There was a time when hybrid synths were little more than a laughing matter, but within the last decade, the hybrid has become more and more prevalent. Of course, in a perfect world, developers could cram practically every bell and whistle under the sun into their instruments, but in reality, you have to pick and choose your battles, and Dmitry Sches’ Diversion does that very well, so well in fact that I want to bite down on my tongue when describing it as a hybrid synth.
It’s its own thing, really. But while it’s certainly no “Jack of all trades”, it’s enormously versatile, and more importantly, it knows what is, even though I can’t fit it into any one category. For lack of a better word, Diversion is just awesome.
I’ll just cut to the chase and jump right into the oscillator section since that’s the first thing I focus on whilst demoing a new synth… well, new to me. Diversion has been out for a little over four years I think, and in that time it has established a strong reputation. But anyway, let’s have a look at those oscillators! We have four of them, one in each corner of the top panel, featuring controls for octaves, semitones and fine tuning. One thing I noticed is that the “note” parameter only goes up to a perfect fifth and down to a perfect fourth (plus or minus seven semitones), which isn’t a huge problem for me, but for anyone looking to create a major seventh chord, you’ll have to shift up an octave and tune down negative one semitone to get a major seventh interval, which is a little confusing.
There are also controls for keytracking and vibrato depth, which are pretty standard fare, but the center of attention would be the XY controller. I’ll give you the bad news first: The XY controller does not scan wavetables. I know, it’s a huge blow, but my heart will go on. That being said, the XY controller alters the overall brightness and tone of fifty-five built-in waveforms, from “Basic” geometric shapes to cleverly filtered / distorted “Fatty” saw waves, an impressive amount of “Noise” samples, screaming “Resonant” tones, “Synthetic” waveforms emulating the general characteristics of acoustic instruments, and a small handful of “Harmonic” and “Inharmonic” waveforms ideal for FM synthesis, sparkling bells and chimes and organ-type sounds. If you route these signals through a simple oscilloscope and then tinker with the XY controller, you will suddenly realize just how sophisticated these shapes are.
I’ll admit that I’m a little biased when it comes to wavetable synthesis, having been spoiled by U-He’s incredible wave-scanning oscillators; although Diversion’s Wavetable Editor is actually pretty awesome, with eight effects (Comb, Sync, Multiply, Bit, Vowel, Drive, Fold, and Width) that can shape practically any sound source into a beautifully complex waveform that looks and sounds nothing like what you started out with. Not only can you load single-cycle WAV files into the Wave Editor, but you can also import entire songs in WAV format to be read out as single-cycle waveforms, which can result in some wonderfully dissonant sounds. You can also draw your own geometric shapes in “Wavetable” mode, or adjust the level of individual harmonic partials in a completely separate value table in “Spectrum” mode. Unfortunately, there is no wave-scanning capability, which is kind of a bummer, but there are some more surprises in the oscillator section that will make up for a lack thereof… but I’ll get to those later.
Now for my favorite part: the Sample Editor. Romplers are needlessly vilified within the synthesis community, and because of this, audio import is often neglected in even the most powerful instruments available, limiting them in ways that diminish their full potential. There’s no reason that samples ought not to be used as a legitimate sound source in a synthesizer. Imagine if Absynth and Alchemy had no sample playback. I shudder at the thought. Diversion’s Sample Editor might not be the most powerful audio editor – actually, it definitely could benefit from a considerable amount of added features such as a crossfade parameter with a drawable curve and perhaps some basic key mapping capability — but if you have a nice sample library, you can simply copy and paste your favorite sounds into the samples directory (for Windows: C:\Documents\Diversion\Library\Modules\Oscillator\Samples) and they should appear within Diversion’s sample library when you restart the plugin. There’s also a granular engine with grain shifting controls that will appear when you toggle the “sample” button, which isn’t the most amazing granulizer on the planet, but it’s a nice little Easter egg.
You may notice in the bottom left and right corner of Oscillator 1 & 3 two knobs labeled FM and RM. These adjust the amount of frequency and ring modulation, but you might also have noticed that Oscillator 2 & 4 don’t have these controls. That’s because they are dedicated modulation sources for Oscillator 1 & 3, which are “carrier” oscillators in regard to frequency modulation. Ring modulation is simply when two signals are multiplied by each other, so Oscillator 1 & 3 are multiplied by 2 & 4.
Also, the “Phase” knob will adjust the starting phase of each oscillator, and the “Free” button will activate “free running” mode, which basically means that the oscillator is cycling regardless of whether or not you play a note (a characteristic of vintage analogue synthesizers), but with the “free” button switched off, the oscillator will begin its cycle at a zero phase value whenever a note is triggered. Also, there’s another button labeled “inv” that will invert the phase of the oscillator, which you can use to create an effect similar to pulse width modulation (PWM) when two oscillators with equal and opposite phase values share identical settings and their pitches are ever so slightly tuned apart.
The most impressive aspect of the oscillator section would definitely have to be its seven built-in effects. Of course, only four out of seven effects will appear on the labels under the four assignable knobs, but if you right click on them, a context menu will display all available effects allowing you to manipulate the overall timbre of any given waveform, most notably the “feedback” effect that will route the signal output back into the amplifier, making it perfect for polishing up frequency and ring modulated sounds.
Each oscillator has a dedicated filter with twenty-four modes spanning a wide variety of categories. I won’t list them all here, but whatever your needs are, I assure you they will be met. I was quite pleased with the comb filters, specifically the “bell comb”, from which I was able to physically model a thumb piano (mbira) within a matter of seconds. I especially want to call attention to the “ctrl” value field beside the keytracking and velocity values below the main filter controls. What makes the “ctrl” value so special is that its job is entirely dependant on the filter type. For analogue lowpass and acid filters, it determines the amount of internal saturation, but for low-shelf and high-shelf modes, it will adjust the amount of resonance. It all depends on what filter you’re using, and of course, all this is expertly cataloged in the manual, which just so happens to be one of the most thorough manuals I’ve ever read. Thanks, Dmitry!
Those are just the basic features of each oscillator! I haven’t even touched on the modulators and effects yet, but first let’s have a look at the LCD section, wherein you can load, save and browse through Diversion’s immense library of factory presets. Speaking of which, I was floored by the sequences, so wonderfully complex and full of energy. There’s also a handsome variety of warm pads, otherworldly atmospheres, some wildly imaginative sound effects and an inspiring collection of bass and lead sounds. But one thing that I nearly overlooked, just below the preset browser, is the Master Morph control, which can be mapped to any parameter that can receive a modulation source!
Above the LCD display, there are three buttons labeled “2X”, “4X” and “8X” for oversampling, which can really come in handy when you want to improve the resolution of the oscillators and troubleshoot aliasing or reduce undesirable noise in the processed signal output by increasing the sample rate. Also, the ‘’treble” button has three togglable modes: soft, normal and bright.
Up to eight unison voices are available in the top bar, with a global detuning control and a “stereo” spread control for panning displacement of each unison voice. I usually prefer to have a unison engine within each oscillator instead of a global setup, but I can’t complain too much, especially considering the sheer amount of flexibility within each of the four oscillators alone! But now that we’ve finally got that stuff out of the way, let’s dip our toes into the bottom panel…
Two parallel Bus Processors are outfitted with a multimode filter, a distortion module and a “LOFI” sample rate reduction “decimator” and “bitcrusher” effect. The Bus filters are basically stereo versions of the oscillator filter, with a “stereo” control that offsets the amount of filter frequency cutoff for both left and right stereo channels, similar to the “offset” knob in U-He’s powerful XMF filters. Another cool feature is a black button that displays an arrow (pointing right by default) that will route the incoming signal through the Bus Processor in the reverse order if you switch it to the left-pointing position, first feeding the incoming signal through the filter, and then the distortion and LOFI modules. In the output section, there’s a “send” knob that will route BUS1’s output to BUS2’s input, fading between parallel and serial routing configurations. I was going to mention this earlier, but the “bus” knobs in the output section of each oscillator route their outgoing signal either to BUS1 when hard left, or BUS2 when hard right.
Twenty-four slots are available in the Modulation Matrix, split up into four pages, six rows each, wherein twenty-two sources (seven being MIDI CC) can be mapped to six basic categories of modulation targets: Osc, Bus, Modulators, Trance Gate, Master, and FX. I happened upon a built-in “Random” modulator that basically generates a random constant whenever a new note is played, which can produce organic gated phrases and arpeggiated sequences with unexpected changes.
Our modulation sources include four LFOs, one being a dedicated vibrato source, and four envelopes, one being a dedicated amplitude envelope; of course, dedicated modulators can be mapped to other things in the modulation matrix, but they will still modulate their dedicated target. There are also four multi-stage envelopes with a multitude of features I won’t go into, but I assure you they are incredibly flexible and just as powerful (if not more so) than any other MSEG you will find in any other softsynth.
The Trance Gate in the “ARP” tab does exactly what you think it would to, multiplying the amplifier by a series of MIDI gate on/off signals in accordance with a 16-step pattern you can draw in the pattern editor. I was really blown away by the twenty-six amazing gate presets available in the preset browser, especially the last dozen, which show off what you can do with the “stereo lock” switch, allowing you to create different patterns for both the left and right stereo channels, eliminating the need for superfluous multi-tap delay lines that devour vital system resources. I do wish it was possible to switch off amplitude modulation within the Gate module in order to map the gated signal to any given target parameter as a modulation source within the mod matrix, but hopefully that feature will appear in a future update.
The Arpeggiator is as powerful if not leaps and bounds superior to any other native sequencer I’ve used. In fact, Diversion is so good at programming highly complex sequences, it has become my go to for that very purpose, even though it can program pads, atmospheres, searing leads and thunderous basslines like nobody’s business! But anyway, let’s get back to the arp, which has up to thirty-two steps, sixteen of which appear on two separate pages. I won’t list all the parameters involving note pitch and tempo. Just trust me when I tell you that if you can think of it, Dmitry thought of it first. Also, there are two nifty little arrows in the top-left and right-hand-side of the step editor that will shift the values to the left or right.
The FX Matrix offers a veritable treasure trove of high-quality effects modules, and two of everything, which is simply not done! There are two horizontal rows of black cells, one for each of the two Bus Processor outputs, and a third lane for mixing the two signals – but you can also click and drag the “mix” arrow to change the ratio of Bussed to Mixed effects slots, which is nothing short of pure genius! I was simply astonished by the “GrainShifter” effect, which has a built-in randomizer that arbitrarily skips through the processed signal and cherry picks snippets of audio when set to high values. I’ve used a lot of granular effects, and the fact that this is an extra feature just blows my socks off.
I thought I would save this next part for last, being the single most awesome feature: Output Recording. I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but if you hang with me, I’ll explain why this is so exciting. When you click on the red button near the top right-hand corner of the plugin, the Output Recorder window will pop up, allowing you to record Diversion’s output into Diversion! There’s a dropdown menu with a small handful of features in the bottom right corner of the Recorder window where you can then trim, reverse or even delete the silence at the beginning and end of the recorded audio. Plus, you can save audio within Diversion’s sample library and then load your recording into any one of the four oscillators! It would be nice if there was an audio looping tool within the Recorder menu with controls for cross-fading, but like I said before, I can’t complain too much, if at all, considering how much power is at my disposal.
Seriously, I don’t even know where to begin. Diversion is a beast. In some ways, it just might be the single most powerful virtual instrument I’ve ever used. Yeah, it doesn’t have a wave-scanning oscillator, but does it need one?! The built-in waveforms alone are incredibly versatile, especially when you modulate the X and Y parameters of the XY controller. Audio import is a breeze. I think the Sample Editor and the Output Recorder could benefit from a few tweaks, but taking into consideration that most power synths don’t even feature audio import, let alone built-in audio editing, I can hardly kick up a fuss.
Overall, I feel supremely confident describing Diversion as one of the most powerful softsynths available, and highly deserving of praise. In fact, I think it’s notably underappreciated, being light years ahead of some of the most popular instruments on the market. Popularity aside, whether you’re looking to create lush pads and beautiful atmospheres or face-melting leads and epic arpeggiated sequences, Diversion is more than capable of fulfilling your needs, and who knows, you might even have a little fun!
UPDATE: Diversion is currently on sale (60% OFF) via VSTBuzz!
More info: Diversion ($169)
Dmitry Sches Diversion Review
Diversion is its own thing, really. But while it’s certainly no “Jack of all trades”, it’s enormously versatile, and more importantly, it knows what is, even though I can’t fit it into any one category. For lack of a better word, Diversion is just awesome.