Sinevibes are a company who are into sounds; more specifically, the warping and modulation of static waveforms by various means. The company have been around since 2004, and have been experimenting with synthesis and processing algorithms since their inception, publishing books on sound design and producing sound and sample banks for Roland, Native Instruments, Spectrasonics and Linplug amongst others.
More recently the company has become, in their own words, "much, much more serious" and ventured into software production in the form of a growing collection of highly esoteric plug-ins, each of which is designed to breathe life into uninspiring sounds. Their plug-ins do not attempt to emulate vintage equipment, nor provide a fresh hit to those craving yet another EQ, compressor or filter. Sinevibes' range includes an advanced gate sequencer, a fractal-based amplitude modulator, an oscillator/processor hybrid, and the subject of this review, a variable waveshape transformer: Turbo.
Turbo is available in two flavours: Turbo ($29) and Turbo S ($39). These vary in the way they modulate the waveshaper's parameters: Turbo uses a fractal generator to produce a modulation signal, whereas Turbo S features a 1-to-16-step sequencer which syncs with the host's tempo. Sinevibes' product line thus far has been written exclusively for Apple's AudioUnits format and Turbo is no exception; as such, you will need to be using a Mac together with an AudioUnits-compatible host software in order to run it.
Turbo's user interface is consistent with Sinevibes' other products, featuring an uncluttered, high-contrast GUI design perfect for a darkened studio or stage. The sparse controls are devoid of labels: Turbo/S uses colour-coding for ease of understanding, with blue graphics to denote waveshaper parameters and orange to indicate modulation parameters.
Both versions boldly display the waveshaper's output at the top of the window, with six processing algorithms selectable below. To the right, there is an X/Y pad which provides an intuitive way of adjusting the waveshape's parameters, and these changes are reflected in real-time on the waveshape preview display. At the bottom of the window are the modulation controls, and this is where the two versions differ.
Turbo's chaotic fractal generator can be dragged horizontally, which affects the speed of modulation; mod depth is controlled by sliders along the X/Y pad's axes. Turbo S's step sequencer offers a greater level of control: the sequence length can be set, note values between 4 and 64 can be selected, swing can be applied using a slider, and the gate length and envelope can be adjusted using a second (orange) X/Y pad.
As always with a new plug-in, my first instinct was to dive in and tweak the controls over a range of program material including vocals, drums, guitars and synth parts. While Turbo is intuitive and immediate with regard to algorithm selection and the X/Y pad, I was initially less than impressed with the results I was getting, which seemed to swing between complete transparency on one hand and harsh, brittle distortion on the other, with little of musical value in between. While the simplicity of the interface invites users to take a "suck it and see" approach to their tweaking, the results can be difficult to fathom; not surprising given the complexity of the mathematics involved behind the scenes. It is therefore essential to read and understand the three pages of the manual which offer some insight into Turbo's uses and functionality.
Taking a step back, I fed some raw waveforms into Turbo as suggested in the documentation. And here Turbo's value and purpose became clear: it does not "layer" an effect over a sound as most processors do. Rather, it functions symbiotically with the waveform itself, greatly increasing its harmonic content and transforming it at a fundamental level. The contribution that Turbo makes is therefore entirely dependent on the type and complexity of the input signal: extreme changes in its output can be achieved simply by changing or layering waveforms, detuning oscillators, and adjusting filter cutoff and resonance. In addition, the effect produced by processing a single pitched note is completely different to that produced by processing two or more. Depending on the intervals between notes, some wonderful beating and roaring effects can be produced.
Sounds produced in this way can vary from smooth and warmly distorted to cold, harsh and metallic, depending on the input signal, selected algorithm and X/Y position. Turbo can easily impart an FM-like quality onto waveforms, or it can completely bury them in harmonic distortion. For me, the most musically usable results were achieved by lowering the synth's cutoff, increasing its resonance and slightly detuning its oscillators. Experimenting with vocals, I discovered that Turbo can generate a formant-shifting effect; however, unvoiced sounds within a vocal—"S", "T", "F", "J" etc.—suffer from distortion.
The varied modulation parameters of Turbo and Turbo S bring movement and life to sounds in a way that enhances—and offers an alternative to—the traditional subtractive forms of modulation. Ultimately, the user's choice is between the random and chaotic approach of Turbo's fractal generator against the quantized, clockwork and controllable timing of Turbo S's sequencer. It is interesting that Sinevibes have delineated these contrasting approaches to modulation so clearly by releasing two separate versions of the plug-in, rather than combining both mod types within a single version of Turbo.
Turbo/S is a plug-in that screams to be automated to further add to its modulation capabilities. The continuous sliders and X/Y plotters (perfect for a mouse or trackpad) demand to be tweaked; algorithm selection can also be automated, although doing so can result clicks and pops which may be unwanted.
For many producers working within more conventional sound worlds, Turbo/S will be of limited appeal. For synthesists, electronic composers and sound designers however, Turbo/S represents an easy and inexpensive way of greatly enhancing the functionality of even the most basic of single-oscillator synths. Its scope for transforming acoustically-derived waveforms makes it more interesting still. This type of processing is something of a rarity in the plug-in market, and this combined with Turbo's affordability makes it a fantastic addition to any sonic toolbox.