Review – Dune 2 by Synapse Audio
Fans of Synapse Audio’s widely used synth, Dune, recently had occasion for a major celebration. Dune 2 is here. It’s a rewrite from the ground up that our reviewer thinks very highly of.
by Rob Mitchell, July 2014
In the November 2013 issue of SoundBytes, I had the pleasure of reviewing Synapse Audio’s Dune. It is an easy to use synthesizer plugin with great sound quality and low CPU usage. Having a lower hit on the CPU is usually not the norm these days, as high power synth plugins seem to demand more and more out of the computer.
One feature that really made it stand out from the crowd was its Differential Unison Engine (DUNE). It allows you to affect each of the eight unison voices separately, modulating each in different ways.
When I heard that Dune 2 was going to be released, I knew it was going to be a special event. It is tough to improve on such a great sound, easy to use interface, and top-notch presets, so I was curious to how it was going to be updated. Now that it has been released, does it live up to all the expectations? Thinking to myself, I wondered: How will it sound? What features will this new version have? Is it still easy to use, and how are the presets that are included with it? I checked it out in detail for this review, so let’s get to it.
The system requirements for Dune 2 have gone up since the days of the original Dune. Synapse Audio recommends at least a 2 GHz quad-core CPU for Dune 2. It has multi-core support (using up to six cores), runs on both PCs and Macs, and ships with 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the synth plugin. Installation was easy, and it uses a serial number for copy protection.
Oscillators and the Mode settings
Once you’ve installed Dune 2 and load it for the first time, you might want to check out some of the presets that are included. I will admit that I did the exact same thing. The presets included are very good, but within a few minutes I turned my attention to the oscillators themselves.
In Dune 2, the first and second oscillators each can be set to a Virtual Analog, FM, or Wavetable mode. In the Virtual Analog mode (VA) there are three waveforms to choose from: sawtooth, pulse, and triangle. You can adjust the pulse width, and the oscillators can be synced. The Sync can also be used on just one oscillator, as Dune 2 will use a separate virtual oscillator to accomplish the task.
At the top left of the oscillator section, you’ll find the controls for Density, Amount, and Tuning. “Density” is how many oscillators are stacked up, which can range from 0 to a whopping 32! This is an increase from the original Dune, which had up to seven available.
The “Amount” setting is for adjusting the volume of the outside oscillators. What do I mean by outside oscillators? In its simplest form, say you have set the Density to three, so then there are three oscillators in the stack. For example, we’ll say the Spread control (spreads out the oscillators sound from left to right) is turned all the way up. The first oscillator would be all the way on the left side of the stereo field, the second oscillator would be in the middle, and the third would be on the far right. If you decrease the Amount control, only the first and third oscillator’s volume would decrease.
The Tuning menu presents a good range of options. Like the menu says, you can use this to change the tuning for the oscillators in the stack. The degree of change is adjusted with the Amount control. One I liked right away was the Perfect 5th setting; a quick and easy way to get a great lead sound. Depending on the settings, it will also change how the volume is adjusted for the oscillators.
The standard tuning controls are also here, so you can adjust the semitone and fine tuning. The Detune control only works if there are two or more oscillators in the stack. This can easily fatten up the sound. The Reset control can be used so the oscillators all start with the same phase. Usually you would probably have this off, but it is useful to have the option available for certain types of sound design.
Switching to WT mode (Wavetable) lets you select from different wavetables. The Position control moves through the wavetable’s waveforms and it can also be modulated via the modulation matrix. This will morph the sound between the waveforms in the wavetable, and you might do this by using an LFO, modulation wheel, or the velocity amount.
Switching to the FM mode, you can choose between two different algorithms. There are three operators, each of which uses a sine wave. There are settings for key tracking, amount, ratio, and fine tuning. Feedback of one operator is possible, and it lets the sound of an operator loop back on itself. The level of each operator can be modulated in various ways, making for some interesting and useful sounds.
The third oscillator doesn’t have the choices for the other modes, but there are four waveform types available for it; saw, square, triangle, and sine. This oscillator was a sub-oscillator in the original Dune. It has semitone and fine tuning knobs, and the Reset button will make it so the waveform’s phase starts from the beginning each time a note is played.
Right below the third oscillator is a noise generator. It uses white noise, and there are controls for a low pass and high pass filter to shape its sound. There is a width control as well, letting you adjust the amount of stereo width.
Ring Modulation is also included, and can be adjusted in the Osc Mixer section using the “RM” slider. It affects oscillators one and two, and it basically multiplies them with each other, creating a new waveform shape.
Dune 2 uses zero-delay feedback filters, which let the synth plugin get very close to the sound of hardware analog synthesizers. This increases the CPU usage, but the quality of sound is improved. Other settings can increase CPU usage as well, such as increasing the amount of unison voices, the amount of oscillators (Density control), and using the audio-rate modulation mode.
There are many filter types available; low pass, high pass, band pass and acid low pass. There also are a few categories of filters as well, giving more variations to work with. There is the Clean Multi-mode, Transistor Ladder (uses more CPU), Sallen Key, and two of the filter modes from the original Dune are also included. The filter section includes controls for cutoff, resonance, drive, and key tracking.
In addition, Dune 2 has a filter effects section with 14 different modes to choose from. Some of the modes have distortion type of effects combined with a low pass filter, while the others are straight-ahead filters; high pass, low pass, notch, and comb filters round out the list.
MSEGs and LFOs
One of my favorite parts built-in to Dune 2 is the MSEG. There are four of these multiple segment envelope generators, and they allow you to design your own envelopes. If you like, they can be looped and synced up to the host tempo.
There are four different modes available, and each MSEG also has various controls for sync, rate, length, velocity and key tracking. This is a very powerful feature, and will let you manipulate the sound via the mod matrix in a multitude of ways. They’ve included handy features to invert the envelope you’ve designed, and to copy and paste an envelope into another MSEG.
Depending on how you set up your MSEGs in the mod matrix, they can be used to modulate many different parameters. Some of the targets available are panning, pulse width, filter cutoff, or FM amount.
There are three available LFOs, and seven waveform shapes are included. Each LFO has controls for rate, sync (sync to host tempo), poly, fade-in, and amount. Most of those features are self-explanatory, except the “Poly” setting. It will make it so each voice uses a separate, local LFO. The manual suggests it can be used for modulations that start at zero phase.
The MSEG itself can be used as an LFO itself, especially if you need something other than the LFO’s seven static shapes. The envelope in each of the four MSEGs can be designed in all sorts of ways, and it’s possible to use up to 32 points in each envelope.
Modulation Matrix and Effects
Using the modulation matrix, you can set up a wide range of modulation options. This is where you can get very creative, and use different voices for varied types of modulation. For instance, you might set the filter cutoff to be modulated by the amount of velocity, and have it set so it only affects voices one and two. If unison was turned up to eight, then the other six voices wouldn’t be modulated.
There are 32 slots available, each of which has selections for the Source, Amount, Destination, and the Voice(s). You can use it with a certain mode on individual voices, and utilize another mode on other voices at the same time. I setup a quick preset using LFO1 to modulate the pulse width on one oscillator (voices one and two) and then used LFO2 to modulate the FM feedback amount (voices three and four) on the second oscillator. It’s all really up to your imagination, and with so many choices to pick from, the possibilities seem endless.
Dune 2 has a great number of effects on board, and they’ve set them up in two identical effects busses. Each effects bus has two separate EQ sections, a phaser, chorus, two delays, reverb, and a compressor. Each of them has a settings button on the left side that lets you pick a different configuration for the effect you’ve selected.
The effects are processed in order from left to right, and you can easily click and drag them in to a different order.
One feature I always wish for in any synth plugin is the ability to modulate the effects via the modulation matrix. Thankfully, Dune 2 includes that functionality. Setting it up is a simple matter, and there are a good number of destinations to choose from.
Even though I tried to cover most of the main parts of Dune 2 in this review, there are still some other features that should really be mentioned.
One cosmetic touch added in Dune 2 is the ability to change its color. Besides the default look that it has, there are eight other color choices you can pick from.
There are easy to access on/off buttons for the arp and effect busses, and you can quickly solo certain voices to isolate their sounds while designing your preset.
The included arpeggiator has nine different modes, and features many controls such as slide, swing, rate, and length. MIDI files can be loaded in, and the “Silent” mode will let you modulate other parts of the synth sound by using Arp Note and/or Arp Velocity in the mod matrix.
Dune 2 was rewritten from scratch and isn’t compatible with the original Dune. However, you can still have both installed on the same computer with no problems.
The manual is well written, and has many screenshots and examples. They also have added tips to help you with your preset design and ways to reduce CPU usage if it gets a bit too high.
Synapse Audio has really done a spectacular job redesigning Dune, and it can make some incredible sounds quickly and easily. It still has the ease of use that the original Dune has, but this new version just sounds awesome. For me personally, I feel that its new feature list easily makes it one of the top synthesizer plugins available. It’s that good.
You really should just check it out for yourself. There is a 30-day demo version available, so there are no excuses. Go download it now and hear the magic for yourself.
Dune is priced at $169 USD, and there is an upgrade price of $79 USD if you already own the original Dune.