Curve, by Cableguys, is at first glance a utilitarian looking, grey and white subtractive synthesiser. In reality, it has a ton of sound design possibilities and a few unique features… but how does it sound?
Compatibility: Mac/PC, VST/AU host
UPDATE: On the 17th July 2011 Curve 1.4 was released, and adds in the monophonic options that we lamented the lack of in this review. Take a look at our news release for the full skinny, and read on for the rest of the review!
One of Curve’s big features is its waveform drawing capability
One of Curve’s big features is its waveform drawing capability. You can design up to ten waveforms in a patch, and draw the waveform itself with up to twenty node points. A really nifty thing happens when you alter the waveform; in the background, a bar chart indicates the harmonics and their amplitude in real time as you alter the curve. You don’t have to create all your waveforms from scratch of course, there are presets for sine, square, triangle and pulse ready and waiting, but it’s a great way to get an individual sounding patch and also learn a little bit more about the science behind sound design while you play.
The filter section has a bunch of settings, spread over 6dB, 12dB, and 24dB per octave cut off sharpness. All have a low and high pass setting, 24dB has band pass, and 12dB has band pass, notch and peak settings too. Resonance is really smooth, and screams tastefully at high settings.
Resonance is really smooth, and screams tastefully at high settings
There’s no way to change the routing of the oscillators and filters. The sum of the oscillators goes into filter one then filter two in series. Other than that, though, modulation capabilities in Curve are impressive. There are four LFOs, a dedicated amp envelope and two assignable ones, and pretty much anything can be modulated by anything else with a really simple cross referencing system, including frequency modulation of each oscillator by another.
Curve’s simple and maybe slightly uninspiring user interface belies the power of the synth – but it’s a power that exponentially rises based on the work you put into creating interesting patches for it. Because many synths have some form of analogue modelling in them, creating imperfect waveforms and simulating unstable VCOs, Curve can sound quite thin and basic in comparision when using its basic waveforms. Draw your own, though, and the nuances of each unique waveform thickens up the sound, especially when modulating everything by everything else.
Indeed, rather than jump on the analogue modelling bandwagon, Curve is quite staunchly digital; despite being able to create weird and wonderful sounds with its modulation capabilities and custom waveforms, you can also hark back to the stone age of digital synthesis and allow aliasing in the output for that old school sound.
you can hark back to the stone age of digital synthesis and allow aliasing in the output for that old school sound
When combined with the eco setting the aliasing is really apparent and has just as much creative use as it does practical, despite Curve’s generally very good CPU usage.
Some time savers and thickeners you may be used to in other synths appear to be absent in Curve, but due to the flexibility of its design it’s usually possible to createa workaround. Despite there not being a sub oscillator, for instance, the inclusion of three ‘proper’ oscillators makes dedicating one to a low tone a fairly small compromise. Similarly, there’s not a dedicated noise generator, but any of the oscillators can be set to noise instead of waveform. The lack of arpeggiator is mitigated creatively by drawing a complicated waveform, facilitated by the grid view having a semitone setting, and then having the pitch of your oscillators modulated by it. It just might have been nice to see one more envelope generator though – to allow their number to match the number of oscillators on offer.
If you ever need inspiration for sounds you can just look to the community, too; Curve’s default patch saving setting allows your presets to synchronise with the master database in the clouds, to be shared with other registered Curve users. You can of course turn this setting off, for your ‘secret sauce’ signature sounds, but it’s a nice community focused idea and can help to open your eyes as to some of the possibilities in Curve’s semi modular design.
There’s one real weakness in Curve, and that’s the polyphony settings
There’s one real weakness in Curve, and that’s the polyphony settings. For some reason, polyphony is a global, rather than per patch setting. There’s no true mono setting, and so subsequent note on requests are ignored whilst a note is sustaining. There’s also no glide/portamento option. This is a real shame; hopefully it’s something that Cableguys can rectify in a future update, because at the moment it really hinders what is a otherwise a great synth.
Curve’s a great synth for the somewhat adventurous; what amounts to a semi modular design and a learn as you play approach to waveform generation leads to unique sounds with a lot of depth. Its inadequecies when it comes to monophony let it down somewhat, but in general it’s a great addition to the plugin world and a welcome change to the overcrowed analogue modelling market – and its community focused patch system means there’re always new sounds to dip into.