Swiss developer Togu Audio Line has never sought the limelight with its quietly confident line of plugin instruments and effects.
TAL-Chorus-LX is a bona fide freeware classic, for example, and TAL-U-NO-LX stands as the definitive Roland Juno-60 emulation; yet both are admirably simple in their conceptual propositions and decidedly unostentatious in their presentation.
The latest addition to the range, TAL-Mod (VST/AU/AAX), continues TAL’s traditionally functional approach to GUI design, but certainly stands as their most powerful virtual analogue synthesiser yet.
The ‘Mod’ in the name isn’t meant to imply that this is a modular system - it isn’t, it’s absolutely a regular ol’ semimodular - but just draws attention to the modulation setup, which uses virtual patch cables to connect sources to targets, rather than the usual modulation matrix found in most softsynths these days. Given that the end result is the same either way, this doesn’t immediately strike us as a big deal, but, of course, there’s much more to talk about here than just that.
Three in a bed
TAL-Mod is a three-oscillator, up-to-12-voice synth, with each oscillator offering a choice of saw, square (with pulse-width control), sine and triangle waveforms, and Oscs I and II hard- syncable to Osc III (which runs an octave lower than its siblings when all are at default pitch. It’s also deployable as a modulation source). Osc I features frequency modulation, with Osc II as the FM source; and ring modulation is possible between Oscs I and II. Up to six extra voices each can be stacked on Oscs I and II, as well, for detuned, stereo-spread unison; and all three have their own pan controls.
A colour-sweepable noise oscillator is also onboard. Oddly, this doesn’t have a pan control, despite its Pan position being available as a modulation target.
TAL-Mod’s two resonant filters can be arranged in series or parallel, the latter mode incorporating a mix knob for blending their outputs. All three main oscillators and the noise oscillator are independently switchable in and out of the serial input or both parallel inputs. So, in parallel mode, you could, for example, route Osc 1 to Filter 1, Noise to Filter 2, Osc 2 to both, and Osc 3 to neither.
The types available to both filters include low-pass, high-pass, band-pass and notch models, from 6dB to 24dB/octave, plus an all-pass for phasey effects. The frequencies of both can be offset from their Cutoff settings together using the Cutoff Link knob. The filter input(s) can be gently overdriven, and when you need a consistent attack from note-to-note, you can disable any analogue-style fluctuations with the Trig button. Each filter also includes amount knobs for keytracking and the hardwired modulation assignment to ADSR 1.
Onto that modulation system, then. Sources are assigned to targets by dragging from source output sockets (green) to target input sockets (grey), or vice versa. With an assignment made, a button appears above the target input socket, popping out a small panel when clicked, in which the bipolar modulation amount is adjusted and optionally modulated itself by a secondary source, selected from a menu.
The modulation amount is visualised in the button when the panel is dismissed. Deleting an assignment is done by dragging either end of the cable away from its socket but, annoyingly, you can’t reassign a source or target by dragging a cable from one socket of the same kind to another - assignments can only be created anew and deleted, not changed.
Modulation sources comprise three ADSR envelopes (the first also hardwired to the amp) with adjustable Attack, Decay and Release curves; two syncable, retriggerable LFOs with onset delay, and S+H and noise waves alongside the analogue staples; Oscillator III; all the standard MIDI signals; Random; and a breakpoint envelope/step sequencer. This last enables complex spline curves or 16-step mod sequences to be designed and played back, looped or one-shot. As well as all the main mod sources, the secondary ‘via’ sources also include four offset knobs (P1-4).
Like any synth worth its salt these days, TAL-Mod features a combination Arpeggiator and step Sequencer for turning held chords and notes into arpeggios and riffs. In Arp mode, you get five playback styles - Up, Down, Up & Down I and II, and Played (notes are triggered according to the order in which they were input) - and up to three octaves of range.
The Sequencer plays through up to 16 steps, and boasts four adjustable parameters. Activating the S button for a step applies portamento between it and the next, while the buttons in the P lane ‘pause’ (ie, silence) their steps, and the sliders in the lane below that determine their velocities. The + and - buttons at the bottom are used to shift the pitch offset for individual steps by up to 48 semitones up or down. These are really irritating to use, however, as they only move in single steps, rather than scrolling quickly when the mouse button is held - spinners or menus would be vastly preferable.
Both the Arp and Sequencer can be run at a freely set pace or synced to the host DAW’s tempo, and triggered locked to the host’s timing grid or not - ie, you can have the sequence play at the host tempo but with the steps offset from the beat to a degree determined by the timing of the triggering note.
Modulation targets take in everything you’d expect, from oscillator frequency, pulse width and unison detune through filter cutoff and resonance, to LFO speed and Noise colour.
In the multi-panel section at the bottom, the FX rack contains a High-Pass filter, one-band parametric EQ, Chorus, Reverb and Delay. They’re fine, but we were dismayed to discover that they can’t be reordered, so you’re stuck with that questionable Reverb > Delay routing.
The price of power
TAL-Mod’s three-oscillator/dual-filter architecture, unison, onboard sequencing and effects make it an exemplar of versatility, with all the weight, brightness, punch, width and fluidity required to handle anything you could conceivably throw at it - basses, leads, pads, arps, riffs, percussion, FX, you name it.
As for those patch cables... well, they are what they are. We’d probably prefer a mod matrix, if we’re honest, as it doesn’t have quite the same potential for confusion when things get busy. Overall, though, this is a very competitively priced virtual analogue powerhouse that’s easy to get to grips with - and sounds awesome.