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Waldorf Blofeld

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When buying one, watch out for: dirty / dry / abused encoders that skip values.


To start off, this board gets a special award: it has the most awful and uncreative set of factory patches I've ever heard. It will drive every "preset guy" into despair. Equally awful as the Nord Leads. You know, Nord is a simple synth, but here? They build a Maserati Quattroporte only to use it for picking up kids from the school? How the f do they want to sell it to people fiddling with it in music shops?

OK, if I have to be politically correct or linguistically creative, let's say the Blofeld sound can be compared to an adaptive plant which... grows in a glass tube. Or to cut the long story short, many times I find its sound smothered and rigid, or "tin behind glass". On the other hand we could as well call that sound "sturdy" and "glossy". But what it says on its panel is "synthesizer", not "virtual analog", so I'm not going to treat it as such. It a huge chunky robot, and one that can cry, so that's a good thing. My basic "magick init sound" with which I start all programming on all synths sounds good, deep & juicy, and that means there's every prospect of success. And many times there is success with the Blofeld, believe me. It's dirty and clean, growling and smooth, never limiting. Cheesy-classy leads and stuff? Of course. Unique and challenging sounds? No problem either. I never liked pad sounds much, but with this thing they really become interesting. Actually all kinds of patches can be done on this machine and they sound cool to me, even though I don't like many styles outside of my own, and I think every musician of any genre will find Blofeld useful to his own taste. So big props for all that. Nevertheless it's giving me persistent headaches with clicks and rumbling. I think one of the culprits is the filter. There's some small evil troll sitting in there, and I constantly have to ward him off. It gets too harsh too often. You should check that issue out, because if your goals collide with this section of the Blofeld sound nature, you're doomed. You are going to feel like you're wearing an iron helmet one size too small. Your ears will bleed.

Blofeld does not have the best or the easiest interface you could ever imagine, but I guess it's the best and the easiest interface for a new synth released in 2008 for less than $1000. The knobs are... specific, and some people may find them uncomfortable to operate. They are of the 4V-type: very hard, very cold, very tall, very sensitive. On the other hand, I have a feeling that designers at Waldorf tried to look across the history of synths and pick up the best solutions, so we have the AN1x-style matrix grid, we have ION-like page-driven menus, and we have real-time graphs as experienced in OB-12. Although I don't get why the cool ESQ-1 / OB-12 "function buttons" style is not more widespread in synths. And would 8 more buttons for the hidden Oscillators, LFOs, Envelopes and Filter raise the cost so drastically ?... I dunno, maybe they would. Clicking one button several times to scroll up and down its several options is numbing for the brain. I would love independent buttons and I would love to have 2 or 3 assignable knobs, (not rotary encoders, just knobs) to control stuff wired to them in the mod matrix. But then again - remember the price. Good interface for the price, and very cool in its own respect.

Lucky for me, what it lacks in physical attributes outside it boasts inside. The developers did not forget to provide such engine goodies like Mod Matrix with Modifiers (mathematical functions / Boolean operators as mod sources), widely-editable coool Arpeggiator, Comb Filter, Bit-Reducer, Loopable Envelopes, and of course wavetables and samples. Although I don't understamd why they put in samples like "String Chord". Man, who the fuck needs cheesy string sample with a pre-recorded chord? Or "Impulse" or "Spring" or whatever it's called. This sound can as well be done on normal oscillators with some deep modulation, so what's the point of having such samples? I wish the samples were sounds from mother nature which are really hard to mimic by oscillators. Well, gotta leave the crappy onboard ones out and upload my own WAVs through the Spectre thingie (yay!) (update: I never actually did that).

To conclude; lots of eye (or mind in that case) candy, hours of tweaking and discovering, and finally reaching things generally associated up to this time with engines of Alesis Ion, Korg Prophecy or more generally Wavestation and DX7. Speaking of Ion, I think Blofeld is the only one out of the cheap ones that has the potential of coming close to (or even surpass) what Ion can do and giving the same sort of programming bliss. But when I tweak both synths, Ion's like: "You wanna go that route? Allrighty then!" and Blofeld's like: "Oh geez why do you want me to do that, it hurts!". Bad glitches and hostile fuzz quite often. It's just the nature of digital (wavetable) synths. Programming Blofeld is like kicking a lazy elephant which doesn't feel like standing up and trumpeting, but when it does, the trumpeting can sound grand and scare even the lions.

To my senses, Blofeld is a notable enterprise, and if you've been waiting for a new killing machine for the masses in the synth domain, you better grab it, cause that may be the one. Just don't treat it strictly as a VA synth, rather more of a "modular digital with analog affiliation". It's not the best VA emulation (the epitome of analogness being, let's say, Juno 60 or Jomox Sunsyn), but it's tremendous for the stuff VAs like Nord Lead, JP-8000 or MS-2000 can't do, and it can deliver fantastic timbres (if you're into analog, the Blofeld gravitates towards Jupiter-6's style "analogueness"). Around $1000 for a new unit (kb version), so I'd predict half of this price if it had come out a couple of years before, and then - you can't beat it. Amazing deal & great toy. So if you're happy with the way it sounds - it's a delicious choice for the money, a powerful engine with gizmos to perform wicked synthesis and insane arpeggio lines. If you're unhappy about the way filters and oscillators sound, about some tiny bugs, about the small amount of controls & limited tweakability - take a different route (jeez, if you're hungry, eat a sandwich, if not, don't - I feel like an idiot saying such things).
As for me - I'm veeery satisfied. Another synth that lets me define and reinvent myself once again. I think it's my best buy of 2009 and one of the most interesting synths on my shelves.



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