Monday, July 11, 2011

Review: Tempo Rubato's NLogPoly Synth

Last week, I was lucky enough to get a review copy of Tempo Rubato's NLogPoly Synth.  This is one of the few synth apps available from the Mac App store, and is currently priced at USD$24.99.  If you're like me, you are a bit shocked at the prices of everything in the app store due to how cheap mobile apps are on the iPhone, but 25 bucks isn't bad for a softsynth, especially considering it can be used as a standalone as well.  But is it really worth it?  We'll delve in below.

First off, let's talk about the interface.  Is it my favorite synth interface I've ever used?  No, but that doesn't mean it's the worst either.  This synth favors a more retro feel compared to many softsynths today, and if you're like me, you strongly prefer that.  While crazy interfaces can sometimes help you create wild sounds, an interface more like this is much more familiar, and if you're trying to create a sound in your head and have experiences with synths, you're likely much better off with this.  One small complaint I do have is that the window can't be made bigger to include more parameters.  I have a large display, and while the window size is fine on my regular laptop's screen, it feels small on the larger one.  To be fair though, most other soft synths don't really have a resizable screen.  
All the oscillators are listed on the first OSC screen, with performance controls always listed below.  NLog Poly has 4 oscillators with tons of waveforms beyond the standard saw/tri/pulse/sine.  There are other types of sounds, giving you 19 oscillators in total.  This adds alot of depth to the types of sounds you can create with this synth.  They've also included a basic FM and ring modulation parameters, which add even more depth.  One thing I haven't seen is the sync between oscillators 1 and 2, which is a bit disappointing, but perhaps this will be updated in a further patch.  The performance controls are the XY pad which can be used to edit any parameter, the virtual mod and pitch wheel, the master volume, pan, glide, filter cutoff, attack, release, and dry/wet fader.  Also included is a display that shows you what keys you're seeing, a poly/ unison mode, and velocity and keys on and off.
  Clicking the arp button leads you to a screen that allows you to edit all the parameters of the arp.  Another small grip I have here is that some of the parameters that have more than 2 options require you to click.  For example, the "swing"button goes between 0 to 100 and counts by 5s each time you click until it rolls over.  Why not just have a slider?  Again, not a big deal, but this type of thing would make it slightly more intuitive.  It does have a nice button called rhythm, which changes up the rhythm of the arpeggiator, as well as a humanize button, which can make it seem like a person is really trying to play the arpeggiated notes..  This is a nice feature I haven't seen on any other soft synths and can easily add a nice new rhythm to your track.  Also, not sure why, but the tempo for the arp wasn't auto syncing in Logic for me either.  Again, tiny flaw, but makes the workflow a bit easier.  Figured this one out.  There's a sync button you have to click that doesn't change the readout of the tempo but does sync it to the tempo of the track.

The filter page shows us we have 2 filters to use, and two envelopes to control them with.  I find that they're not my favorite filters ever (I'm addicted to real analog filters at this point), but the fact that there's two of them and you have multiple parameters to edit them with is a great start.

Next, there's a page called LFO, which is where the first two LFOs are.  They can be easily routed to affect the pitch of the oscillators, the pulse width, the pan, amplitude, or filter cutoff.  This is a nice setup for someone who's new to using LFOs, as you can easily dial in an LFO affecting everything slightly, or one thing heavily, and everything in between.

Next, we have the envelope screen, which contains three envelopes, the first being for amplitude, the second for filter cutoff, and the third for either the oscillators, noise, FM amount, or ring modulation.  Again, another page that's very easy for a beginner to figure out.

Next, we have the Mod page, which shows us we have LFOs 3 and 4, as well as a 4th envelope.  On the right we have the more complex, but more conventional mod matrix.  We have 4 slots to choose which envelope, LFO, velocity, key number, etc affect what parameters.  The bars on the right show how much a parameter is being affected, either positively or negatively.  I really like this because it's not hard to figure out.  If we had a bigger screen version, we might even be able to control all of these on the same page. Take note, Tempo Rubato!

Finally, the last of the sound control pages is the Effects page.  This has a delay labeled on the left side with the ability to change both the left and right side's delay times, the feedback, cross feedback, and a filter to cutoff unwanted sounds.  There's also a sync decouple feature, and a Dry/Wet knob here.  On the right side in the blue area, we see we also have a basic Reverb function, as well as two Eqs, a choice of a phaser, flanger, or chorus, and distortion.  Very nice features for a 25 dollar synth.

Our next few pages are for loading and save pages, comparing a sound before and after, a Tape section used to see your sound's amplitude, and the system page which allows you to edit the XY pad, tuning, unison, etc etc.

Another small gripe I have with this synth is that when you click new patch for an initial patch, it gives you an odd patch to start with.  It's a standard 2 sawtooth slight detune, but for some reason, the amplitude envelope has it going quiet very quickly.  I prefer my basic patches to have only sustain, so as I edit them I can clearly hear what is happening with the waves.  The preset catalog isn't the biggest or the best, but it's enough to get you started.  Unfortunately, they're not sorted in the standard way-- I strongly prefer a folder of Basses, then Leads, then Pads, etc.  This is separated into pads/keys, arps, and some other labels-- nothing like what I'm used to.

Moving past the small gripes, I do think this synth has an incredible value for the price.  I haven't heard of any other synths with this many features for such a low price, and the fact that you are able to use it as a plug-in adds that much more in value.  NLog Poly also allows multiple MIDI inputs, so you could theoretically perform with it-- for example, using 4 keyboards, if each is put on a different MIDI channel, each can make a different synth sound, and they can all be mixed right in the app.

I'd recommend this to anyone who wants to start off with a very cheap soft synth that is more style vintage than the out of the box Logic plug-ins.  What I find is really nice is that you can make up for some of what this synth is lacking in in the effects.  I don't think they're the brightest oscillators or the boomiest basses (keep in mind, I am used to analog at this point!!!), but you can simply EQ them to make up for it.  NLog Poly would be a good stepping stone for someone who is considering a hardware keyboard in the future but wants to get adjusted to an interface like it before they buy it.  It also fits a nice spot in the market as one of the cheapest soft synths, as most others cost anywhere from twice this price to 20 times it.  No, it doesn't sound quite as good as the big guns of Native Instruments and Arturia, but I think you have a hard time judging it against those given its incredible price, and it's always good to add another tool in your arsenal.  It is a STEAL.  NLog Poly is a beautiful addition to your digital synth collection.

Tempo Rubato's NLog Poly Synth

+Great Price
+Tons of Programmability
+Effects are a bonus
+Standalone AND Plugin!
+Great Vintage Interface

Things to fix:
-Increased window size option
-Sliders for arp parameters
-Better 'Basic' patch
-Larger Patch selection (although a nice vintage patch collection is already added on the Tempo Rubato Site!)

ALSO NOTEWORTHY:  This synth also has little brothers on the iPad and iPhone!  Again, great value for programmability, and some of the nicer synths on iOS!  You can send apps between the iPad and Mac app, and the Mac app reads patches from the iPhone App!

UPDATE FROM TEMPO RUBATO:  I've spoke with Rolf over at Tempo Rubato and he's given me some info on some of my complaints.  He says that OSC sync is planned, as well as popup menus for the ARP settings, new filters that self oscillate, as well as notch filters, comb filters, and asymmetric cutoff/resonant behaviors.  He also says there will be a new default patch, and a new patch category interface as well as sharing patches online.  VERY cool features, and solves alot of what I've mentioned!


  1. This is even better than NLog: