Thursday, January 14, 2010

Review: D16 Group Syntorus

Product: Syntorus Double Path Analog Chorus
D16 Group

AU/VST analog chorus plug-in


VST for Windows XP/2000 or later, VST & AU for OSX 10.4.3 or later.

35 Euro

Available at

I have to admit that when I heard D16's next product was going to be a chorus effect, I was a little disappointed. It wasn't that I lacked faith in their abilities to make a great-sounding chorus, it's just that honestly, I've never used chorus very much. But something told me to reserve judgment until I actually got my hands on it, as when D16 gives their take on a standard effect, there is usually some unique twist to it that makes it worth checking out. As it turns out, this plug-in is no exception.

If you've ever used a real analog chorus before, I think you'll agree with me that they generally kick the crap out of your average chorus plug-in effect. I used to have an old Boss guitar pedal chorus - I can't remember the model, but it was quite famous and came in a pink case - that was just about the creamiest sounding chorus I'd ever heard. It sounded amazing on vocals, really rich on guitars, and added a nice sheen to the right synth sound. Anyway, I digress. My point is, thinking back on it, I think the reason I don't use chorus that much anymore is because I was spoiled by that early unit. Everything else just paled by comparison.

Syntorus is aimed at emulating some of those old analog choruses including the ones often found on classic polysynths to keep them from sounding too thin. Where D16 puts their unique spin on it, however, is that instead of using a single delay path to produce the effect like most choruses, Syntorus has two completely independent paths. To paraphrase This is Spinal Tap, "That's one better." So what difference does that make? Read on...

After downloading both the installer and the key file, I ran the installer and let it do its thing. Upon using the plug-in for the first time, you are offered the option to run it in demo mode, or to locate your key file via a file browser. Once you've shown it where the key file resides, you're good to go. Doesn't get much easier than that.

Syntorus is considered to be a new member to the existing SilverLine bundle, which I reviewed here. As such, the appearance of the plug-in and the file browsing and MIDI learn schemes are identical to those, so I'm not going to waste time discussing those aspects this time out. Feel free to browse the SilverLine review or download the Syntorus manual if you want to know more about that stuff. So let's focus on the unique controls in this plug-in, shall we?

The bulk of the interface is taken up by the two delay paths. Each one is identical to the other, but completely independent, so each can have its own settings. Most of the delay path is altered via a set of 6 knobs. The first of these is the DEPTH control. A chorus works by mixing the original signal in with that signal being fed through an LFO-modulated delay line. DEPTH controls the strength of that LFO modulation. Next is the OFFSET control which allows you to delay the gap between the dry signal and the effected signal. Next door to that you'll find something rather unusual to find on a chorus effect, the TREMOLO control. Each path can have its own tremolo settings allowing you to create some pulsing and even quasi-gating type effects.

On the lower row, is the control to allow you to select the LFO's waveform which comes in sine, triangle, both ascending and descending sawtooth, square, and noise flavors. This is adjacent to the ST. PHASE control which allows you to increase the amount of phase shift between the two paths. More intense values yield some very nice, wide stereo effects. The final knob is a PATH VOLUME knob that controls the volume, and thus the influence on the final sound of each path.

Each path's LFO can be synced to the host tempo, so there are controls allowing you to select a note value to sync to, as well as the ability to switch between full, dotted, and triplet feels. Setting different note values for each path opens the door to some interesting rhythmic pulsing timbres.

PATH 2 is identical to PATH 1 in every way except one. An additional switch allows you to synchronize the LFOs of path 1 and 2 exactly (the rate is taken from path 1's setting). This is a bit less interesting and organic sounding, but is pleasant enough for when you need a more consistent sound.

To the right of both paths are a handful of additional controls, the first of which is a button marked BBD Emulation. This turns on the Bucket Brigade Device Emulation which, while a bit more demanding on your CPU, definitely has a warmer, more analog quality to it. It's a bit woolier-sounding and is less bright than the 'standard' mode. This definitely seems like the sort of thing that would sound good on some things more than others, so it's nice to have this extra control to customize to the sound you're using it on. Below this is a knob controlling a HI PASS FILTER in case you need to roll off some of the low end a bit. A WET/DRY control and OUTPUT VOLUME control are also present.

D16 has never disappointed me in terms of sound quality, and this plug-in is no exception. What I really like about D16's plug-ins is that they tend to be 'character' effects. They don't have the sterile perfection that many software effects do (not that that's always a bad thing), and there is a subtle inconsistency to them that give them a bit more of a 'real' or organic sound. Syntorus continues this tradition and instantly reminded me of some of the chorus effects built in to some of the old Roland poly synths. In fact, something about the chorus really has, for lack of a better descriptor, an 'eighties' sound to it that I found really refreshing. What I absolutely did not expect from this effect was just how flexible it is. The extra path makes a huge difference and allows you to take this to extremes you've probably never heard out of a chorus. Sure, it does your standard thickening and fattening duties beautifully, but it also does all sorts of synced rhythmic effects via the tremolo and note sync controls. The two paths can sound really thick and gooey when programmed independently and you can get some really evil-sounding detuning effects when set to more extreme values. I took a simple PWM bass sound from TAL-Audio's Bassline and turned it into a snarling hoover with the flick of a switch. Oh yeah, and if you want 70's string machine type chorusing, this does it brilliantly.

Like any chorus, with Syntorus, it's all about finding the right setting for the right sound. The unusually wide range of sounds you can get out of this mean you'll probably find this more useful on a larger range of instrument types than with your average chorus. I tried it out on synths, bass, guitars, vocals, electric piano, and strings, and in each case, I was able to find the 'right' setting to really make it sound great. The more extreme settings are tons of fun to play around with too and even flirt with sound design territory a bit. The highest compliment I can give to this plug-in is that it has made me reconsider using chorus effects in my own music again. Given what a stubborn guy I am, that's saying a lot. (9/10)


Shawn said...

I love the Silver Line, but I too was dubious of D16 coming up with a usable chorus. Based on your review, I'll definitely check it out. Thanks!

mangadrive said...

I always give them a fair shake and actually own a couple of the silver boxes. Use one of them religiously actually..

Cool to see a decent review out of a chorus plug though considering I rarely use it anyway and when I do its from the onboard of a synth or something.

Tom said...

Yeah, I don't know that I'll be using chorus all the time now, but I can actually see myself using this, especially at the more extreme settings. It can sound pretty wild.

mangadrive said...

Its good to put space on some strings, especially nylon acoustics, but how often do I use that hard dance music...never.

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