Review – PPG Wave 3.V by Waldorf
Back in the day, you’d have to spend around $7,000 USD to acquire a PPG Wave synth. Fortunately, this software plugin version is much easier on your budget.
by Rob Mitchell, Nov. 2014
Waldorf is a music software and hardware company based in Germany, and has been around for many years. They’re the makers of some of the best hardware synthesizers around, including the Waldorf Wave, Waldorf Q, Blofeld, and many others.
In this review, I will be covering one of their software synthesizer plugins called PPG Wave 3.V. The original version of the software (2.V) was produced in 2000, and was an emulation of the PPG Wave hardware synthesizer. The original PPG Wave (developed by Wolfgang Palm) was used by many artists during the 1980’s, such as Trevor Horn, Tangerine Dream, Rush, and many others. Back in the day, you’d have to spend around $7,000 USD to acquire one. Fortunately, the software plugin version is much easier on your budget.
The PPG Wave 3.V continues on with the legacy, adding more features, many more wavetables and presets have been added as well.
Here is a brief overview to describe PPG Wave 3.V:
It is a two oscillator wavetable synthesizer plugin, and has up to eight stereo outputs. It can be used with all eight layers playing at once on a single MIDI channel, or you can have it function as a multi-timbral instrument, using your DAW to control each part. Six effects can be used for each of the eight parts, and there are a total of 256 voices available.
The minimum system requirements for the PC are a Pentium IV or AMD Athlon CPU running at 1 GHz, Windows XP or later operating system, 64 megabytes of free RAM, and it runs in both 32-bit and 64-bit hosts.
The minimum system requirements for the Mac are an Intel 1.5 GHz CPU, OSX 10.6 or later operating system, 128 megabytes of free RAM, and you must run it within a host program.
Installation does require at least the software e-Licenser to be installed, and you must enter an activation code when prompted. You will need an internet connection for the activation to work correctly.
If you want to play it safe, I recommend that you get a USB e-Licenser to save the licenses on. They mention in the manual that the license/activation code can only be used once. After that first use, it becomes invalid. That’s why it’s good to copy the license over to a USB e-Licenser. After it has been transferred over, you have to keep it plugged into a USB port or PPG Wave 3.V will not run. One nice advantage to using a USB e-Licenser is that you can use it on more than one computer.
When you run it for the first time, you will see a blank, dark area at the top of the display, the Analog control panel section in the middle, and a keyboard along the bottom. The Edit and Browse buttons at the top left are exactly that: When “Edit” is selected, you are able to get to all the controls to edit and create presets. The “Browse” button will bring up the built-in browser, which covers that blank part of the GUI that I mentioned before, as well as the editing section in the middle.
It also has a menu to load or save individual presets, or banks of presets, and an additional “Edit” menu that has extra functions, such as initializing a preset or bank, and copying/pasting programs. The left/right arrows let you step through the presets one at a time. Alternatively, you can use the arrow keys on your computer keyboard to step through them.
At the top-left part of the browser you can load up to eight presets, and each part has its own volume, panning, detune, mute and solo controls. In addition, each of these parts can be set to a different MIDI channel.
Another way it can be setup is with multi-samples (drag and drop is supported), and you’re able to use key zones to divide them up across your keyboard. Below that section you will see all the presets that are within the loaded bank. The right side of the browser is where you can select from different banks or single programs.
Editing and Modulation
To start setting up a preset from scratch, which I like to do much of the time, you can use the Edit menu and select Init Program.
In the Analog Control panel, the “BASIS” control on the left side will change where the voices fall from left to right. The way it works depends on what the keyboard mode is set to. If it is set to “Poly”, and you turn up BASIS to the 12 o’clock position for instance, the notes will alternate from left and right if a melody is played. When a chord is played, the notes in the chord will be panned left and right.
When the other modes (Dual, Quad, or Mono) are used in combination with the Basis control, the notes that are played do not alternate from left to right, but they are spread out equally.
To change to one of those other modes, you click the “DIGI” button. This is also where you can load in a Transient (i.e. sample), or a Wavetable.
The Poly mode will generate one voice per note played. If you use the Dual mode, it creates two voices for each note played, while Quad mode creates four voices for every note. Mono mode just lets you play one note at a time, but it creates eight voices for each note you play.
For each of the modes I just covered, you can change the tuning of the individual voices. To make some adjustments to those tunings, you click on the “TUNE” button. If you have it set up with the Mono mode, you’re able to use the eight individual Semitone controls, and tune them however you’d like.
The LFO (low frequency oscillator) is on the right side of the Basis control. True to the original hardware synthesizer, it is pretty basic, with just a control for the delay amount, the waveshape (four waveforms), and the rate amount. It can also be synced to the host.
You optionally can adjust the waveshape and rate in the “Graph” menu. That same Graph menu is where you can also make adjustments to the other envelopes, filter, and oscillators. Changes made in the graphs will also change the regular controls in their respective sections, and vice versa.
PPG Wave 3.V includes three ADSR envelopes. The first of these is for the filter section, the second is for the amplitude, and the third is user assignable for various targets. In the Modifiers section, you can adjust the two wavetable oscillators, and change the low pass filter’s settings. The filter has cutoff, emphasis (resonance), and drive controls. The slope amount can be changed from 12dB to 24 dB per octave. The drive can be used as a type of distortion, as it adds saturation to the signal.
Right below the Modifiers section, there are controls to change the filter slope (12 dB or 24 dB), drive type, and a “True PPG Mode” is included. This mode will add certain characteristics that were in the original hardware PPG Wave. These include varied filter tuning, playback of transients in 8-bit or 12-bit mode, envelopes will act more like the original synth, and the LFO will vary slightly in its timing.
The wavetables in PPG Wave 3.V have 64 waves, and you are able to playback the sound from any of those waves, or have it cycle through them over a period of time. This will create a kind of stepped morphing sound, going from one wave to the next. If you want to manually select a certain wave, crank up the Decay control all the way for Envelope 1. You can then use the “Waves” control in the modifiers section, and as you turn the control, it will step through all of the available waves in the wavetable.
The Modulation panel is where you can assign sources to targets, such as the LFO changing the oscillator pitch. To get to the panel, click the “MOD” button. Some of the configurations were not included on the original PPG Wave. To access those additional modulations, you have to click the “Fine” button at the top.
There aren’t too many modulation choices in the panel to pick from, but this is an emulation of that classic synth, so it is expected. The additional modulations Waldorf has added are a nice touch however, and help expand its sonic capabilities. Besides enabling the newer mod configurations with the Fine button, it also adds more control in general. If a selection in the Modulation panel has the choice of being On or Off, clicking the Fine button changes it so it will have an adjustable amount from 0 to 100%.
One configuration I liked was being able to map KEY to WAVES. This makes it possible to play a different wave from the wavetable for every key that is played. The way it works depends on the percentage you’ve set it to, so to play a wave for each key, you’d set it to 100%.
Arpeggiator and Effects
The PPG Wave 3.V arpeggiator is in the Digital section, so you just click the “DIGI” button to get to its controls. It has five modes, including Up, Down, Alternating, Random, and Moving. The other controls are for Arp Rate, and Arp Range.
The arpeggiator seems to work correctly, except one thing. If it’s set to the “Up” mode, the notes in the chord should go from the lowest note of the chord to the highest (like the manual says), but it is just the opposite. The same thing happens with the “Down” mode, it goes up instead of down. Maybe this is the way the hardware synth worked, but I don’t have one to compare it to.
There are six effects included: Equalizer, Overdrive, Phaser, Chorus, Delay, and Reverb.
The Equalizer is 4-band parametric, with frequency, Q (frequency range), and gain controls. There is a graphical representation of the EQ curve that changes as you make adjustments to the gain. I love parametric EQs, and graphs are high on my list too, so this is a win-win situation.
With the Overdrive effect, you have five drive types to quickly get the “crunch” that suits your preset. The settings include Light, Medium, Hard, Clip, and Tube, and it has a decent amount of additional controls to contour the tone to your liking.
The other effects all work well, and have a good number of options. I especially like the delay. Among the delay’s many controls are modulation speed and depth, low and high cut controls, as well as low and high damping. My only complaint is that I wish there was a way to save each of the effect’s settings. Maybe we can get that in a future update?
I must admit, I am a tad bit lazy, and so I think it’s great when synth plugins have a built-in MIDI-learn feature. Unfortunately, MIDI-learn is not included in PPG Wave 3.V, but it’s pretty easy to setup in most hosts. Since I used Sonar X3 for this review, I used its ACT (active controller technology) to set it up, and it only took about five minutes.
Waldorf has done a great job of keeping the old style of the original, while improving on it in the right places. If I were to make some suggestions, I’d just mention a couple things. The browser could use a little update. It works well enough, but it would be nice to have it categorized by the type of preset. Also, I’d like it if they could add some sort of “favorites” functionality in there.
The other suggestion is more trivial: In some of the newer synth plugins, we have an option to hide the keyboard. I’d like this added, as it can definitely save space on a crowded monitor. However, a keyboard can be useful for some situations. If you’re on long airline flight or on a train, for instance, it would be nice to have that keyboard if it’s needed. Unfortunately, you can’t carry an actual MIDI keyboard everywhere you go.
Just recently, there have been some new wavetable synthesizer plugins released. They may have a few modern features thrown in, but they can’t substitute for the classic sound of the PPG Wave. There is just something about it that makes it unique, and at times, even magical. Despite its little quirks here and there, the sound is still great. Maybe I am nostalgic, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Go check it out for yourself to see why so many great artists used this classic.
I just wanted to also mention that they’ve included the Waveterm B sample library, all of PPG Wave 2.3’s presets (and many more new ones), as well as 164 wavetables. Altogether, it is a huge number of presets, wavetables, and library sounds to choose from.
PPG Wave 3.V retails for $211.50 USD, and you may find it for around $180 USD at some of the music dealers out on the internet.
You can get more info on PPG Wave 3.V here:
There is an evaluation version available which you can use unrestricted for 100 hours over a period of 100 days here:
Renowned synth programmer Rob Lee has programmed a sound set for the PPG Wave 3.V, and he has graciously offered it as a free download to SoundBytes readers.
We will add a link to download the sound set in the next issue’s announcement letter. Be sure and add your name to our mailing list to get this (and quite possibly other free goodies in the future as well).
Here some examples from the soundset: