Greg Scarth investigates the updated version of this versatile synth.
In the saturated soft synth market of late 2012, it’s increasingly difficult for plugins to offer anything new. Time and again, we see developers follow the same well-worn formula: analogue-style subtractive synthesis, the occasional hardware emulation, maybe a circuit-modelled filter here or there. It’s hard to blame them, really. Those safe options are surely the most likely to sell in large numbers – not least because they tend to be the easiest for potential buyers to understand.
That’s not to say that formulaic subtractive synths can’t still make great plugins. Recent releases like TAL’s excellent U-NO-LX demonstrate just how effective that approach can still be. Nevertheless, it’s to CableGuys’ credit that they attempted something a little different with their first synth, released early last year.
At its heart, Curve is a subtractive synth, but it differs from most standard virtual analogues in a couple of important ways. The most significant difference from a standard virtual analogue setup lies in the top third of the window, where up to ten custom wave shapes can be drawn by hand. These can then be assigned to each of the three oscillators and four LFOs, effectively meaning that the user has complete control over every wave in the synth. Why are there ten custom waves when there are only three oscillators and four LFOs? Because each oscillator can also use two waves simultaneously, with a crossfade control for each oscillator allowing the tones to be blended together.
The wave section might take a little getting used to for users more accustomed to the traditional sawtooth, square and triangle options found in most virtual analogue synths. Curve offers those standard shapes as starting points, but the real point is to customise the waves to create unique oscillator tones. It’s at this stage that you realise it isn’t quite as easy as it might seem to ‘draw’ a good sound. Small adjustments to wave shapes can have a dramatic effect on the sound, so a little trial and error is essential. The visual representation of partials and harmonics behind the wave itself is handy here (it’s a feature we find useful in plugins like FM8 and Phosphor).
It’s also well worth investigating using custom wave shapes for LFO modulation. Separate waves can be assigned to each of the four LFO slots, which can then be synced to tempo (anything from 1/128 note per cycle all the way up to 32 bars) or allowed to run freely, with re-triggering and one-shot options for good measure. The inclusion of pitch quantisation for LFO waveforms means basic sequencing and arpeggiating effects can be created, while routing a tempo-synced LFO signal to the audio oscillators’ volume allows complex gate effects to be programmed.
At first glance, the three envelopes (one permanently routed to volume and two assignable via the modulation matrix) seem basic, with just attack, decay, loop and release settings. Click the magnifying glass icon next to each envelope and you’ll find that you can also draw custom envelope shapes. It’s a seriously versatile setup for creating unique sounds.
Modulation routing itself is also very flexible, allowing any mod source to be routed virtually anywhere. Likewise, up to four macros can also be defined for each patch, each allowing up to eight parameters to be adjusted in real time via a single (automatable) knob.
Although Curve generally lives up to expectations, there are a couple of minor issues. The sizing of the GUI means that the plugin window extends off the bottom of the screen on my MacBook Pro (running Logic with the display resolution set to 1280×800). It’s only by a few pixels – and it’s still possible to see all the controls – but it’s a surprisingly clumsy bit of programming.
More importantly, Curve2 is undoubtedly CPU-hungry, although it has to be said that that’s often the case with more powerful synths. Processor load increases dramatically as more modulation options are employed. To save CPU during composition, Rough and Eco modes temporarily reduce sound quality but lighten the processing load.
Despite these relatively minor flaws, Curve 2 is a solid all-rounder. Since it rewards the user so highly for putting time and effort into sound design, it’s great to see the inclusion of a built-in browser for accessing other users’ patches directly from the plugin (synced via an internet connection). The community-based approach is becoming increasingly common in soft synths, and it adds significantly to the user experience.
Curve isn’t a specialist synth. Instead, it offers all-round flexibility for anyone with the patience to master the deeper subtleties of its sonic options.
Purchase: Cableguys Curve 2
The Final Word
A solid all-rounder with some unique sound design options.