In a crowded world of cutting-edge synths and analogue emulations, Liam O’Mullane finds something that sits somehere in the middle in his review of Disco DSP’s Discovery Pro
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We’re in a time when a lot of the digital hardware of the 90s and early 00s has gained legendary status. The Virus range from Access Music and Nord Lead from Clavia, for example, are digital hardware synths that originally aimed to re-create some of the desirable tones of the analogue era, but ended up carving a niche all of their own, with their sounds gracing countless records.
This offering, Discovery Pro, is an offshoot of the original Discovery virtual synth from discoDSP, which was based on the Nord Lead 2, and a quick glance between the Nord and DP shows the similarities. Accordingly, a flick through the presets will bring you many of the bass, arp, lead and pad sounds you’d need to make a 90s retro dance track. But before you start thinking one-trick pony, there’s more to DP than just the sound of a modern classic.
Nord Lead owners may want to skip this section, but for those of you who aren’t familiar with the iconic red hardware synth, here’s DP’s main architecture. To the left of the GUI are two LFOs, buttons to access the four synth layers available per programme, and an attack/decay staged mod envelope. The middle panel has two oscillators that have FM and ring mod capabilities. Amp and filter ADSR envelopes are placed to the right-hand side along with the filter section. These emulate filters for Moogs and the Nord Lead, all of which sound superb. Our favourite, however, is the Phaser 8tp, which has a very aggressive edge, sounding like a unique form of FM when pushed hard.
Nord Lead owners out there will be pleased to hear that your hardware will almost 100 per cent directly control the same controls in DP, giving you immediate familiarity with the software. For other controllers, MIDI isn’t click-and-learn, so unless your DAW makes this an easy task, you may find it slow and tedious to implement.
Power of Three
The feature that distinguishes this as being more than just a Nord clone, though, is a third oscillator hidden in the lower right-hand section under the Wave tab. This enables you to load in waveform samples and can run in parallel to the existing oscillator sounds or be used as an FM modulation source. This is where unique textures are in abundance. Like the main preset library, there’s a huge library of waveforms included that covers classic synths plus much more. A Pad Freeze mode can also be enabled for ethereal pads. It spectrally spreads the waveform and works really well for FM modulation as well as lush pads.
The layering options in DP are nothing unique by comparison to other synths, but a new stacking option does make it easier to audition the preset library for a single layer only. Unique sounds are therefore quite easy to create, even though you’re working from a library – the combinations are endless. This is possibly the only workflow-friendly feature we can shout about – which is a shame, as this is an otherwise excellent-sounding synth.
+ Can cut through or fill out a mix like a true Nord Lead
+ Wave oscillator section opens up a lot of sonic options
+ Excellent filter section
+ Efficient CPU consumption
– Some buttons are far too small
– Menu-driven system
– Delay effect only
DP wouldn’t be our go-to instrument purely due to workflow issues. But as an occasional colour to paint with, it may be worth the pain.