Review – Saurus by Tone2
Tone2 is a European software company, and the maker of many audio plugins. With Saurus they venture straight into the classic virtual-analog synth realm. Learn more about it here.
by Rob Mitchell, Jan. 2014
Tone2 is a European software company, and the maker of many audio plugins, including Warmverb, Gladiator2, BiFilter2, and Rayblaster.
With their synth plugin, Saurus, they venture straight into the classic virtual-analog synth realm. They studied how the circuitry worked in some of the great synthesizers from the past. This was then modeled into the code of Saurus.
This seems like a nice plan, but did they manage to get the rich analog sound of those synths of yesterday? Read ahead to find out.
For PCs, Saurus comes in 32 and 64-bit VSTi, plus 32 and 64-bit standalone versions. For the Mac, it is available in 32 and 64-bit VSTi, also as 32 and 64-bit AU; Universal Binary.
The installation on my PC was quick and painless, and used a key file for copy protection. After you load up Saurus for the first time, it will ask you for that same key file. You can just click on that screen that appears, and it lets you browse on your computer to where it is located. After you have loaded up the key file, just close out of the plugin and reload it. Alternatively, you can manually place the key file in the same folder where Saurus is located.
The Oscillator Section
Saurus has two oscillators, each with its own sub-oscillator. For the two main oscillators, you get a choice of eight different waveforms. All waveforms of the two main oscillators can all be affected by the Pulse Width modulation, and there is also Oscillator Sync.
The Pulse Width control can change the waveform, and depending on which one you’ve selected, can morph from one type into another. Two examples: if it is set to a Saw, the PW control morphs it into a Double Saw, while the Sinoid waveform will morph to a Square.
There are also eight different settings for the sub-oscillators, including waveforms such as Saw, Square, Negative Saw, and Inverted Saw. You control its level with the Mix knob.
Some of the features have self-explanatory controls; such as Tune (coarse tuning) and Detune (fine tuning), Mix 1/2 (for the two Osc levels), but there’s a couple added virtual-analog goodies; Drift and F/A Noise controls. Enabling the drift will make the sound a little unstable, getting a more authentic analog-type of sound.
Turning the F/A Noise control to the left adds more Frequency modulation to the sound, and turning to the right adds Amplitude modulation noise. You can add a touch of this to your presets to give it a bit of extra grit. Crank it up more and it could be used for something like a snare sound, for instance.
Envelopes and LFOs
There are three ADSR envelopes in Saurus. One is for the Amp section, another is in the Filter section, while the 3rd “Aux” envelope is assignable to what you’d like through the modulation matrix. In addition, there are 13 Decay envelopes which can be accessed through the matrix. The amounts you can pick range from a snappy 4ms all the way up to 16 seconds.
Saurus ships with two LFOS, and each one has Triangle, Square, Saw, and Ramped Random waveforms to choose from. There is a Frequency control, and a BPM selector (syncs it to the host). The Phase control adjusts the starting point of the waveform being used. If it is turned all the way to the left, the LFO is free running.
The LFOs can be assigned to many different destinations using the modulation matrix. A few of the common ones would be Oscillator pitch, Filter cutoff, or PWM.
The Filter Section
What would a virtual analog synth be without a good filter? Well, no worries here. There are six different filter types included: 12 and 24 dB low pass (self-oscillating), 12dB band pass and high pass, Notch, and a Formant filter.
The manual states that the 12dB low, high, and band pass filters were modelled after a Chamberlain filter, while the 24dB low pass was modelled after a Butterworth filter. I don’t have a way to compare these to actual vintage synths, but the filters do sound great, and have a good amount of variety.
There is also a control called Drive, which lets you add more gain to the sound before getting to the filter. It can give it a bit more of an overdriven/beefier sound. Tone2 has added an FM control too, which adds (you guessed it) frequency modulation to the filter section.
Saurus includes the usual filter controls, such as Cutoff, Resonance, Key follow, and an ADSR envelope. The Feedback control however, is a great extension to the filter section. It lets you route the audio back to the filter, adding even more character to the sound. It can get a bit crazy when used in excess, so be warned.
Modulation Matrix and Effects
With the Modulation Matrix, you can have a certain section of Saurus modulate another part. There are a total of 15 slots available to add a source/destination. For example: you could have LFO1 on a square wave mapped to LFO2’s speed, and LFO2 might be mapped to the Filter Cutoff. All of that would use two slots of the matrix.
Others that are more basic might be something such as the Modulation Wheel mapped to the filter cutoff, or Pitch Wheel to Osc pitch. Each of those would use up one of the 15 slots available. It all depends on what you want to do with the sound. To map the mod wheel to an LFO that affects the tuning, it will take two slots.
You can further manipulate the sound using modifiers in the matrix. They include Filter(X), X*X, Sqrt(X) and Limit(X). You basically assign a mod matrix source to the X=Value, such as Arp/Step. Then you use one of the four modifiers to affect something else, like cutoff, volume, or FM amount, etc.
The four effects included are a stereo Chorus, Reverb, tempo-synced Delay, and Tube. The Tube effect sounds a bit like a tube-overdrive effect, like that found in a guitar amplifier. The effects are of high quality, but I’d like it if they could add the option to modulate them using the matrix. Maybe for a future update?
The Saurus arpeggiator is very powerful, including such features as note order, swing, and Velocity/Gate. Note Order lets you set it (for instance) to play one note higher or lower. Other features let you double a note, or even triple it.
SL restarts your note reorder from the lowest key, while SH does the same, but from the highest key. You also get chord settings, four different Swing settings, and much more.
One way you can set up a nice Gate effect is by using 2 slots in the mod matrix. You can assign the “Arp/Step+-” to the “X=Value”. Then on another slot, you assign “Filter(X)” to “Volume”. Then you can adjust the sliders in the Arp display (for each step) to a pattern of your choosing. You just click/drag each bar up or down to the level you want.
If you want to load up a pre-made arp pattern, they have included 42 of them for you.
Unison, Voice Modes, and More
Saurus also includes 2X and 4X Unison and has a Spread knob to control the detuning amount. You can use the Pan control when Unison is enabled to spread the voices across the sound spectrum from left to right.
There are four Voice modes included:
- Mono (envelopes start with each new note played)
- Legato (Mono also, but won’t trigger the envelopes again if one note is held while a second one is played)
- OldPoly8 (8-voice polyphonic mode, less CPU that Poly16)
- Poly16 (a full 16-voice mode).
Next to the Unison controls is the Boost control, this uses Tone2’s psychoacoustic feature, and will enhance the overall sound. This is hard to describe exactly, but try it out and see if it fits the preset you design.
You might notice there are no controls/buttons for any white or pink noise, which can be used to add a bit of “fizz” to the sound. Actually, there is a way to do that; both white and pink noise are tucked away in the mod matrix.
A hidden feature that they’ve added (with V1.1) is a way to say goodbye to the keyboard. You just place any file called SaurusHideKeys.cfg in the same folder as Saurus.dll, and restart the plugin. Abracadbra, and it’s gone. You can just create a blank file with that name using something such as Notepad. If you decide you want the keyboard back, just delete that .cfg file, and restart the plugin again.
On the Tone2 website, they have some optional sound sets for Saurus. One of these, the Arpeggiator expansion, has 200 arp presets, 100 new arp patterns, and 2 new skins for Saurus. I like the overall Saurus look just the way it is, but the white version they included in that expansion is a definite must-have.
Saurus retails for $119 USD, has over 560 presets, low CPU usage, a powerful arpeggiator, and nice options accessible through the modulation matrix. I really like the simple layout, and the great sound quality it has.
As I mentioned before, I would like to have a way to modulate the effects. Another thing that would be great is a simple MIDI-learn, maybe right-clicking on a control to assign it to a MIDI controller’s knob would do the trick.
Also, it would be nice if they had it so you could use pitch-bend without using up a mod matrix slot. Maybe a button to switch it on near the wheel itself, and another little menu with the amount, like 2-up/down or whatever.
I really love this synth, and have only the small reservations about it that were previously mentioned. With its awesome sound, great price, easy to use interface, and powerful features, Saurus is a strong contender in the virtual analog synth market.