We love bass, so we decided to take a look at the latest low end monster synth on the market in our Sugar Bytes Cyclop Review. Cyclop has huge possibilities for dubstep – read on to find out just how worthy it is of your hard earned…
Cyclop is, initially at least, pretty confusing to look at. It doesn’t take too long to get your head around things if you’ve got a sound understanding of basic synth principles, but Cyclop is probably a synth that you’ll get the most out of if you’re already somewhat au fait with synths in general. It’s got a pretty big GUI, with a central section that has multiple pages that have their own subpages, and until you ‘get’ how it all works you might get a little frustrated. Once you do, though, things turn out to be quite logical and the layout of the GUI more or less mimics the signal chain, or at least, as much as it can when that chain can be rearranged.
Oscillators and Filters
There are two oscillator sections in Cyclop, plus a sine wave sub osc just to make sure there’s always some knee shaking sub on offer. The main oscillator sections allow you to choose an overarching synthesis type and then tweak them further, with FM, saw/double saw/square wave sync, a supersaw creating ‘saw regiment’, a granular wavetable (that supports wav import), a spectral shaping oscillator ‘spectromat’, and a phase distortion unit that creates harmonics out of pushing sine waves out of phase and accentuating their clashes. This is a lot of potential, and if I’m to be completely honest I found myself neglecting the phase stressor and spectromat in favour of the simpler and perhaps more versatile analog sync, FM, and saw regiment types. Over time I think the extra oscillator types will be something I’ll delve into more, as the subtlties of their character starts to win me over. It’s clear that there’s a great deal of sonic potential in the oscillators, though, and even the basic waveforms sound excellent.
The filter section is similarly well endowed, with ten different types of filter on offer – high pass, band pass, mid boost, three low pass types, comb, ripple (a sort of band pass/comb hybrid), and band stop. All the filters can be set to operate as formant shifters too, which works especially well when certain filters are combined with rhythmic modulation. All the filters are tweaked to be ‘bass appropriate’; they’re very smooth, and even high resonance settings are accessible without ruining the patch in key pitch zones.
For even more flexibility the oscillators and filters can be run serial, with the sum of oscillator 1 and 2 going through filter 1 then 2 (or the other way around), parallel, with the sum of the oscillators split and running into each filter individually, or in split mode, where oscillator 1 runs to filter 1, oscillator 2 to filter 2. Experimenting with just how much this could change the sound was eye opening, and this semi-modular approach to Cyclop is definitely one of its strong points.
Whilst it generates some pretty gut wrenching bass straight off the bat, it’s the modulation options that set Cyclop apart; rather than creating a sound and then warping and shaping it with DAW automation and further plugins, Cyclop really wants you to program every aspect of your bassline, from the wobbles to the tone changes, in its own GUI.
Each of the main controls on the oscillators and filters can be modulated individually by an ADSR envelope, a ‘sound’ dial, a step sequencer, an LFO, and the ‘wobble’ dial. The wobble is a special control that is really at the heart of Cyclop; essentially, wobble is a tempo synced LFO, and every rhythmic interval – 16th, 8th, etc – can have its own shape. This can lead to some very interesting wobble bass patches, where different LFO speeds have character over and above just the rate at which they bounce between settings. For even more fluid changes, the shapes and rates can be interpolated between each rhythm division. Experimentation is key here, and indeed there’s a randomisation button to help you to do so.
On top of all this modulation capability, you can even rhythmically automate these modulation parameters from within Cyclop. You can get so deep with Cyclop that it stops becoming about twisting knobs to get a bass sound and more about getting the meat of your entire track, leaving you to simply play notes and let the automation you’ve set up take care of the rest. I didn’t find myself using even 50% of the total capability of Cyclop in most instances, but it’s nice to know that if you have a certain mutation in your head, you can probably achieve it.
Oh, there’s more. On top of all this, the effects (described below) can be turned on and off in sequence, and there’s an amp gate that’s designed to give rhythmic qualities to held notes. In short, a well programmed Cyclop patch can more or less completely take care of everything that makes basslines interesting except the pitches of the notes in them.
Sugarbytes’ existing calibre with effects is evident with Cyclop. There’s a whole page dedicated to the internal effects – reverb, delay, phaser, chorus, vinylesque wind downs and ‘scratch’ sounds, loops and pitch rolls, each with their own variations. You can layer these effects, with reverb, delay, phaser and flanger as one choice, the vinyl effects another, loops another and pitch the last, in order to create weird and wonderful sounds.
There’s no way to alter their order in the signal chain, but even if it were possible I don’t think it would make much difference to the final sound. There are, though, individual wet/dry controls for delay, reverb, phaser, and chorus, which gives a little more control over these important effects.
As I touched on previously there are eight separate effects settings available, and these can be selected at will either manually or rhythmically to further mess up the sound emanating from the bowels of Cyclop. You know, in case you didn’t have enough sound mangling options already.
We’re still not done! The main signal (not including the sub osc, which runs separately to ensure it simply provides a pure sine bass tone), as well as the pre-filter signal, can be distorted by one of many models, from bit crushing to saturation to downright nasty overdrive. These are set and forget settings (something had to be), as are a general bass tweaking dial that smooths out the high end ‘woofing’ bass and boosts up lower end grunts and a stereo dial that widens out higher frequencies whilst keeping bass in the middle, opening up the sound to proper arena shaking effect.
As interesting as Cyclop is, it’s not perfect. First off, it’s a shame it’s monophonic. I realise that Sugar Bytes are aiming specifically at the bass market with Cyclop, but it would be nice to have just a little bit more versatility – and this is something that polyphony would really facilitate.
In addition, modulation is reset on a note off command – which can at times be frustrating. You can of course simply overlap notes to keep things working through the rhythm schedule, but I would have liked the opportunity to turn this functionality off and have the rhythmic modulation independent of note. It’d also be nice to have a note latch for many of the same reasons.
An arpeggiator might just be too much to ask from Cyclop, but I feel like with the rest of the features it’s crying out for one!
There’s one thing missing from Cyclop’s internal signal chain, and that’s some kind of limiting device. It would be fantastic to have a multiband compressor inside Cyclop somewhere, but then again I think perhaps because Cyclop already does so much inside its own engine I’m just wishing for the world when in reality dropping an external plugin over the top of Cyclop is a fine workaround.
As you can see, Cyclop is a vastly configurable synth. It’s very much suited to a particular type of sound – the huge, tearing basses that are so popular in dubstep and rougher house music – and for those it’s one of the best synths we’ve tested. It’s not particularly versatile though; the massive amount of modulation possible makes Cyclop able to create interesting, evolving sounds, but it’s all geared towards that sound. Sugarbytes are very open about this, and it’s not a bad thing by any means – it’s better to be the best at one thing than okay at a bunch of them. You can get lost in Cyclop, but when you start to learn your way around it’s a very rewarding piece of software.
Win a Copy of Cyclop (ended)!
The good folks over at Sugar Bytes furnished us with one full licence of Cyclop to give to one of our lucky readers – the competition’s over now, but make sure you Like our Facebook page and register for free so you’re first to know about future competitions!