A review could be written on the Wave's modulation facilities alone. To economise on space, I will say that most of the Wave's parameters can be modulated from a vast selection of sources combined together under the title 'Modifier Table'. It is, however, worth listing the contents of this table, as it really gives an ideaof the scope of this instrument:
- LFO 1
- Amplifier Envelope
- Filter Envelope
- Wave Envelope
- Free Envelope
- Control Ramp
- Control Mixer
- Control Delay
- Control Shaper
- Control Sample & Hold
- Control Comparator
- Keytrack (a signal proportional to the key being played)
- Released Velocity
- Poly Pressure (external MIDI modifier)
- Playspeed (a value dependent on the time between notes)
- More Keys (measures the number of keys being played)
- Less Keys (the inverse of More Keys)
- Modulation Wheel
- Free Wheels
- Pedals 1 and 2
- Buttons 1&2...
- ... plus the complete array of MIDI modifiers.
In addition, at many locations the modifier signal (the Source) itself can be cross-modulated by another signal from the Modifier Table (the Control). Modulation pays a vital role in the sound structure of the Wave, and Waldorf have managed to make it easy — well, as easy as would be possible — to create a programming environment that can handle such a vast array of modulation sources and control facilities.
The analogue filter is the second major contributing factor to the Wave Sound. An analogue filter introduces a degree of distortion to the sound which, it seems, cannot be effectively simulated digitally — hence the timbral quality. There are, in fact, two filters for each voice: a 4-pole 24dB/octave low pass (the type that typified the fat, warm sound of the old Moogs and Oberheims) and a 12dB/octave high pass filter. By combining these filters, it is possible to construct four filter modes: Low Pass, High Pass, Band Pass, and Dual mode.
Selecting the Edit button brings up a comprehensive page on the display. The filter has all the usual analogue parameters — cut-off frequency, resonance, and its own envelope generator. The display shows all the relevant settings and draws a graph to show what the filter is doing to the sound.
An amplifier stage in conjunction with an envelope generator is used to contour each note before passing on to the panning section This defines the position of a sound within the stereo image. There are three sets of audio outputs — Main, Sub 1, or Sub 2 — and the panning facility can be applied to any of them. In addition, the panning facility can be modulated by virtually any source. There's also an Aux Send facility, which is akin to that of a mixing desk, but instead of just sending a straight signal to an external effects processor, say, you can modulate this signal, thus opening up a whole new range of creative options.
A fairly large performance control panel sits next to the five-octave, C-to-C keyboard. This keyboard is a bit of a weak link; for an instrument of this nature, a six-octave compass would be desirable, especially considering its master keyboard facilities — but that would make the Wave even bigger. However, Waldorf do offer a 76-note Wave as an option "on demand". Polyphonic aftertouch would have been nice, and I should mention that the black notes clunk on the panel above (if only to cue Waldorf to fix this). Some might expect a fully-weighted keyboard on an instrument of this stature, but personally I don't think it's really necessary.
The Wave's performance controls are intelligently designed, offering a wide variety of options. In addition to the standard pitchbend (centre sprung) and mod wheel, there is a Free Wheel, which can be routed to virtually any destination, and two assignable buttons (seen on the new Ensoniq TS machines and elsewhere). Octave up/down buttons are also on hand, as are the glide controls. Comment should be made about the master volume control, which can be set to send out MIDI Volume commands to all connected instruments for total 'System Volume' control.
Above the keyboard are a set of sequencer transport controls — the Wave doesn't have an on-board sequencer (yet) but these buttons are used to control external sequencers, in a way that is biased, by the look of them, towards Cubase, but perfectly usable with any software sequencer with a MIDI remote control facility. This is a great idea.
A synth of this nature marks an incredible investment for a company the size of Waldorf Electronics. But I'm sure they've done their homework — and they're going to sell a fair few of these instruments.
Waldorf have said we need an instrument that has a good user interface — one that synthesizer players can easily relate to, that uses wavetable technology for harmonically rich sound, and that employs analogue filters to add the warmth lacking from digital instruments. They've done very well in all these departments. As mentioned elsewhere in this review, they've failed to come up with a set of factory presets that say "buy me" (just as they did when they launched the Microwave), and they've produced the instrument at what I think is quite a high price. Personally, I think they should have aimed for the £3999 mark (ex VAT), and perhaps economised on certain features — although I must admit that it's hard to see what they could have left out without compromising what is a very high-quality and prestigious instrument.
This isn't the sort of synth you're going to buy just on the strength of the presets. A closer look and listen to the instrument reveals its true nature and character. Put the Wave alongside an S&S synthesizer, switch off the effects section of the latter and play. The Wave will blow virtually everything else out of the water (though I haven't yet had the opportunity to try the new Yamaha VL1, reviewed by Martin Russ elsewhere in the SOS July 1994 issue). The Wave, as I've explained, forgoes the temporary gloss of on-board effects and gets back to the actual waveforms to create depth. Consequently it has a sound that, for me, cannot be matched.
A mention should be made of the wave analysis facility. The Wave will take a sampled sound and extract a wavetable full of spectrums from that sample. You can then edit the wavetable, and utilise it accordingly. It sounds complicated, but all the fancy footwork is done by the Wave, so you don't really have to think too hard.
I took a note from a track I'd created using Mac Sound Tools and saved it in Sound Designer I format. I then formatted a floppy in the Wave, transferred the SDI file onto this disk using Apple File Exchange, then loaded the file into the Wave. After 20 to 30 seconds I was presented with a complete wavetable, and although it initially sounded rather raspy, with a bit of judicious harmonic editing and smoothing I was able to create a wavetable that had the characteristic quality of that sound (a big string sound). I could then use the rest of the Wave's technology to make that wavetable really come alive. At this stage we're running out of space, but I'm sure you get the idea.
Wavetable Synthesis is a remarkable system, and Waldorf have gone to extraordinary lengths to make constructing your own wavetables as simple and as intuitive as possible. The facility to process existing samples in this way is a revolution and will lead to a whole host of new sounds, I'm sure. A complex, fiddly business has been made relatively effortless, and the end results are truly rewarding.
- Dynamic Spectral Wavetable Synthesis.
- Analogue multi-mode filter.
- Sample Analysis for user-generated wavetables.
- Dynamic panning.
- Real-time just intonation.
- Master keyboard facilities to control up to 32 external MIDI devices.
- MS-DOS floppy disk drive, HD and DD, for data storage and Sound database functions.
- Software Expandable.
- Hardware Expandable (up to 48 voices).
The Wave is based on a multi-processor system, with an open hardware architecture in order to facilitate future hardware updates. This is similar to the way in which computers allow cards to be plugged into their internal bussing system.
- The main CPU is a Motorola 68000 running at 16MHz. Each additional voice board has its own 68000.
- 512Kb of S-RAM (with battery back-up) and 1Mb of workspace RAM are provided. At present, there is no additional ROM except a small boot ROM for controlling the loading of the system from disk.
- Digital tone generation is achieved using two ASICs per voice board. Each ASIC corresponds to the digital tone generation board of one PPG Wave 2.2 or 2.3.
- Each voice has its own D/A converter, followed by a Curtis filter chip (this includes 24dB/octave and 12dB/octave filter networks). The signal is finally routed to the three stereo output pairs.
The Factory sounds supplied with the Wave I reviewed are, I'm told, the same as those that will ship with the instrument. Obviously, programming sounds for a new instrument comes right at the end when all the sales team and accountants are hassling the production team to get the thing out there. Consequently it's a little bit unfair to judge them too harshly. Having said that, when you get an instrument to appraise as a reviewer, or if you're in a shop or at an exhibition, the first thing you do is try the presets — it's inevitable. You don't reach for the manual and start programming, do you? You sit down, maybe stick on a pair of headphones, and go through the factory sounds. If you did this with the Wave you might initially be disappointed, doubly disappointed if you were simultaneously looking at the price tag. So preset sounds can be important, especially in creating a good first impression.
Over the next few months, I'm sure that Waldorf will improve on the Wave's presets. Although programming is made easy by the design of the machine, getting a collection of good sounds does take time. One point to consider is that the Wave, being a top-flight, pro instrument, isn't going to sell in huge numbers, therefore there won't be a large user-base coming up with new sounds and circulating them — so Waldorf have to make sure that they themselves have a good base of sounds for the Wave.
So what do we have at present?
There are two Banks (A and B) of 128 Performances, each Performance consisting of up to eight Sounds, though for the most part the Waldorf programmers have only used one or two Sounds.
'WaveStrings' and 'SynStrings1' are superb string sounds. I don't think I've ever heard such a good synthesized string sound as 'WaveString'; its got everything — and that's dry, with no effects. There's depth and space and movement here, all in one, and that's pretty typical of a lot of the sounds, many of which explore the possibilities the Wave offers, and provide ideas for programming. For example, a Performance labelled '1-2-3-4-5' utilises a wave analysis of someone counting to five and processes this in a startling manner. With the exception of the strings, don't expect great imitations of other instruments from the Wave's sound banks — that's not what the Wave is about.
Where the Wave really stands out is with pads, and although some don't sound too special when you play them, stick them into a track and they'll sit there doing their job beautifully — they don't get in the way, but add an air of expensiveness and quality. I was recording a couple of library music tracks when reviewing the Wave, and luckily discovered this in time to take advantage of it!
The preset banks include lots of bell-like timbres, which seem to be fillers, but you'll find great sounds dotted all around, amid such fillers. Many strong bass timbres are provided, and PPG 2.3 owners won't be disappointed by some of the recreations of its ancestor — especially 'Classic PPG', a really full, hard-hitting synth sound.
No matter how good your headphones are, use monitors to check out the Wave's Sounds if you possibly can — headphones, by their very nature, can't do justice to the Wave.
In short, then, there are some real gems in the preset banks, but there should be more — the Wave is certainly capable of providing them, and it would be a shame for prospective buyers to be less impressed by this lovely instrument for the want of a few hundred sound-programming hours.
The wavetable is the Wave's basic timbral foundation. 64 factory preset wavetables are included, and 64 locations are available for creating your own — a task which is fairly straightforward, and very rewarding.
First select a wavetable to Edit. You can now fill this with existing waves or edited versions of existing waves, or you can create new ones. There are various ways to create and edit waves
- HARMONIC EDITING: lets you specify levels of individual harmonics up to the 64th.
- GRAPHIC EDIT: allows you to draw the waveform using the display faders to edit down to individual wave samples.
- FM SYNTHESIS: lets you create waves by specifying parameters of an 8-operator FM Synthesis algorithm.
Clipping, normally a phenomenon to be avoided at all costs can, in the case of wave production, be gainfully employed to produce striking results. If you add lots of harmonics together, you may get clipping; however, by manipulating the clipping using one of three techniques — digital clipping, analogue clipping, and inverse clipping — you can positively utilise the additional harmonics this 'distortion' creates.
Certain macros are available to expand, compress and manipulate harmonic structure for specific effect. New waves can also be created by blending, mixing, multiplying, dividing, and indexing (too complicated to explain here) two or more existing waves.
Once the waves have been constructed/edited, they are then simply positioned within the wavetable. Again, there are various macros to facilitate the filling of the wavetable, and for ensuring (if desired) that adjacent waves sit happily with one another. For example, you might have a series of waves where one has a rogue 23rd Harmonic. A macro will sort this out. Another will look at all the waves in the wavetable and adjust them en masse, to bring out a stronger fundamental frequency, for example.
- Dimensions: Width 1175mm; Depth 550mm; Height 305mm (display panel up),135mm (panel flat)
- Keyboard: 61-note, C-to-C, velocity sensitive, with channel aftertouch
- Performances: 256 on-board locations, as many as you like on disks
- Sounds: 256 on board
- Wavetables: 128: 64 Factory set, 64 User programmable
- Polyphony: 16-voice
- Multitimbrality: 8-part
- Sequencer: Transport controls above keyboard for controlling external sequencer only
- Floppy Disk Drive: 3.5-inch DD/HD, MS-DOS
- Main Out (x2)
- Sub Out 1 (x2)
- Sub Out 2 (x2)
- Aux Send
- Aux Return (x2)
- Analogue In (x4)
- Out (x2)
- Mains Power In
- Pedal (x2)
Launched in 1989 (see review in the December 1989 issue of SOS), and a rare example of an instrument with staying power, Waldorf's MicroWave offered a compact (2U rackmounting), more reliable, easier to use and (importantly) cheaper redeployment of the legendary and rather expensive PPG Wave range of instruments. Both families of instrument feature a form of wavetable synthesis, and share a 'family' sound. The MicroWave produces its sounds by manipulating a wavetable that is processed through a comprehensive range of subtractive synthesis-type parameters.The resulting sounds can be almost impossible to obtain with traditional subtractive analogue synthesis or the sample + synthesis instruments that are most prevalent today. The general consensus on Waldorf's signature sound is that adjectives such as industrial, heavy and metallic apply. The instrument is capable of rich sounds with a lot of depth and movement — a side effect of producing sound by sweeping through a wavetable and utilising the MicroWave's extensive modulation possibilities to the full. Note that Richard Norris and Dave Ball of The Grid use a MicroWave with a selection of voice cards and wouldn't be without it! See the interview with The Grid elsewhere in this issue.
The MicroWave's basic spec is as follows:
- Two oscillators per voice with three modulation inputs, each driving a wavetable memory with four modulation inputs per oscillator.
- 30 factory wavetables make up a wave memory of nearly 2000 waveforms.
- Built-in mixer for wave and noise sources, with four modulation inputs.
- True analogue filter with four modulation inputs and resonance.
- Three assignable envelopes — one ADSR, one ADSR plus delay, one loopable modular envelope with eight time and level parameters.
- Two LFOs, each featuring four waveforms.
- 8-part multitimbrality.
- Stereo output, with four assignable individual outs.
- Real-time parameter access over MIDI.
The MicroWave is still available new (priced at £999) and is distributed in the UK by Turnkey Studio Systems; you can find contact details at the end of the main Wave review. Derek Johnson
- Good design simplifies programming.
- Wavetable synthesis and analogue filters.
- Easy to update and expand for the future.
- Unrivalled master keyboard facilities.
- No on-board effects.
- No drum samples.
- Awesome sound potential.
- Awesome appearance.
- Awesome price.
- Factory sounds fail to do justice.
- Big and heavy — just to impress
- Display can be hard to read — would benefit from VDU output.
- Operating System not yet in ROM.
A truly professional instrument. Waldorf have taken most of the best elements found in synthesizers from the past 25 years, added a few new ideas of their own and packed them into one big box. Forget the price — bear in mind that the factory sounds are just scratching the surface — and just listen to the instrument sing.