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Audio Damage’s new Phosphor instrument (Windows VST, Mac VST & AU) is another truly unique offering from a company renowned for developing innovative, evocative, and inspiring sound tools. Interestingly, Phosphor is based on the alphaSyntauri digital additive synthesizer of the early-Eighties. The original system involved a hardware keyboard controller connected to an Apple II computer – thus making the alphaSyntauri the original softsynth. With Phosphor, Audio Damage has managed to capture the essence of the alphaSyntauri in a cross-platform virtual instrument, priced comfortably at $59 USD.
How it works
Phosphor features two sixteen-part oscillators, with respective filters and delay controls for each. There are two LFO’s which are independently assignable to either of the two oscillators or the filters. Audio Damage shows off their skill at making a clean UI yet again in Phosphor. All of the essential features are parlayed into a nicely-contrasting, green-on-black interface. After installation, I found myself molding and tweaking sounds in Phosphor without so much as cracking the manual. Whereas I sometimes find that many softsynths overdose on tweakability, Phosphor seems to get to the heart of the matter by offering a selection of controls that actually affect the sound in a logical manner.
Perhaps the best of Phosphor’s on-screen controls is the partial oscillator design. I found shaping the waveform of each oscillator to be an incredibly fun and easy way to tailor the precise sound I wanted. This additive feature lays the foundation for another defining aspect of Phosphor: overtones. The highly controllable oscillators, when modulated by the LFOs, are quite capable of creating a sound that is complex and even mildly unpredictable in a way that hardware synth enthusiasts should find pleasing.
How it sounds
While I have no first-hand experience with the incredibly rare original alphaSyntauri, I could only imagine Phosphor’s excellent sound engine to be an improvement on the original. Each of the two oscillator paths have the option of the “lo-fi” sound akin to the original, or a modern “hi-fi” sound. I found the overall tone of this synth to reside in a niche somewhere sonically between a Yamaha DX-7 and a Waldorf PPG Wave, but with more “bite” than either. Sounds could be cleaned up to DX perfection, or nearly as gritty as another great early softsynth: the SID-chip equipped Commodore 64.
Additive synthesis lends itself to creating harmonically-rich, overtone laden sounds and Phosphor is a great example of the additive platform.
The included factory patches give the Phosphor user an idea of the types of sound the synth offers. Pad-like patches showcase Phosphor’s robust overtones. The synth does a great job with creating leads and basses, as well as sound effects. A quick scroll through the factory settings demonstrates the tonal complexity that Phosphor’s simple controls can conjure. Using the ADSR filters, traditional keyboard sounds, such as electric pianos, are also comfortably within the abilities of Phosphor. Two user-selectable noise generation types add to the sound layering possibilities of this powerful additive design.
In this early stage of Phosphor’s development, I could see room for a few subtle improvements. Notably, the oscillators could benefit from a pull down menu with a selection of basic preset waveform shapes. Also, many of the included patches were substantially peaking by default, which is easily overcome by simply turning them down. These minor details detract very little from the sheer quality of both the sound and interface of Phosphor, and will perhaps be addressed in a future update.
Audio Damage’s Phosphor steps out above the pack to offer a palette of sound shaping tools that both pay homage to the alphaSyntauri and improve upon it. The clean interface design and top-notch sound engine elevate this softsynth to reside among the most useful and inspiring virtual instruments on the market today. The additive synth’s partial oscillators are well implemented and useful. All these factors, when coupled with the synth’s global LFOs, delay, and filters readily creature lush, rich (and even downright dirty) patches. With this latest offering, Audio Damage again emerges as a company of truly inspired developers bringing innovative and unique tools to DAWs around the world.
…among the most useful and inspiring virtual instruments on the market today…