arpeggiators, either. However, ASM have provided enough bells and whistles to easily avoid the cliché patterns we’ve heard a thousand times...