Coded by LinPlug, the Rob Papen-designed LinPlug Albino 3 is a soft synth classic that's enjoyed enduring popularity since its release in 2006. The company have only released one comparable synth since - the relatively simple but great-sounding Alpha 3.
It came as some surprise, then, when MophoX, their latest, dropped out of nowhere at the end of October. Like most of LinPlug's synths, MorphoX is based around subtractive architecture.
"While MorphoX isn't a one-stop shop for all your synthetic needs, it's capable of some awesome tones."
Its headline feature is its Morph Wheel, which can be used to smoothly morph between two patches. We'll explore this in a moment, but first, let's take a look at the instrument's fundamental synthesis capabilities.
MorphoX is based on a pair of oscillators, each of which can be interpolated between two waveshapes (chosen from a selection of 48) using the Wave knob, creating a balance between the harmonics of the two waveforms.
Each oscillator has its own Volume knob, and turning this up not only increases the volume but also drives the built-in saturation. In addition to the standard virtual analogue fare, there's also ring and amplitude modulation accessed from a single knob, a Frequency Modulation knob for the second oscillator, and Albino 3-style Spread controls for each oscillator.
Unusually, spread works differently for each oscillator, giving you five voices for oscillator one and three voices for oscillator two. You can set oscillators to be free-running, and oscillator one also has a Phase control.
See you later, oscillator
The oscillator section is, by and large, excellent. The raw sound is great to start with, which always helps, and it's possible to get some really meaty tones using the spread and modulation features.
However, there's no direct way to detune the oscillators by semitones. This isn't a major problem because you can use the modulation matrix as a workaround, and there are Fine-tune knobs for creating detuned sounds.
More seriously, while the Wave knobs are automatable, it's not possible to modulate them via the mod matrix. This is a missed opportunity, as great results can be had by sweeping them rapidly. LinPlug reckon they left this out for simplicity's sake, but we hope they change their minds and make it available in a future update.
After the oscillators comes MorphoX's filter section, which boasts a couple of interesting features. Rather than offering switchable modes, it has Level knobs for its low, high, and band-pass filters, with shared Cutoff and Resonance controls.
While this might not sound particularly useful, in practice, being able to dial a little treble into the mix using the high-pass filter level is really effective. We'd like to see this included in more synths in the future.
Another nice touch is the reappearance of the filter FM function from Alpha 3. The frequency of oscillator 1 can be used to modulate the cutoff of the filter (even when the oscillator output to the amp is turned down), making it possible to apply extreme pitch modulation to the oscillator for mad, full-on cutoff frequency modulation action.
These features are undoubtedly cool, and the filter also includes the requisite keytracking and filter envelope depth settings, but filter freaks might be wondering about the lack of multiple modes and filter strength settings. This really needn't be a worry, however, as the filter sounds great as is.
As well as the filter envelope, two other identical ADSRs are onboard, one of which controls the amplitude and the other of which is intended for use as a general modulation source. All these envelopes can also be freely routed in the modulation matrix, of course, and it's even possible to use the glide envelope as a mod source!
The mod matrix is straightforward, and doesn't offer MIDI CCs as sources, but it's functional enough and a decent MIDI learn system makes up for that minor shortcoming.
There are also simple but effective chorus and delay effects (morphable, natch), and an arpeggiator, plus two auxiliary oscillators, one of which provides stepped output - useful for creating rhythmic sequences.
It's morphin' time!
MorphoX's Morph Wheel enables the user to 'morph' smoothly between two patches. This isn't a new idea - for example, Ohm Force's comparable Melohman system has been around for a few years now.
MorphoX's approach is far simpler and arguably more elegant. It can hold two patches loaded at once, referred to as A and B. Moving the wheel morphs between them, smoothly interpolating between all parameters.
It works well, and useful variations can be found by morphing between different patches or even variations on the same sound. It's easy to manage the A and B patches - you can copy, paste and swap patch settings with a few clicks.
The Morph Wheel itself is actually quite limited - you can assign it to a CC using the MIDI learn feature, but you can't unassign it from the mod wheel. So, if you want, say, vibrato on the mod wheel, that means copying the patch from A to B, adding vibrato to patch B and remembering to mirror any tweaks in both patches.
If you want to automate parameters, that's going to complicate things yet further. Speaking of host automation, the Morph Wheel doesn't respond to it at all. Most disappointingly, there's no facility for controlling the morphing with, say, a dedicated LFO or envelope. Still, for creating evolving pads and effects, it's quite handy.
Despite some useful sound-shaping tools and built-in niceties like the Morph Wheel, MorphoX is relatively light on bells and whistles compared to many synths on the market today - it feels like the latest in the Alpha series, but by another name.
We reckon it's missing a few obvious things - such as LFO phase control, and wave mix and morph modulation - that would have been genuinely useful. In truth, we found the morphing to be more of a cool bonus than an essential element.
We'd love to see MorphoX enhanced with at least one more oscillator, a more sophisticated mod matrix and more ways to control the morphing.
On the plus side, MorphoX is quite accessible, with straightforward programming and an interface that packs a huge amount of power into a single page. It's also very reasonably priced and, most importantly, all of its elements sound superb, making it easy to create top-notch sounds.
So, while MorphoX isn't a one-stop shop for all your synthetic needs, it's capable of some awesome tones, especially Moog-style leads, fat and dirty basses, and FM-flavoured pads.
We'd highly recommend MorphoX to the discerning synth lover looking for something new to get their teeth into.
Now check out our audio demos to hear what MorphoX can do:
FM rise effect
Rhythmic pad morph
Ring mod and wave automation
RM and FM bass
Subtle pad morph