What is it?
It says a lot about the increasingly long history of computer music-making that some soft synths have been with us for more years than we realise.
Only the other day we were discussing how NI’s Massive is 14 years old! The original Blade is not quite as old, but at close to nine years since its release, it has done the rounds and helped establish its developer, the mighty Rob Papen, as one of the biggest names in this business.
The truth is that the original does look a little old when we load up our review from 178, although we did note that “Rob Papen’s take on additive synthesis has some clever tricks up its sleeve and does the business”.
Another first for Papen with Blade was the recordable XY pad that sat slap bang in the middle of the UI. It connected to the synth’s ‘Harmolator’ allowing you to change (record and edit) the synth’s waveform harmonic content in real-time.
This concept has been expanded with Blade 2, not least with the addition of an Additive mode which lets you mix between four additive waveforms using the XY pad that really does let you get deep quickly and very easily.
The XY pad can also control a whole host of other parameters in Blade 2, an obvious feature you might think, but very well implemented with a simple drop-down menu allowing you to select your controlled destinations with ease. Other new additions include an analogue-style oscillator, noise oscillator, an expanded 32 filter types, extra effects (Blade 2 has three multi-effects processors) and a souped-up arpeggiator with more linkage with the XY pad.
Of course, all of these extra features demand a completely redesigned UI, and while Blade 2 is very obviously related to the original – it’s blue, has the XY pad in the middle and various synth modules scattered around the outside – it’s much sleeker, more gun-metal 2021 and the blade graphics have shifted from winged slicers to a more subtle circular affair. It’s more Saw than Blade, but let’s hope not quite so bloody.
Performance and verdict
At its core, Blade 2, like its predecessor, is an additive synth – albeit one with extra bells (digital ones) and whistles – which uses sine waves of different frequencies to synthesise different timbres.
Also like Blade, v2’s additive heart is the Harmolator, an additive oscillator with 96 partials and general controls for things like Range, Symmetry, Timbre and Timbre Type to shape the sound so you don’t have to get your hands too dirty (or, really, know too much about what you are doing – experimentation is both encouraged and fun).
The slightly confusingly titled Additive Mode – we thought we were already in Additive Mode – is perhaps best explained as an alternate use of the Harmolator in that it allows you to mix and match between four ‘Wave-sets’ (16 partials), altering things like pitch, volume, wave and phase. Honestly, it’s one of those synths where words don’t do it justice; you’ll be better of throwing yourself in there for that ‘oh I get it’ moment.
Blade running With Additive Mode plus an extra analogue and noise oscillator, Blade 2 really does deliver a wide range of sounds and textures. On a very basic level, the extra oscillators add weight, punch and grit to the Blade sound which might have been a tad lacking in analogue warmth for some.
Indeed these extras shouldn’t be understated as they are really the keys to the extra sonic flexibility that v2 has over the original. Yes, you get additional additives(!) but the oscillators complete the set, as it were. With exploration and time, there’s very little, sound-wise, that Blade 2 can’t conjure up.
For less than a ton in at least two currencies, Blade 2 ofers a huge wealth of sonic options for your Earth credits. You could – and very probably should – spend an age exploring its nooks and crannies, unearthing routing and arpeggiation options that will take your sounds to unexpected, and mostly great places.
It’s a vast improvement over v1 – of course it is, after all this time – and will pay back any time you invest in it many times over.
MusicRadar verdict: Blade 2 is very much a synth for 2021 in terms of its varied sound and looks, and at this price is worth a punt. Just be prepared to work with it to achieve amazing results.
The web says
“Anyone who is a Papen devotee will not be surprised by many of the offerings within Blade 2. The modulation, sequencer and XY sections all feel reliably familiar. It’s the front end that makes Blade 2 unique, with a palette which sounds sharp and clean, but can be turned to true grit with the addition of de-tuning and distortion.“
- TYPE: Virtual synthesizer
- KEY FEATURES: 16 Voice virtual synthesizer; resizable GUI (100-200%); Different tunings possible using .tun files; responds to MIDI Program change and MIDI Bank Select; MIDI MPE mode available; 1500+ presets
- COMPATIBILITY: PC 32 & 64 bits VST and 64 bits AAX for Windows 7/ Windows 8/ Windows 10 (Note: PC AAX for PT 12 or higher) Mac: 64 bits AU, VST, and AAX, for OS-X 10.12 - 11 (Big Sur)
- CONTACT: Rob Papen