Review: Native Instruments Super 8

Super 8 is Native Instruments’ first poly synth since the now-legendary Pro-53. With its easy workflow and great sound, could it be a classic in the making?

Native Instruments Super 8

Price £59
Contact Native Instruments

One of Native Instruments’ first-ever synths was the Pro-Five, a software take on the classic Prophet-5. Pro-Five eventually became Pro-53 in 2002 which pretty much became a classic soft synth in its own right (yes, we’re all old enough and far enough into the history of synths for software synths to start having a ‘classic’ status), but the synth was eventually discontinued a mere decade ago. Super 8 is Native Instruments’ first poly-synth release since Pro-53 – which seems hard to believe – and while it offers lots of the sound and feel of synths gone by (notably Sequential and Roland), it’s very much its own beast, with a very distinctive design and a no-nonsense approach to programming.

Super interface

We love a good interface here at MusicTech, especially those that do it all in one go, without the need for expansive tabs and deep menus, and that’s what we have here with Super 8. You get two identical oscillators at Super 8’s core, each of which generates up to four waveforms at the same time. The levels of the first three – sine, sawtooth and square – can be adjusted by moving the first three faders up and down within each oscillator panel.

There’s a fourth slider for bringing in a square-wave sub-oscillator or white noise (switch between the two with a button to the right). Each of the waveform shapes can be skewed with dials beneath the faders which also bring in shape modulation from LFO Mod1, 2 or the filter envelope (selectable from a drop-down menu).

Super 8 features Frequency Modulation brought in by adjusting the FM control (the main dial in the middle). This means the output of Oscillator 2 acts as a source to modulate the frequency of Oscillator 1 – useful for more metallic edginess.

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The oscillator section also features pitch and fine-tuning, a sync option and the ability to put Oscillator 2 into a Frequency Tuning mode, and all of these combine to allow some pretty dramatic synthesis out of the block. In fact, it’s surprising just how much flexibility and hands-on sonic tweakability this section can produce straight away, especially when you start messing with and combining both oscillators – and we haven’t really got too far into the detailed architecture of the synth yet.

The Super 8 filter has three modes – Low-pass, Band-pass, or High-pass – and its main filter and resonance options are again sliders rather than knobs, so that seems to be Super 8’s design ‘thing’. Again, there are a decent number of modulation options. The FM Osc 3 controls the output of Oscillator 2, this time modulating the filter frequency while the Filter Modulator allows said filter to be modulated by either Mod Source 1 or 2; and Filter Envelope determines how the filter is affected by the Envelope characteristics.

There are also a couple of extras here for more sonic flexibility. The Key Tracking Chromatic button gives you more control over the filter frequency so that it follows the notes played, while Key Tracking itself enables those notes to actually change the character of the filter, depending on the mode it is set up in.

So in Low-pass mode, Key Tracking gives a slightly more harmonic nature to higher notes. Lastly on the extras, the Character dial adds some extra drive to the signal for a bit more character. The Filter and Amp envelope sections are pretty standard – although with sliders, of course – adding their harmonic and loudness characteristics over time.  

More mod squads

The final three sections are really all about Super 8 flexing those modulation arm muscles, but actually by now I’m thinking that, as well as the sliders, Super 8’s raison d’etre is all about adding sonic extras but without actually showing off too much about it.

In short, the synth looks pretty uncomplicated, but can do a lot just by tweaking a couple of those sliders. With the Pitch Modulation section, for example, you get just four controls, but you can select between LFO and envelope as your source, adjust Speed/Delay of Attack/Decay parameters (depending on that source) adjust intensity and link the two together if you wish. Loads of options from apparently few available!

As we have seen, the two identical modulation blocks can be applied to both oscillator (waveform shape) and filter parameters. Within the Mod Routing section below, they can also be set as a source to modulate many other parameters and clicking a Destination reveals all those available. Other modulations can be easily set up here, too. Simply click the ‘Click to select’ option in the Mod Routing block, and assign a parameter. Then click the source options (including Velocity, MOD 1, Envelopes etc). You are seconds away from assigning, for example, your mod wheel to control filter frequency or other multiple modulations, and there really are a lot of sonic options to be had here.

Last but not least, at the very bottom of the UI, you get a decent effects block or two. The first is a choice between chorus, flanger and delay while the second adds reverb and can give you some fantastic atmosphere, particularly dialling in the Galactic level.

Super sounds?

Just as Super 8 is really a retro synth with a modern twist, so its sounds tread across both analogue classics and contemporary presets for more modern productions. So you get plenty of deep basses, squelchy leads and subs and a lot of modulation movement for dubstep and bassier types of music. In fact, it does tend to pander to these genres a little too much and I’d have liked to see the Unison mode explored further for some almightily large sounds – when Super 8 does these, it really does them well.

You do get a huge amount of great tearing leads and basses and a lot of dynamics according to velocity or other modulations, so there is a wide variety of sounds on offer. There is perhaps slightly less in terms of atmosphere and ambience and more for in-your-face dance heads. Still, I guess the beauty here is that you can quite easily create any other sounds yourself, either by gently modifying existing presets or quite simply creating them from scratch – it really is that easy.

Conclusion

What I like about Super 8 – and what I believe you will like, too – is the surprising amount of dramatic sonic action you can get in a very short space of time. It’s a simple-looking synth with some modern sensibilities – elegant, even – but every control has fought for its place on the UI and contributes greatness. It’s also a pretty good learning tool as well.

Some synths can be confusing – with lots of stuff hidden away under tabs or within deeper menus – but I can’t help thinking that if you’re new to the subject, then spending an hour with Super 8 and the manual could pay synth dividends. It’s also capable of creating some huge, thick and characterful sounds (especially with Unison dialled in) and many more that have wobble appeal for producers within bang up to date genres.

The bottom line? This delivers both classic and new sounds in an easy-to-understand way and with a lot of options to create and edit, so you really can’t ask for more – especially at this price.

Key features

  • Plug-in synth (runs in free Reaktor Player or latest version of Reaktor)
  • Eight-voice polyphony
  • 51MB download
  • 350 presets over Bass, Leads, Keys, Instruments, Pads, Soundscapes, Drums, FX preset categories
  • Patches inspired by legendary synths from Roland, Sequential Circuits, and others
  • Unison mode can stack up to eight voices at a time

Alternatives

Brainworx bx_oberhausen

Brainworx
bx_oberhausen $179

Bx-oberhausen is the most recent synth I’ve reviewed that shares some of Super 8’s features – the most notable being the dual oscillators and FM synthesis. It costs that bit more, but has more polyphony and sounds.

Arturia Analog Lab

Arturia
Analog Lab £87

Another synth I reviewed relatively recently – and of a similar price – is this kind of ‘best of’ from Arturia. If you want vintage sounds – and lots of them (6,500 all told) – this is probably the best way into Arturia’s rich recreation of classic synths.

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