Review – MpowerSynth from MeldaProductions, Part 2
MeldaProduction has released its first synth. If you are familiar with Melda products and their often unique ways of solving problems, you’ll know why there’s a reason to be very, very interested in this new instrument.
by David Baer, Jan. 2015
In this, we complete the in-depth look at MeldaProduction’s exciting new instrument, MPowerSynth, that we began in the previous issue. Part 1 can be read here:
In part 1, we concentrated on the sound generation complex, a series of modules comprised of three oscillators, a noise generator, two filters and the master envelope. Everything in that complex is polyphonic: a single note gets its own dedicated set of processing modules.
In this final installment of the review, we’re going to look at all the rest. Significantly, everything outside the sound generation complex is monophonic, that is, the facilities are shared by all active notes. This includes all modulation, which may seem a little odd at first, but it does make sense in the MPowerSynth scheme of things. The three principal areas we’ll focus on are the modulators, multiparameters (a MeldaProduction staple) and the absolutely extraordinary FX section of MPowerSynth.
The instrument’s modulators (there are eight of them in MPowerSynth) are identical to ones that can be found in other MeldaProduction effects. If you know them from that context, you’ll need no further introduction. A modulator provides an LFO-type capability, but the waveforms can be arbitrarily complex, so to call it just an LFO would be a disservice. The waveform generator for the LFO looks just like that we’ve already seen in the oscillators, so learn that once, apply it everywhere.
The LFO can be triggered by MIDI-note-on (remember, any note will do this since we’re not polyphonic outside the sound generation complex), or the LFOs can be free-running (non-triggered) and optionally synced to host tempo. Triggering can be further refined with criteria such as velocity or note-number range restrictions that will govern whether the trigger fires or not.
Then there’s an envelope. Again, this is identical to what we’ve already seen in the sound generation complex – learn it once, apply it everywhere. The envelope can be combined with the LFO in whatever ratio is desired.
Rounding out the modulator capability is a random generator, which will create a random series of values at a specified frequency proportional to the host tempo. The smoothness of the value changes can be controlled between totally disjointed to completely smooth.
Like everything else in MPowerSynth, many characteristics of the modulator may be modulated by another modulation source.
What a modulator modulates can be set with simple point-and-click. Modulation ranges, polarity, etc. are adjustable on a target-by-target basis. All in all, this is an extremely versatile system, but one that will probably take a bit of practice in order to become proficient. Fortunately, Melda has provided an instructive 12-minute video tutorial on the subject, which can be seen here:
An equally (if not even more) powerful mechanism for sound animation is available via multiparameters – hereafter called “MPs”. Once again we have a Melda standard capability seen in many of the Melda effect products, eight of them in the case of MPowerSynth. Like modulators, multiple targets can be defined, all having different characteristics such as default value, range mode (up-down, up-only, etc.), and more. For MPs, the primary control will normally be a continuous controller (i.e., a knob or slider) but it can be a simple switch or trigger. We can have a MIDI controller associated with the MP’s control or we could alter that control via host automation. In fact, due to the vast numbers of controls in MPowerSynth (wait until we look at the effects section!), there are far too many to make all available for automation. The solution is automation via multiparameters. That’s not their only purpose, but it is a key purpose. Below is the main MP control panel.
The synth preset “default” associates the first four multiparameters with two MIDI controllers each. For example, MP1 is tied to the mod wheel and also CC 75. For this reason, you’ll see these same assignments in preset after preset, even where the MP has no purpose or assignment within the preset. I found this to be quite confusing when trying to initially come to grips with MPs. However, once learned, MPs are very quick to set up and quite flexible. Serious sound designers are going to love the power they provide with the investment of minimal effort, even though those individuals might initially curse the learning curve.
As an aside, I should emphasize that, although MPs are how automation is accomplished, this is not the case with MIDI learn. Although MP controls will often be associated with (slaved to) a MIDI control, but any continuous control may be MIDI-learned via the MIDI button in the lower right of the main UI.
As with modulators, there’s a helpful 10-minute video provided by Melda that makes this subject a bit more comprehensible. It can be found here:
FX – Very, Very Special Indeed!
And now we get to what in my opinion is the most exciting aspect of MPowerSynth, the effects section. I’m pretty sure I’ve never encountered anything remotely as powerful in other instruments to date.
To begin with, we are provided a four-channel grid in which to place effects. From a single audio source at the top, we can direct the audio to a chain of effects in any of the columns. The output can then be consolidated back into “combiner” effects, as can be seen in the graphic above. The effects available, as seen in the screen shot below, include all the usual suspects: modulation (chorus, phaser, etc.), delays, reverb, distortion, filtering, dynamics, etc. Melda has an extensive catalog of versatile effects plug-ins from which code was no doubt repurposed to great effect (no pun intended) in MPowerSynth, so it’s no surprise that MPowerSynth’s FX capabilities are impressive right out of the starting gate.
As can be seen, in addition to the standard fare, there are some unexpected or unusual options. We see that we can do LR/MS conversions and back, for example. The Mixer and Ratio controls are there to combine the outputs of prior processing from multiple channels. Then there’s the Crossover control to roll-your-own multi-band effect setups. Moreover, there’s the Feedback option. We can place a feedback module toward the top of the FX matrix and use it to reintroduce the output of a lower effect back into the signal chain.
Still not impressed? Then how about this feature? The Modular component can be used to create a full, self-contained effects matrix which can be nested within a parent effects matrix. Forgive the cliché, but my mind has officially been blown. I have never seen anything like this kind of power and flexibility in any other instrument. I suspect it will take a while for sound designers to fully get their heads around working with a system like this, but as they do become proficient, the sky’s the limit.
Finally, let’s focus on the individual effects themselves. These are not just simple, limited-function effects you’re accustomed to seeing on typical soft-synths. Rather, many are deep and complex – so much so that you should thoroughly appreciate there being presets available. Just look at the chorus UI below. I rest my case.
After talking about the FX capabilities, a discussion of everything else is going to be pretty much of an anti-climax, but let’s do it anyway, starting with the arpeggiator/sequencer (as seen below). It’s cool, it’s powerful, it’s complex … in other words typical Melda fare. I don’t use arpeggiators/sequencers myself, so I’m going to limit my observations to simply stating that this thing looks ready for all kinds of action. If arps/sequencers are your thing, you’re probably going to be satisfied with what you find. Check out the variety of possibilities in the factory presets to get a handle on what’s there.
Next let’s discuss the presets. There are a generous number (the claim is there are an excess of 1500 – I’ll take Melda’s word on that), and they’re quite decent. But I get the feeling that they don’t come close to showing what MPowerSynth is truly capable of, particularly with respect to creative use of FX. I can only hope that Melda will collaborate with a few A-list sound designers prior to releasing a new version at some future date. As stated previously, I think it will take some time for sound designers to actually absorb the creative possibilities of this instrument. Of course, which presets float our respective boats varies considerably from individual to individual. Making pronouncements on preset quality is not something a reviewer has too much business doing in my opinion. But I feel very comfortable in suggesting that “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
Documentation is something always high on my list of evaluation points. In this, I give MPowerSynth mixed grades. What’s there and complete (the Oscillators, for example) is reasonably clear and comprehensive. But there’s much that could use a good deal more coverage, such as filters. Another area I think could be greatly amplified to great advantage is the effects coverage. The application and configuration of MPowerSynth effects offer so very many possibilities, but the documentation barely hints at what those might be.
Also, there is no table of contents and no index. This might be fine for a short effect plug-in manual, but MPowerSynth is a very deep and complex instrument. I found myself spending rather too much wasted time in trying to track down bits of information I had read previously but forgot the details on.
On the very day I’m writing this I received an email from Melda announcing the availability of a tutorial video on MPowerSynth. This is promised to be the first in a series. Depending on how that initiative goes and how in-depth the following videos turn out to be, this could overcome some of the sketchiness of the documentation. I do hope this will be the case. You can see the first video here:
Is MPowerSynth for You?
If there were an annual “Best New Instrument” award and I got to vote, I’d have a hard time not giving the nod to MPowerSynth. In spite of a few reservations, this instrument is so very innovative, most especially in the area of FX, that I’m totally sold. But as I’ve also stated above, I think it may take a bit of time for MPowerSynth to come gain the widespread appreciation it deserves. That will come, I’m confident, but it may take a while for some top-tier sound designers to release libraries that will show off MPowerSynth’s capabilities to greatest advantage. Once that happens, look out!
MPowerSynth is available for PC and Mac (Intel/AMD processors only) in all the standard formats (including VST3) and for both 32-bit and 64-bit systems. The list price is €199 EUR (about $247 USD), but at the time I’m writing this, an introductory price of €149 EUR (about $185 USD) is in effect. But this is Melda, remember. One rarely has to wait long until whatever you’re wishing to buy becomes briefly available for 40% or 50% off list price. Since this is so widely known, I have to wonder if Melda actually ever sells anything at list price. But no matter, you know and that’s what’s important!
Learn more and buy MPowerSynth here:
I’m adding these words a few days after writing the main body of the review because something striking occurred to me in that time. I am so very impressed about what Melda has conceived as an effect framework within MPowerSynth, I must believe that an MPowerSynth-effect-only offering would be a major success. Should it be called MUberEffect, perhaps? Now, Melda would be shooting itself in the foot if it brought such a thing to market because it would almost certainly cut into the sales of its many standalone effect offerings.
On the other hand, the way has been shown! The cat is out of the bag, as the saying goes. If Melda does not wish to go down this path, there are a number of other development shops that have an extensive portfolio of effects code in house. One of them may find it to their benefit and irresistible to release their own implementation of an uber effect. Melda, you’ve got the inside track at the moment. What will the future hold? I, for one, will be fascinated to follow upcoming developments.