Product: kHs One Softsynth
Format: VST (Mac and Windows), AU (Mac)
Price: $119 (available for $49 for a limited time)
Demo: Audio demos on product page.
It’s always exciting to see new developers appear on the scene. The more the merrier, as far as I’m concerned. More developers means more competition, more innovation, and, best of all, more synths. When those developers release their synths on both Mac and PC, all the better. Such is the case with kiloHearts, who have appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, to present us lucky electronic musicians with a brand new softsynth called ONE.
WHAT IS IT?
ONE is a virtual analog synth featuring two oscillators (and an additional sub oscillator), a multi-mode filter, multiple LFOs, dedicated envelopes, a waveshaper, basic effects, and a mod matrix. In their promotional material, kiloHearts states that the aim of ONE is to make an easy to understand synth with the controls readily accessible and ready for even novices to get started creating their own sounds.
It doesn’t get much simpler than this. When you purchase ONE, you are issued a unique download link to a copy of the software registered to you. Simply drag the plug-ins to the appropriate folder on your computer, and you’re ready to rock. After dealing with some truly baffling registration processes (Arturia, I’m looking in your direction), it’s a pleasure to see a synth that doesn’t make you jump through additional hoops just to get going.
At the time of this writing, the documentation for ONE was not complete. The good news, however, is that if you’re familiar with the basics of synthesis, you’re unlikely to need to crack the manual at all. Everything is laid out right in front of you. On the other hand, if you’re totally new to synthesis, you may want to wait until the documentation is available before purchasing. Of course a demo version is available as well, so you can give it a drive around the block to check it out beforehand.
ONE’s user interface is very nice indeed with a dark grey and light blue color scheme that is very easy on the eyes. Everything is laid out on a single page, with no need for flipping back and forth between multiple tabs or pages.
On the leftmost portion of the interface you’ll find the oscillator and voicing section. As mentioned before, ONE consists of two main oscillators, and a sub-oscillator. The two main oscillators feature a choice of saw or pulse waveforms (both with variable shape), and coarse, interval, and fine tuning controls. All told, each oscillator can be turned as desired across more than ten octaves. The suboscillator is a bit simpler, offering just shape controls and an octave selector (which, unusually, also spans ten octaves).
The voicing section allows you to set the range of your pitch bend wheel, set polyphony, engage a legato mode, set glide, and engage a unison mode with up to 8 unison voices, detune and spread settings.
Next door, you’ll find the amp, filter, and assignable mod envelopes, as well as the first of the two filters. The envelopes are your standard ADSR affairs. The filters are switchable between lowpass, highpass, bandpass, and vocal filters with cutoff, resonance and envelope and key position modulation amount controls. Beneath the mod and filter envelopes, you’ll find three dedicated modulation slots each to assign modulation destinations for both the mod envelope and velocity. You standard modulation destinations are available here along with knobs to assign positive or negative modulation amounts.
A bit further to the right you’ll find the waveshaper which allows you to modulate the shape of your oscillators with variable waveforms, drive amount, and mix amount. The second filter, which is identical to the first is beneath that. And beneath that, you’ll find the first LFO, which is a polyphonic LFO that is triggered per voice. It is scalable via key position, has dedicated waveform, rate, depth, and phase settings, along with an three more dedicated mod slots. The downside is that it is not instantly syncable. All rate settings are selected in hertz.
Still further to the right, you’ll find settings for the built-in chorus and syncable delay effects, an additional monophonic “global” LFO (which replaces the key scaling knob with buttons for sync and S/H).
Finally, at the right edge, you’ll find a small display that indicates the preset that is being played. Master volume, treble and bass settings (along with a selectable limiter effect), and three more mod slots dedicated to the mod wheel can be found beneath that.
As was kiloHeart’s goal, ONE is simple to program. They’ve found the right balance between simplicity and flexibility. The oscillators sound good, if a bit sterile. Where they really come to life is when modulating the shape (the PWM is quite nice sounding) and using the waveshaper to abuse the basic waveforms into slightly weirder, dirtier sounds.
One oddity I noticed with the envelopes is that the attack seems to lag slightly even at the lowest settings. It’s a bit difficult to describe, but their is an audible “ramping up” to the attack level that takes some of the punch and oomph out of percussive bass and synth sounds. To make sure I wasn’t imagining this, I rendered out a single note from ONE, and the same notes playing back through Logic’s built in ES-M monosynth and took a look at them in a wave editor. Indeed, ONE’s waveform ramped up a little bit in amplitude at the very start, whereas ES-M’s started at full amplitude. I know nothing of audio and DSP programming, so I’m not sure what would cause this, but it does make ONE a bit less suited for certain types of sounds than others. (NOTE: kiloHearts tells me the ramping up is to avoid pops on the attack. That’s fair enough, but this seems like something that should be possible in a less audible manner…)
The filters also show some room for improvement. Although they don’t sound bad by any means, I did find them rather sterile and lifeless sounding. For certain, precise types of sounds, this isn’t a problem, but for me at least, filters can make or break a synth, and as it stands now, the filters don’t exactly ooze character. There is also audible stepping, mostly at lower cutoff values that should probably be remedied. That said, the VOX filter is very nice sounding and a welcome addition to the standard LP, HP, and BP variations.
Soundwise, once again, ONE doesn’t sound bad, but I have to say it’s pretty non-descript. There’s nothing here that is unique to ONE’s sound that would make you say, “Ah, they must be using ONE on this track!” if someone used it in a song. While there are some decent presets, most of them were pretty dull, and even the audio demos on kiloHeart’s web page didn’t really do much to get me excited for this synth. Programming your own sounds proves slightly more rewarding, but I still was struck with the almost “faceless” quality of the sounds I came up with. There was nothing bad, but nothing especially notable either. It was just sort of “there”.
ONE is a promising start for kiloHearts, but it also has a lot of room for improvement. Throughout the time I tested it, I kept asking myself who this synth was aimed for. Yes, it is very well laid out and easy to program, but the quality of the sounds that come out of it was fairly uninspiring when compared to similar synths on the market. I’d love to see kiloHearts concentrate on breathing a bit more life into the sound of ONE. Perhaps slightly less stable sounding oscillators, more characterful filters, faster envelopes, and even a basic reverb effect would go a long way towards making ONE stand out from the dozens of other softsynths on the market.
Scoring this synth is a bit difficult. This is a synth that is very early in its life cycle, so it’s hard to know how it will develop, but at the moment, it is hard to recommend to synthesists who already have a couple virtual analogs in their plug-in folder (and who doesn’t?). If you’re brand new to synthesis and just need fairly basic, clean, bread and butter type sounds, you will probably find ONE more appealing. I am anxious to see where kiloHearts goes from here. They clearly have a lot of talent, and with some evolution, they could definitely develop into one to watch. Until then, however, you might consider waiting for TWO. [7/10]