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Waldorf NW1 Wavetable Module

Eurorack Module
Published March 2017
By Paul Nagle

Waldorf NW1 Wavetable ModuleEurorack Module

I can’t deny being a long-time fan of the Waldorf sound and of wavetable synthesis in general, so I was pretty keen to try out the NW1. Its Nave-inspired engine features all the classic wavetables — 80 of them — plus 10 user tables and 50 Text-To-Speech wavetables to satisfy any robotic cravings you may have. With each table holding up to 4096 waves, this module already offers a monster collection of varied, moving tones, but if you fancy rolling your own, Waldorf supply a free editor. This creates new tables either from text input or imported samples, but if you’d rather not involve a computer, wavetables can be generated straight from incoming audio.

Ordinarily, each wavetable runs on a permanent loop, its rate and direction set by the Travel Speed knob (from -120 to +120 rotations per minute). As an alternative to this rotational method of playback, you can use gate input to progress through the table instead. Both Travel Speed and Position in the table are available as external modulation sources.

The NW1 makes use of the Doeper CV/Gate bus system, so — unless disabled by jumpers on the motherboard — the module can be played directly from the bus. This is particularly handy when using a keyboard controller such as Waldorf’s own KB37, although you do need to physically plumb in the gate connection to use the gated method of wavetable travel mentioned above.

By spinning the large red encoder, you can take a tour through Waldorf’s years of wavetable creation. This spans a vast range of glassy, glitchy tones, bells, organs and electric pianos, plus vocal renderings, analogue synth impressions and harmonics squeezed from every twisted digital process known to the mad scientists at Waldorf. Joining the classic wavetables are newcomers that include a drum loop, vinyl crackle, a guiro and chanting voices — all welcome raw material.

Wavetable output is further shaped by the Spectrum, Brilliance, Keytrack and Noise controls. Of these, the first two relate to the spectral content, shifting the harmonics, spreading their peaks and blurring the detail in ways older Waldorf synths could only dream of. The results hint at everything from oscillator sync to low- and high-pass filtering, along with more abstract tonal changes with no obvious comparison. Via the Keytrack knob, spectral shifts can be driven by incoming pitch, while Noise translates to a rough-sounding noise content. Actually, this proved to be excellent for making those vocal wavetables croak believably. Familiar wavetable playback is achieved by turning noise off, setting Keytrack at 100 percent and the Spectrum and Brilliance controls at their mid-points.

With such a wealth of ROM wavetables, it might be a while before you have a crack at making your own, but it’s well worth it. Probably the simplest method involves connecting an audio source to the first CV input. There’s a built-in compressor to make the job easier and, having picked one of the 10 user slots, the next choice is of the three playback algorithms that determine the quality of your creation. Of these, Nave quality is the best, Microwave quality is less perfect (notably in the low registers) and Aliased contains lots of filthy aliasing. It’s worth noting that, due to the processes involved, the results never resemble regular sampling. The maximum recording time is around seven seconds and a user table holds no more than 256 waves, stored in a special format suitable for scanning.

With only three CV inputs, it’s not possible to cater for every modulation possibility. Each input has a gain potentiometer plus a three-way destination switch, and if you examine the options, the limitations become clear. Most disappointingly, you can’t modulate both Noise and Spectrum simultaneously because they are unique to the last switch. And arguably, there are more pitch inputs than strictly necessary, given there’s the main 1V/Oct CV input plus two further switch positions offering tuning. Wavetable selection is one parameter I’d really have loved CV control over; this would have been massively helpful for assembling longer phrases from the Text-To-Speech wavetables.

NW1 Wavetable Editor [Mac/PC].NW1 Wavetable Editor [Mac/PC].

The editor runs on Mac or Windows and, having connected a USB cable, is fairly simple to use. Some documentation would have been nice, though, because there are a few parts you need to figure out. For example, the Text-To-Speech wavetable creation is easy enough to get working, but with no clues about the rules for text to phoneme conversion, I often resorted to ‘experimental spelling’ to achieve the desired articulation. Only short phrases are catered for but at least the rendered tables are immediately activated when sent to the hardware, which is invaluable if you’re aiming for a specific pronunciation.

Creating speech tables was very entertaining, but I had mixed success importing and converting samples. Some of the resulting tables gained weird crackles and others failed to load into the module despite apparently being processed correctly. Waldorf are currently taking another look at this so improvements (and more helpful error messages) may still be on the cards. The editor is a vital tool for backing up wavetables and it also provides a painless means of performing firmware updates, with several fixes issued to date.

The NW1 is a large-ish module, but in its favour offers plenty of finger room. Other than the inability to CV control every parameter, my only criticism is that the knobs don’t feel particularly solid or confidence-inspiring. Wobbles aside, this is a unique, superb-sounding module that brings Waldorf’s wavetable synthesis to Eurorack in all its rich, diverse, robotic and ever-changing glory. A treat!

Published March 2017