U-he Bazille review: a modular synth beast
- Ease Of Use
As a composer and producer, I find myself turning to U-He plugins regularly for inspiration or to get the sound or mix element I’m looking for. I’m always slightly on the edge of my seat when I receive news of something new from Urs and his team.
Bazille is the latest synth from the U-he stable. And as with everything else they create – it’s a special instrument.
Bazille is a slight step on from emulating the analog synths that is the current trend. The synthesis technique that essentially replaced analog back in the 80’s – Frequency modulation, is the main sound creation tool in this semi modular synth, shaped with phase distortion, and fractalisation.
Bazille is a modular beast. You control the signal flow between all the modules in the synth. Because of this, in reality, a review here won’t do it anywhere near justice. It’s simply too big and complex to fully uncover all the beautiful aspects of this synth. However, I’ll try to go over the main ones, and talk about the elements of this synth that really stood out to me.
The GUI is potentially a big beautiful mess of knobs and cables. Trying to figure it out on an 11-inch screen may be problematic. So the GUI is fully expandable from 70% of the original size to even bigger than your screen, so you can zoom in on whatever area you’re working on. For those who wish to wow potential clients/your mates, there’s a Gear Porn button, which reveals an impressive array of knobs and buttons to show every parameter Bazille contains.
If you are new to modular synthesis, may I point you to the impressive (1700 and counting) preset list as a very inspiring place to start. Also, download the manual, and have it open. You’ll be referring to it a lot. Alongside the usual thoroughness, the U-he team has added a tips and tricks section, which will get you started creating your own sounds on the synth.
This is a great asset to the instrument. With the evolution of expressive midi controllers that can send multiple midi messages simultaneously, (Soundplane, Haken’s Continuum, Linnstrumen) it’s good to have the option to control all of them with midi for this instrument. Bazille makes use of this for more musical expression, allowing each note to respond to pressure, pitch bend, modulation breath control and expression simultaneously. Bazille also allows for polyphonic aftertouch. All this just deepens the expressive abilities of the synth – and while often overlooked, I think is going to become more and more important in synth technology as our hardware continues evolving.
Bazille contains 4 oscillators, and the synthesis technique used on this synth is essentially FM, with phase distortion, amplitude modulation, and a type of wave shaping called Fractalise. the techniques allow for waveforms with really high energy harmonics – enabling a sound that really can cut through the mix, if wanted. The Fractalise especially can sound like the sync sound that’s so popular at the moment. One thing I particularly liked about the oscillators is the ability to choose overtones (and undertones) with the tuning, so you can directly flick through the harmonic order to shape the overtones.
There’s a big oscilloscope display in the middle of the GUI that shows you what effect you’re having on the waveform as you work.
One interesting element is that I could hear aliasing on the oscillators – but as Urs writes in the manual, they’re a lot less aliasing than the original oscs they’re modelled after, and there had to be a balance struck between CPU and sound. It doesn’t really affect the sound to my mind.
Route route route
Once the oscillators are set, you then have a variety of sources and destinations to choose from to mangle warp and mash your beautiful waveform. The synth architecture is a step up from U-he’s ACE – in that audio signal can be used to modulate, which just makes the synth overwhelmingly complex and limitless in creative options. Fabulous.
Basically, find a red circle – click and drag a cable to a gray circle. You have a connection. The only limits are that the inputs can only receive one signal. You can send as many connections out as you want.
Mod Sources and destinations include 2 LFO’s, 4 envelopes, sample and hold, 2 mapping generators, a sequencer, to name a few. But one of the beautiful elements of this synth is the ability to use audio signal to modulate. I really enjoyed playing around getting some nasty sounds out of modulating the filter’s audio once it was self-resonating, or modulating one oscillator with another.
There are 4 multimode self-resonating filters – the joy of them is that there are parallel outputs, so you can use them up to 6 times each. They have nice analog warmth to them. They’re really good sounding filters – and I particularly liked the balance between the thinner piercing digital harmonics of the oscillators, and the warm roundness of the filters. It gives a lot of sonic options.
Bottom right of the synth is a sequencer. This raised a smile, as it reminded me of one of U-he’s first plugins – Filterscape, with it’s morphable EQ snapshots, with the rotating snapshot dial that can itself be modulated. I loved playing with this sequencer, even though I found it a little tricky to create sequences in diatonic harmony.
On another page you’ll find the built-in effects units that you can order as you like. Distortion, with several analog emulations, phaser, delay and reverb. It sounds to me like some of the effects are taken directly from DIVA. And if so, why not – they’re fantastic! They add further options of warmth and glue to the digital vibes of the oscillators.
As with the recent offerings from U-he, the CPU requirements can be massive. They’re allayed slightly with a multicore button, which spreads voices across the cores, but it still can eat up processing power, and if you don’t have a fairly new comp, beware! I don’t know if it’s just that there are too many computer architectures out there to be able to cater for all, but I found in some instances that when I engaged the multicore button, the CPU use went up! Weird. So keep an eye on your usage while you’re playing with this synth.
Once again, U-he have created an absolutely standout synth. Bazille is a hugely original and complex synth, built upon some excellent sounding oscillators and contrasting and complementary filters. The sound is a bit different from other synths that I own – the digital tone of the oscillators rings through often, but the addition of warmth and girth from the filters and effects really balance it out nicely, and to my mind make it extremely usable in many situations. The fractalize wave shaping enables Bazille to stand as a candidate for much EDM being produced today, with its piercing and gritty sound. But it’s too deep and complex to be able to pigeon hole as a synth for a particular genre – just browsing the presets shows that. The modulation options are boggling. I spent a long time just playing with the sequencer and mapping generators, sequencing modulations of tones and velocities all at once, finding myself completely tangled up with virtual cables, and fairly often completely disgusting sounds, but loving every minute of it.
Bazille is not for the faint hearted. I‘m far from expert at synthesis, yet consider myself capable at programming. It was definitely a learning curve for me, and really to get the full depth of experience and fun from it, you really have to spend time with it. Thoughtfully, Urs and his team have put together the standard brilliant manual, that not only walks you through every element of the synth clearly. Brilliant! Fantastic job Urs and crew. Looking forward to the next musical tool you reveal.
Bazille costs $129 for Mac and PC
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