Tone2 Icarus Review: 3D Wavetable Synthesis Made Easy

Tone2’s latest offering, Icarus is a “3D wavetable synthesizer” offering 53 effects, 3×10 stereo oscillators with hypersaw, dual stereo filters with 62 filter types and distortion, an arpeggiator, a vocoder, a wavetable editor and more!

Tone2 have developed several innovative instruments, including wavetable synths, in the past, but Icarus offers not just synthesis but a full wavetable editor, so you can create and export your own wavetables without leaving the one instrument. Handy… but what’s it like in use?

First impressions
Icarus uses an installer and a keyfile and so is easy and familiar to install – double click, follow the instructions and point it to the keyfile when prompted. Done. Don’t forget to put the keyfile safe.

The GUI opens mostly shades of gray with the important, module labels in white and the graphical elements in blue. The animated graphics provide useful feedback: the oscillator graphic is switchable between 3 different views to help show what’s going on and the filter graphic offers x/y pad type control over cutoff and resonance.

If you know Tone2 instruments Icarus will be familiar in a toned down way. The 3D graphics are minimized, with no weird backlighting or shadow effects, so nothing jumps out at you or becomes incoherent. I like it.

Fig 1The GUI is divided into 9 sections/modules: Master, Oscillators and Filters across the top, Envelopes, LFOs and FX across the middle, Arpeggiator, Mod Matrix and output EQ/Limiter across the bottom.

Soundwise, Icarus sounds like a wavetable synth made by Tone2 – the large number of presets are very clear, incisive and very polished. Fortunately, the effects section can be switched out revealing a warmer than expected tone, this is a wavetable synth with a heart after all….

In use
The main thing about Icarus is that it is easy to use:

If you are a ‘preset whore’ there are over 1000 presets, all well designed and categorized for ease of access. The Master section deals with the presets and there is a Size button which reduces the GUI to the preset browser and a few knobs.

A window opens suggesting that this function may not work, but it did for me in: Bitwig, Mulab and Studio One.

If you are a synth user then the architecture will be familiar:

  • 3 oscillators – more on these later2 filters with emulations of every filter type one could imagine – digital and analog
  • 4 envelopes – three of which are hard-wired to various functions but can also be assigned via the matrix, as can…
  • 3 LFOs plus a step modulator
  • 3 FX units with a global feedback editor plus configurable routing
  • A well-featured arpeggiator
  • A basic 18 slot mod matrix with a little setup tab, which reveals stuff like polyphony, glide modes and LFO sync settings and GUI colour settings
  • EQ and limiter

All this indicates a well-specified soft synth and if we would stop there, given the sound quality and ease of use, we might be happy. But that’s just the basic form, the building’s foundations if you like.

For the more seasoned synth abuser, Tone2 build innovative instruments and Icarus brings plenty of that.

First, Icarus offers a decent resynthesis section so you can import audio via one of a selection of resynthesis algorithms from basic to additive to granular. Each of these processes delivers a distinct product, resulting in a wavetable, which is food for the oscillators.

Experimentation is key here, the resulting audio can be useful or not. You have to bear in mind that this is resynthesis, not playback – I found that once you’ve played with the different algorithms for a while it becomes more predictable.

Fig 3
There is also a nice vocoder import section, again providing food for those oscillators. Tone2 say that this is “real speech synthesis” and that “The built-in vocoder module allows the creation of custom phrases with a mouse-click.” It is certainly a very capable tool and results are certainly usable.

Fig 43D wavetable synthesis

OK. This is where it all happens. You get 3 identical oscillators for layering complex sounds. For each oscillator all the usual pitch and volume controls are present.
Each oscillator offers a large selection of unison modes with detuning (fig 5) plus a control to scroll through the individual waves in the table with its attendant LFO amount control and a morph control with LFO mod.
The Wave control accesses a wavetable selected from a dropdown menu just above it, any audio imported through the resynthesis/vocoder algorithms or any third party wavetable dropped onto the waveform display. Any modulation source can be applied through the mod matrix, or automated from your DAW.

Next, you get to apply a morphing algorithm, chosen from a dropdown menu, to the wavetable, again with modulation. This can be effects like pulse width modulation, FM and Phase distortion types all the way to some nasty digital waveshaping stuff.

Once you have mistreated your audio you can save it out and then bend it again with a different algorithm. Really rather good.

Icarus also has a comprehensive wavetable editor. You can:

  • Drop individual single-cycle waves into consecutive slots, up to 256 of them.
  • Import audio using the resynth and vocoder engines.
  • Open ready made wavetables in Icarus, Serum and .wav format.

Fig 6There is a range of init wavetables, including a random wavetable create function. Once your audio is in the editor you can perform any number of ‘Sweep’ functions upon it, save the results and go again. The sweep algorithms perform quite radical transform upon the wavetable and can mess things up quite royally. There is an undo function but it only goes back one step.

Icarus is straightforward to use and easy to explore. Everything is pretty much where it should be and behaves as one would expect. Sound quality is excellent and different enough to complement other similar instruments or work alone as the main instrument. CPU load is also pretty good for such a complex instrument.

There are some eccentricities, like the nearly hidden setup menu with the LFO sync functions within it (while we’re on the subject of LFOs: the random LFO is not a continually changing sample&hold type, but a randomised waveform which is unusual), and not being able to click through the morph modes as you can with the wavetable selection, accessing the dropdown menu can slow things down a little.

There is one function I really missed, which is being able to drop two or more waves into the editor and have it interpolate positions between them as in Devine Machine’s beautiful Krishna, U-He’s Zebra and Xferrecords’ Serum – maybe a feature request?

Having said all that, Icarus is a fantastic synthesizer. Anyone could, with a certain skillset, create whole tracks or even albums with this synth. Icarus has a feature set which, a few years ago many synthesists would have given an arm for, but is now available in a package costing just shy of $150.

It is this price, which will define Icarus’ position in the market as it puts it right alongside Xferrecords’ Serum and it would be remiss of me not to mention this.
The good news is that Icarus has its own sound, feature set and workflow, which add up to its own distinct identity. Which one to buy? I would suggest downloading the demo versions. Either way you go, it’s going to be a great addition to your setup.

For more info, trial version and sound demos, please visit the official Tone2 Icarus webpage.

€149 – $169 – £129. Available directly from Tone2 and also through the distributor, Best Service.

Mac OSX 10.5 or higher, Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, 10

Supported plugin formats
32 bit VSTi, 64 bit VSTi, 32 bit AU, 64 bit AU, Standalone for PC

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