KeytoSound Nexsyn review

The KeyToSound name might not be a familiar one, but they've got form. But does it the Nexsyn stand out from the crowd?

  • £169
Like Reason, Nexsyn uses the 'rack-mount' interface

MusicRadar Verdict

Nexsyn has its merits, but it's not the best-sounding sample-based synth we've ever heard and we also encountered interface compatibility and performance issues.


  • +

    Flexible synthesis engine. The NetNotes system is very cool. Excellent documentation.


  • -

    Many of the included sounds fall flat. Very CPU-hungry for what it is. Doesn't play nice with all interfaces. You can't modulate effects parameters.

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Credibility. It's the stock in trade in the music software industry. Developers know that being perceived as 'cool' can do wonders for their bank balances.

But can a ROMpler be cool? KeyToSound seem to think so, and they're attempting to generate some hipster hype to get that message across.

From the tattoo-inspired logo to the Stiff Records-style cut 'n' paste graphics, Nexsyn's got image to burn. This may be a new and supposedly different kind of synth, but a peek behind the scenes reveals some familiar faces.

KeyToSound's chief developer is Max Gronlund of Koblo fame (he developed the Studio 9000 bundle back in 1998), and the 4GB of supplied sample content comes from Big Fish Audio.


Nexsyn is best described as a cross-platform hybrid instrument that combines its samples with classic subtractive synthesis.

Like Reason and others before it, the software's interface is designed to look like an outboard rack, and the various components (or modules) of the synthesis engine can be loaded into it.

These can be interconnected in a number of ways using the Matrix module. There are, however, a finite number of modules available at any one time and you don't have full control over the signal path.

That said, there's still a lot of power to play with.

There are three rack slots for the oscillators. Each of these offers 25 waveforms and you can also load in waves from the supplied sample library.

Some of the available waveforms come in the form of 'stacked' waves, one of these being the ubiquitous SuperSaw.

The oscillators' parameter set automatically adjusts to include those functions that are appropriate for the selected waveform.

So the stacked oscillators sport a spread function, for example, while pulse waves get a pulse width knob. Oscillator 1 can be modulated by Oscillator 2 for FM sounds.

All of the usual filter types are here, including low-, high- and band-pass filters in both 12dB and 24dB flavours.

Several of the filters sound pretty convincing, and interestingly, some of the filter modes offer dual cutoff knobs.

This is a nice touch that goes beyond what we've come to expect from traditional analogue emulations.

Hands on

At first glance, Nexsyn's six-stage envelope generators (delay, attack, hold, decay, sustain and release) appear to have been inspired by the days of old.

Click the Expert tab, however, and you'll find some added horsepower in the shape of selectable attack, decay and release slopes, along with velocity and key tracking.

Once triggered, the envelopes can be repeated between two and five times, or, if you prefer, infinitely.

There's a trio of LFO modules in residence too. The LFOs offer sync-to-host functionality and can employ any one of 14 wave shapes.

Three different LFO modes are offered: Reset, Global and Envelope. In the last of these modes, the LFO plays through only once.

Depending on the chosen mode, you can adjust the rate, phase and built-in envelope for each LFO module.

Predictably, Nexsyn also features a pair of effects processing modules. The bad news, though, is that none of the effects modules' parameters can be modulated in the matrix.

There's also a no-surprises arpeggiator on board - this looks much like any other, though it can play chords on each step and has a shuffle function too.

In use

With Big Fish Audio providing the samples, you'd expect the sounds that are derived from them to be of good quality.

However, we actually prefer the patches that are based on Nexsyn's raw synthesis power. On the whole, the factory content is decent, though it's certainly nothing to write home about.

Some patches are passable in a mix, but others, such as the reeds, utterly fail to convince.

There are a few good PPG-ish vocal pads and some reasonable basses and leads, but it must be said that the samples are more satisfying when seen merely as fodder for Nexysn's synthesis functions.

As a plug-in, Nexsyn is a solid performer when used in GarageBand and Pro Tools M-Powered. However, initially, we couldn't even get it to appear in Cubase 4 on our Intel iMac.

According to the developer, Nexsyn was developed for VST 2.3 - they duly sent us a 2.4 version, and it performed flawlessly.

An issue also reared its head when we attempted to use the synth in standalone mode: despite our efforts, it wouldn't it play nice with our FireWire interface, though it was fine when using the Mac's built-in audio.

We should also say that - based on the quality of the sounds it produces - Nexsyn consumes a bit more CPU than we'd expect.

Sometimes, we were pushing 18-20 per cent usage on our Core 2 Duo with a just single patch.


KeyToSound have brought a few laudable ideas to the table but the initial compatibility issues we had were offputting.

On the upside, there are some decent patches, but there are also some performance problems.

The GUI is good, and the fact that the developers have bothered to put together an excellent manual and tutorial package shows that they mean business.

But our advice would be to pass on Nexsyn until some of its wrinkles have been ironed out.

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