A group of nine TU-Berlin (Technische Universität Berlin) students has developed and released Synister, a free (open source) virtual synthesizer VST/AU plugin for PC and Mac based digital audio workstations.
Wow. If these guys are making such awesome instruments as students, I honestly can’t wait to see the stuff they’ll make later on in their lives! Synister is a very cool virtual synthesizer and it is one of the nicest freeware surprises for me so far in 2016.
Since I like Synister so much, let’s begin this quick review by mentioning the negatives and moving those right out of the way. My biggest dislike is the user interface. I dig the design of the control elements (knobs, sliders, etc.) and the color scheme, however the tabbed control layout makes it somewhat cumbersome to actually program this excellent synth. I would much prefer so see a larger single-panel GUI with global scaling (instead of tabs). Second con – no monophonic mode (or at least I can’t find it). And finally, the LPF in the delay FX module is placed outside the feedback path, so you basically get a static feedback signal instead of getting a different tone for each delayed copy of the input. And those are literally all the drawbacks I could find. Everything else about Synister is 100% top notch.
When it comes to the good stuff, let’s start with the fact that this instrument is completely free to download and use (it is open source, distributed via GitHub) and that it works as a plugin (VST/AU) or a standalone app on both major platforms (PC and Mac) with 32-bit and 64-bit support in either case. We often see great sounding instruments and effects that will only work on Windows (or on Mac, although those are still somewhat of a rarity) and sometimes even on 32-bit systems only.
But the best thing about Synister are the little features and details that set it apart from the other free (and paid) synths on the market. First off, you get three oscillators (each with a choice of pulse, triangle/saw and noise waveforms), all three of which can be modulated in a bunch of different ways. For every oscillator, you can modulate the volume, pan, coarse tuning and waveform shape with up to two modulation sources (three LFOs, three envelopes and various external sources like velocity, modulation wheel, aftertouch, etc.). Needless to say, this means that you can program some seriously complex patches without ever leaving the oscillator panel.
Next up are the three envelopes (one ADSR for volume and two ADSRs for modulation) which sound very snappy and which also let you modulate the envelope speed with up to two modulation sources. It is also possible to fine-tune the attack, decay and release curves. Awesome stuff! The three available LFOs are equally cool, allowing the user to modulate the speed of each LFO and apply a fade in to the LFO signal.
My favorite part of a synthesizer is the filter and Synister comes with two of those, offering four modes per filter (LPF, HPF, BPF and Ladder) and, once again, up to two modulation sources for the cutoff and resonance parameters. As all other modules, the filters can be turned off in order to reduce the CPU hit. Speaking of which, Synister is a very well optimized synthesizer and at behaves very well both in terms of stability and CPU usage.
Finally, you get a rather handy FX section (chorus, clipper, bitcrusher and the aforementioned delay effect), along with a great little step sequencer. The sequencer is quite fun to use, as it can generate a random sequence in any note range determined by the user, or it can generate random sequences in real time (every step is randomized while playing). Of course, it can run in sync with the host application and supports triplets and dotted notes.
So there you go, a great little synth that’s completely free to use, packed with some neat features and a solid synthesis engine. I’m definitely keeping Synister in my plugin folder and I’m looking forward to more stuff from these generous and seriously talented students!
Synister is available for free download via GitHub (5.22 MB download size, EXE installer, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU plugin format for Windows & Mac).