Review: XILS-lab Synthix virtual analog synthesizer plugin
After taking on the RSF Polykobol II (PolyKB II) and EMS VCS3 modular (XILS-3), XILS-lab continues its quest to produce authentic recreations of vintage analog synthesizers with Synthix, a virtual instrument inspired by the Elka Synthex, a popular Italian polysynth from the early 80’s.
Ring Modulation, Cross Pulse Width Modulation and Hard Synchronization between the oscillator and a special powerful glide circuit allow the recreation of all the well known Arp lasers and chorused strings that made this synthesizer the icon of it’s age.
The Synthex is often praised for its lush analog sounds. It offers 2 oscillators per note, multiple voice layers and splits. It has 4 voice cards with 2 voices each, so you basically have 8 complete mono synth circuits in one synthesizer.
If you are a fan of Jean Michel Jarre’s music you will probably know the Synthex, or at least its sound.
I am personally not so familiar with the Synthex, but I know XILS-labs’ Synthix has the same kind of architecture, adding some interesting additional features.
- Two aliasing-free oscillators providing saw, triangle, pulse or square wave forms.
- One multi-mode self-oscillating filter, providing 12 and 24 low pass, 6 and 12 band pass and a 12 high pass filter.
- Hard synchronization between the two oscillators.
- Ring-Modulation, Pulse-Width Cross Modulation between the two oscillators.
- Advanced Glide/Portamento.
- Four envelope generators (ADSR) with an advanced delay feature, 2 are freely assignable.
- Two Multi Waveform MIDI syncable polyphonic LFO.
- One sine monophonic LFO.
- One Advanced exclusive Chaotic LFO.
- One Advanced exclusive rhythm LFO.
- One 128 steps polyphonic sequencer.
- Two arpeggiators (monophonic or polyphonic).
- Chorus, Phaser, Delay and EQ effects.
- Mono/Unison/Poly playing mode with up to 16 voices of polyphony.
- Six freely assignable Modulation slots.
- Advanced Multi Layering (up to 8 layers) feature.
- Advanced Guitar voice assignation mode.
- All parameters are MIDI controllable.
Synthix features various polyphonic and monophonic modes, unison, and voice selection & assignment options. At a maximum of 16 voices, the synth features no less than 8 independent layers of 2 voices with a separate set of oscillators, multi-mode filter, envelopes & LFOs for each layer. The parameters within a layer can be modified individually or collectively for a selection of layers. In case this all sounds like gibberish to you, just think complex sounds.
Synthix has 2 keyboards (upper and lower) with individual arpeggiator and MIDI settings for each keyboard. You can split a keyboard into MIDI ranges, or use the complete keyboard on different MIDI channels.
Besides upper and lower keyboard ranges, there’s also a special Guitar mode which allows you to use your guitar to play up to two voices on Synthix’s 6 MIDI channels, using a guitar to MIDI converter. Obviously you can also use any other MIDI device to trigger the MIDI channels.
Lotuzia – one of the presets designers for Synthix, has created a video demonstrating many of the things I just mentioned.
Taking the emulation beyond an emulation
XILS-lab worked hard to create a virtual Synthex, Synthix is in many ways also intentionally different to bring added value.
Paul Wiffen, the man who designed most of Synthex’s presets and introduced the synthesizer to people like Jean Michelle Jarre, Stevie Wonder, and Keith Emerson, said this about the Synthix:
Although it may take a few moments to locate the familiar parameters of the Synthex on the screen once you begin to manipulate them the sonic results are uncannily close to the original. On several occasions I found myself prefering the extra flexibility in the Synthix especially when it came to sonic control via velocity and aftertouch, control wich were never available on the original machine. the additional polyphony and multiple layering of timbres are particulary welcomed.
Let’s take a closer look at the interface.
The top half of Synthix houses the modules of a layer. From left to right you have the LFOs, modulation matrix, 2 oscillators (with sync and drift for a more analog feel), noise generator, a section with glide & portamento and layer specific output, pan and tune parameters, a multi-mode filter, and 4 envelopes. Pretty straight forward.
More interesting are the Chaox and Rhythm LFO modules, two of XILS-lab’s additions to the original Synthex design. Chaox is basically like a regular LFO, but more chaotic. Instead of using a waveform you get 4 algorithms that create a more or less random modulation effect. I love this kind of modulation; great for creating tune drifting Boards of Canada type sounds. The Rhythm LFO is useful for creating rhythmic patterns by modulating at a specific step in the LFO cycle. Multiple intervals are available for creating more complex rhythms.
Synthix also features the lovely joystick found on Elka’s hardware synth.
Six sliders on the right side of the joystick set the modulation amount to the oscillators and filter cutoff parameters. The LFO 3 sliders set the amount of modulation of the LFO’s tuning. A switch lets you modulate only upper or lower keyboard ranges, or both.
Again, this may all sound a bit complex but if you just wiggle the joystick around a bit you’ll get a feel for it right away. Think expressive sounds.
While the Synthex only had a chorus unit, with Synthix you have three more effects at your disposal.
- Delay – a simple delay with individual controls for delay time and feedback for left and right channels + sync to host.
- Chorus – a dual brigade delay effect with three chorus modes. The manual includes parameters values to emulate the original Synthex chorus modes.
- Phaser – basic phaser effect unit including sweep and internal audio feedback controls.
- Equalizer – two high/low shelf filters with freq, res and gain.
Synthix has a seemingly basic arpeggiator with up/down/random modes. A number of additional parameters are available in a popup panel. Here you can set a chord sequence for the polyphonic mode, assign the order of voices, set the arp mode, and the number of octaves to be used.
Moving down to the lower area of Synthix’s interface we find a relatively inconspicuous sequencer and a large virtual keyboard (KBD). Two additional tabs reveal a sequencer display (SEQ) and an information panel (INFO), which can contain some useful details on a preset. I say can because some of the sound designers make good use of this panel while others pretty much ignore it.
I rarely use a sequencer other than the one that comes with my music production application. It is more advanced than any sequencer type thing found in a plug-in and it makes more sense in terms of workflow. Still, Synthix’s sequencer is pretty interesting.
Being polyphonic, it allows for recording on 4 individual tracks. This is done in step-sequence fashion, with a maximum of 128 steps per sequence. Once recorded you can edit sequences in the display module. You can sync to host tempo and the rate knob sets the speed. It is easy to create evolving sequences, even more since steps are velocity sensitive and you can modulate both tune and note velocity to create variations.
Synthix comes with a superb selection of 250+ presets by some great sound designers, including Paul Wiffen, who actually programmed most of the preset sounds for the Synthex.
The preset management system in the top toolbar allows patch selection and sorting in various ways, e.g. on author, type, bank, etc. Nice and tidy.
A/B comparison, general options, and a help function are also available from the same toolbar.
You can listen to some demo tracks on the XILS-lab website. I recommend checking the separate instruments clips as well, those are really well done. Some Synthex vs Synthix A/B comparison clips are also available on the same page.
XILS-lab offers a full featured demo version (time limited) for eLicenser and iLok, as well as a dongle-less demo version with some limitations. Go check it out.
So what do I think?
Format: Audio Plug-in for Windows/Mac (VST/AU/RTAS), eLicenser/iLok dongle required
Price: 169 EUR incl. VAT
Like: Amazingly fat, deep, and complex sounds. High quality, usable presets
Don’t like: Non-intuitive parts of interface, can be CPU intensive
Initially some things in Synthix were a bit confusing to me. After reading the manual and getting more familiar with the various panels and controls I still couldn’t get along with the workflow/interface much.
I was having a hard time seeing what exactly was going on, especially when it comes to layers and voices. Eventually I felt more comfortable with Synthix, especially after browsing and breaking down some of the more complex presets. Still, I think there is room for improvement to make the interface more intuitive. If you get discouraged at this stage – for instance when checking the demo version, you might not even want to continue and miss out on something really good.
Synthix is one of the best sounding virtual analog synthesizers I have ever heard. It’s right up there with FXpansion’s Synth Squad and u-he’s ACE. It produces a real fat sound. Huge deep bass, piercing lead sounds, Rhodes-like keys, soft evolving pads, plucks, wild sound fx… Synthix does it all, and what’s more you can create amazingly complex sounds using layers. As long as your CPU can handle it…
I also really like the CEM 3320-based filter on Synthix. You can get it to do some proper nasty stuff, especially when pushing to the extremes in combination with the overdrive.
In short, Synthix is a wonderful virtual analog synth with some nifty extras. It is capable of producing both the classic sounds of its role model from the 80’s, as well as sounds for your modern day productions. Plus, did I mention it sounds fat? It sure does!
Note: As part of a launch promotion you can still get 30% off the regular price of Synthix until August 31.