Rob Papen is something of a legend in the sound design world. His softsynths have become a stable source of inspiration for artists worldwide, including Armin Van Burren, Junkie XL, Teddy Riley, and film and VG composers Jeff Rona, and Rod Abernathy, amongst many many others.
Blue II is a long-awaited re-boot to the champion Blue synthesizer, and takes the solid foundations created and loved by many, and adds some excellent new parameters and well-thought through elements.
Blue is based on a foundation of 6 oscillators, with a massive amount of wave choice, from analogue emulation, additive, spectral, percussive, vocal and instrumental wave samples. Each oscillator also has feedback, pwm, symmetry, spread, drift and velocity parameters to further shape. If this isn't enough, there is a Phase distortion and waveshaping module that enables you to draw in a wave by hand that by some mysterious algorithm affects the shape of the original waveform. This is definitely more art than science on the surface here, and depending on the shapes you draw, you get some warm husky overtone harmonics to disgusting nasty distortion.
There are 2 analogue modelled filters, set out in a variety of frequency passes, from 6 to 36DB, and comb and formant filtering. Then there's an effects unit - with a ridiculous amount of effect types. Take a breath... delay, comb, reverb, chorus, ensemble, flanger, phaser, ringmod, distortion, lo-fi, waveshaper, amp-sim, autoPan, tremolo, stereo-widener, gator, compressor, noise-gate, fx filter, EQ, bass enhancer, Wah/delay, and auto wah.
For me, one of the strengths of this synth is in the complex routing options available. For starters, you can send any of the 6 oscillators either direct to audio, or send them through a variety of destinations, either through filter or effects, or combinations. Beyond that, the options grow further and deeper
The bottom of the synth GUI is where it gets really interesting. The window contains a variety of modulation options, that enable you to throw the synth sonics into complete chaos. There's a modulation matrix with 32 modulation options, that enable you to use the oscillators as audio, or to modulate the other oscillators directly. If you want to go deeper, you can send a precise percentage of each oscillator to different directions, with a matrix display. There are 14 LFO's, 4 multipoint envelopes, and 3 mod sequencers, that have plenty of destination options within the matrix, to allow for some pretty complex evolving textures.
The XY effect window is taken from previous Papen releases, such as Blade. It's absolutely phenomenal. You can control up to 16 separate elements of the entire synth, by assigning them to control points around the XY window. depending on where the blue dot is in the XY window is how much modulation is occurring from each source. One excellent feature of the XY pad is that you can record your movements, and thereafter, every time you play a note, the movement of the blue dot is repeated along the same lines. The recorded path can be saved as part of the preset, so you don't have to re-record it each time.
On top of all this, there's a step sequencer, an arpeggiator, all of which go far beyond the basics, but contain too much information to discuss here. If you want to watch and listen to some of the lovely elements of Blue II, discussed by the creator himself, you wanna check out his video tutorial. You should definitely take a listen to the incredible sounds Blue II can create.
Wow. We're talking a preset library of somewhere between 3500 and 4000 presets. I spent a good hour playing my way through them, and I honestly didn't find a filler preset - they're deep, and tend to utilize the performance modulation options really well. The sounds are based on some lovely waveforms, and the richness and quality of sounds are all high quality. There are 35 banks of presets running up to 128 presets per bank, divided into instruments, and genres. So with not much effort you're finding the general area of sound that you're looking for. There's a button at the top of the GUI that opens up the full bank across the whole window, and you can quickly scroll across using keyboard arrows, page up and down for preset banks. In my opinion the presets are bread and butter sounds for a wide variety of electronic genres, but also there's a lot of scope there for composers. The built in effects are used well throughout. I particularly liked the tape delay and flange, and the stereo widening effects. They added a lovely richness to many of the sounds, removing some of the sterile digital sound that can be pervasive in some synths. All the while, I couldn't find much that caused a jump in CPU - and it seemed very friendly by all accounts.
It's a big challenge to create a synth that balances the strengths of sounding fantastic, providing a lot of room for creativity, yet having intuitive layout and instant accessibility, all in a compact package that doesn't drain your CPU. I would say that there isn't a synth out there that has this balance as well as BLUE II. Other synths have immense strengths in a particular area or two, yet crumble slightly in others. I couldn't really fault Blue II. It's a workhorse, that covers a lot of genre real-estate. The only gripes I could find (and they're mild) is that I didn't find it very pretty to look at. There are much better looking softwares out there in my opinion. The other is that it doesn't have much in the way of trad analogue synth emulation in the preset bank, other than some 70's sounding keyboard sounds. Like I said, fairly minor gripes. While not actually modular, the routing options are nevertheless plentiful and you could easily waste hours and hours tweaking and fiddling! The combination of oscillators, complex routing options, strong arpeggiator and step sequencer make this a must-have for electronic musicians, while the other elements such as multi point envelopes and absolutely massive preset bank make this extremely useful for composers needing quick access to a large bank of sounds, yet with great modulation options. Highly recommended!
$179, or upgrade from original for only $49
- The presets are unbelievably useful - not much filler there.
- Jam packed with useful features.
- Very flexible, and very easy to find your way around.
- If you're looking for a synth that's intuitive yet very flexible, contains a supply of excellent presets that you'll probably never get through, yet having a lot of depth to create even more; I reckon this could become the workhorse of your synth stable. The only reason to walk on by is if you're dead broke.
- The only thing I could think of was that I don't really like the GUI. There's a lot prettier stuff out there. Obviously that doesn't matter sonically!
by Andy Dollerson