Review: ANA Synthesizer from Sonic Academy
We take an up-close look at the ANA software synth and see how it uses Analog, Noise and Attack to accomplish its purpose.
by Rob Mitchell, May 2013
The software synthesizer market is vast, filled with all types of useful plugins. Not all of those are top notch; some are mediocre at best, while others become legendary over time. With so many synths already available, new synth plugins have to stand out from the crowd.
Recently I checked out Sonic Academy’s ANA 1.5 (Fig. 1), which is named using an acronym for Analog, Noise, and Attack. That name is derived from the structure of ANA itself. It has a total of 6 oscillators. The first 3 are of the analog type. The fourth and fifth are noise oriented, and the sixth one is for the attack section.
Oscillators and Filters
In the Virtual Analog section, you can choose from over 60 different waveforms for each of the 3 oscillators (Fig. 2). There is a great variety of sounds to choose from. Some of the ones included are pulse waveforms, sine, saw, triangle, comb filtered, and many digital types. There are up to 8 voices per oscillator, and they have detune and width controls, among others. One of those controls is called Filter Out, and is used to send the signal to either of the 2 filters, or to both of them. Turned all the way left sends it to Filter1, and to the right, Filter2. If it’s in the middle, it will be sent to both.
There are 38 different waveforms for each of the 2 oscillators in the Noise section. This part of the synth has many useful sounds, not just the usual pink or white noise types, though they are included as well. There are choir sounds, bells, chords, and many more to choose from.
In the attack section, you can pick from a whole different set of 31 waveforms. These are great for the “attack” part of the sound, where you might want to beef up the sound a bit. For instance, you can use the “Kick Click” to give a kick drum sound you’re designing a bit more punch. Or add a guitar sound to the beginning section of your preset’s design. There are many other useful ones included: a few of them are strings, bass, bell, EP, and a pizzicato (plucked-string) sound.
ANA 1.5 has 23 different filter types (Fig. 3), including 2 and 4-pole (plus HP and BP versions), and 4 different Formant filter types, just to name a few. For the filter called LP + Dist, there is a distortion built-in to it, and it uses the Res knob to control the amount that is added. The filters can be run in series or parallel.
Each envelope section has standard ADSR controls, and there are 3 selectable envelope curves for the Filter, Amp and Mod Envelopes.
Modulation, FX and More
The G-Env is an envelope you can edit and assign to the Osc attributes, LFOs, EQ, Filters, and even the FX. You just right-click on the envelope to create a new point and then drag that point where you want. You can add up to 16 points. It’s great for getting even more control over the sound than you would using the ADSR envelopes alone.
With the 2 LFOs, you can assign them the same way as the G-Env, but they each have 2 targets available, versus the one target of the G-Env. The LFOs have 14 shapes available. There are Monopolar and Bipolar versions of Sine, Triangle, Saw Up, Saw Down, Pulse, Random, and Sample and Hold.
Mod1 and Mod2 can be assigned a source and a target. You can pick (for instance) the Mod Wheel as the source, and have it point to reverb amount as the target, or any other of the same targets that the G-Env and LFOs have access to. In addition, you can assign the G-Env as the source, and give it yet another target. The Mod Env also has the same target choices as the others.
ANA ships with 6 different effects: phaser, chorus, distortion, compressor, delay, and reverb.
These all work well, but I especially liked the improved reverb included in version 1.5.
A nice addition is the option to just have the wet signal of the effect go through. Like I mentioned before, the effects can be modulated from within ANA. I really like this feature, and wish it was implemented in every synth I have.
When you want to save a preset, you can make different banks and categories (leads, pads, FX, etc) within those banks. It works great, and helps to keep everything all organized.
One more cool feature built in to ANA is the “Chord Hold”. This lets you pick certain notes to make up a chord, and save it to a preset. You just click “Learn”, and then hit the keys you want one after the other. You could also just hit a chord all at once. Then unclick “Learn”, and it will remember that chord you have entered, and save that setting with your preset. It will then play back the chord if you hit a key on the keyboard.
If you want to use a sound in your preset that uses a chord already built-in to it, (the “Noise” section has many of those) you can turn off the Chord Hold feature just for that particular oscillator if you’d like. That way, it’s not playing a different chord on top of the chord you setup, which can get a bit messy sounding. Of course, it depends on the chord you are using. A bit of dissonance can sometimes be useful in a preset.
In the “Settings” section, you can change the amount of the filter sampling quality. Usually you would probably just leave this on the high setting, unless you’re having some CPU issues, and want to lower the setting to help it out a bit.
ANA has a randomize feature that works pretty well. Just like with any synth with a randomizing button, it might not always get a usable sound. There is a section in “Settings” however, where you can have it keep certain parts of the sound that you don’t want the randomize feature to change. This is very useful if you find you like what is going on with the oscillator section, but then want to change others. Click “Hold OSCs”, and click Randomize again. You can also change the G-Env control in “Settings”, so instead of a right-mouse click to add a point to the envelope, you can set it to double-click or alt-click. This can be helpful, especially if you have a Mac with no right-mouse button.
For now, there is no pulse width modulation, sync, or FM, but I was informed by Sonic Academy that they may add one or more of those in the next major update. It is nice that they included a goodly amount of pulse waveforms of different width settings, since the pulse width can’t be changed. I would like to see an arpeggiator added, but don’t want to be too greedy.
One other item I thought might be handy is a type of “solo” button for the oscillators. It would be nice to have, so you wouldn’t have to turn down the volume on all the others just to hear one you want to fine tune. Maybe a right-click on the “Osc 1” label for instance (up at the very top) would change the color of the label/title for that Osc, and then solo it.
There isn’t too much negative I can say about this synth, except maybe the aforementioned features I’d like.
ANA’s CPU usage wasn’t too bad in my testing. I checked it out on an older dual core PC, and most presets weren’t CPU killers, though some can get a bit high on the CPU usage. That’s basically how it is with many other synths released in the past couple years, so there’s no huge surprise there. You can also use its “Poly” setting, which lets you limit it to say, just 4 notes if needed. That way, if you’re hitting chords over and over that have a bit of a longer release time, the number of voices doesn’t just pile up, and totally take over your machine. The Poly setting can be adjusted from 1 all the way up to 32.
ANA 1.5 ships with over 400 presets, and it costs less than $80.00, which these days is a bargain. It is available in 32/64 bit versions for both PC and Mac OSX (VST and AU).
I really like the structure they designed for this: three main oscillators with the options of two additional noise oscillators, plus attack waveforms that come in handy for adding punch to the sounds front-end. It’s well-rounded for sure. Also, it’s very intuitive; everything is on one screen, so you won’t get lost looking for a certain control.
With its large number of waveforms, excellent modulation, big sound, and great price, I think it will definitely be a hit. ANA easily stands out from the crowd.
Website with more info for ANA: