This is going to be a fun review because the reactions to Waverazor have been as strong as they have been varied. Some love it, and some hate it.
Instead of trying to figure out who’s right (and whether this is a good or a bad plugin), I’m going to explain how and why they’re both right and help you, dear reader, to understand where on the love/hate continuum you might fall.
Yeah, Yeah, But What Does It Do?
Well, Waverazor is a synth – you send it MIDI notes, it synthesizes a sound. It’s a 32-bit and 64-bit plugin for Windows and Mac systems, with a Linux version announced to arrive later. It has some familiar elements, such as oscillators and a powerful modulation matrix. Pretty standard stuff so far, but there are three main things which make it different. The least important difference is a not-so-traditional GUI, dominated by an oscilloscope and two XY pads. The second difference is that the modulation matrix and parameters are not entirely user-accessible. Each preset presents only a small subset of the sound engine parameters and makes those available to the user as macro controls. The rest remains hidden under the hood. The third difference, the most revolutionary one, is that each oscillator’s waveform can be split into pieces which can then be modulated or modified independently.
Now, there are plenty of synths that will let you load a waveform of your choice, draw any waveform you like, or modulate your way through a user-editable wavetable. What Waverazor can do, and none of the other currently available synths can, is continuous modulation of various parameters in each waveform slice. A rather open-ended feature which is very useful for making organically evolving sounds. The other interesting aspect of the oscillators is that a lot the things which can be done to the slices (between two and sixteen per cycle, but four in the case of most presets) create sharp discontinuities in the waveform. This leads to a lot of high harmonics, which in turn means bright, often harsh sounds.
Finding Familiar Ground
So, this isn’t going to sound like a 70s Moog or an 80s Oberheim, but that doesn’t mean the sounds are all strange and unfamiliar. Although they’re not quite the same sounds, a lot of the things Waverazor can do remind me of soundscapes made from heavily manipulated samples of 80s-90s industrial and dark ambient. Some sounds are even more old-school, falling into 70s horror movie territory. Waverazor makes it quite easy to synthesize a drone that keeps changing and evolving in organic ways, the way those sounds did. Hold down a chord, use two fingers to manipulate the X-Y pads on a touchscreen, and you’ll make a grim yet unpredictable soundscape. Another thing Waverazor sometimes reminds me of is psytrance leads which, again, are made using different techniques, but do have a certain harshness. These are not the same sounds, of course, but they share a similar vibe – the same way a saxophone or violin sample played from the middle of a sustained note makes you think of an accordion, without really sounding completely accordion-like.
The factory presets to cover a range of electronic drum sounds, which are the only ones that make Waverazor remind me of classic 70s analog synths. You probably know how simple analog synthesizers can be programmed to make vaguely drumlike sounds by using filters and noise oscillators, but will never be quite as realistic as a dedicated drum machine. Waverazor’s drum presets are kind of like that, but with a crisp digital high end.
There are also some basses and leads which are fairly normal in terms of sound character and can be used in reasonably conventional song production. Again, it’s entirely possible to make them gradually evolve into something else, including giving them a typically “Waverazory” harshness or just plain strangeness. At this point, I’d like to give a special shoutout to the “Supertune” macro control – it really is, like the name suggests, a detune knob taken to the next level, and is completely over-the-top when cranked. It makes things sound weird and aggressive, but (for once) without harsh treble. There’s also “Mutant AM”, which indeed sounds like amplitude modulation, but, well, mutated into something more violent. From what I’ve seen online, most of the users who dislike Waverazor say that they do so because of how easy it is to make it sound ugly – great if you want ugly, of course, but not everyone does.
So, this is one big piece of the “is Waverazor for you” puzzle – do you need to make sounds which have more treble than most (or at least most non-FM) synths will let you have? Also, do you need sounds which can shift and evolve for a long time without getting boring or repetitive?
In With The New
If the oscillators are bleeding-edge, the GUI is very leading-edge – new, but in a way that we already know works well in real life. The large elements, swappable color schemes, and multitouch support are the sort of thing I’m seeing more often in new plugins. The general simplification – hiding a lot of parameters from the user – is part of the same trend in the realm of virtual instruments, much like one-knob FX plugins. A keyboard and a multitouch screen might actually be a better, more intuitive way to control this synth than a keyboard with any amount of wheels, joysticks, and pads. That’s a big change from the past where GUIs were good for quickly seeing how things are set, but not really for controlling the sound live.
And no, there’s no ADSR or any other kind of envelope. Some of the presets, such as the drums, do obviously have shorter envelopes, but you can’t just decide that you want a short pluck, and make a short pluck. Obviously, this is going to drive some people crazy. MOK are working on a future version which will have a full parameter editor (and also double in price, though owners of the current version will receive the update for free), which will make this synth appealing to the more mad-scientist-like sound designers of the world.
And this is the other big piece of the puzzle. For now, this synth is a control freak’s nightmare – and this is the other big reason why some people dislike Waverazor. Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what a certain parameter does – it changes the sound somehow, but what it’s really doing and what’s happening under the hood remains a mystery. On the other hand, Waverazor’s interface works well for users who like finding a preset that sort of does what they need, and making it shift and evolve in the direction the particular preset’s accessible parameters will let them. For people who like synths that will surprise them and take them in interesting new directions, that’s perfect.
I can’t say that this is a good plugin everybody should buy, nor a bad plugin that’s best avoided. I can’t even go with the old “there are two kinds of people, those who will love it and those who will hate it, and both are right.” In fact, I think there are four kinds of Waverazor users, and all four are right. One kind will always hate it and never have much use for its dark, harsh sounds. Another will probably like the future update with all the parameters editable, but they can’t handle the plugin’s currently mysterious ways. A third category, which I fall into myself, sees this as a synth with a unique niche, certainly not the only synth you’ll ever need but the best synth in the world for making certain kinds of sounds, especially in the harder industrial, darker ambient, and psytrance areas. And finally, the fourth category is someone who doesn’t open up a plugin with a specific sound already in mind and wants something that does new things and can inspire new sounds and new directions. So, the real question is, which one are you?
I am going to give this synth a rating based on my own view of it. I would like all the parameters to be accessible, being a mad scientist who likes dissecting sounds and getting under the hood. I do sometimes need a sound for which Waverazor is better than any other plugin I have, but for me, its niche is fairly small.
In areas such as performance, stability, and GUI design, I think everybody will agree that this plugin is good. As for all the rest, reading this review is probably not going to be enough to decide if you want to purchase Waverazor, but it should be enough for you to figure out whether the free 30-day trial is worth putting some time into.
More info: MOK Waverazor ($75.00
MOK Waverazor Review
What Waverazor can do, and none of the other currently available synths can, is continuous modulation of various parameters in each waveform slice.