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Review: ELZ_1 Portable Synthesizer by Sonicware

Sonicware ELZ_1 Synthesizer Review

It’s always a pleasure to test new equipment like headphones, controllers, synthesizers, or speakers. Recently I put my hands on the ELZ_1, a synthesizer built by the Japanese company Sonicware. Initially presented at NAMM 2019 in January, ELZ_1 has attracted a lot of interest among the sound design and music enthusiasts. It is presented as a proactive synthesizer that includes FM, 8-bit wave memory, noise-engine, and granular synthesis engines developed from the ground up. So, let’s see what is about!

Sonicware’s new synthesizer features a number of sound engines, including FM SYNTH and an 8BIT WAVE MEMORY SYNTH, all of which are meant for editing and morphing. An additional DNA Explorer allows analyzing audio waveforms from recorded audio, which can then be changed. The internal granular synthesizer SiGRINDER should provide further possibilities in sound design.

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The synthesizer has arrived very well packaged, safe from Japan to Europe in about 7 days. I opened the box and here it is, ELZ_1 impressed me right from the moment I got it in my hand. The metal box is very well built offering a premium feel right from the first touch. The box includes a USB cable, some essential printed instructions for first use, and a sleeve, very good for transport. The dimensions are reduced, the length is 399 mm and the width is 133 mm. It weighs about 1.3 Kg due to the metal casing. When you want to take ELZ_1 on the field, it can be powered by 4 AA batteries. The battery cover is underneath, easy to access.

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At the center of the instrument is a sharply displayed and bright OLED display, through which all operations are visualized. Especially in the graphical representation of the oscillators, the illustrations are well done and all follow a stringent style. ELZ_1 also includes a keyboard in the form of buttons covering 3 octaves which are enough to put this little beast to work.

Up to 128 presets can be stored. If you want to save your own creations, you have to overwrite the factory presets. Fortunately, you can make a full backup of the sounds in advance and transfer via USB to a connected computer.

Two of the oscillators (DNS Explorer and SiGRINDER) can also be operated with their own samples, which are recorded via the 3.5 mm Aux-In jack. The Sonicware ELZ_1 has two unbalanced 6.3 mm jack outputs on which the stereo signal is located. Its volume is independent of the headphone/speaker volume adjustable. The speaker itself is enough to get an idea of the sound and is quite noisy.

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The menu sets things like USB mode, memory usage, and backups. Here you can also import/export up to 30 custom waveforms for the 8-bit oscillator. This oscillator comes in three versions (Wavemem, Wavemem Morph, and Wavemem FM) and can probably be regarded as the heart of the Sonicware ELZ_1 synthesizer.

This small synth is built up like a classically subtractive one: oscillator → ADSR envelope → multimode filter → effect section. In front of the oscillator, you will find an arpeggiator with seven modes (Up, Down, Up-Down, Down-Up, Up & Down, Down & Up, and Play Order). At least the speed can be specified here in BPM and the note dividers down to a 1/64 note. There are also triplet and dotted values, unfortunately, these are limited to quarter and half triplets. And even with the dotted values, only dotted quarters, eighths and sixteenths are available.

The effects are fixed in four blocks: Drive / Mod, Modulation, Delay, Reverb. There is no effect routing. The effects sound analytical and digital, especially the Drive effects, Overdrive, Distortion, and Fuzz provide for violent digital artifacts. Also, the reverb is nothing that would shine on its own especially – but to thicken the patches, he is enough. Especially if no single notes or percussion are played.

A selectable parameter can be modulated both in the oscillator section and in the filter section. The source is either an LFO or the envelope. Unfortunately, the LFO is currently not syncable to the clock.

With experience in FM programming, it’s easy to create all the common sounds. But the Sonicware ELZ_1 really does not get interesting until you go into the chip-tune section. Since the wavetable oscillators are modeled on those of the MSX expansion chips, you can create exactly that sound with them. The Sonicware ELZ_1 is a small digital synth with a lot of potentials – its small and compact design draws you to work with this synthesizer.. From beautiful to evil, but always with a touch of chiptune, the Sonicware ELZ_1 uses a wide range, which is not yet covered by any synthesizer. Sonicware brings the ELZ_1 equipped with different sound engines, which should offer many possibilities in the sound design.

Find out more details or even grab your unit by following the link: Sonicware ELZ_1

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