There are three other existing instruments on the Tone2 roster, each with its own selling points. Perhaps the most notable of the bunch is Gladiator, which has an insane number of synthesis types, from standard virtual-analog all the way to experimental algorithms like Harmonic Content Morphing. Saurus takes a much simpler approach, with Tone2 reportedly choosing instead to invest their time studying and perfecting the recreation of the circuits in physical synths like the Roland Alpha Juno.
The oscillator section in Saurus is where you'll find two of these recreations—the Alpha Juno's Comb and PWM Sawtooth waveforms. They are two of the eight choices for oscillator shape. Interestingly, Saurus provides pulse (PW) morphing for all eight shapes, not just square waves. There are two oscillators available, and each has a sub-oscillator with eight more traditional non-morphable waveforms. With these different options plus switches for analog drift and support for synth techniques like sync, ring modulation, FM & AM modulation, Saurus can certainly generate a pretty huge array of sounds. We did have an issue with the way that the waveforms are displayed—it's certainly not obvious which waveform is which without memorizing that section of the manual.
Saurus features all of the usual controls that you would expect in the filter section of a modern soft synth, and the filter models they provide are modeled after some respected designs. The most notable of these is the 12dB low-pass filter, which Tone2 claims is similar in character to the Korg MS-20. There are some advanced controls for the tweakers out there as well, like a drive knob (that increases the gain of the audio before it hits the filters), a frequency modulation knob, and a knob to control filter feedback.
If the pure synthesis parameters don't provide enough variety in your sound, Saurus has a dedicated effects section with four different effect types available: chorus, reverb, delay and tube. These are quite useful in fine-tuning the sound of a patch—chorus and delay especially. We found the reverb to be a bit heavy-handed to be useful in creating plate or room responses, so it is most useful for spacey synth or pad patches. If you're looking to destroy your signal, there are certainly options to do that as well. The tube effect, in addition to the boost button and the filter drive, can all assist in reducing the pure signal to shreds.
To keep track of the signal level as it has passed through the effects, Tone2 provides a super-useful RMS volume meter. RMS, which stands for root mean square, is a more accurate method of representing the overall volume of audio, as our ears perceive it. The Saurus manual says to aim for 0 dB when using one voice of a mono patch, or three voices of a polyphonic patch. This is a valuable guideline for achieving consistent volumes across different patches, and the RMS meter is an excellent tool for the job. It was a bit confusing, then, when we found that many of the factory patches that ship with Saurus had wildly varying volume levels, with some presets causing some very heavy digital clipping.
The last of the major features of Saurus is the modulation matrix. This is an LCD-style display in the bottom-right of the plug-in display that houses all of the modulation assignments for the given patch. The matrix is pretty straightforward: you get 15 modulation slots spread across three different pages, with a huge number of sources and destinations. While many of the sources are self-explanatory, some of them remain unclear even after studying the manual more than once.
There is an additional screen in the virtual modulation LCD that houses a set of sliders and numbers that control arpeggiator and gate functionality. The arpeggiator within Saurus is one of the most complex that we have seen, with per-step note order, transposition and sliders to control velocity or gate at each of the 16 steps. The note order values are especially complex, with numeric and alpha options intertwining to create a powerful, but confusing system. As long as you have a good memory or the manual nearby you should be OK, but trying to work it out intuitively isn't really an option.
It's obvious that Saurus was made for a wide range of users. If you are the kind of person who is willing to dig into the documentation and dedicate some time to familiarizing yourself with some of the strange UI conventions, you will likely be happy with the range of sounds that can be achieved using the advanced features this plug-in has to offer. For the average user, there are enough presets, each organized into categories, to be able to add some new tools to your synth toolbox. We found the analog sound to be quite good, but its sweet spot seems to be pads and evolving mid- to high-range sounds. If you're looking to get the sound of an Alpha Juno, this is certainly the plug-in that will get you the closest. With its lower price and lighter CPU usage, we feel comfortable recommending this plugin, especially for the more seasoned producer.
Ease of use: 3/5