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Waldorf Nave 1.0Review by: Jason D. Buchwald
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Using the same wavetable synthesis (blending samples and synthesizer filters) that put Waldorf on the map in the first place, Nave sounds pretty friggin’ awesome. These are many of the same waveforms used in their hardware synths, and the included 500 presets are very cool—from 1980s-sounding videogame retro to lush movie score landscapes, Nave has it all. Utilizing a cool 3D graphic representation of the sound wave, with a tremendous amount of sound design tools at your disposal, Nave deserves some room on your iPad. In fact, you could even argue the synth is so deep that it belongs on your computer and your DAW.
Nave has quite a number of features, so let’s get to it. Each voice (limited primarily by your iPad, it won’t run on a first generation iPad) sports two independent wavetable oscillators, a special “Uberwave” control that adds up to eight detuned oscillators for a fatter, edgier sound, a multimode filter, two ring modulators, and two LFO’s. You also get several effects, including chorus/flanger/phaser, delay, reverb, three-band EQ, and a compressor.
Besides an on-screen keyboard, Nave also uses graphic “blades” you can play onscreen with arpeggiated chords utilizing the scale of your choice. These blades can also have X/Y modulation and velocity programming to give you a tremendous amount of real-time control. It is pretty cool not to be limited to up-down arpegiations; it’s not often you get to see a pull down menu with Mixolydian as a choice!
As mentioned earlier, you get 500 presets, divided into author and category menus. A nice touch is that you can transfer banks and patches to and from your computer via the iTunes Folder. Each sound is shown in the wavetable display (a 3D representation of your sound.) The wave control defines the starting point of your selected wavetable, with zero representing the first wave, and the maximum value representing the last. The red line on the 3D representation is the position of the wave parameter knob.
You also get an arpeggiator, a basic four-track recorder, three X/Y control pads, and a speech synthesizer for wavetables. You can even generate wavetables from external audio files! Finally, since there is core audio MIDI support, you can connect Nave to the keyboard (or any controller really) of your choice.
At first it seemed like there was a lot going on, but it only took a short while to get familiar with the interface layout. The bottom half of the screen is a graphical keyboard, or a depiction of blades, depending on the sound. As mentioned earlier, blades are different from the regular piano keyboard. The blades are activated with the Controls parameter. We were able to tap and hold a blade and move it vertically or horizontally to release additional modulations.
Tapping on the Wave button toggled a larger view of the graphical waveform, with additional buttons to bring up tools to analyze waveforms further.
The filter button brings up familiar ADSR parameters, as well as filters and drives functions. The iPad really shines here with finger touch control to slide curves and knobs to sculpt your sound. Similarly, the modulation page brings up the X/Y pad and the various possible assignments to each axis, such as LFO speed, Wave pitch, etc. This allowed for great real-time control and the ability to make unique sounds.
The FX and Arp button toggled the effects and arpeggiator. The arpeggiator was interesting, in that it not only allowed us to select general patterns (up, down, random, etc.), but also additional pattern selections, represented as “1” and “+” symbols, with the “1” representing the held accented notes, and the “+” representing less accented arpeggiated notes. Many combinations were possible.
The Tape and Sys page brings up an analog style, reel-to-reel four-track recorder. While certainly not a substitute for a full DAW, it did allow us to make sketches of our tunes. You can also import Sonoma and Beatmaker files, as well as iTunes audio files into your tracks. Further, the Audiobus protocol is supported, opening up compatibility with other programs using that standard. This page also contains the MIDI settings, as well as a link to the manual.
As we alluded to earlier, there are so many great ways to manipulate your sound that it’s a shame you can’t run this on your computer as a soft-synth for your pro keyboard rig. Imagine having the horsepower of your computer with perhaps the iPad as just a control surface. Perhaps Waldorf has something up their sleeves we don’t know about yet?
One issue we encountered was that while you could, for example, look for pad sounds in a given bank, you could not look for a pad sound across all the banks simultaneously. This made things a little cumbersome at times, as the bank names are mostly the author’s names, not a genre or style. Even more complicated, as you add your own sounds, or incorporate banks imported from online, your library will grow, making it even more difficult to find a given sound! Hopefully this oversight will be addressed in future updates.
There is also a way to “teach” Nave to talk. To do this, you need to initialize a sound from scratch. Once you do that, you go the Spectrum page, then press the Tools button, then enter what you want Nave to say via a pull-down window with the on-screen keyboard. After that, you can go back to the wave screen to fine-tune your sound. It took a while to figure out how to accomplish this, but fortunately, a video on the Waldorf Music Channel showed us how. Hopefully, there will be a more direct way to enter into “speech synthesis mode” in future updates as it was a very cool feature.
The preset sounds themselves are generally excellent, and we were impressed by the wide range of sounds available—FM-style sounds, Roland Juno-style sounds, electromechanical, atmospheric, robotic, low-fi… it’s all in there!
Our attempts at synthesized speech resulted in mixed results—but still cool, in a low-fi, eight-bit sort of way. A better example is perhaps the preset “I am Nave,” which says, “I am Nave, and I do synth.” Playing staccato starts the phrase from the beginning, but playing legato makes the phrase play according to the notes you play. In essence, you can sort of get Nave to sing. For the right application, that’s very cool indeed.
A DX-7-esque piano sound can be found in the bank, Stefan Stenzel, under “FM” (not surprisingly). The Mike Huckaby bank has a sound, “Jupiter,” that, well, sounds like a Roland synth of the same name. But Nave is at its finest when doing its own thing. We liked the gritty “Biomechanical Oscillation” sound in the Sonic Mayhem bank, and Robert Wilkus’s bank, as well as a number of interesting arpeggiated sounds. Perhaps it reflects our age, but the “Jaws” sound was a cool one, too.
The biggest thing for Nave, however, is the programmability and capability to sound sculpt. There are numerous real-time controls, and given the ability to MIDI-assign various parameters to any iPad-compatible MIDI controller, there may be some great live applications for Nave.
There is a very good manual available for Nave online, though we wish it were stored on the iPad automatically (as opposed to needing Internet access to get to it). There is a nice section in the manual about sound design in general, which many will find helpful to navigate their way not only around Nave, but also sound programming in general.
We do, however, wish there was a little more clarity on the speech synthesis section. Fortunately the video content on Waldorf’s website helped round things out.
In this day and age of $.99 music downloads and $1.99 app downloads, some may not be happy about Nave’s $19.99 price to download. However, considering what you get—an iPad app that can actually compete with “real” hardware synths that are exponentially more costly, you are getting a great deal. Coupled with a nice MIDI controller and iPad interface (we’re thinking of something sturdy, like the Alesis iO Dock), this is a great synth for stage or studio.
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