The earliest version of the Kyra was developed by a chap named Manuel Caballero, called the Exodus Valkyrie and shown at the 2018 Frankfurt Musikmesse. It was only when Waldorf took over development that it was renamed and reshaped into its present form, and I think that this explains many of my concerns about it; whereas Waldorf have released some polished products in recent years, the Kyra feels disjointed and unfinished.
Waldorf's marketing department might suggest that it's special because of its use of FPGAs, but I don't see that this has imparted any tangible benefits. They might also point to the 32x oversampling in the OGs, but I would point out that the signal is downsampled by a factor of 16 even before it reaches the filter. Nonetheless, if the firmware continues to be developed and if someone releases an editor to make programming more intuitive, it could become a solid instrument. But I can't promise that it will ever be exceptional; despite the undoubted synthesis power available, the waveforms are public domain, the modulation matrix is small by current standards, and the underlying 'patch plus all of its effects' architecture has been around since Novation released the Supernova more than 20 years ago.
I really want the Kyra to be fabulous, so I'm going to hope that Waldorf will continue to develop it and turn it into the instrument that I hoped it would be.
Each Patch includes an arpeggiator that offers four conventional modes: up, down, up/down and random. A fifth mode is called chord and, if a one-octave range is selected, this repeats the played chord without modification. If two or three octaves are selected, it plays the notes with random inversions. You can determine the Gate length in the menus alongside various timing parameters. It doesn't understand velocity information, but variation is provided by 128 Patterns that offer a range of beats and accents. The manual suggested that I use sustain pedals to latch the arpeggios in each Part, but this was useless because I quickly ran out of feet. So I discussed this with Waldorf and a new firmware revision with a software latch parameter (pedal or keys) soon appeared. This still needs to be mapped to a physical control, but it's a big step in the right direction.
The Kyra responds to only a small subset of available MIDI CCs plus a handful of RPNs. These CCs can be used to automate numerous parameters via the modulation matrix, but performance automation — ie. moving knobs and pressing buttons in real time and recording the results — is recorded and replayed using SysEx, which means that you can't edit that aspect of your performances in your DAW. I discussed this with Waldorf's engineers, and they're going to look at adding CC automation to their request list.
If you want to use the Kyra with a PC you'll also need to install the dedicated USB driver and the synth will then appear on the computer as both a MIDI device and an audio device. (Mac users have no need for such antediluvian farting around.) Since the Kyra streams all 16 USB channels whether they're in use or not, it places heavy demands on the computer. You can drop the output sample rate to 48kHz if necessary but you can't output at 44.1kHz, so you'll need another stage of sample-rate conversion if you're recording for CD.
Although there are no analogue inputs on the Kyra, you can route two channels of 48kHz or 96kHz digital audio from your DAW to the synth in Soundcard Mode. Once received, these channels are directed to the 'A' output pair and your headphones, replacing any synthesizer Parts that are directed to 'A'. You can't modify this audio in any way other than adjusting its volume, so this is purely a rendering facility.
Unfortunately, there's no software to integrate the Kyra more fully with the DAW. I suggested to Waldorf that it would seem to be an ideal synth for plug‑in control, and they agreed. We'll have to see whether anything comes of this.
- It comprises eight powerful VA synths, complete with their effects chains.
- It has four balanced stereo analogue outputs and can stream all of its audio via USB 2.
- It sometimes sounds very good.
- It feels solid and robust.
- The Patch/Part/Multi architecture can be confusing.
- Programming can be slow and frustrating.
- There's no wavetable synthesis, despite the use of the term.
- The filters don't self-oscillate as claimed.
- There's no audio-frequency filter or amplifier modulation.
- You have to be careful to avoid distortion.
- The use of pots means that knob positions have no relation to a newly selected Patch.
- The controls send SysEx messages rather than MIDI CCs.
- There's no DAW integration.
- If it remains unplugged, your RAM patches could evaporate after a few months.
- Kyra uses a non-standard external PSU with an unconventional connector and no strain relief.
- It's not cheap.
I was very much looking forward to reviewing the Kyra but, while it has great potential, there's still a lot to be sorted out. One to watch.