Oldies but Goodies – Sylenth1 by Lennar Digital
For this month’s Oldies but Goodies, we take a look at the legendary synth plugin Sylenth1. Find out just what makes this oldie still so popular.
by Rob Mitchell, May 2017
If you haven’t heard of Sylenth1, you most likely haven’t been using soft synth plugins for the past ten years or so. When it first appeared back in 2006, it was the beginning of something really special. It had a high quality sound and a simple, easy-to-use interface. Even though it could cover most types of music, it became very popular with the EDM crowd. In no time at all, it reached a near legendary status among EDM producers. Ever since then, it has been imitated in some ways by a few different developers. In some cases, those other developers added features that were not included in Sylenth1. Despite all that, Sylenth1 stayed true to form in its overall design for many years. I thought it would be a perfect candidate for our “Oldies but Goodies” reviews because it really fits the bill.
So what is Sylenth1? To generalize it somewhat, it’s a four oscillator virtual-analog subtractive synth plugin with over 2,500 presets. It can use up to eight unison voices per oscillator, each of which can use detuning to get a huge sound. It is set up in a two-layer configuration; you have two oscillators and a filter for each layer. The modulation and master effects section tie it all together.
Installing Sylenth1 is very easy. It just uses a personal license code, and there’s a quick online activation involved. The system requirements are easy to take: Pentium III or higher, 256 megabytes of RAM, and Windows 2000 (or higher) or Mac OS X 10.6 (or higher). There is no standalone version of Sylenth1, so you will need some type of host software. It is available in VST, AU, AAX, x86 and X64 versions.
Once you have it activated and loaded it into whichever host you’d like, you’ll see the main display. Actually this is basically the whole synth, except there is a duplicate layer that’s accessible at the top by using the Part A/Part B buttons. Clicking the “Solo” button will let you hear only the part that you’ve selected. The browser is accessible from the center panel by clicking on the name of the preset, or you can click the left/right arrows next to it. The “Menu” button brings you to selections such as the loading/saving of preset banks, changing the display size and/or skin, randomizing a preset, and much more. Here are two of the alternate skins available with the latest version of Sylenth1.
Towards the top left and right are the two oscillator sections. They have Octave, Note, and Fine tuning controls available. The waveforms include Sine, Saw, Triangle, Pulse, Half Pulse, Quarter Pulse, TriSaw, and Noise.
Each oscillator can have up to eight unison voices, and if one of the oscillators isn’t needed, you can just switch the voices number to zero. Standard controls are here, such as Volume, Phase, and there is a Detune for the unison voices. The Stereo control adjusts the spread for the voices in the stereo field. Pan adjusts the oscillator’s output from left to right. Retrigger works as expected: the voices will all start at the same place in the waveform every time a note is played. You can flip the waveform by enabling the INV (Invert) button, and the small arrow at the upper-right lets you copy/paste the oscillator settings to one of the others, and you can initialize them from there as well. Sylenth1 doesn’t have PWM, but fear not, as the manual explains a workaround “trick” which uses the INV feature to get around that.
Now we’ll look at the filters. On the left side of the display, the inputs to both the Part A and Part B filters can be configured. There are a few ways you can change the way they are set up. Part A’s oscillators can be routed to Part A’s filter, which you might use when wanting just a quick and simple configuration. But you could have both Part A and B’s oscillators going to Part A’s filter, or it can be disabled altogether. Likewise, if you are on the Part B screen, you can select a similar configuration, but it is routed to Part B’s filter instead.
The filter types included are low pass, band pass, and high pass. These can all be switched between a 12dB or 24dB slope. The usual cutoff and resonance controls are here, as well as “Drive” which can dial in saturation to the sound. Below this filter section is the Filter Control. This is where you can make an adjustment to both Part A and Part B’s filters at the same time. Keytracking ties the cutoff frequency to the notes being played, and the “Warm” button will enable a higher-quality saturation at the cost of additional CPU cycles. This is in no way a CPU-melting synth plugin for most PCs or Macs, so you can use that nearly anytime. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons I like Sylenth1 so much in the first place. I can load up so many instances at once that I hardly need anything else in the project.
Sylenth1 includes two amplitude envelopes (one per part) located between the oscillators, two modulation envelopes, and two LFOs. The envelopes are the standard ADSR type, and they can be assigned (along with the LFOs) to various targets. The LFOs have eleven wave shapes to choose from, and they include Rate, Gain, and Offset controls. There is a button to enable Free-running mode, but one item I’d like them to add would be a Delay control.
The way the modulation works is simple: just click on a slot beneath whatever you’d like to use as a source, and select a target for it. Over on the right, there are four additional modulation panels. These are freely assignable, so you can pick whatever you want as a source and a target. Just like for the other panels, there are two targets for each of them. Next to each slot is a bipolar amount knob to dial in the level of modulation you would like. I’d prefer some more effect destinations, as they have only included Phaser frequency and Distortion amount. Speaking of effects, let’s check those out right now.
In the middle of the display is a multi-function panel which contains (among other things) all of the effects. They include Distortion, Phaser, Chorus, EQ, Delay, Reverb and Compressor. As you click on their corresponding buttons on the left, it will change the display to show the controls for the effect you’ve selected.
There are a good number of distortion types available: Overdrive, Foldback, Clip, Decimate, and Bitcrush. I love a good distortion, and Sylenth1 didn’t disappoint me at all.
The six-stage Phaser is one of the most robust as far as controls are concerned. It has an LFO with rate and gain controls, Center Frequency and Spread controls, Left/Right Offset, and Width. The Feedback amount is also adjustable, and there is a standard Dry/Wet mix knob.
I won’t go into much detail about the rest of the effects, but I did want to mention the Delay is very nice, and I always appreciate having a Compressor and EQ on board.
The Arpeggiator is in the effects section, and includes ten different modes. Some of these include Up, Down, Up/Down, Up/Down2, and Down/Up. Setting it to “Step” or “Chord” mode allows you to play a sequence of notes that are set up in the step sequencer section. Up to sixteen steps can be used, and the Time and Gate controls are for the speed and note length for the sequence. “Wrap” lets you set the length of the sequence to whatever you’d like. Several velocity modes are also included: Key, Hold, Step, Step + Key, and Step + Hold. I will just explain a few of them. “Key” will use all the velocities from the notes you play on the keyboard in the sequence, and “Hold” makes all the sequence velocities the same as the last note you played on your keyboard. “Step” uses the velocity amounts you entered in the step sequencer. The one thing I feel the arpeggiator is missing is a Swing function. Maybe it will be in a future version?
Over the many years since Sylenth1’s introduction, some people have complained there weren’t any major updates. But I must agree with the ago-old wisdom: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. However, if I had a choice of what to add to it, I would say that PWM (pulse width modulation) is very important. Also, it could use two more LFOs, swing for the arpeggiator, and the browser has some room for improvement. Even though there is a trick for the PWM (I mentioned about that earlier), it would be nice to have the “real deal” included. If I’m allowed to get greedy with my requests, then I’d also like some simple form of FM thrown in, but PWM and additional LFOs are more important.
For the most part, Sylenth1 has stayed nearly the same over its lifetime, but there have been a few additions that are definitely noteworthy. In case you haven’t checked in on it lately, it is at version number 3.03. Some of the improvements in the latest versions include 64-bit compatibility, many more presets, several alternate skins, preset randomizing, MIDI-learn for each control, display re-sizing, file drag-and-drop for fxb and fxp files, and an AAX version for Pro Tools. Even if they don’t add more to it, that’s OK with me. I can get along without the wish list I just mentioned. I love Sylenth1’s streamlined/uncluttered approach, and the new skins that have been made available are a very nice touch. Sylenth1 still sounds very good, and even after all the years that have passed, it stands the test of time.
Sylenth1 retails for €139 EUR, which is around $146 USD. It rarely goes on sale, but it has happened in the past. Audio examples and a demo version are available on their website here: