Circle2 Synth Plugin Review
So, how do you feel about when someone uses the words Synth and Berlin in the same sentence? Well, if you are like me, you should, at least, feel curious if not excited! Berlin is a city which has a very long-term relationship with synths, (Berlin school anyone?), so, when I check the Future Audio Workshop’s website and see they claim Circle2 -its newest synth- to be “A powerful, easy-to-use synthesiser”. Designed and programmed in Berlin, well, men, I just wanna try it ASAP! So, let’s check it out:
Well, it’s, at least, fair to say that Circle2’s layout is very familiar to anyone who has ever used a synth before. Right on the main page, we’ve got four oscillators, a noise generator, tuned feedback circuit, audio mixer, insert fx slot, multimode filter, a post-filter insert fx slot, amp and five modulation sources which can be envelope generators, LFOs and/or Sequencers. So, at first glance, we are talking about a very complete and probably massive (no pun intended) synth, and that’s absolutely true, even more, when you start getting deeper in this german beast.
There are four oscillators that can be set to Analog, Wavetable or VPS, so, in Analog mode, you get all the basic waveforms, that is Sine, Saw, Square and Triangle. Raw waves sound pretty nice, there’s a little aliasing in the higher octave as expected in any digital synth. As you would expect, pulse wave has a variable pulse width, but, as you wouldn’t expect, triangle wave has variable width too which is absolutely cool!
In wavetable mode, lots of cool wavetables are available, and the best of all is that you can actually see the waveform when you are choosing the wavetable. Oh, BTW, the names for each wavetable, are absolutely fantastic! This wavetable oscillator works in a different kind of way than other wavetable synths. Instead of choosing at which point does the wave start its cycle, you get to choose two different waveforms and morph between them with a crossfader or a modulation source.
In both analog and wavetable mode, all oscillators are capable of having a sub-oscillator, and in oscillators 1 and 3, there’s a sync button, so you can sync OSC 1 to OSC 2 and OSC 3 to OSC 4.
The third oscillator mode is VPS which stands to Vector Phase Shaping, and somehow, it makes me think of Casio’s Phase Distortion. It sounds pretty much a mix between PD and Yamaha’s FM, so, I guess lots of people will be very happy with this model. Personally, it’s not my favorite, but, I have to admit it’s a good addition.
Then, of course, we find the noise generator, which has its own filter, which can be set to LPF or HPF, no resonance here, sorry, kids…
Next is the tuned feedback circuit, which can be in fact tuned by semitones.
The mixer is nice, with volumes for the four oscillators, plus noise, plus feedback, all of which can be modulated. When you crank up the volume of an oscillator, sadly it won’t drive the filter too hard, but, here’s when our next section comes in handy.
Pre-Filter Insert FX Slot
So, wanna add some character to the waveforms, before going to the filter? You came to the right place! There’s a formant filter, fuzz, overdrive, couple of EQs, phaser, crusher and Ring mod., so, you can do pretty much to the raw waveforms.
Multimode with LPF, HPF, and BPF, which can be set to 2-pole or 4-pole, so, lots of flavors to try! It is resonant, and yes, it will self-oscillate in both 2 or 4-poles. There’s also a second mode in which the filter becomes dual-filter, and again, multimode, 2 or 4-pole configuration, and also, you can have the two filters running in serial or parallel. It sounds nice and creamy, you can hear almost no stepping, but, to my ears it lacks a bit of character, too clean and perfect for my taste, but, sometimes, that’s just what you need.
Next, we find another insert FX slot, just like the Pre-filter one, but, post-filter. Then we have the amp, which can be modulated by three different sources.
Speaking of modulation, there are five modulation sources, that can be set to classic ADSR envelope, what is interesting, is that you can apply modulation to any of the four stages, plus, there’s a snap control that can make those envelopes really fast.
The LFOs can be a blend between two different shapes, and they will get to audio rate, but only 30Hz, and as slow as 0.01Hz. They can be synced to musical values and retriggered by the gate, also, there are fade in and delay options, and here, you can set the start point of the wave’s cycle just by dragging. Another cool thing about the LFOs is its waveforms. We are definitely talking about some complex digital waves, plus the usual analog waves.
The other modulation source possibility is the sequencer which is a 16-step sequencer where you can set positive or negative values. It can be free-running or synced to tempo, and there’s something like a lag processor to get smoother steps. One thing worth mentioning is I didn’t find any key combinations to enter absolute steps, which would be really nice to modulate the oscillator’s frequency in order to get some melodic sequences in an easier way. Maybe someone will correct me in the comments?
Modulation is done in a really simple way. Each section has a colored dot in the corner, and everything that can be set to a destination has some blank dots, so, you just need to drag the colored dot from the source you want to use into the blank dot in the destination and then just set the amount.
So, besides the modulation section, you can use any oscillator, noise generator, keyboard and velocity as sources, so, you really have lots of modulation possibilities, and virtually any parameter can be set as destination, some of them even can be modulated by up to three sources, so, just do the maths and calculate all possibilities!
Besides the main page, there are more pages with parameters you can use. In the keyboard page, you can set how the keyboard tracking works, glide amount, pitch bend behavior, and a very complex arpeggiator with four modes, swing, rate, gate length and shift plus a hold button, and the ability to sync it to tempo.
Next, we find a global settings page where you can the voicing (up to 32 voices), sync options, etc.
In the effects page, you’ll find three FX slots with tons of options like phaser, reverb, digital delay, Bucket Brigade Delay, echo, ping pong, tube distortion, chorus, and panner. All of this FX have parameters that can be set to the mod destination, so, for example, you can use an envelope to modulate the feedback of the delay, and this is something I absolutely love!
Finally, there’s a control page in which you can set MIDI CC numbers to control different parameters. Also, you can use OSC apps on your iPad or iPhone, and there’s even an apple remote option, which unfortunately I can’t try it cause my remote is not with me right now, but it makes me really curious! Has anyone tried it?
This is pretty fast, it sounds great and the layout and how it works are very familiar. It has lots of possibilities and it is very clean as you would expect from a digital synth. It can do pretty much anything you want to and there are lots of great presets if you are in a hurry. It has some limitations, which is very good, it helps a lot, and has some serious sound design possibilities.
To my taste, it’s too clean, too perfect, but, with all the modulation options, there are ways to make it sound more analog-ish. So, this is a really versatile tool to have in your arsenal and perfect to fit modern styles like EDM or very clear Pop.
Buy Link: Circle2