Xils-Lab miniSyn’X Review


We are taking a closer look at miniSyn’X, the latest virtual instrument released by the French music software developers Xils-Lab.

The miniSyn’X emulates with the highest level of accuracy an Italian Beauty of the 80’s. One of the last specimens of the 80’s polyphonic analog monsters.

So what is this synth based on? One of the most prized of vintage polysynths – The ELKA Synthex. Xils-Lab are a French company, well known for their vintage synth emulations such as POLY KB, XILS 4, Syn’X and more recently their vocoders.

Now, Xils-Lab already have an emulation of Synthex, the SYN’X, so this new miniSyn’X would seem to be a cut-down version, but it’s not. It has new features and algorithms. As I understand it, Xils-Lab are working on a new Synthex emulation, (lets call it SYN’X2) and this is a sort of lateral offshoot of that project in the meantime.

Now before we get into the synth, let me tell you a bit about my background for some context. I am largely indifferent to lore of what great bands of the past used what synths and so on. My interest mainly lies with what is being done today. What I get excited about is something that offers me something genuinely new and exciting to work with. That can be a great new digital synth or powerful new emulations of great analog classics. So, he crucial question to me is: What does this new synth really offer me?

Before we jump in, let me just say that miniSyn’x does not require a dongle. It operates on a serial number input (yes!).

Its basic structure consists of a dual architecture, offering 2 LFO’s, a filter, 2 envelopes, an LFO and a chorus section per layer. I’ll come back to the architecture in a bit, first let’s take a look at the less exciting but equally important aspects.

The GUI is a nice clean design, thankfully fairly flat without too much 3D fanfare. The colors are very nicely chosen and overall there is good contrast throughout the GUI. It’s a pleasure to work with, although it’s doesn’t seem to be optimized for Retina display as some of the text is slightly blurry on my MacBook Pro.

The GUI size is just right for my needs, and if it’s not big enough for you there is an option for the gigantic 2048 pixels wide mode.

The preset system is much like Xils-Lab’s previous offerings and it appears to be substantially the same format as found on Arturia synths. There are two category displays and you can choose which categories they show. There are a myriad of options to organize presets here, by bank, author, project, style, feeling or all.

It’s a drop down menu affair, which is not my favorite format but it’s certainly not a problem either. The presets that come with the synth are pretty much all from one author, which is unusual, and people who like to use factory presets might well be disappointed by the relatively low number supplied.

Getting to the documentation then, the manual is quite helpful generally but there are some areas where it would greatly benefit from some editing. I asked Xils-Lab about this and they do have an editor working on it at the moment.


As I said before, it’s a dual architecture synth, that is, it has two layers. Layers can be split across the keyboard with a user defined split point, so you could have a bass patch and a lead patch corresponding to different sections of the keyboard, or stacked so that both layers respond to the same note inputs. You can also balance the volumes of each layer relative to the other with a simple balance control.

I love being able to stack layers, but it can often be a pain to do. Fortunately on miniSyn’X it’s about as painless as it could be. You set up your patch on “Layer 1”, then copy it across to “Layer 2” with a little copy button (or vice-versa). Once it’s duplicated on both layers, you can choose to pan the two layers apart giving your patch a luscious stereo width. Finally, now that you’ve got two independent layers, you may want to continue to edit them both simultaneously, without having to jump around from layer to layer. Well, you can, because Xils-Lab have added a “Gang” button, which allows you to manipulate both layers simultaneously.

Furthermore the “Gang” control is relative, so if the filter cut-off control on layer one is set to 50% while layer two has a setting of 70% the “Gang” control does not change the ratio between them.

This is pretty wild when one filter has high resonance and drive while the other is clean. But I get ahead of myself. There is a problem currently with the “Gang” control though which is related to automation, in that the DAW does not save the status of the “Gang” control. However Xils-Lab are working out a solution for this now.

So, lets get back to some more peculiarities of the architecture. Starting with, of course, the oscillators!

There are two oscillators per layer. These are rich meaty oscillators. They are darker than a lot of modern offerings, but they are by no means dull. On offer here are triangle, saw, square and pulse (with pulse width modulation) waveforms. All of these waveforms can be switched in at the same time, allowing you to stack them, per oscillator.

I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that two of these switches were hiding extra waveforms, a variable triangle wave and a double-saw. These can be manipulated with the pulse width control and modulated by the LFO. This is a great addition and I’ll come back to this later.

Zero Delay Feedback PWM

The oscillators both feature pulse-width modulation and ring modulation. Both are audio-rate as each oscillator is modulated by the other. Each oscillator can be “unhinged” from keyboard tracking, too. Furthermore, oscillator two can be synced to oscillator one while all of this modulation is going on. It’s pretty intense and Xils-Lab claim that they’ve developed new algorithms in order to make this as smooth as possible. For my part, I’m very impressed by the wild tones you can get from these combinations. With PWM and RM going on at audio-rates like this, going in a loop, it could have sounded like a mess, but it doesn’t. It sounds clangorous and metallic, grimy and grungy and very musical.

There is one LFO per layer, and a simple global LFO which is assigned to an XY joystick controller. The layer LFOs are quite fun as they allow you to stack all six waveforms or any combination of them to get complex shapes. There are the usual waveform shapes plus S/H. The LFO also has its own fade-in, delay and a reset switch.

This brings us to the filter section, and while its control set is quite simple, the sound it produces is nuanced, complex and authentically analog. Xils-Lab says that this is based on 3rd generation 0DF Filter technology. This filter is what brings the whole synth together for me. It not only sounds like a real analog filter, it sounds like a very interesting analog filter. There is no digital harshness or shrill nasal sound. As it has a drive mode and and five filter types, the filter can have many different qualities depending on the setting. You can have a super smooth buttery sound to dirty gurgling or a wild filter scream. This is something I really enjoy working with.

There are some more neat features to cover, before I move on, so I’ll round them all up here. First is the drift control, which makes the tuning of the oscillators and filters unstable and results in a convincing vintage analog sound. The other parameter called “Spray” is similar to the drift control. “Spray” introduces a more subtle kind of micro variation. When the layers are set to stereo, this control will cause the stereo image to widen, as the micro variations will be different in both layers.

miniSYN’X also has a 4-track sequencer. The sequencer always plays back the lower layer (Layer 1). When I first noticed this, I wasn’t sure how useful it would be. You may enter notes manually with a mouse, or record your sequence in real time. Although the sequencer screen itself is fairly small, you can zoom in and that makes things a lot easier. Entering the notes manually is a little difficult and you can’t edit the sequence like you would in a DAW. But after working with it for an afternoon, I grew quite fond of it. You can set the amount of steps, rotate them and also transpose the sequence. The sequencer is a really great touch, it’s immediate and its restrictions cause me to think creatively. The slight amount of guesswork allows for happy accidents.

FX Section

So, this brings me now to the FX section, which is really just a single global BBD chorus effect, emulating the original chorus section of its analog counterpart. It’s a very nice chorus effect. I would have loved a delay, but it’s not like I don’t have a number of great delay plugins already and in the long run it always works out better having delays and reverbs on their own tracks. Besides, keeping the FX section minimal like this does reduce clutter so I understand that this choice has its upsides.


miniSyn’X represents to me, one of the most realistic analog synthesizer emulations currently available. What’s more, it is emulating a very special analog synth. It is indeed difficult to know nowadays which synths to give some attention to, since there are so many of them and many are really quite good. But I think that miniSyn’X is exceptional even in the sea of excellent synthesizers out there.

I would have love to see a “monster” mode with four oscillators and two filters on a single layer, but obviously the goal here was simplicity and I am sure that Xils-Lab wants to keep some features up their sleeves for future synths.

Right now, the cost of miniSyn’X is about $49 as it’s on an intro pricing period until the 17th of April. After that, the price goes up to $65. In my opinion, $65 is a modest price and represents very good value, however at $49 however it’s a steal. If you like synths, I highly recommend you to give this one some time. A non-time limited trial version is available on the developer’s website.

The only hesitation I have is that miniSyn’X is a taste of things to come, so if you buy this and the new SYN’X2 (I’m speculating on the name) you will end up with both and you might not need both. That said, I expect that there will be an cheaper upgrade path for miniSyn’X owners.

More info: miniSyn’X (€45 until April 17th, €59 standard price)

Xils-Lab miniSyn'X Review

8.2 Awesome

miniSyn’X represents to me, one of the most realistic analog synth emulations currently available and what's more, it is emulating a very special analog synth. It is indeed difficult to know nowadays which synths to give some attention to, since there are so many of them and many are really quite good. But I think that miniSyn’X is exceptional even in the sea of excellent synthesizers out there.

  • Features 7
  • Workflow 9
  • Stability 8
  • Design 7
  • Pricing 10
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This article was written by two or more BPB staff members.

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