Harmor is the flagship VST synth for Image-line, the same people who brought us FL studio DAW. For this review, I had the chance to play with the synth and learn a whole lot about sound design in the process. Early on one thing became very clear, Harmor is a beast with an immense amount of sound design capabilities. Resulting in its powerful soundscapes.
How it works: Additive and Subtractive Combine
Harmor is an additive synth, meaning that the sounds are built up from a sum of sine waves. The default setting is a saw wave, which consists of every harmonic frequency smashed together. Harmor produces every harmonic individually, up to 516 instances of them per part (A/B), which are visualized on the right panel in the visualizer.
So, why is Harmor an additive/subtractive synth?
The fun and ingenuity start here. The first stage of Harmor’s subtractive synthesis doesn’t subtract audio to get the resulting sound. What Harmor does is different, it sends commands to the additive part to manipulate the harmonic oscillators and reproduce the traditional effect. The crazy part is the number of customizable parameters and the level of detail in which these can be edited, basically down to every 516 harmonics.
Parameters that can be modulated (Left), and linked to several modulators (Right).
Subtractive synths take frequencies away from the main sound, Harmor just doesn’t generate them in the synthesis phase. The only exception is the classic FX tab, every other effect is based on this principle. One of the results is decreased CPU usage. The other, and most important one:
You basically have total control over the sound at the most fundamental level, this is perfect for hard-core sound engineers who want to be able to push the definition of surgical cuts.
Opening up any of the parameters in the above-shown parameter list will open the IL line editor. In the editor, you can set time-based envelopes and LFO’s in ms and in BPM mode. You can also determine the amount of the specific effect per set of harmonics with various line shapes, like a slope, a curve, a sine wave or a manually drawn slope.
Due to the huge amount of options, I can only highlight a few of them in this review, but the general idea should become clear.
Advanced (ADV) Tab
The ADV tab lets you determine the order of both the additive/subtractive modules and the FX modules. Some of the other features are involved in the amount of CPU you permit Harmor to use to produce its sounds, you can lower the image resynthesis quality and lower the live playback quality without affecting the rendered audio output.
This is where the harmonics are initially synthesized, the following modules will influence how this one creates which Harmonics, when and how to produce their frequencies. The sound produced in the image section will also pass through the following modules and will be discussed after.
There are two separate filter modules, by default the 2nd isn’t active.
You can either have them function in parallel or in series. It has a logical envelope knob and frequency cut-off knob. Since any parameter can be customized in the line editor you can easily create your own custom shapes.
Use right click -> edit articulator for quick access.
Width will determine how many harmonics will be affected by the filter shape. You can also use the line editor to only have it affect a certain region of harmonics, should you desire to do so.
Keyboard tracking: When enabled the cut-off will follow your keyboard notes and it makes sure that there are an equal amount of harmonics for each tone. Going above 100% will add or decrease (inverse) the amount of harmonics, another tool to add flavour to your sounds.
To smooth the effects further over the full audio spectrum there is the adapt light. This will change the bandwidth intelligently to make the effect sound the same for each keyboard note
In traditional subtractive filters, resonance is the product of the set cut-off. In Harmor it is actually an additional filter, following the cut-off frequency of the main filter to emulate the traditional effect. Again this can be customized by a variety of knobs.
It gets interesting when you tweak the offset of the resonance, where you modulate the relative position of the resonance frequency compared to the main filters cut-off frequency.
The Oscillator knob will instruct Harmor to make the oscillator at the resonance frequency more active. This frequency is not related to the note being played but to the resonance attached to that, in short, it’s very open to some complex filter design properties. And then there is the width knob, tweak it by ear if you really want to mess with it.
Unison is the combination of multiple voices, which are individually modified via subtractive synthesis. All the basics can be found, number of voices, panning spread, phase shift and pitch shift.
And once again, you can customise these effects for the individual harmonics in the line editor of the harmonic unison pitch, giving you ultimate control. This means that you can detune the high end of your sound without detuning the low end.
The amount of this distribution is controlled by the pitch slider of the unison unit. No more band splitting of your sound patches, just do it at the synthesis stage.
But why stop there, lets dive even deeper into these individual modulations. In Harmor you can use the line editor to have each harmonic in the unisons be uniquely affected by most modulators, such as the filter resonance with, or any other editable effect.
Yeah that is as crazy and complex as it sounds, good luck with making boring generic sounds when you have so many different options that it borders to unlimited.
The spectrum view unfortunately only shows one voice (the compilation of all the harmonics of that particular one), instead of the combination of all possible nine variations, this is probably due to the insane complexity that these nine combined would represent.
To mimic the classic phaser effect Harmor sends command data to the oscillators to switch on and off in a pattern which sounds like the well-known effect.
As with everything in Harmor, there are many parameters you can tweak to create unique soundscapes which aren’t as accessible with “normal” phasers. Keyboard tracking will influence the speed of the phaser speed based on the keys used, enabling some cool slide effects.
Once again you can make a custom shape, which will determine the shape of the applied filter of the phaser. So now you can make phasing comb filters, neat! Putting it on Freq mode will make it sound even more alien.
Pluck & Blur
The pluck function isn’t just a regular filter modulation. There are functions, like the pluck shape, which determines the speed of the fade out of the harmonics. You can also activate blur mode, which has attack time, release time and frequency selection knobs which give the phaser some attack and decay time, smoothening the effect.
And of course you can create a custom blur mask, to create different attack and release times for different frequencies. With blur enabled you can use the pluck shape to determine the amount of the blur effect over the frequency range. This can also be used to make some reverb-like effects.
Vibrato & “EQ”
Makes your tone vibrate around the played keys, pretty basic effect but sounds great.
The Global EQ works like the common EQ, you use it to cut or boost the frequencies of the overall sound. Again in an additive fashion. The Local EQ is a bit different though, it follows the keyboard note. Fun fact, the timbre window changes accordingly, handy when you’d like to have some visual feedback while designing your waveforms.
These work like any other synth with this function. The slide speed can be controlled and the slope of the slide can be chosen as well.
You can also set the maximum note distance eligible for slide effects when the note is out of this range it’s played without the effect.
Strum, this is basically an arpeggio function, which instead of creating arp data, will play your midi chords as an arpeggio.
With tension (tns) influencing how fast it triggers all of the notes and time how long it holds them.
For FL users, the piano roll has this module as a midi effect with some more options. For everyone else, your daw can probably also do this, but it’s still a cool function.
And now some of the weirder modules, prism. It will spread the harmonics around based on the set values. The great thing is the customizable wave editor, where you can go crazy with the effect. The prism will shift the harmonics accordingly to the set graph.
Misuse of this effect will destroy your sound relatively quick, yet has the potential to make some special harsh sounds or unique super saw characteristics.
The harmonizer is able to add a second set of harmonics (that means another tone, like a third or a fifth note in the scale) and their respective harmonics. The amount determines how many additional tones are added, so it’s pretty much a mix knob for the effect, and the width how many harmonics these tones have.
The shift will spread the cloned harmonics away from their fundamental and the gap spreads them away from the first harmonic.
Harmor can analyze a sound and recreate it by combining the individual frequencies it’ built up from. Put the harmonics on the y scale and playtime on the x scale and the sound is represented as an image. Playing it is a recreation of the harmonics, making it flexible to manipulation and real-time time stretches.
Since you play the image like a set of harmonic, the sound can be edited the same way. You can also insert actual pictures and play them, which might sound like something cool, or you can embed your logo into sound, which looks cooler than it sounds with my logo.
Build in effects
The effects actually process the audio coming out of Harmor instead of the synthesized audio, making these the only actual subtractive modules. All the basic FX are there: distortion, chorus, delay, reverb, and compression.
Each of them has their own modes with characteristic sounds. These are actually pretty straightforward. These build in effects sound pretty decent, so for sound shaping purposes, they are great. When you start mixing I’d just use some post FX to place your sounds in their desired spot.
Harmor is perfect for sound designers to create any soundscape they can imagine since nearly everything is customizable. The amazing stock presets, and their diversity will convince you of the synths strong sounding capabilities.
Without burning your CPU you’ll be able to create tunes which are fire. Getting Harmor into your arsenal of synths will enable you to have ultimate control over you patches and develop your own unique sound.