Waldorf clearly has a sense of humour, naming the Blofeld (and also its upcoming Stromberg) after James Bond villains. However, this is a very serious instrument that belies its compact footprint.
The metal front panel is the epitome of simplicity, with seven silver-metal/ aluminium rotary dials, a very nice backlit monochrome graphic display and a parameter matrix that can be used to select the various modes and settings quickly.
Select the function you want with the buttons on the left of the matrix and turn the corresponding dial to affect the function in the corresponding vertical column. Easy!
In terms of connectivity, Blofeld is limited - this could be one of the compromises Waldorf had to make to keep the price down. There's no MIDI Out (except for via USB,) only one stereo output and no audio input.
Interestingly, the vocoder that was included in the original spec (and that's listed on the box) doesn't seem to have made it to the ﬁnal version, but we guess this may be added as an update later.
Blofeld is a 3-oscillator, 25-voice desktop synthesizer that incorporates Virtual Analogue and Wavetable synthesis. There are 1,024 program slots (all user-writeable) and it has a 16-part multitimbral mode.
Two independent effect units are available in the normal 'Play Sound' mode and there's one available per part in Multi mode. There's one global effect, too.
Feature-wise, Blofeld is like the best of the Q and Microwave series rolled into one but with a number of great new additions. Be warned though: this is a very deep synth indeed.
The wavetable synthesis combines lots of different waveforms of varying timbre and harmonic content that are put together to form a continuous cycle of sound that stops and starts with a key press or release. Each wavetable is designed to have a different sonic character, while the Brilliance control can enhance harmonics within the wavetables (and the sawtooth and pulse oscillator models).
The Blofeld has 128 waves per wavetable - and 66 wavetables in total. The length of the tables can also be limited. Using various modulation options, wavetable synthesis allows for very ethereal, rich and textured sounds.
On top of this, wavetables are great for continuously evolving sounds (particularly pads) and can also be useful for bell-like textures and much more. They definitely sound amazing and inspiring on the Blofeld.
You'll be pleased to learn that the Blofeld features wavetables from the Microwave XTK and XT and also from the Q and Micro Q models. It also incorporates the 'Upper wavetable' from the venerable PPG Wave - this can be looked upon as a 'best of' wavetable, incorporating all the extreme wave types from smooth to nasty.
Moving on to the Virtual Analogue synthesis/Osc section, the supplied waves include sawtooth, triangle, sine and variable pulse wave. Each oscillator can have its own PWM source and amount - they sound suitably phat and analogue-like and we're very impressed by their solid, heavy and wide frequency range. Oscillator sync between Oscs 2 and 3 is also available.
Any of the three oscillators can frequency modulate another, enabling you to create everything from subtle wavering to sonic mayhem. Watch those speakers jump!
Each oscillator can have its own FM modulation source and amount as well. The number of sound shaping options is just incredible for a synth that's this cheap and compact.
Finally in the Osc section, there's a Unison mode (which can have up to six voices and de-tune and dual modes) poly/mono modes, glide with several modes and super-fast or super-slow glide rates, ring modulation and variable colour noise.
The attention to detail here is just dizzying and the results are stunning. The Blofeld is well suited not just to pads, leads and basses but also to warped and twisted sound effects. It's also capable of producing punchy drums sounds, of which there are plenty onboard, ready for tweaking.
The four envelopes in the Blofeld aren't exactly standard issue. Modes include ADSR, ADS1DS2R, One Shot and Loop (the Loop envelopes can actually be used like extra LFOs. Thankfully, the graphic display always helps makes sense of the different modes in this very complex synth.
It's worth noting that Standard, Single and Multi-trigger modes are included but there's also Poly or Mono allocation available per envelope as well.
If this all sounds a bit too complex right now, don't worry: you just have to get your hands dirty, turn those dials and experiment to ﬁnd out exactly how each parameter affects the sound. That's the key to the Blofeld!
Filters and effects
The sound shaping/ﬁlter section is also very deep. There are two multimode ﬁlters per voice, ﬁlter FM, a mod source, 13 different drive curves including tube and clipping (the tube drive sounds particularly authentic and not harsh or digital), ﬁlter panning per ﬁlter (for independent stereo spectrum placement) and several pan sources (for triggering the panning in different ways).
What's more, the ﬁlter can be routed in serial or parallel before hitting the left and right outputs.
There are 11 types of ﬁlter, including low-pass and high-pass with 12/24dB slopes, comb, notch, band-pass and the low-pass model from the PPG Wave. These all sound very analogue and smooth, with each having a distinctive sound. There's no ﬁlter stepping even with high resonance settings; only smooth sweeping from rumbling sub to screaming highs.
Just when you thought there couldn't be any more room in the box, you ﬁnd a two-part effect section, a ﬂexible modiﬁers and modulations section and
a versatile arpeggiator.
The effects section has chorus, delay, reverb and more overdrive options with lots of control. The effects are lush with a grainy, gritty - yet rich - texture and they sound very refreshing when compared to other digital synths, which gives the Blofeld an utterly unique sonic signature.
Without doubt, this is one of the most inspiring, feature-packed and unique-sounding synths we've had the pleasure of using. Waldorf have truly created a monster atmosphere synth of epic proportions - and all in a tiny box for a tiny price.
For an expanded review of the Waldorf Blofeld, check out issue 197 of Future Music.