Computers made the characteristic sounds of vintage Rolands, ARPs and Moogs within reach, even as prices for second-hand classic synths skyrocketed. Our fascination with the past continues, which is why it's a great time for UVI's new collection, Vintage Legends, for its Workstation host instrument. Rather than provide a collection of household-name favorites, the synths it recreates are more obscure.
Yamaha's CS range, manufactured from the late '70s to the mid-'80s, culminated in the popular CS-80. But the CS-M instrument available here draws inspiration from the lesser-known CS-70M, CS-40M and CS-20M. Like many of the synths in the bundle, the CS-M has twin sound layers, with the top panel providing on/off switches, pan and volume dials for each layer. You can choose to edit them in turn or together to provide individual or global changes to a sound. Pitch, amplifier envelope, drive level, stereo color and spread (including detune options), multi-mode filter settings and filter envelope can be controlled for both layers. You can also specify the role of the mod wheel and dial in any combination of phaser, delay and reverb, with a mix slider for each. The mod page offers LFO control for both layers, with LFO shape, depth, attack and decay time parameters, while targets include pitch, drive, volume and filter sections. A 16-step sequencer can also be used as a modulation source. It works beautifully when targeted at the filter section, producing cascading and bubbling results. However, if animated sounds are your thing, you'll love the twin arpeggiators, which have +/-3 octaves of operation, gate length controls and multi-mode playback options. While the CS-80 may be the lushest Yamaha CS module, the combined options of the 70, 40 and 20 have been put to great use here for a highly programmable, rich-sounding synth that's quick to master.
Whereas the CS range gained favor because of its friendly control set, the DK Synergy was a pest to program, partly because it featured 32 sine- or triangle-wave oscillators. While the original's memory was capped at 24 internal presets, UVI's Energy isn't so limited, and the name more than matches the sounds on offer. Again, it's divided into edit and modulation pages, with the former providing control over amp and filter with high-, low- and band-pass options, plus resonance. The central mode toggle allows for monophonic or polyphonic playback. The sub-oscillator contains "clean" and "dirty" options for powerful internal distortion. An "energizer" effect on a pain at the top builds up the harmonic richness of a sound. The result is powerful, with thicker, grittier results the harder you push. Phaser, delay and reverb effects complete the feature set, and the modulation page provides LFO and step-sequencer control. If heavy bass, screaming leads and all kinds of overdriven mayhem are your thing, the sheer power and raspiness of this synth makes it a dream.
Of all of Yamaha's DX synths, the DX7 is unquestionably the best known. But the DX1—its total run limited to just 100 units—was designed to represent the ultimate FM synth, constructed from only the highest-quality internal components. FM synthesis is complicated, but the FMX1's approach makes it simpler. You get ADSR envelopes for the amp and filter sections at the top and an "FMizer" slider that increases the amount of frequency modulation. There are controls for pitch depth and time, too, as well as three filter modes with envelope, cutoff and resonance control. Drive, crusher, phaser, delay, reverb, vibrato, tremolo and filter comprise the extensive effects options. The modulation page introduces shapes and routings for the LFO, plus a step sequencer. The arpeggiation options are simplified to an on/off switch on the edit page but can be expanded by UVI's own arpeggiator engine, which is available across the suite of synths via a button in the top-right corner. Sonically, the softer, digital-edged sounds so familiar to those who have worked with FM synths are abundant, with hollow pads and bells supported by clanging leads and edgy basses.
The Rhodes Chroma was actually lucky to see the light of day, as it was the last keyboard to be designed by ARP before the company's collapse. The standout additional parameter within Kroma, UVI's version, is the noise oscillator, which can be dialed in as white or pink to provide extra bite or a dusty retro quality. Kroma excels at brassy tones, but whether this means recreating classic '80s synth brass or building raspy leads and honky basses is up to you. Overall, Kroma offers a sonic quality you're not likely to find with other soft synths.
The Elka Synthex, famous for being the sound engine behind Jean-Michel Jarre'sLaser Harp, is a powerhouse fetching crazy money on the second-hand market. UVI's Synthox is its recreation, and it's my favorite in the bundle. Again, you can tweak layers independently or together, with modules to control pitch, stereo, mod wheel assignment, filtering (including bypass), amp and filter envelopes and effects settings. But listing parameters does no justice to the enormous sound. The warmth of the pad sounds is phenomenal; leads can whine, scream, bite, cut or simply rock; and basses are spiky, powerful and deep. The arpeggiated sounds here are also wonderful, especially when you make use of the twin arpeggiators.
UVI modeled the final synth, the U1250, on the Kurzweil K250. It was the first commercially available rompler, with sampled waveforms acting as a starting point for the synth engine. It's somewhat nostalgic to hear this sound recreated here, but it's Vintage Legends' least useful instrument. While "sample-and-synthesis" made sense at a time when full sampling was available only to the wealthy few, it's been sidelined as technology has developed: most producers either want highly realistic sampled sounds, or synths which simply celebrate what only electronics can provide. That's not to say the full orchestra patches aren't great, and there's certainly room for its acoustic and electric pianos in today's mixes.
Overall, Vintage Legends is a wonderful collection of some rare synths of yesteryear. I understand why many feel jaded about our ongoing fascination with old technology, but when vintage synth engines are recreated this lovingly, they'll continue to deserve our attention.