Hive is a subtractive synthesizer plug-in with a focus on ease of use and fast workflow. With two oscillators (and two subs), two filters, four envelopes and two LFOs, it's a classic setup, with a few additions to give it the famous U-he flexibility. Fans Roland's JP-8000 will remember its Supersaw, the waveform that launched a thousand trance tracks with the detuned, bright and sometimes brash tone, and the same description works for Hive's sound. Comparisons with Sylenth and NI's Massive are inevitable—it is unapologetically digital, with preset names like EDM Brass, BroStep Drop 3 and Modern Disco, which sounds a lot more like Giorgio Moroder's recent releases than the era in which he made his name.
Moving beyond presets, the synth begins to show its strengths. Once a sound is loaded, the beauty of Hive is in its GUI. There are no faux-wooden ends in sight. This synth draws more on the future-retro devices it emulates, with harsh corners, neon colours and multiple letterbox displays. Although there are many hidden features across subtle menus, every fundamental sound design control is visible within a single window. Anyone who's spent more than ten minutes with a subtractive synth will be comfortable creating and editing sounds.
Loading the default saw wave patch is a good way to get your head around Hive's signal flow. Each oscillator has a choice of nine wave shapes and includes a sub-oscillator with a four-octave range. You can also set the phase mode to Reset, Random or Flow, which will dictate where on the cycle the wave will play from when a new note is triggered, for more accurate modeling. Detune, vibrato and width controls on each oscillator harken back to the huge pads and epic leads this synth is capable of. A nice touch on the oscillator and filter section is the solo button—in a complex patch full of modulation and layering you can quickly solo a single oscillator or filter to hear how it's affecting the patch and tweak it in isolation. There are also separate presets for oscillators, LFOs, envelopes and filters that can be loaded without changing the global patch. Whether you're using presets to discover synthesis for the first time or are experimenting with trial and error, Hive has you covered throughout the signal path.
Speaking of the filters, they're fairly simple, with six types, LFO and envelope modulation, plus a handy input gain for extra drive. Osc 1, Sub 1, Osc 2 and Sub 2 can be routed into each filter independently, while Filter 2 also offers an extra Filter 1 input. I would recommend leaving the input gain of the filters set high or at max almost all the time, unless clinically digital is your timbre of choice. Even when Hive's synth engine is set to Dirty, the filters only just come to life.
One handy way to keep the input gain on full is the Lock feature. Right-click and select Lock, and the parameter remains at this setting regardless of the preset change. The other synth engines are Normal and Clean, but Dirty was definitely my favourite, giving more character to the oscillators and filters. Once I had that on Lock, too, Hive was a lot more fun.
It wouldn't be a U-he synth without a modulation section. Pressing the MM1 (modulation matrix) or MM2 buttons swaps out the keyboard for some routing options, which allows everything to stay on the same page. Select the source, what it travels through (if required) and the destination by either control-clicking and selecting from a list or clicking and dragging to the target parameter. This patching mechanism encourages experimentation—I found myself using drag-and-drop to modulate parameters I wouldn't normally reach for from a list (LFO modulating sequencer swing, for example). In the centre of Hive is a sequencer and effects section that will look familiar to Sylenth users. In it, you'll find an arpeggiator, 16-step sequencer and effects section including chorus, distortion, delay and reverb.
Again, there are presets for the effects section alone, which leave the synthesis intact but can completely change a patch. Another feature I liked was the Multiply control on the sequencer, essentially increasing or decreasing the speed as a percentage, from 50 to 200. Adjusting the parameter allows you to temporarily un-sync the sequencer from the master tempo before locking it back again. This yields some interesting rhythms.
Overall, Hive is extremely straightforward. When it was first announced, U-he's Urs Heckmann said, "Hive is our first synth that does 'nothing special.' It took me some time to realise that this can be a positive thing." What Hive does do is allow you to work fast and without obstacles—something both beginners and advanced users will welcome. Sound-wise, it needs some help to move beyond a sometimes-thin digital tone, but there are plenty of ways to do so within the synth itself or via third parties like Waves NLS or Slate's Virtual Console Collection. However, as a modern-sounding synth clearly aimed at dance music producers, analogue-style warmth may not be the goal. With a collection of 2,700 relevant presets, a simple interface and a low CPU hit as promised, U-He have done their homework. Getting the sound you need has rarely been faster.
Ease of use: 4.0