ASM Hydrasynth | 256 custom sounds
(patches compatible with Desktop, Explorer & Deluxe models)
Via Instant Buy & Download:
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How many patches?:
You will receive all the sounds from my Youtube & Soundcloud demos plus extra sounds (250 unique presets + their variations = 256 presets in total). You will have the freedom to assign the macro knobs as you like because most of the patches have no more than 1 or 2 macro knobs assigned.
What format / import method?:
My patches come in a soundbank saved in Hydrasynth Manager format (software downloadable from the synth’s website).
What genre / style?:
There is no one style, because it is you who decides what style these patches will be played in. It’s a wide variety of sounds that are meant to inspire, make you look at the synth in a different light and give you a great choice of directions. Some patches are bread & butter, some offbeat; they’re the result of me trying to find the limits of the instrument. The patches are ready-to-use in music or can serve as starting points; you can find the textures or the dynamics that you like and tweak them to suit your exact taste or purpose. I tried not to include patches that would overlap with any other soundsets out there, so 90% of my patches should be original-sounding to you.
Any external stuff?:
I did not use any external FX in the demo; all the delays, reverbs, flangers, panning, loops and other effects are part of the Hydrasynth engine / mod matrix.
Notes on grades lower than 3/3:
vintage: ok but not “from the start” / not as good as the champions (like OB-6, Prologue)
low end: good, but not as deep as the heavy-weight champions (like PRO-3, Rev-2)
high end: read about the “dry / harsh” debate
versatility: amazing, but no sequencer / animation takes away the half-point
Bought it, unpacked, browsed the factory sounds, then tried to create some new ones and wanted to kill myself. Whatever knob I tweaked, it still sounded like a 2007 VST. Flat, dull, cardboard-like sound. But you don’t walk away just like that from a synth of that caliber. The amount of features plus the amount of ways to find workarounds kept me glued to the OLED displays, and a couple of days later all my worries disappeared. I became surprisingly satisfied with this “digital” sound. Once you start routing all the abundant LFOs to all the various destinations in the mod matrix, it’s no longer flat. Then you can use the onboard effects, filter mixing and “voice” adjustments (things like oscillator drift, stereo spread), and the Hydra sound is no longer dull. Only the cardboard texture / flavor is a little bit hard to kill, especially in the wavetable area, but that’s just the character of some synths. Opsix / Modwave / Virus TI have the same thing going on. On the other end of the spectrum there are Waldorfs and Modals – their waves sound like glassy metal, which is not the best thing in the world either. Only the Novation Peak / Summit sits somewhere in the middle, but of course it’s all a matter of taste and / or patience. I’m constantly running into people saying something along the lines of “I love the concept of the Hydrasynth, but I’m struggling to like its sound”. While other synths sound “pro” out of the box, I think the Hydrasynth needs some time to gel with it and some amount of tampering with its various settings, fiters, EQs, and then the reward will come and the synth will come to life and yield many original timbres and dynamic presence. The “pro out of the box” sound may be something that blows your hat off in the very first minutes, but it is often hard to get rid of – all the Waldorfs and Nord Leads and OB-6 have a certain sameness of their timbre that might get boring after a while, so it’s always a trade-off. I prefer the Hydra sound that is “thinner / dryer” during the initial impression but more agreeable & malleable in the long run. I’ll say a bit more about the sound and the character of the instrument later on.
I see several synths at once when I look at the HS. The side panels – Roland Jupiter 8. The Module buttons – Ensoniq ESQ1. The encoders – Clavia Nord Lead 3. The ribbon / aftertouch – Yamaha CS-80. Eclectic! When I look on the inside, the HS most strongly reminds me of Alesis Ion / Roland V-Synth in terms of the directions it can go. But while Ion had a lot more knobs on the panel which made creation / experimentation easy, with the HS you have to imagine the sound first and then tweak it into existence. Some amount of brainpower is needed, and 1-hour-long sessions to sculpt one (deep) sound to push the synth to its seemingly limitless limits were not a rarity at the beginning.
The UI is fantastic for a deep digital synth of this sort; basically the synth is one big shortcut. There’s the Module Select section with its buttons, the Master Control section with its knobs, and practically speaking that’s just it – there’s no deeper level to go into, you just flip pages:) Easy. The buttons have nice resistance, the encoders have LEDs around them. As I’ve said above, the designers have done their research in the history of synth design and picked what was best. They should get a medal for this, because even though some things seem logical and easy to implement, it’s not always the case, even in 2020. Roland JD-XA does not have a data entry slider; Korg Minilogue XD has no labels under the buttons; Novation Summit has its screen located in a totally awkward position – I could go on and on. The Hydrasynth has only one such awkwardness: the labels of the Arpeggiator knobs cannot be seen from the perspective / angle of the player. Compared to the above quirks, this is an insignificant trifle. By the way: who needs all these effing ARP knobs there? Do you really tweak the ARP SWING or ARP DIVISION values live? Or do you need instant access to it during sound design? I think it would be better to hide the arpeggiator options under the macro encoders and use that space for other features… like the non-existent sequencer, for example;)
This synth is defined by its polyphonic aftertouch & ribbon controller as much as its amazingly deep engine, so let me say two words about those. I had first contact with the invention called a “ribbon controller” during my time with Yamaha AN1x and Oberheim OB-12, and the length of the ribbon was around / no more than 15 cm. In Hydrasynth, the ribbon spans 4 octaves. On the one hand, it’s fantastic. On the other, it can be problematic. I find it tricky to apply the necessary force continuously and slide across the entire length of the ribbon to tweak the effect from 0% to 100%, or the other way round. Many times, if I lose my awareness and loosen my grip, the modulation effect goes awry. It’s ok with “wild” modulations, but it’s quite an issue when I want to control the pitch. The necessity of applying force endangers / kills the subtlety that is needed for accuracy. It’s as if someone told you that you can paint anything you want, but you have to use the technique of throwing paint on the canvas. Well, not everyone will be a fan of Jackson Pollock’s art or methods.
Also, it’s sad that the ribbon controllers need to be made of this specific material – whatever it is. When I slide my finger too fast or too much, my skin kind of burns as if I was rubbing it against sand paper ;P OK, not that much. But it’s a little bit unpleasant (maybe I should spread butter or some other lubricant on my finger to ease the friction?;P) So if you want to buy this synth mainly for the ribbon, and you want to paint the sound with your finger the same way you travel the world effortlessly by sliding it across a map of the world, think it over. It’s not so effortless. Alesis A6 Andromeda is the only synth whose ribbon controller is nice to touch. I don’t know what material it’s made of, but it feels like silk.
A TIP / HAPPY ACCIDENTS
If I were asked to give one most valuable tip before anybody buys this synth, it would be this: you have to realize it’s a “floating / seamless modular” engine. If you want to make even the simplest (classic) sounds with the Hydrasynth, you have to adjust your approach accordingly. There’s no button for “Oscillator Sync”. It only exists as a function of the Mutators. You have to choose who you want to sync to whom. You have to make the connection in the Mod Matrix (Envelope to Pitch, for example). You have to set the force of this effect (“depth”), and the balance of this effect (“wet / dry”). Other example: there’s no knob for “Pulse Width Modulation”. You have to tell the Mutator to work in this mode, then make the associations in the Mod Matrix to modulate the width, etc. All these necessary connections is what I call the “modularity” of the HS, while the “wet / dry” setting is what I call the “floating / seamless” nature of the sounds. It’s not the traditional way of turning it ON or OFF. It can float from 0 to 100%. You can program the macro buttons to keep the 100% value to give you the instant “on/off” effect, but that only comes second in the process. Of course this dry / wet design is great, for the obvious reason that it’s better to have one hundred choices instead of just two. It’s also better to have an open architecture than a pre-defined circuit of modulation (like in the Novation Peak / Summit). But this “goodness” comes at a price. As I’ve said, YOU and you alone are responsible for coming up with an idea and then performing all the steps needed for this idea to be heard by your ears and the outside world. I have friends who get discouraged with this kind of workflow. In their words, they “get too distracted by all the features and all the steps and my original idea gets lost”. Also, with this kind of UI there’s little potential for “happy accidents”, and it needs to be truthfully admitted that it is not a negligible part of coming up with something good during our sound design sessions. A synth with a pre-defined circuits of modulation and some “ready-made” solutions that enable those “happy accidents” to happen may prove to be a more inspiring / efficient instrument.
At the beginning, being used to the flood of cheap crap all around us I thought the price of the HS was quite high. But after discovering that it is able to deliver 90% of imaginable sounds (the remaining 10% reserved for granular synthesis and other wonders), and after appreciating the genius UI with its displays and encoders plus the engine giving you total freedom of executing your ideas, but most importantly the poly aftertouch and the ribbor controller, plus the ongoing company OS support & upgrades, I think it’s totally justifiable. It’s a great deal. Is it a great synth? Absolutely, but “great” is not the right word. I’m thinking about… “epic”?. I think epic would be fine if only the sound was a bit more juicy, but I’m not really sure if I’d like to change it, because more juice would mean a more Roland-esque sound, while more “density” would mean a more fatiguing sound which does not sit well in the mix. Also, if I forget about the Hydra and then once again listen to the sounds after a couple of days, I am surprised as if I was hearing them for the first time, I like them and I am no longer offended by the cardboard tone. Maybe I’ve managed to dial it away? Once you pass a certain threshold, there’s just something hard to nail down or define about the nature of this creature. It’s a chameleon. It sounds original, like no other synth, so that’s good. I would even put the HS next to Yamaha DX-7 in my museum of the best synths in history. I said in my writeup why the DX-7 deserves such place. Hydra deserves its place, because it’s one of the most “synthy” (cooperative & modulatable) synths while at the same time it retains the ability to sound organic and natural, thanks to its rich engine and interface solutions. It’s a true & innovative instrument, not another fart machine or a reissue of a classic. We needed somebody with this kind of vision among the synth companies.
So let’s come back to the issue of the “innate timbre” of this synth and the question of whether there exists an “innate timbre” anyway. Any Hydrasynth user might have the impression that despite its awe-inspiring versatility, it does have its innate cardboardy / dry sound that is present from the start, and that being accustomed to the traditional sounds of our analog Oberheims and Prophets and what not, we need to spend time trying to maneuver around this unexpected “thinny digital harshness”. This issue is similar to Korg Opsix, and it is especially evident in some patches like bass or plucks. It may render some people impatient / un-inspired, and I think this is what they mean when they complain that HS “sounds harsh” (and probably that’s the reason ASM introduced the “warm mode” in one of its OS updates, which is a nice add-on when you look at it in isolation, but seems silly if it was meant to do away with the “harshness / dry-ness”.)
But let’s not forget Hydra is a very special kind of synth: a “digital-modular”. You should not compare it to anything analog. Actually you should not compare it to anything else. When you start looking at the Hydrasynth the way I started to look at it after a couple of months of using it, then this “harshness / dry-ness” of the sound becomes a positive force. For me the Hydrasynth is an acoustic instrument born as a synthesizer. Have you ever heard a violin? I could perfectly well describe the violin sound as “thin” and “harsh” – but the art and the joy comes from mastering it and being able to play it expressively – then nobody complains about it sounding thin. And have you ever seen or heard the “weirdo” instruments like the Apprehension Engine or the waterphone? I’ve always been fascinated by the other-worldly sounds, the dynamics and the unpredictability of the acoustic timbres those devices can create. Hydrasynth, with its engine and interface, is the closest you can get to those instruments. If you love both the acoustic and the synthetic and you want to pick what’s best of those two worlds, this is the synth for you – in fact the only synth. It’s a melting pot! This would not be possible if Hydra sounded like a Waldorf or any other synth of the “traditional” bunch. Besides, after almost two decades spent with synths I have to frankly say that those “traditional” synth tones are starting to become boring to me. From this perspective, the Hydrasynth sounds great and it’s either a happy accident or a stroke of genius on the part of the company that this synth ended up with this kind of timbre. To my ears Hydra is like a ghost or a spirit – being in various places all at once.
So let me wrap it up somehow. The HS is the furthest thing from instant gratification, but at the same time it’s the most gratifying synth out of all the deep synths I’ve come across in my hobby / career as a synth tweaker. It does not have any idiotic quirks that you have to “learn” from forum nerds with oscilloscopes in order to make the synth into something proper (like “turn this option off, don’t use that feature, and use this output instead of that output” = see Alesis Andromeda). But you do need a different approach and some time to build the sound, because it’s not right there on the panel. It’s one inch underneath it, and several inches deep down in your brain. I think it’s rational to say the synth is a no-go zone for total beginners; however, if you understand the path of building a sound from scratch and have some experience with tweaking synths, or you really want to start learning it, you’ll probably agree with me that after the first three or four days spent with the HS and its UI, the tweaking sessions are a joy, not a chore. Finally an electronic instrument has arrived to this world that is incredibly deep, yet playable. I think a synth of this sort comes once in a decade, and if it hasn’t set a new standard already, in the future its appeal will only grow.
If you have no luck with the HS, I suggest you try Novation Peak / Summit instead. Their engine is much more limited, but they’ll give you all sorts of bread & butter sounds in an instant, and their timbre is more “classic synth” or more “full” / “deep” without being too full or too deep like the one of Prophet REV-2 or Modal Argon8. Also, remember about the “ready-made” / “happy accidents” interface that the Peak / Summit will give you.
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