The guys over at Ohm Force, an indie plugin development group out of Paris, asked me if I wanted to do a review of some of their plugins. I was happy to do so, as long as I could give an honest appraisal. So in this post I’ll be reviewing one of the four plugs I had the opportunity to try out: Symptohm, a synthesis plugin.
My virtual instrument synth library has always been pretty Native Instrument heavy. Generally NI plugins are pretty sounding, fat, and have a lot of polished presets that don’t respond that great to tweaking. The reason I bring this up is that within minutes it was quite apparent that Symptohm was not anything like that – and that’s a good thing given the homogeneity of my synth library.
I’ll get something out of the way right away – I’m not a really a deep-tweaker or knob-twiddler. I tend to prefer my audio devices to have fewer knobs with each knob having a lot of character range (I’m a big fan of opto compressors, for example) rather than a lot of knobs that all subtly affect the sound. I hardly ever read the manual before I start using a piece of equipment. I found Symptohm to be more of the latter, requiring some study to get the most out of the instrument. So, I spent some time frustrated trying to manually map some of Symptohm’s bajillion parameters to the knobs on my Oxygen 8 controller (you should see the list of available parameters on this thing). It was really tough to figure out which parameter would cause the change I was looking for.
But, after poking through the manual, I discovered Ohm Force had built in a much easier means for accomplishing this within their interface. Hit ‘setup’ and then ‘auto-bind’ to map the currently twiddling knob to the currently selected parameter. Much better. See what I mean?
You’ll definitely want to make sure all of your knobs are mapped to something, because Symptohm is designed to be messed with. One of the most interesting features of the synth is to assign parameter sets to an octave on your keyboard. This is rad if you have a larger keyboard but I found it less helpful on my two-octave Oxygen 8. When you switch between “Melohman” sets in this way, the synth chirps and gurgles nicely in a smooth transition between sounds. This is pretty awesome stuff for producing some ear-catching transitions. You can set the ‘morphing’ time it takes to transition between settings, as well. Neato.
Unlike many other virtual instrument synths, Symptohm doesn’t have much if anything in the way of effects. There’s no built-in reverb, chorus etc per-se. So, you’ll have to have your own on hand if you want to lavish your synths that way. This isn’t a huge deal, but I do find that often I feel more ‘inspired’ by an instrument when it was some of these effects enabled out-of-the-box, even if I end up turning them off when bouncing the instrument to audio. The synthesis engine does have a one-tap delay, which can be used to create chorus-like effects and stereo separation when dialed in manually.
The synthesis engine itself is two oscillators, a sub oscillator, and a noise generator. The routing is pretty weird and I didn’t have the attention span to analyze it much. I just started playing with the thing. A description of it is in the manual on page 18.
The sound is pretty unique. Generally I would describe the sound as cold, focused and somewhat brittle. Now, on its own this may not be the most desirable sound in the world but, as regular readers know, I’m a strong advocate of the use of contrast in production. The sounds produced by Symptohm sound awesome set against more traditional synths and prettier sounds, as I discovered later. Symptohm can be made to sound warmer, but I don’t find fat, warm sounds to be its strong suit.
I found the presets to be relatively uninteresting but were excellent starting points for creating more interesting sounds.
Most of the sustained tones I produced sounded very ‘Boards of Canada’. This was pretty fun as I’m a big Boards fan. This becomes particularly true when one starts staggering the delay to produce some pulsating stereo action. The sounds got more abrasive as one moved up the keys.
The drum sounds did not impress me on their own – they’re pretty compressed and clicky sounding. But, again, set against other textures they could be exactly what the doctor ordered.
I spent some time creating multiple instances of Symptohm, using its various sounds to compose something entirely with it alone. I found the sounds did not layer with each other very well. Bringing up some of the other synths I use on a regular basis such as NI’s Massive and Pro-53, I found that it did indeed play well with others, setting off the characteristics of the other instruments brilliantly.
In summary, Symptohm is a great knob-twiddling plugin that takes some time to get to know. Its sound is unique and may not be your first choice for a general synth tone, but will most likely be a top choice for adding character and contrast to productions that seem too homogeneous (which is indeed something I run into quite a bit). It’s a well-conceived instrument that doesn’t attempt to reinvent anything, which is refreshing when everything these days seems to be an emulation of something that’s already been made and remade.
These sounds got more substantial when paired with the Ohmicide distortion plug, reviewed next…
Recommended for: people looking to add variety to their sonic pallette who like to tweak out on knobs.