Music on Tablets (and Beyond) – Nave from Waldorf
Nave, a unique iOS favorite from Waldorf for iPad, is now available for desktop computers as well. We take a close-up look in herein.
by Warren Burt, Jan. 2016
In the tablet world, most apps are made especially for that environment. Occasionally, an app will be a tablet adaptation of a bit of hardware or computer software (the Korg iMS-20; Propellorhead’s Thor). Rarely, however does an app start off on the iOS platform, and then migrate over to the world of Windows and OSX machines. Waldorf’s Nave is one of those. It started off as a superbly engineered softsynth on the iOS platform, with unique capabilities not found in other synthesizer apps. After a couple of years on that platform, it is now available (at a five times increase in price!) for VST, AU and AAX formats. In the transition, some things have been added, and some things have been taken away, but basically, it’s the same beast on both platforms. What’s been added is the necessity for an eLicenser dongle, and the four-track recorder that was part of the iPad app is now gone, presumably because the assumption is that the app will be used in a multi-track recording environment, anyway. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning.
NAVE is a wavetable synthesizer. It has two oscillators that have a set of waveforms arranged in a table such that one can modulate through them in any number of ways, creating changing timbres. Usually, these timbres change very smoothly, however, you can load some supplied wavetables, or load your own that will have quite abrupt transitions between waveforms. And using an LFO with a Sample and Hold waveform will produce random leaps around the waveform as well. The wavetable display (in the center of the above illustration) is gorgeous, and can be set to display in a number of different formats and can be rotated as well. Nave also has the ability to do rudimentary speech synthesis. It can synthesize speech expressions up to about 100 letters long. The speech synthesis seems to be set for American English. I tried a couple of German phrases in it, and (even though the synthesizer is from Germany) the German was rendered with American English pronunciation. And I got the same result with French and Hungarian phrases – all rendered as if the words were in American English.
Nave can analyse external audio, and make a wavetable out of that, and it can also load externally designed wavetables, such as 2CAudio’s Architecture Waveforms. So, in addition to the 80 or so wavetables the synth ships with, there are a LOT of timbral resources available for either the iPad or the PC/Mac versions. In addition to the two wavetable oscillators, there’s also a third oscillator which can generate virtual analog waveforms and white and pink noise. This can be mixed in with the other two oscillators, and you can also ring modulate either oscillators 1 & 2, or oscillators 1 & 3 against each other. Oscillator 3 has an “Uberwave” setting which allows for massive doubling and detuning of the third oscillator, as well.
After the oscillators, there of course is a filter, two LFOs, three envelopes (one for filter, one for amplitude, and one “free” envelope that can be used for any purpose), a variety of modulation sources, such as a keyboard, a set of “key blades” (more on those in a moment), a set of up to three x-y pad controllers, a variety of basic effects (phaser, delay, reverb, equalizer, compressor), and an arpeggiator. There’s also a modulation matrix which can independently route up to ten modulation sources to most aspects of the synthesizer.
The blades are worth a special mention. They are three dimensional controllers. They look like keys but they not only have touch on/touch off sensitivity, but a finger held on them can be moved in either the x (left-right) or y (up-down) direction, and those two motions can control just about any aspect of the sound. For example, in this illustration, my up-down motion controls the speed of morphing through the wavetable, but my left-right motion controls the noisiness of the waveform. So in addition to turning on and off notes, my motion could produce quite interesting timbral variations as well. Additionally, the blades can be set to one of 24 different scales. And each blade can play one of up to 24 different chords selected from notes in that scale. This is quite a wonderful resource. My one disappointment about this is that the selected chords only apply to the Nave internal synth engine. If one wants to use the blades as an alternative MIDI controller, you’re out of luck – it just transmits the MIDI note it has been set to, and not the chord notes as well. The blades work superbly in a multi-touch screen environment. In a computer environment, with a mouse, they work less well. Yes, you can have the same kind of control, but moving a mouse has a completely different kinaesthetic quality than moving a finger on a touch-screen. Also with the touch screen, you can have multiple controls changing at once (if you’re clever with your finger work), but on the computer screen, you’re back to one control at a time. So in one sense, migrating Nave to the computer environment is a bit of a small step backwards.
Not only can one move through the wavetable to get different timbres, but there is a spectrum control, which seems to shift the spectrum of the waveform, and this can be modulated as well. This can be set to be clean shifting, or with the addition of noisiness to the waveform. The combination of modulations of the waveform and the spectrum together can produce some amazingly animated timbres. With all this power, it’s pretty amazing (to me at least) that all this timbral capability is then, in the factory patch list, divided into the usual limiting categories of Lead, Keys, Pad, Bass, Vocal, Arp, Percussive, etc. There are lots of patches from a number of well-known designers, and I was very happy to see that some of them, such as Tom Fenn, provided a number of less-well-worn timbres in their presets.
In the computer version, the interface is changed slightly. The page selections are at the bottom of the screen, instead of at the top. The main page in the computer version has more on it – such as the filter and the envelopes and the drive module – these are on separate pages in the iPad version. As said before, the four track recorder is missing from the computer version. This may not be such a problem, however. On the iPad version, even though the four track recorder can do good recording directly from Nave, when one goes to export the mixdown, I’ve never been able to get a complete recording (say 3 minutes) to export. Only the first 45 seconds or so seems to export as a Wav file in the mixdown mode. In order to export the full recording, I’ve had to simply play the mix live, streaming the audio into a computer with Studiomux or MusicIO into a sound recorder. This works, but it’s not terribly efficient. So the lack of the four-track recorder in the computer version doesn’t strike me as a big deal.
The computer version comes with both 32-bit and 64-bit versions which will install in the appropriate places in your computer, and the computer version also has a choice of small or large interface sizes. This I found quite handy. The eLicenser works, and was installable, although I had a bit of trouble with the installation. I also highly recommend that you download a demo version to try out before you buy. The computer version works fine on my big ASUS i5 laptop, but even with a lot of very helpful and patient customer support, we were never able to get Nave to work on my ASUS Intel Atom Windows 8 netbook. So check if it does work on your computer of choice before you commit to purchase.
Overall, I’m thoroughly delighted with Nave – it has a lot of power, and you can make timbres with it that you can’t make just about anywhere else. The iPad version is a very flexible touch-screen performing machine, and the computer version, especially with an external keyboard (with a few continuous-control sliders attached), is a very powerful composing and performing tool. My one serious complaint, of course, is that it doesn’t have any microtonal ability. With all these amazing timbres, you’re still stuck with the same old 12 notes. If you want to use these timbres in a microtonal setting (as I think is the completely logical way to use them), then you’re going to have to record performances of single notes with Nave, and import those into your microtonally enabled sampler of choice, such as UVI’s Falcon. In frustration, I’m tempted to cry out “What will it take to convince synthesizer makers to incorporate microtonal ability into their synthesizers as a standard feature?” But companies like Waldorf have been making synthesizers for more than 30 years now, and they show no signs of even being interested in the microtuning possibilities of their machines. So I guess the lesson to take away from this is to use wonderful machines like Nave for the great sounds they can generate, and if you want to take those sounds into other realms, then export those sounds for use in other platforms, like microtonality-enabled samplers. In both its iPad and computer versions, though, I recommend Nave highly.
Nave from Waldorf: iOS app – $30.99 USD in the App Store. Computer version: VST/AU/AAX – €149 EUR from http://www.waldorfmusic-shop.de/ (download).