As you probably know, the vast majority of synthesizers available today employ subtractive synthesis as their modus operandi. The principles of this approach are fairly simple (covered in our Introduction to subtractive synthesis piece): you start with a single oscillator, or a combination thereof and progressively "decrease" a sound using filters, LFOs and envelopes. Additive synthesis, meanwhile, provides an alternative philosophy, combining sine waves (otherwise known as partials) progressively so that, as its name suggests, a sound gets bigger as you add in one partial after another. This provides huge flexibility but one of the reasons Additive Synthesis has proved less popular is due to the sheer amount of work required to generate sounds. Imagine up to 128 partials all requiring individual volume levels and envelope controls just to deliver a single sound. Flexibility has in some ways proved its Achilles heel. However, this hasn't put off Rob Papen, whose new synth, Blade, attempts to make sound creation via additive synthesis much less time consuming but every bit as flexible.
The secret to Blade is the Harmolator, the striking central section of the synth's GUI. Harmolator makes the process of controlling partials simpler by adopting a global approach; rather than having to adjust each one individually, you can group them and treat them as one, dramatically speeding up the sound shaping process. The first control within the Harmolator is Base, which lets you select which Partial will act as the fundamental. Then, using the Range dial, you can decide whether a narrow or broad spectrum of surrounding partials will be added before Symmetry decides whether these will be "biased" in favour of louder higher or lower ones. Once you've got a slope of partials you like, you can then filter those you don't need via the timbre controls, which feature multiple approaches to retain or discard partials depending on your selection.
You can keep octaves and fifths, Prime Numbers, Near Fractions and so on, with 16 options offered to pare down your rich partial collection. You can then further warp the sound with "ripple" effects, which cluster particular groups of partials together and boost their volume, getting away from the uniform volume rise/fall of more standard combinations. The next stage is distortion, where the sum total of the partials you've retained can be coloured via 21 separate distortion types, before the controls switch to more familiar, subtractive synthesis techniques. Sub-oscillator waves and a multi-mode resonant filter are offered, the latter of which provides low, high and band-pass filtering with slopes of 6, 12, 18 and 24dB per octave, plus two additional types—Vox and Comb for more unusual timbral treatments. However, sound design can go much further, as the Harmolator features its own XY pad which can create animated movement for each note you hold down, allowing you to create shifting sounds whose movement can be programmed or even recorded live. A blue ball will appear each time you play a note and what's particularly great is that movement from one note to the next can be independent, meaning you can create cascading chords whose notes follow the same pathways after a delay as you introduce one note after another.
Otherwise, Blade is broadly modular, with the filter, amp, velocity routing, LFO and envelope sections all neatly organized into their own discrete blocks so that you can decide how your patch will be modulated by the assortment of options onscreen. In fact, modulation is key to Blade's success with a dedicated routing section at the bottom allowing you to choose from a wide variety of modulation sources with a correspondingly impressive set of targets waiting to be gently ruffled or given a proper kicking. Pick a parameter, pick a control source and, chances are, Blade is ready to respond. In particular, the dedicated velocity routing options allow a real sense of performance to contribute significantly to your sound design. A classic Rob Papen arpeggiator can be used as the trigger source for your sound too, allowing you to yet further animate your sound via a tuned rhythmic sequence, while each step can also be used as a modulation source for a wide variety of parameters.
Twin FX engines let you choose bespoke effects from a long list of types and their parameters can be modulated via MIDI CCs and other control sources too. One gripe: Blade's GUI is striking, employing bright blue against greys and stark blacks, but there are an awful lot of controls onscreen which means that many of the text labels are small. This, in itself, isn't an issue but I think the choice of creating glows around the blue text is a mistake, as it makes things harder to read than is strictly necessary.
Blade is a highly capable synth and, due to the comparative rareness of additive synths in hard and software form, is likely to provide something sonically your DAW won't have in abundance. It excels at slightly harder, colder sounds from leads to digital sounding pads but it's equally capable of rounder and subtler shades too. Once you've warmed up via the inevitable preset-flicking, it's definitely a synth which encourages you to engage in sound design of your own with the multiple ways in which the Harmolator can be coaxed into movement and sonic animation the standout feature of an impressive feature set. If you're after a powerful synth which sets out on a different path to those you already have covered, Blade is certainly ready to cut through your mixes.