Review – The Legend by Synapse Audio
What’s old is new again, and in this emulation of the Minimoog there are some thoughtful extras added to sweeten the deal.
by Rob Mitchell, Nov. 2016
In the past, I have tried many softsynth plugins, and there are definitely a large number of them out there. Some of those weren’t programmed to emulate any one specific hardware synthesizer. On the other hand, there are some emulations of famous synths that can get close to the original synthesizer’s sound. The Minimoog is the famous hardware synth that everyone seems to try and emulate at one point or another. One of the great things about the software versions is that they can include features that were never in the original hardware. Take the GForce Minimonsta for instance. It has many additional functions built-in that the original Minimoog didn’t have. Also, there is u-he’s Diva, with its components that can be swapped out, and a zero-delay feedback filter section. Native Instrument’s Monark is probably the most well-known and straight-ahead emulation to date, and has been noted as being very close to the Minimoog’s unique sound.
Synapse Audio, the music software developers that are best known for their highly acclaimed Dune 2 synth plugin have just released a new product called The Legend. It is a new Minimoog emulation with some extra features that are not in the original synth. It utilizes an 8X oversampled engine, has a vectorized core with Mono, Unison, and Poly modes. Both early and late revisions of the Minimoog have been included, and it has accurate circuit modeling to top it off. It has over 400 patches included, and is available in 32/64 bit VST, AU, and Rack Extension formats.
To install it on a PC, you’ll need XP or a later operating system, a 2 GHz quad core or better CPU, and at least four gigabytes of RAM. To install it on a Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.6 or a later operating system, a 2 GHz Intel quad core or better CPU, and at least four gigabytes of RAM. For my review, I used my i7-based PC running at 3.6 GHz which has 16 gigabytes of RAM, and 64-bit Windows 8.1 installed.
During the installation you’re able to choose the folder it will reside in. Activation is easy, and uses a license key to activate it either online, or on another PC or Mac that is offline. The Legend may be activated on up to two computers at once, that is, if you are the only one who uses both of those computers.
Once you having it running in your DAW, you are presented with The Legend’s main display. Actually, there is only one other display and I will get to it later. The main display is where nearly everything takes place. It’s easy to work with and very straight-forward. If you’ve used a Minimoog before, or maybe any emulations of that classic synth, you’ll be able to get to work quickly.
In the upper-left is a menu to select from three different display sizes: Small, Medium, and Large. I used the Medium size, and the Large version looks like it might do well with higher resolutions that my monitor is not capable of. In the upper-right is the patch browser, and you can click the name of the preset that is displayed to open the browser. You could also use the left/right arrows to skip through the presets one at a time. There are a good number of categories to choose from: Bass, Chords, Lead, Poly, SFX, Vintage, and 20+ other patches that aren’t in those categorized folders. There’s also one other group of presets labeled “K.P. Rausch Classic Patches” with a large number of patches ready to go. They are all “classic” sounding (hence the name) and were programmed by using patch sheets that replicate many famous sounds used on the Minimoog. The folder icon reveals the directory the patches are stored in, and it can be used for importing patches from other directories if needed. You’re also able to import/export in the Rack Extension format. It all works well, but one addition I’d like to see here is some sort of “Favorites” functionality. After listening to many of the patches, most have been crafted very well, and I think they will most likely give you some ideas for your own creations.
The Main Controls
Now on to the main controls of the synth. The legend has three oscillators, each with their own on/off switch, and the 3rd oscillator can be used as an LFO if needed. The controls for the first and second oscillators are identical: Waveform, Range, Semi, and Fine. The waveforms included are Triangle, Sharktooth, Ramp Up, Ramp Down, Square, Wide Pulse, and Narrow Pulse. “Range” is for changing the oscillator’s pitch in octaves, with settings of LO, 32′, 16′, 8′, 4′, and 2′. The term “feet” for these settings came from the length of church organ pipes. The LO setting is a much lower pitch which you might not use as much as the others, but it can be used in patches with some imagination. Also, in the 3rd oscillator the LO setting can be used as the LFO, and the “Semi” control adjusts the speed. Keytracking is also included with this oscillator, and normally you’d have it switched off for it to function as an LFO with a standard vibrato effect. With it enabled, (and “Semi” cranked up) you can get some very fast modulation rates as you play higher notes. This can definitely yield some interesting sounds. The Semi control is normally used to adjust the semitone pitch of the oscillator, and has a range of +/- 7 semitones. Last but not least, there is the “Fine” control which adjusts the fine tuning of the pitch +/- 50 cents.
To the right of the oscillators is the Mixer section. Each of the oscillators has its own volume control. The Noise generator in The Legend can be switched between pink or white noise, and you’re able to adjust its level. The “Drive” control changes the level of all three oscillators before it gets to the filter. You’re able to use this to get an amount of saturated distortion out of the filter, depending on how far you crank up the Drive level. The “Feedback” control adjusts how much the signal will loop back and feed into the synth’s filter input, creating a controlled level of distortion. Combining this with the Drive control can create some epic and gnarly tones.
In the Filter section you’ll find standard Cutoff and Resonance controls, as well as an Envelope amount knob. The filter itself sounds very smooth to my ears, and it is able to self-resonate when the resonance is cranked up. A switch lets you switch the slope between 12dB or 24dB per octave. There are two keytracking switches for the filter cutoff in this section of the synth. If the first one is switched on, 1/3 of the tracking is enabled and the second switch enables 2/3 of the keytracking. To achieve full tracking, you just have to enable both of the switches. The Filter and Amplitude envelopes are both of the ADSR type (Attack/Decay/Sustain/Release), with each of the ADR stages ranging from a snappy 2 ms all the way up to 35 seconds.
Along the top of the display are a few other important items I need to cover. I put them off until now because I thought I should cover the main controls first. On the left side are the pitch bend and modulation sliders, and next to those is the “Control” section. This is where you’re able to change the glide amount, and setup a modulation source. You can select either Noise or Oscillator 3 as the source, or you can dial in a blend of the two. The switches to the right of that control are the on/off controls for the oscillator pitch modulation and the filter cutoff.
The modulation for the filter cutoff is self-explanatory, but I wanted to mention that the pitch for all of the oscillators will be modulated. The overall tuning of the synth can be adjusted using the “Coarse” (+/- 2 octaves) and “Fine” controls.
Next we have the “Output” section. From here, you can switch from Mono to a Poly mode, which uses four voices. They’ve also included a Unison mode that uses four voices at the same time to fatten up the sound. The “Detune” and “Spread” controls let you detune the voices in the Unison mode, and using the Spread control you’re able to spread out the voices over the stereo field from left to right. “Volume” is the master volume control for the synth. At the top is a handy switch to switch the effects on or off. The effects themselves are hidden in the Back Panel.
The Back Panel
Some extra features that The Legend has are not shown on the main display. You can get to them either by clicking the “The Legend” title at top of the display, or by clicking the arrows in the top-right corner. Once you’ve done that, you’ll see settings for changing the pitch bend amounts (+/- 24 semitones), note priority, mono mode (retrigger or legato) and a way to switch between the Early or Late model emulations. These have differences that are mainly in the oscillator section, and affect the square, wide and narrow pulse waveforms. The manual mentions that the part tolerances are also modeled for the filter and amp sections. To my ears, the Late model revision sounds slightly darker and toned down slightly.
The Modulation section controls the overall amount for the pitch bend and cutoff ranges for the modulation wheel, so you can easily tailor them to your liking. The “Shape” lets you adjust anywhere between a linear and exponential setting for the modulation wheel itself. In the “Oscillators” section, settings are available to adjust the amount of key tracking and drift. These basically let you dial in an amount of the old-school analog symptom that could be slightly irritating at times, but it also gave them personality and warmth. They could be slightly out of tune the further up you played on the keyboard, and the oscillator’s tuning could drift over time as well. The controls in The Legend let you add as much (or as little) of that effect as you’d like. If you’re designing a more modern sounding patch with unison for EDM for example, you would probably turn both of these down to zero.
For the “Filter” section, there are controls to adjust the range of the cutoff and resonance values. The “Symmetry” control works with the filter, and will change the amount of harmonics that are produced. Normally if you drive analog filters into saturation, you end up with some even-order harmonics in the signal. If you have this control set to zero, you’ll only get odd-order harmonics. Changing this value to anything besides zero will increase the asymmetrical effect upon the sound from the filter. This can help give it that analog sound you’re most likely striving for when using a synth such as this. The last section is for the amplifier stage. This has a simple Saturation knob which increases the gain and saturation of the audio signal.
The Legend includes two effects: Delay and Reverb. The Delay has standard controls of Time, Feedback, Width, and a Dry/Wet mix. When you turn up the Width, it uses the ping-pong method of delay. The Reverb has Time, Color (adjusts the bass/high frequencies), Width, and the Dry/Wet mix controls. Both of these effects sound great, but I’d like some effect preset capability. It’s not necessary, but it would just make patch creation a little easier.
It is a tough job to nail the sound of a Minimoog accurately, and this emulation does just that. Though it does require some extra horsepower from your PC or Mac, it actually worked well for me and wasn’t too much of a burden on the CPU. It is now easily my top choice for getting the signature sound that so many have tried to capture. That’s without even mentioning that it has two revisions modeled, which surely must have been a monumental task. You can hear a comparison between The Legend and an actual Minimoog here: www.synapse-audio.com/legend/LegendVsHardware.zip
The sound of The Legend is excellent, and its documentation is great. The re-sizable display is a bonus feature which I think every plugin should have. With all that said, I would like to see a few more modulation choices, and a “Favorites” function for the browser. The latest version (just released a few days ago) now has MIDI Learn, which makes it much easier to use with MIDI controllers. They’ve also included an FX version of The Legend with this latest update.
The Legend retails for $99 USD, and there is a demo version available. You can read more about The Legend on the Synapse Audio website here: http://www.synapse-audio.com/thelegend.html
Here are some audio examples. Only The Legend’s built-in effects were added.