Review – DUNE 1.4 by Synapse-Audio

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Our reviewer thinks Dune 1.4 is a powerhouse synth with a sleek interface. He suggests this is one that is not to be missed. Judge for yourself in this review.

by Rob Mitchell, Nov. 2013

Dune 1.4 is a virtual analog synth plugin by Synapse-Audio. It is mainly a subtractive synth in nature, but also has FM, Ring Modulation, and Wavetable Synthesis as well.

 The installation was easy, as it has a key-based copy protection. You just register with your key on their site, download and install. After it was finished with the installation, I jumped right in and checked it out.  Its interface is easy to use, and basically everything is on the main screen. No layers to deal with.

 I was impressed by the presets level of quality, and could tell a good amount of time went into making these.  For each preset, there is the possibility to add a description/comment, which can help the end-user get the most out of it.  For instance, it might say something like: “Aftertouch is mapped to the filter and Mod Wheel is mapped to pulse width”. It would be great if more software developers included this feature in their plugins.

 There are three banks of presets shipped with Dune, and each bank has 128 presets. Ten of those are basic presets (in the 3rd bank) that use different chord settings, such as Major Chord, Sus4, Minor, etc. Their sound is pretty standard, besides the way their notation is setup, but you can tweak them any way you want. Just add some effects, maybe some LFOs here and there, or whatever else you’d like.

 The last preset is an INIT patch, with initialized/basic settings. This can be used as a great starting point in designing your own presets totally from scratch.

 To see all of the presets in whichever bank you are in, click on the name of the preset on the main screen. Once it shows all of 128 the presets in the bank, you can then click on the one you want.  Switching between the patches can also be accomplished by using the left/right arrows. The Category selector normally is set to “Show All”, meaning it shows any type of preset. You can also choose to view by category, such as Pads, Plucked, Lead, etc.

 Oscillators and Filters

 Dune includes two oscillators with sync, a sub-oscillator, and a white noise generator.

 

 

For the first two oscillators, there are pulse, saw and sine waveforms available, along with 69 different wavetables.  The last ten waveforms are different, as they have either chord or click sounds.  The click-type sounds are useful for the attack section of a preset’s design.

 

The sub-osc is tuned one octave lower than Osc1.  For the sub-osc saw, pulse, and triangle waveforms are the only available options. Using the adjustable Fat controls with the first two oscillators, you can add multiples of the oscillator on top of itself.  This can generate a huge/fat sound very easily.

The Differential Unison Engine (Dune) is what sets this synth apart from the crowd. Instead of only getting a pan/spread and detune for the unison, with Dune each voice can be set to a different type of modulation. For instance, in the mod matrix you can assign any voice to almost anything. Voice 1 could have an LFO changing its volume, and the 2nd voice can have a higher resonance for example.  You can also set the separate voices of one or more of the oscillators to certain pitches. This makes for an additive-oscillator type of sound. In addition, you could assign certain voices to the different types of filters.

Dune features 18 different filter settings. Some of the filters included are a low pass 12dB, low pass 24dB, and a low pass 12/24dB ladder filter. There are a couple others that have distortion and saturation mixed in with the filtering.  Certain settings, such as the Comb>LP24 and LP/BP/HP Sweep, can adjusted between the different filter types using the Offset control. The LP12/LP12 Split works in a parallel mode; the 1st oscillator goes through the first LP filter, and the 2nd and 3rd oscillators (and even the noise signal, if it’s being used) go through the second LP filter.

One nice feature which works well with designing your own sounds is the Voice Solo. Say you have setup a nice pad with eight-voice unison, but then want to fine tune it more to your liking. Clicking each voice button lets you hear each one separately. You can then change settings for it, move to the next voice, and so on.

They have also included Ring Modulation, and three FM modes. The Ring mod is quite straight-forward, as it just has an amount control available. The FM has three modes you can choose from. The first two modes work with oscillator 1 and oscillator 2, where the first one modulates the second. The third mode is different, as the filter cutoff is modulated by the oscillators. With the FM1 control, you change the amount that oscillator1 affects the filter cutoff, and FM2 works the same way with oscillator 2.

 

LFOs, Envelopes, and Effects

 

There are three LFOs built-in, and you can assign destinations for the LFO by using the mod matrix. Waveforms include saw tooth, pulse, sine, and sample & hold noise.  The LFOs have the usual controls; Rate (0.1 Hz to 100 Hz), Sync (to the host tempo), Reset (free-running when not selected), and Fade-In.  The one that’s a bit different, and handy too, is the Skew control.  This allows you to change the shape of the wave you have selected for the LFO. For the most part, it can be used to soften up the effect of the LFO’s “edginess” on the signal.  For the pulse LFO shape, it acts as a pulse width type of control.

 

There are three envelopes at your disposal, Modulation (assign to nearly anything you want), Filter, and Amp envelopes. These all have typical controls, except the Amp envelope which has “Hold” and “Spike” controls. You configure either of those in the mod matrix. They both can help give more punchiness, or can be used to just to modify the regular Amp envelope settings to your liking.

 

I appreciate how they saved on the amount of screen size by having a hidden effects panel. You just click “Effects” above the pitch and mode wheels to access them.  There’s a distortion, EQ1, EQ1, phaser/chorus, delay and reverb. These can be dragged into whichever order you’d like, and the processing occurs from left to right.

You can use the mod matrix to assign a voice (or selected voices) to be altered by the effects.

 

 

MIDI and the Arpeggiator

Setting up your MIDI controller is a breeze. Just right-click on whatever knob you want to assign, and click either MIDI Learn or MIDI Forget.  One thing I happened to notice: If you have your DAW set on record to automate some of Dune’s controls via the mouse (instead of a MIDI controller), the controls work on the GUI, except for the pitch bend and mod wheel won’t record. You can hear the change in the sound just fine, but they don’t send MIDI data for recording via the screen. I discovered that when my keyboard wasn’t hooked up to the PC one day, and tried to use the wheels on the screen to record a bit of automation.

 

 The arpeggiator has controls for the Steps, Rate, Length, Swing, and Sync. It also has five different play modes from which to select. The one called “Voice 2/4/6/8” can produce some interesting sounds, as it only affects voices 2, 4, 6,and 8, and leaves the others alone. So if you hold down a note, and have unison set to 8 voices, the voices 1, 3, 5 and 7 would just play the note you are actually holding down. The other voices would follow whatever settings/sequence that is in the arpeggiator.

 

Conclusion

I couldn’t find much to complain about with Dune, but here are a few things I’ll mention:

Using wavetables can really add a lot of choices in sound design, and I love they have this option to load them in. There are a lot included, but I would still like to load in my own.

The controls for Dune work well, and they show the numerical amount once you move a control, or just click on it. There is no numeric input for values however, except via the mod matrix.

Even though there is a control to change the basic type of whichever effect (using the “Type” knob), it would still be nice to have presets for the effects.  I’d especially like that for the delay and reverb.

At $139, Dune is well priced in the synth market for the many features they’ve included.  I have to mention that it can imitate some older analog-type sounds, but it seems better suited to the more modern sounds you hear these days.

I really like Dune; it’s very easy to use, and has no cluttered interface to deal with. While using it for this review, the CPU usage was very good, one of the best I have ever run into…especially while using unison.  Even with the low CPU usage, it still has a great sound quality.  You should have no problem loading up multiple instances for your next project.

The manual is great, and also explains some basics of synthesis along the way.

Dune excels with its ease of use, and easily surpasses features of certain other synths, e.g. Sylenth1.  To put it another way, it is a powerhouse synth with a sleek interface; don’t miss this one.

Available formats are 32 and 64-bit VST and AU for Windows and Mac OS X.  More information here: http://www.synapse-audio.com/dune.html

Dune Audio Example Clips:

Original RM Preset:

Amnesia:

Barrels:

Dance Lead:

Destiny Chord:

Fat JX:

 

 

 

 

 

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