Our IK Multimedia Syntronik review is coming a few years after its release, but it’s in no way a spent force. IK Multimedia has been killing it lately with both hardware and software, placing itself amongst the most innovative manufacturers in the industry. For that reason, Syntronik is more relevant now than ever. Many users who missed out on Syntronik first time around are now going back and checking it out. So, if you are one of those who are late to the party, this one is for you.
A brief overview
Syntronik is an innovative soft synth that comes from IK Multimedia’s advanced sampling techniques. It was built on an entirely new hybrid sample and modeling synth engine and offers 17 different instruments. The 17 instruments have been crafted using samples from 38 iconic and rare vintage synths. We will put the entire list of sampled synths below so you can get an idea of what to expect. In total, there are over 2000 preset sounds and around 60 GB of sampled material.
The idea of a single plugin that houses multiple instruments isn’t new; there is Arturia’s V Collection, amongst others, which are direct competition for Syntronik. Syntronik innovates in its exclusive DRIFT technology that replicates the behavior of oscillators from real hardware synths. That technology, along with some advanced features like 4-part multis, splits, and arpeggiators are what IK Multimedia hope will put ahead of the pack. Let’s take a deeper look.
All 38 vintage and rare synths
- Alesis Andromeda
- ARP 2600
- ARP String Ensemble (Solina)
- Elka Rhapsody 490
- Hohner String Performer
- Minimoog Model D
- Modular Moog
- Moog Opus 3
- Moog Prodigy
- Moog Rogue
- Moog Taurus I
- Moog Taurus II
- Moog Taurus 3
- Moog Voyager
- Oberheim OB-X
- Oberheim OB-Xa
- Oberheim SEM (Synthesizer Expander Module)
- PPG Wave 2.3
- Realistic Concertmate MG-1
- Roland Juno-60
- Roland Jupiter-4
- Roland Jupiter-6
- Roland Jupiter-8
- Roland JX-10
- Roland JX-3P
- Roland JX-8P
- Roland RS-09 Organ/Strings
- Roland RS-505 Paraphonic
- Roland TB-303 Bassline
- Sequential Circuits Prophet-10
- Sequential Circuits Prophet-5
- Yamaha CS-01II
- Yamaha CS-80
- Yamaha GX-1
- Yamaha SY99
It’s a hybrid
IK Multimedia call Syntronik a hybrid synth, so let’s start by taking a look at how it works. We have the oscillator section, the filter section, and effects if we look at the major components that make up a hardware synth. The hybrid approach that IK Multimedia took was to capture the sound of the oscillators through sampling, while filters and effects are modeled through software. A big part of that modeling comes from IK’s DRIFT technology, which we will take a more in-depth look at shortly.
As mentioned before, the sample base for Syntronik is around 60 GB, which is substantial by anyone’s standards. This total is made up of over 70,000 individual samples. Although 38 synths were sampled, they are not all represented individually in Syntronik. For example, Syntronik’s Minimod instrument is based on a combination of samples from the Minimoog Model D, Modular Moog, and the Moog Voyager. Packaging instruments in this way is how they cut it from 38 to 17, and it works reasonably well. Instruments only share samples from hardware synths that come from the same family.
Installing Syntronik is easy, but when installed, it isn’t packed with the sounds; they have to be downloaded separately. Working this way is a little bit tedious as there are individual downloads for each instrument, sometimes multiple. Once it’s done, it’s not a problem, and in future, if you have to install one or two new instruments, it’s no hassle at all. But, as a minor complaint, it could have been packaged in the same way as Keyscape from Spectrasonics, where sounds automatically unpack with the plugin install.
The thing that makes analog more organic is that it doesn’t have the cold precision of digital. It’s warmer, less predictable, and feels more natural.
DRIFT technology is an algorithm that mimics the inconsistencies of analog oscillator behavior. It does this by fluctuating characteristics such as tuning and phase of the multi-samples. IK Multimedia will tell you that their DRIFT is the most advanced technology of its kind, and we have no reason to doubt it. We have seen similar things before from multiple manufacturers, like Yamaha’s Virtual Circuitry Modeling, that emulates the circuitry of vintage effects.
The thing that matters is how it sounds to you; in my opinion, the DRIFT technology does add a subtle variability to the oscillators. That means it works, it sounds more organic, but don’t expect to hear anything too obvious, that’s not the point. You might listen to a few patches and decide that you aren’t too impressed with the DRIFT technology, but whether you feel it’s significant or not, it does what it’s intended to. When partnered with the sampled sound content from hardware oscillators, this modeled behavior does get you slightly closer to the real thing.
The impressive modeling continues to the filter block that contains modeled emulations of vintage filters. These models include the Moog Ladder, Curtis CEM3320, Oberheim State Variable, and Roland IR3109. The Roland and Curtis filters purely 12/24 dB low-pass only, but the other two include high-pass, band-pass, low-pass, and notch types.
The modeled filters sound fantastic; they are responsive and hard to fault. The difficulty comes when you start to compare them to other emulations that you might find in software like the Arturia V Collection; then, you have a choice to make. Along with the four filters above, there is a formant filter, the classic SampleTank filter, and a 1/2/4/8 stage phaser.
All of those are available per instrument, so you can do some creative mix and matching. For example, you could run a Moog oscillator through the Oberheim State Variable filter. There are lots of combinations to have fun with and come up with unexpected sounds.
The interface is really clean, that’s the first thing you will notice. All of the 17 instruments have a nice graphic representation that makes them easily identifiable. When you select an instrument, the main control window will look similar to the hardware synth that it’s based on, but not a direct copy.
The controls are actually universal across the board and not unique to each instrument. For example, one instrument might show envelope controls as sliders if that’s what the hardware version had, others may show them as knobs, but ultimately, they are the same. It does make a difference having the change in graphics between instruments, even if it’s purely cosmetic, it does make it feel like individual instruments rather than one massive synth.
Of course, some people might prefer a more accurate interface, like the Arturia V Collection that we referenced earlier. Arturia’s V Collection displays exact replica’s of the hardware synth as the user interface. There are good and bad points to having a custom interface for each instrument; you can see that in more detail in our video overview.
The interface has a bar along the top where you can select various windows. On the top left, you will see the layers icon followed by the letters A, B, C, and D. These are part of a very nice feature that allows you to load four patches at once. By assigning a patch to each of the four slots, you can then easily compare sounds without the need to open and close every time. There are also options to layer the four patches that isn’t usually found in this kind of plugin.
In the center position of the top bar, you’ll see the select instrument tab. If you click on the synth icon, it will take you to the main instrument selection screen. If you click on the preset name, it just drops down a menu of presets for the currently selected instrument. The main instrument screen is very easy to navigate. The instrument graphics that we mentioned make it easy to choose a synth, and presets can be searched with multiple filters, including category, timbre, and even music genre. Finding what you need is a quick process with Syntronik.
The top bar’s right side has a few more tabs; the next is the mixer tab. Rather than open a new window, the mixer is a small drop-down tab with basic volume, pan, and master controls. The next few tabs are the effects window, arpeggiator, global settings, and shop.
The global settings cover your basic audio options, library folder paths, and other plugin settings. In the shop window, you can see the instruments you have installed and those you don’t yet have. If you purchase the full package, then you will have all of them, but instruments are available to buy individually.
If you don’t want to take the plunge and buy the whole package, you can buy a single instrument that comes with a copy of Syntronik Free to house your instrument and any others you purchase later on. Keep in mind, this might be an excellent way to test it out without spending too much, but it would cost much more in the long run if you go on to buy them all.
We should also say that Syntronik Free does provide a few presets from every instrument as a way to try before you buy. As for the arpeggiator and effects windows, we will get into them in more detail a bit further on.
Let’s look at the universal controls for each synth now, starting with the oscillator section. This section is very basic with tuning control for the main oscillator plus activation and detuning for a second oscillator. Detuning of the second oscillator by up to 50 cents up or down is available.
The filter section is a little busier but still straightforward. The first knob is a filter model selector. The four main filter models that come from the DRIFT technology are O-type, C-type, R-type, and M-type, M-type being the Moog filter, R-type being the Roland filter, and so on.
Underneath the filter model selection knob, there is another selector for choosing the filter mode, low-pass, band-pass, etc. If you have selected a filter model that only supports low-pass mode, then the other modes will be removed from the second selector. There are also knob/slider controls for cutoff, overdrive, velocity response, and resonance. Lastly, for the filter section, there are pole selection buttons that display the currently activated filter choices.
Before we move on, we should emphasize just how good the filter models are. They are truly one of the best aspects of Syntronik.
Modulation comes in the form of AHDSR envelopes, an LFO, and a controller section. The envelopes are for the amp (loudness) and filter, and they do everything they are supposed to. Ultimately, Syntronik wasn’t built to be a vast source of custom sound design.
The LFO is great for creating that wobble effect, whether it’s pitch, pan, or cutoff. Finally, the controller’s section lets you set the pitch bend range, play mode from mono, poly, and legato, glide time, and mod-wheel vibrato rate.
That wraps up the main instrument interface, and as you can see, it’s all rather basic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. Being so basic alludes to the fact that it isn’t the most flexible synth plugin around. The lack of flexibility stems from the sample-based oscillators. Having said that, the upside of keeping things basic is that you can work fast and efficiently.
When you click on the layers icon, it opens a panel that shows five keyboards; one per layer and one playable keyboard to generate sound. The beautiful thing about this panel is that it lets you do something that most similar synth plugins don’t, but it’s so easy to use.
You can set key ranges and splits by dragging and dropping markers on the keyboards or manually typing the appropriate keys. You can approach this in a bunch of different ways. If you want to create a four-layer monster patch, then you might not want to set any split zones. Alternatively, you might want to layer two bass sounds on the lower zone, and two lead sounds in the mid to upper zones. Of course, you could go even further and split all four sounds into their own zones or mix and match. For example, have a bass sound on the bottom, in the middle, you could layer some pads, and on the top end have a single lead sound.
It’s such a fun feature to play around with, and it’s fantastic for making crazy patches for live performance.
Effects for days
If the lack of flexible modulation was a little underwhelming, the effects section goes some way to make up for it.
There are 38 effects types, and from the graphics, you can see where the inspiration came from real analog hardware. In particular, things like the Tube Screamer influenced Overscream, and the LA-2A inspired White 2A Compressor really stand out. Effects are arranged in six categories: amps, distortion, modulation, reverb/delay, and dynamics/EQ. Your effects rack has five slows where you can assign any effects you like. Once you have set up your effects chain, the signal flows from left to right across the five slots.
While the effects are most definitely inspired by particular analog hardware, they are not exact replicas. Overall, the standard of the effects is fantastic, they sound genuine and warm, although the risk of modeled analog overload is always there. The most impressive thing about the effects is that the 5-slot effects rack is available per layer. So if you have a colossal multi-layer patch, you have up to 20 effects slots to utilize. In other words, you can create absolute chaos in the best possible way.
The arpeggiator is pretty impressive. It offers a variable step length of up to 32 steps and a bunch of useful functions. The usual functions are all here, like loop direction ( up, down, up/down, random, etc), step velocity, gate, and transposition.
It’s in the few less common features that it becomes a bit more exciting. Any step can become a chord, or you can even tie steps together to make more extended notes. Using the chord function makes your pattern about more than just rhythm and makes it much more dynamic.
The arpeggiator comes with its own presets that cover different rate categories. The presets are a good way to get started, and you can make changes as you go.
But, the most exciting thing about the arpeggiator is that, like the effects rack, it’s available per layer. So you can apply different settings to the arpeggiator for each layer, giving you almost limitless options. Furthermore, you can apply different step counts for each layer, which means just one thing; POLYRHYTHMS!
We have mentioned several times that the interface is basic and easy to get around, so there are no real problems in that area. The one problem that may arise is not specific to Syntronik, but something familiar with sample-based plugins, which is the loading time. We are only talking about a few seconds at most, but if you are looking for a synth for the stage, it’s something to consider. Obviously, in studio use, that isn’t an issue at all.
With that in mind, we still think this is a fantastic synth for live performance. With some planning and proper set up before your gig, you will be able to avoid any loading mishaps. The real bonus of using Syntronik in live performance is the layering options; it’s made to wow a crowd.
For a composer/producer, Syntronik has a lot to offer, but don’t expect a world of sound design. If you want something more flexible, then maybe U-he’s Zebra 2 or even Spectrasonics Omnisphere is more suitable. If you want great sounding emulations and a super-easy interface, Syntronik is awesome. That means for beatmakers and producers who create a high volume of tracks; this could be perfect for you.
Our overall opinion of Syntronik is that it’s very good. It’s definitely a plugin that isn’t going to please everyone, and we would expect one common complaint will be that it isn’t flexible enough. But, it’s really important to remember what this synth is supposed to be. Syntronik is about realistic sounding emulations of iconic synths, a simple interface that provides a speedy workflow, and fantastic modeling. On those fronts, it absolutely delivers, so as long as you don’t expect it to be something it’s not, you should be very happy.
We chose Arturia’s V Collection as our point of comparison, and the one bit of advice we would give is that you should check out both before you buy. It’s likely to come down to personal preference more than anything else. Ultimately, all that matters is that it sounds good, and Syntronik sounds very good, but so does V Collection. Neither sound bad, just different, so it will be small margins that make you choose one over the other.
We do prefer certain things about V Collection, but if we wanted to champion Syntronik, we would say that the effects stand out, and the filters are absolutely gorgeous. The layering options are great, and it comes with a crazy amount of presets, and for some users, that might be the main reason to buy it.
IK Multimedia set out to make something very specific with Syntronik and should be very happy with the outcome.