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03 October 2011

SYNAPSE AUDIO SOFTWARE DUNE 1.35 | $139

REVIEW
What the world needs now is... Yet another analog, subtractive-type synth? Really? OK, let us gird loins, remember that FM and wavetable synthesis are also incorporated and indulge Synapse Audio’s 32/64-bit, VST/AU synth plugin Dune for Windows and OS X. Developer Synapse is the German outfit that brought us the Windows-only Orion Studio which, while a very capable DAW, lost out rather in the good-looks department. Loading Dune induces a similar amount of ‘ho hum’, what with its mildly bland interface. Functional, but not flash, which may well appeal to those who care to peek further than skin-deep (GUI cork-sniffers resist the urge to turn away now). While not exactly a beautiful visual render of a real-world subtractive synth, this Differential UNison Engine (hence the name) does have the significant virtue of having all the basics on one, albeit plain-looking, page. Flip through a few presets and things become rapidly more alluring, however.


Dune sounds richer than the IMF and more powerful than the global conspiracy behind the IMF. It’s more subtle than a vodka-fuelled chat-up line isn’t, more radical than a student likely to graduate a lawyer, rawer than one’s throat after a Tokyo karaoke night, smoother than a Nepalese maiden’s... I'm going to stop here because I worry about a depleting supply of superlatives. Let’s just say it’s good, right? So let's have an earful...

Scott Yahney: Dune Overview

Rob Lee: Dune Total Recall

Lance Emmerich: Gracious

Michael Kastrup: Full Soundset demo

Michael Kastrup: Various Pads, Basses and Leads

Oliver Froning: Dune Demo #1

Oliver Froning: Dune Demo #2

Yassin Chairi: Hollywood Pad / Forest Flute

Yassin Chairi: Euro Lead

Yassin Chairi: Eastern Mallet

Yassin Chairi: Spring Break / Eagles Nest

Dr Synth: Seeker

Dr Synth: Royal Highness

Creating a few sounds from scratch further enhances appeal and it’s rare to find a synth that makes sound creation so accessible. Drop-down images give the basic oscillator waveforms, of which there are plenty. The experience puts one in mind of Massive by Native Instruments. But with Massive, you can alter the signal flow in several ways. That said, NI’s biggie can be tricky to coax towards warm and lush sounds. No such problem with Dune. It sounds rich right off the bat. The filters in all their variations do their jobs admirably and at no point did I find myself wishing I could do more tricks with the signal flow. Quite the opposite, actually. I have a limited tolerance for how many steps it takes to alter a sound, but I never reached it here. Dune is as fast and intuitive as any soft synth I’ve used, which took me by surprise. I now like the understated interface (such a fickle flibbertigibbet I be).

The Differential UNison Engine (look at the pretty diagram, left) makes it a cinch to rapidly put in all those oscillator drifts and other variances that help make a real analog synth sound so alive. The technology behind it is the familiar Unison function. Most every synthesizer these days has the facility to stack and spread voices so you can have one oscillator repeated multiple times, with each instance slightly detuned and panned for a fuller flava. With Dune, you’ve up to eight voices, but they can be multiplied up to 24 oscillators. And if that’s not fat enough, there’s a mode by which up to 120 oscillators can be synthesized per note. You want more? OK, hop in and edit voices using the Modulation Matrix, a feature adorning a significant number of soft synths. The Matrix isn’t over-egged with envelopes and LFOs, but you can get quite definite sound shifts, or create subtle changes that enrich the basic oscillator sound. This latter feature is what really gets folk fruity.

Many is the time I’ve used a synth like Lennar Digital Sylenth and wished there were more envelopes and an extra LFO to put in small variations to arrive at an understated, but enhancing richness. Being able to do so on one or more voices of a stacked oscillator is really quite something and I hope Synapse gets a good run on Dune before other developers follow suit. Which I suspect will happen because it’s a killer feature. As is the decidedly slick 32-step arpeggiator, which can of course be tempo-synced to the project, has a multitude of modes for yet more variation and boasts a Swing function. The deal is topped off with built-in effects, including distortion, two EQs, phaser/chorus, delay and reverb which have a minimal hit on the CPU and will save you bunging in yet another FX insert.

I voted for Dune with my wallet and have no regrets. There’s the excitement of it being version 1 point blah and I'm agog to see what appears in version 2. Maybe a few more modulation waveforms and an extra LFO or two? Dune deserves exploring, although third parties are making sound sets aplenty if you haven’t the programming stamina. Of course, there are some asking: “Can it sound like a Virus?” Others, meantime, are saying: “It’s better than a Virus.” Whatever. Dune can sound like Hoover Fight Club if you want it to and deserves to stand on it's own considerable merits.

On a side-note, rave/happy hardcore DJ and producer Oliver Froning, he of singles Can’t Stop Raving and Are You Ready To Fly, was so taken with Synapse’s synth, he and a couple of producer chums put together a project called Dune. Currently performing under the monicker djraw, he says: “I tried the Dune demo and was blown away by this synth. This is exactly the right synth for the kind of music I make.” So if you were raving in the ‘90s, survived rehab in the naughties and need tasty timbres for the teens, all from an easy-to-use, highly affordable package, download the demo and get on Dune.
Simon Foster, MuzoBlog Collaborator

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