Synclavier Regen 1st Impressions

I have been playing with a Synclavier Regen for a little over two weeks now. I posted two quick bits of music using sounds I created on it over a period of about a week. Anyway, I am ready to give my first impressions of this impressive instrument.

I am going to divide this post into three main parts. The first will be a bit of history, the second a very quick description of the synth engine, and the last will be my impressions. At the bottom, perhaps a fourth section, I will put some recordings, starting with the first two I made, but others may be added later.

Oh, and here is one now, which will also be at the bottom. It is an atmospheric song. You can listen while you read the rest of the post.

(Click here if you don’t see the video below)

A Bit of History

The Synclavier II was released in 1980 and became the advanced digital synth. OK, there was the “F” one as well, but when I was introduced to digital synths, the Synclav was be all/end all. I might have first heard of digital sampling (making a digital recording and playing sound like an instrument) in 1986 when the real Stevie Wonder sampled the fictional Huxtable family on his Synclavier (he even uses the name) – see here. Anyway, the instrument, though “as big as a house and more expensive than one”, showed up every where in the 80s, though soundtracks may have been a big place. Ever hear Michael Jackson’s Beat It? That iconic sound at the beginning? Yep, Synclavier. Pat Metheny played some pretty mean jazz on a Synclav while Frank Zappa created “Jazz from Hell” (an album) using his Synclavier as a digital workstation – the instrument could get the precision he always looked for. Then Sting recorded his jazz influenced pop album “Dream of Blue Turtles” using the Synclavier Tapeless Studio features (direct to hard disk recording). When I was in college, I saw a demo of the Tapeless Studio, and they had that album on hard drives with them. (They said that the system they had, with two refrigerator size Winchester Hard drive arrays, would cost around a half a million dollars.)

Obviously there was a lot more history than that – this was an instrument that pretty much every keyboardist dreamed of owning, but for most of us it was more likely we’d have a Saturn V moon rocket than a fully decked out Synclavier.

New England Digital, the maker of the Synclavier, went under in the 90s, but one of the founders, the main programmer, Cameron Jones, kept the rights and continued to support the instrument. Later he worked with Arturia on the Synclavier V and then he created an iPod version, the Synclavier Go. And now, after 30 years, there is the new hardware Synclavier, the Synclavier Regen. It starts with the sound engine of the original Synclavier II, but adds on. (i.e., you can get those same classic Synclavier sounds on the Regen, and more.)

Basic Synth Engine

Super quick, down and dirty, from the bottom up – you start with an oscillator (thing that makes the sound) that can be additive, a sample (can load multisamples, do sample editing, etc), a resythesized sound (turning a sample into an additive sound) or a “subtractive” sound (virtual analog). The additive sound can use frames to create very complex, evolving sounds. All of these can be FMed (frequency modulated) with an additive wave. There are a lot of things you can do to manipulate this to create to create the final sound, called a “partial” (not to be confused with the additive partial, which we’ll call harmonics.)

You can combine up to 12 partials together in different ways and the manipulate them as a single entity to create a patch, called a “timbre” – this is the basic voice of the Synclavier.

12 timbres can be combined into a session. The sounds can be played together, combined in various ways, or can be totally independent to create a true true multi-timbral instrument.

OK, that is it basically (very, very, very basically!) – you can look for a deeper dive other places on the Internet if you are curious.

1st Impressions

OK, here is my quick 1st impressions.

First, I want to say a few words about the physical interface. There are two questions I have heard about it.

First, why have a physical device when there are virtual versions available? Of course the Regen has some new features. For me, I am not huge into virtual instruments, so…

The second question is that from a non-user point of view, it looks constrained. All data entry is through a single swiper. I love knob-per-function synths, so what gives?

I do like the interface a lot. The more I use it, the more intuitive it becomes. I can’t see programming this using software – ugh!! Knob per function? Possibly, but I don’t think it is needed. Of course, it is possible to map the controls of an interface to function, and you can come close, but I don’t see a need. I am more than happy with the swiper – it makes sense.

As I said, after a short time I am now able to create sounds intuitively. The feedback from the screen is good, though I’m sure a bigger screen would be better. Have I ever cursed and said, “Man, that screen is small!” No. It has never been an issue.

The sound is super. The DAC are great. I would think at least as good, if not better, than most interfaces if you had planned on using the virtual version and played through speakers. Everything is clean and crisp. I haven’t played with a modern (i.e., last 20 years) digital synth, so I don’t know if they are all as good these days, but it is sure a heck of lot better than the old digital synths I’ve used and is so much cleaner than new analog gear (analog = noise – I know that).

And the sounds that it creates are great. i spent the first few days going through the extensive presets, playing with the hundreds of build in timbres. Some are familiar from the old Synclavier II and some are very modern. There is a huge variety. I have not broken any down to see what makes them tick, but they are a great resource, and I am sure people can make great music just with presets.

But I do love programming. I have created over 25 new sounds in the last week and a half. So far I have been doing all additive/FM sounds. I will eventually go to samples and resynthesis. I used to have an additive synth, a Kawai K5, so I may have a head start, but I have found it very easy to program. I will admit, though, that I still haven’t used quite a few of the basic functions.

Overall, not only am I impressed, but I have to say that I haven’t had this much fun with a new synth in ages. In fact, I think it was back when I was using the K5 I mentioned. To me, tweaking harmonics, getting just the right amount of FM, adjusting frames, etc., etc., is soothing – I could sit here for hours making tiny changes to a sound. Of course,before have any perfected, I have a new idea and jump to the next… The entire process is addicting.

I am sure from what I have said that so far I love this instrument. And knowing that I have only scratched the surface makes it that much better.


Here are some videos of music I made. Like I said, within a week of creating my first sound, I recorded two videos using only these new sounds made from scratch (and my voice, but that will be obvious). I used only the additive/FM synth engine, no samples.

This is the first thing I did. I threw in the kitchen sink here, using many different sounds. It uis supposed to be cinematic. I had no preconceived ideas when I turned on Cubase, but had the complete recording down, and what passes as a mixdown exported, in a little over two hours (just set volume and stereo position – no EQ or automation, a very small amount of reverb on master channel, and let it rip). Thinking rip – I did not mean to rip off Ennio Morricone when I started, but by the time I finished, well, yeah, I know I did… All parts were improvised in, not planning or rehearsal (it might show…). Hope you like some of those sounds…

(Click here if you don’t see the video below)

Here is the song at the top again. It is a song, so I sing, but very minimal. I am also trying to be very atmospheric. A very different take than what is above

(Click here if you don’t see the video below)

The third Regen song, though instrumental, has more of a song structure (intro, verse, chorus, bridge, outro) and features quite a few different sounds – I thought of it as another demo of the additive/fm sounds I have been creating.

(Click here if you don’t see the video below)

I may add more later :)

I hope you enjoyed the sounds.

19 thoughts on “Synclavier Regen 1st Impressions

  1. Pingback: Video – The Streets of Summer | Trent's World (the Blog)

                1. trentpmcd Post author

                  Slightly different subject…. While I was playing with the main sound I used on the “song” (the one with lyrics) someone shared a video of Eno playing live at the ancient theater at the Acropolis in Athens. I didn’t “borrow” anything, but his vocals over the ethereal FM sounds very much influenced me to make that song. Anyway, mentioning it because of the Athens connection…

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. marina kanavaki

                      Ah ha ha… we named her so because of how pitbuls are misunderstood and misconceived as …bullies [like Hera!] ! ;-)
                      On Herodes Atticus theater, I must admit, every time I go there for whatever performance, the ambiance of the place with the Acropolis in the background is otherworldly.

                      Liked by 1 person

  2. Resa

    Terrific article, Trent!
    I just sent the link to my hubs, an arranger/producer who uses cubase.
    The sounds are great.
    The piece you wrote is very atmospheric. Could be a movie soundtrack.
    Have fun!!!

    Liked by 1 person


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