Minimal Audio’s first soft synth Current is a gorgeous-sounding wavetable beast but will being subscription-only turn potential users away?
*UPDATE 13th October 2023: Minimal Audio has announced a change of pricing strategy. It can be viewed here.
The wavetable soft synth market is hot and now, with the introduction of Minimal Audio’s Current https://www.minimal.audio/products/current, it’s getting even hotter. Native Instruments’ Massive got the ball rolling, which was then picked up by Xfer Records and its epoch-making Serum. There are other players too, including Arturia with Pigments, Kilohearts’ Phase Plant, and Vital Audio, who have recently disrupted the game with the free Vital.
Best known for their excellent effects plugins, Minimal Audio has now turned their attention to wavetable synthesis, and the results are as you’d expect: beautiful-sounding, comprehensive in scale and packed with incredible effects. It’s a solid effort all-around and, based on sound alone, it could be a real contender in the wavetable battle royale – if, that is, Minimal Audio can convince users to pay a subscription. Yes, Current is subscription-only. Have Minimal Audio badly misread the room or is Current strong enough to get people past their dislike of subscriptions?
What Is Minimal Audio Current?
Minimal Audio’s Current is a modern wavetable synthesizer with a little bit of everything. It has two wavetable oscillators (with spectral manipulation – more on that later), a granular engine, sample player and additive sub oscillator, plus morphing filters, FM, plenty of modulation, effects from the company’s own reserve and a cloud-connected preset patch system. In short, it’s got almost everything you could want in a wavetable synth.
Set The Table
A wavetable synth is only as good as its wavetable oscillators, and in this sense, Current holds its own. Each of the two oscillators can load a wavetable, which comes from within the synth, from the connected Stream online shop (more on this in a minute), or from you, the user, with drag-and-drop wavetable import. You can adjust position of the playhead, of course, but also warp the waves in a number of different, musical ways. This includes spectral manipulation, which alters the harmonics of a wavetable. This was previously Vital’s unique selling point.
Wavetables in Current run the gamut from the usual basic shapes to more esoteric content. The fact that you can add more freely via Stream makes it an almost endless source of new sound building blocks. Importing your own wavetables is also dead simple, just drag and drop.
Current is more than just a wavetable synth though. Like Pigments and Phase Plant, Current includes a granular engine which does a good job of thickening up sounds and providing a counterpoint to the wavetable madness. Start with a sample from the synth or Stream (or load your own) and then manipulate the grains and playback.
Sample-style sound generation continues in the Sampler, which, as with other oscillators, you can load from within the Current ecosystem or make custom ones. You can play back samples by pitch or warp, the latter Ableton Live-style for time stretch effects.
Finally, there’s a very clean sub oscillator that uses additive synthesis to build up solid bass layers from constituent harmonics. This can then be sent directly to the output or through the effects, depending on the type of sound you’re trying to make.
Freq Out: Filters And FM
The filter section is similarly comprehensive. Each of the two filters can host any number of different filter types, from basic low-, band- and highpass to morphing, formant, and comb filters to more esoteric ones like phasers. You can split each filter and separate left and right channels, plus you can run the two filters in series or parallel. Usefully, you can assign each oscillator type individually to the filters, perfect for when you want to keep the sub separate from the rest of the signal, for example. There’s no drive parameter though, something that we would like to see in a future update.
Frequency modulation is a big part of modern wavetable synthesis and Current offers this in its own section. Each sound-creating oscillator section (plus feedback) can affect another as either FM or AM (amplitude modulation).
Current doesn’t disappoint in the modulation section. There’s a dedicated envelope for volume plus two additional ones, with plenty of options to customize the shape and speed. You can loop as well. The modulation section also contains three LFOs, three curve generators and an envelope follower.
Assigning modulation to destinations is as easy as dragging and dropping. As with other features in Current, it’s very intuitive. If we have one gripe it’s that everything is purple aside from the modulation source you’re currently editing, which turns yellow. While the animations are imminently helpful in understanding what’s going on, additional color-coding would be appreciated. When you have a lot of modulation happening, it can be tough to understand what’s controlling what with just a glance.
Love These Effects
Minimal Audio is known for its effects so if you’re expecting Current to have a stellar effects section, then you’d be right. There are nine swappable effects slots, each capable of holding one of eight effects, including the Fuse Compressor and Morph EQ. The effects section may actually be our favorite part of Current. We’d love to see this broken out into its own multieffects plugin.
Audio In Action
Let’s take a listen to Current in action. As the presets demonstrate, it excels at sounds with a lot of motion and modulation. You can also hear the effects at work too.
Get Into The Stream Of Things
Current is broken down into three sections: Engine (the main synthesizer), Effects and Stream. The fact that Stream has its own page and isn’t just part of the preset browser should indicate how much importance Minimal Audio is placing on it. While the idea is pretty cool – a cloud-connected browser for patches, wavetables and samples – the application is unfortunately a little frustrating.
Stream is Minimal Audio’s version of Splice, a credit-based download service hosted on the company website. Part of buying into Current is getting direct access to Stream, meaning you can pull from the admittedly large pool of samples and presets directly from within the synthesizer itself, either from the preset browser or the relevant section.
While this is neat on paper, in application it can be kind of frustrating. First off, general presets are organized by Stream pack and not sound type. So rather than be able to browse through all of the bass sounds, you need to look inside the Bass Abyss pack, for example. Loading wavetables from Stream from within the wavetable browser is convenient but we really wanted a basic back button to return to the wavetable browser rather than having to return to the main Engine page and then go back into the wavetable section. Getting around inside Stream is also a little clunky. Compared to the rest of the synth, it’s not very intuitive.
Play To Pay
As mentioned before, Current is subscription-only. The current pricing plan is $15 per month or $120 for a year. There’s no rent-to-own option, meaning that if you cancel your subscription you don’t get to keep the plugin. Minimal Audio state on their site that instances of Current will remain active in DAW projects after cancellation but you cannot create new sounds with them.
Honestly, this seems like a big misstep on Minimal Audio’s part. While some popular plugins do offer subscriptions, such as Vital, it’s also rent-to-own, with your paid portion going towards future purchases should you choose. Subscriptions can be useful but customers tend to want a choice. Waves’ recent move to subscription-only was resoundingly unsuccessful and forced the company to pivot back to allowing purchases as well. Perhaps, Minimal Audio will review it and offer customers a purchase option. It is of course their prerogative to do as they choose.
The Final Word
Minimal Audio Current is a solid wavetable synth. It sounds great and has pretty much all the parameters a modern electronic music producer needs. With its black and purple color scheme, it has a modern look and Minimal Audio have done an admirable job laying it out intuitively. It even has an arpeggiator, chord memory and MPE.
However, the Stream store integration needs some work. We also encountered some glitches while testing it. Hopefully, these will both be addressed in future updates.
The main issue, though, is the subscription model. While Current is well made, it’s not particularly innovative or special compared to other, existing wavetable plugins. Given that Vital has a free version and you can rent-to-own Serum on Splice for $9.99 a month, getting people to pay $15 a month for Current could be difficult. How about a paid option with Stream access as a subscription add-on?
Price: $15/month, $120/year
The Final Word
Current is a powerful wavetable synth with a lot of potential but may be held back by the subscription-only model.