Zed Synth Review: Not Your Usual iOS Synth


Zed Synth from Jazzman Ltd. is a unique blend of parametric wavetable oscillators, physical modeling, and modular architecture. This complexity is tempered by a well-written help tag system, helpful navigation tools, and oscilloscopes at many stages of the synth that enable you to see the effect that the components have on the sound. It’s like a combination of Massive (the ability to freely assign and stack modulations), Structure (physical modeling), and Reaktor (hybrid modular mixed synthesis elements.)

Jazzman has a good video overview and a thorough yet relatively concise online manual

I suggest checking out the video, then reading through the manual if you are interested in learning Zed. While you can have fun exploring the presets and doing some basic editing without reading a thing, there are some idiosyncratic aspects of the architecture and navigation that need a bit of explaining and will make your subsequent experience go more smoothly. If you need guidance, Zed has a useful pop-up help tag system that you can activate on any module. When activated, clicking on any element reveals a text box that explains its function.

The Synth Overview page displays the modules and the signal path.

Overview of architecture

Overview of architecture

This is a good reference screen to start with to understand what’s going on in any patch. Cleverly, you can tap on any module, and the screen will jump to the respective controls for that module.

Spring Box module

Spring Box module

This is an efficient way to navigate within the small screens of iOS devices. Another creative adaptation to the constraints of the iOS screen is that you use vertical motion on a knob for large value changes and horizontal motion for fine-tuning. This took some getting used to, but eventually I found it to be comfortable.

Zed’s major components consist of a 2 oscillator subtractive virtual analog synth, a physical modeling section consisting of a Resonator (a model of string or column of air), a Mallet (that excites the Resonator), a Spring Box (a simulation of up to 88 resonating strings as if on a piano soundboard), and an effects section. In addition to conventional modulators such as LFOs and Envelopes, Zed has a very cool feature called the Granulator. The Granulator re-triggers other modulators (e.g. Mallet, Envelopes, LFOs, etc.) in a rhythmic manner (e.g. every 1/8th note). It includes Irregular and Humanify knobs if you want your triggers to stray from the grid. Granulator is one of my favorite aspects of Zed. It allows for intricate rhythmic timbral modulations on top of which you can superimpose real-time harmonic input.

The Parametric Wavetable Oscillators are a lot of fun. Instead of scanning through preset waves (as on a traditional wavetable synth), you adjust a number of knobs to create your own wave shapes. The waveform display helps visualize your changes. The best part of this design is that any of the parameters are modulation destinations, so you can create morphing waveforms!

One of the coolest aspects of Zed is that it can process external audio and Audiobus (a 3rd party app that enables inter-app audio routing) signals. Particularly with the Resonator and String Box there are many interesting ways in which you can create pitched content that follows the rhythm and dynamics of your input (kind of like vocoder, but with more control.) However, these are also some of the most CPU intensive patches, and they can cause the iOS device to bog down. I had to restart several times after trying these patches since Zed got stuck in a CPU overload mode and stopped making sound.
It’s worth adding that Zed Synth takes advantage of the full CPU available on newer iPads & iPhones and that the CPU level is user-adjustable (i.e. max 25%, the app will adjust the polyphony accordingly).

Zed integrates very well with other apps (through Audiobus), MIDI controllers, and hardware beat machines. It will automatically detect BPM if it receives clock info (in order to synchronize LFOs, etc.) and has a simple system for assigning external controllers to almost any of its parameters.


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