Future Audio Workshop’s Circle2 Review: Sound + Design


The original Circle synth, created by a small studio – Future Audio Workshop, has garnered somewhat of a cult following by some of the forefront of the current generation of electronic musicians (think Guetta, Maus, Tejada).

The original Circle synth, created by a small studio – Future Audio Workshop, has garnered somewhat of a cult following by some of the forefront of the current generation of electronic musicians (think Guetta, Maus, Tejada).

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The new release has been awaited with much anticipation, and it’s finally here. Circle2, everyone.

For those who don’t know it yet
Circle2 is a straightforward synth: The GUI is a very pleasing single window on black background with primary color minimal module information. Think iOS 8 in reverse. Beautiful, and contemporary. The left third of the single window GUI is the oscillator section – 4 oscillators, noise gen and feedback. Each oscillator gives you three wave type options: analog type (saw, sine, etc) wavetable (more on that in a bit) and a new type of synthesis called Vector Phase shaping. Not entirely sure what this type of synthesis is. On their website, they mention that it’s the result of collaboration with the audio research group at Maynooth University in Ireland. The synthesis technique seems to have been designed with modulation in mind – as you move the horizontal phase and vertical phase knobs the timbre and tone of the wave changes in a smooth and predictable manner, kind of like a phasey sounding filter cutoff and resonance.

The middle third is a mixer, a couple of effect modules, filter and vca, and on the right third, 5 modulation windows, where you can select from envelopes, LFOs and step sequencers. You can also use the oscillators as modulators, whether they’re engaged for audio or not. The LFO’s have 16 fixed shapes, but there are 2 per LFO, and you can blend between them (and modulate that blend!) I really liked that the sequencer has a smoothing function, that ultimately affects the sound quite dramatically, whether it’s being used directly on the sound, or to modulate another source. It changes the movement from the stepped clipped sound to a smoother glide.

At the bottom of the window is a bounce-up menu that contains three more effect modules, keyboard settings (arpeggiator, keyboard tracking), overall settings, midi and wifi control, and the preset window.

The preset window has the shape of most modern synths, in that it contains a characteristics menu to help filter the types of sound. You want a hard, moving, lead from the 90’s? Click the necessary filter buttons on the grid, and your choices narrow. It makes sense.

The effects are all solid – between the 5 modules, there’s a choice of 17 different High-quality effects. Standout to me were the reverb and bucket delay, that really gave a juicy and thick analog lushness to the sound, if you were looking for it.


This is the easiest and most intuitive synth I’ve worked with in terms of creating sounds: a sound designers dream. The instant audio and visual feedback on the tweaks you make is very inspiring. I particularly liked the preview effect when it comes to modulation – Wherever there’s a colored dot from a modulation source you can pick it up with a mouse, and move it to an empty dot, at a modulation destination. As you hover your colored dot over the destination, you get an audio preview of what the modulation will sound like. If you like it, let go, and it becomes permanent. If not, move on to another empty dot, until you hear something you like. To undo a modulation, grab the colored dot, and drag it off the destination dot you just placed it on. Simple!

As more of a trial and error sound designer than mathematical whiz, I love this approach. The wavetable oscillator section is a large window of 110 wavetables. While you can’t tell exactly what sound each oscillator will make, it gives you a general idea. All the modulators (The LFO’s envelopes and step sequencers) trace an outline of where they’re at in the cycle, envelope or sequence respectively. This gives you a visual guide to where the sound is in its modulation. You can see for example if the LFO is running fast or slow, or whether the envelope is in the attack, decay or release stage. This is especially helpful considering you can have up to 5 LFOs, envelopes or sequencers at a time.

Little thoughtful bits
In the preset manager menu, there’s a characteristic called ‘my sounds’. Clicking that removes all factory presets from the list, leaving just the sounds you’ve created. Brilliant.

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The upgrade is free for current users! Very generous.

The randomization settings – in the little popup window at the bottom of the GUI, is perhaps the best control over ‘random’ preset creation I’ve come across yet. It might be pure coincidence as I worked with it, but it seemed that the sounds that emerged were a lot more useable than with other synths that have similar processes. You can choose the percentage of randomization for most elements of the preset, whether you want to keep the modulations as they are, etc.

I loved that when you click the ‘midi learn’ button – yellow highlights cover every single option that can be selected, and when you select one, it pulses gently until a midi control is assigned. Simple, but clear and effective.

I love this synth for several reasons. Firstly, I loved the layout and the look. I’m not a fan of skeuomorphism, and I dig this dimensionally flat yet really tasteful colorful design.
Secondly, I love the sound. The VPS oscillator is a fairly fresh sound – which keeps it fairly edgy and contemporary sounding, and combined with the wavetable (which you can add your own waves to) and the more trad analog stuff, you have a huge amount of flexibility when it comes to sound – and at a surprisingly low CPU cost.
Thirdly and mostly, I loved the balance of flexibility of modulation combined with the simplicity of the layout and the instant visual and audio feedback you get, making for very fast workflow and very quick beneficial results. All this combines to make a very nice package that will doubtless sell very well, and be used by many artists the world over.

Preview sounds from the FAW soundcloud:

FAW are also releasing free tutorials on youtube teaching you how to make some classic electro sounds like this:

For further details you can check more about it here. To buy Circle2 and support ANR please click on this link.

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