While some software synths gather front-page headlines, others sit quietly in the background. Though they're known to fewer producers, they're capable of hugely worthwhile jobs. LinPlug's CronoX3 synthesizer fell into the latter category. The fact that it could use samples or modeled waveforms as sonic generators meant you could mold it into almost any kind of instrument you needed it to be. Factor in its generous modulation options and wonderful atmospheres, and textures were as readily available as leads, basses and pads. The synth took some getting used to, though, not least because its assorted options were spread over multiple pages. With the CrX4, the new version of the CronoX concept, LinPlug has not only condensed its capabilities into a single page but expanded them further.
Broadly speaking, the CrX4 resembles plenty of other plug-ins initially. Things start to deviate from the norm quickly when you test the generator section in the top-left corner. If this instrument was purely a synthesizer, this section would be called "oscillator," but CrX4 is capable of significantly more than modeled analog waveforms. You can toggle each generator between an oscillator, time sampler, wavetable, loop sampler and noise generator, with the controls changing to provide an appropriate parameter set. If you choose one of the sampler options ("time" or "loop"), you can pick from LinPlug's own library of samples as well as your own recordings at up to 96kHz and 24-bit resolution. The time sampler allows you to load a sample and manipulate it via CrX4's extensive modulation options, while the loop sampler provides start, end and loop points. Instantly, both can create surprising and wonderful audio manipulations in real time. Up to four generators make up a single sound, with power buttons for each letting you decide how many to include in a single program.
For each generator, you'll find dials for assigning them to one or a blend of the twin filters. The filters themselves lie in the upper middle section of the interface, and there are several options here with some notable exceptions from the norm. Four filter types are offered within both filters, but unlike most multi-mode filters, CrX4's modes offer intermediate positions (rather than notched positions fixed to a specific filter choice), so it's possible to morph from one filter type to the next. This option yields some fantastic sound design possibilities, including comb filtering. The two filters provide the first clue into CrX4's vast modulation possibilities. Both feature their own ADSR envelopes with an optional fade at the sustain stage. The filters can be run in either series or parallel, and a balance dial becomes available when in parallel mode.
Below and to the right of the generator and filter stages, you'll find modulation options aplenty. There are no fewer than four onboard LFOs, with LFOs 1 and 2 given their own panes and LFOs 3 and 4 sharing a set of controls. All four processors offer multiple waveforms, rates of free (up to a staggering 275Hz) or tempo-synced speeds, delay and attack dials, plus phase and symmetry manipulation knobs. As with many other modules within the CrX4, this one has copy/paste/initiate drop-down menus, so if you create a setting you like, you can easily replicate it elsewhere. In addition to the envelopes assigned to each filter, you'll find a dedicated amplifier and three additional gen/mod envelopes. All feature the same envelope shapes as the filter, with the gen/mod envelopes left free for you to assign to the parameters of your choice. The router section in the bottom-right corner is where you make such assignments. Pick a source on the left (from a list of 23) and a target on the right (there are 68 of these), and then set the amount, from 0 to 1 (with four decimal places) for positive assignments or 0 to -1 for inverted ones.
Above the gen/mod envelope pane, you'll find the effects section. It looks rather humble at first sight but up to six effects can be used simultaneously on any CrX4 program, chosen from a group of 12 in total. You can assign each effect module on the right-hand side of the effects pane, and a series of parameters for each can then be manipulated. I'd like an option to control-click to bypass these on the right-hand side; as it is, you have to select the effect and then use its power button on the left of this pane to act as a bypass switch. Minor gripe aside, the effects section brings hefty capability to the CrX4.
If you're a CronoX3 user, you'll be delighted to hear that the upgrade is available at a heavily discounted price of $39 or €29. However, as the architecture has been streamlined and modified for this release, LinPlug does warn that some sounds (roughly ten percent of the Cronox3's total) won't sound exactly the same if you load old patches into this new shell. It's worth reading LinPlug's information page, which clearly states which modules have been modified and might change the playback sound within the Version 4 host.
For newcomers to the CR concept, there's little to prevent a wholehearted recommendation of this plug-in, particularly if you like your sound design options on the wild side. I can think of soft synths I'd more immediately turn to for basses or leads (though those sound great here), but the CrX4 has already become a staple plug-in in my studio for evolving, unpredictable sounds and textures. Simply loading voice recordings as samples and letting the four LFOs loop and weave their way around can produce spellbinding results, somewhat like those you'd hear from iZotope's Iris or NI's Absynth. However, this flexibility is impressively multiplied to the power of four with CrX4's generator modules enabled and the potential sonic complexity expanded accordingly.