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The 80s brought us vast amounts of both good and bad pop culture. But one unquestionably positive development was the popularisation of FM synthesis. The glassy, surreal sound of the DX7 – and similar – filled the airwaves for years, and rightly so. However, FM had an ugly side: programming was so complicated, many people turned to presets or sound cartridges instead of making their own sounds.
With the contemporary resurgence of interest in FM sounds, a few companies have worked to make FM synthesis more accessible to the masses of musicians and bedroom producers. Enter, Algoritm from Reason Studios.
Dubbed a hybrid synthesizer, Algorithm uses operators just like regular FM synths, but augments these with wavetable oscillators, multimode filters and waveshapers for miles of tonal flexibility.
Algoritm has a nine-panel main display where you can add operators and modulate them with other operators. So far, so FM. Where things get more interesting is when you start incorporating the wavetables. You can choose from waveshapes such as Triangle-Saw, Alien Saw or Home Console, and use each either as a sound source or as a modulator.
Routing is sleek and straightforward, too. You can route each module into any other module with virtual patch cables. And you can turn the output of each module on or off. When turned off, you only hear the effects of that module modulating the sound source, but when turned on, you can hear the module’s output and mix it with the effected version. In practice, Algorithm’s modulation routing system is easy and lets you experiment with layering sounds in many different ways.
The virtual patch cable interface lives in the upper-right of the UI as a small diagram representing the nine-slot main panel. This smaller display has nodes at the top and bottom of each module. These can be connected by click-dragging from one module to another. It’s an incredibly modular way of working, and each node can feed multiple destinations. These can also be re-routed back into the original operators and oscillators, creating feedback loops. Helpfully, there’s a feedback knob you can dial back if your sound gets unruly.
The Randomizer in Algoritm features several options, including Freq, Mode, Level, Env, and Alg. Click any one of these options and drag the Randomizer bar to the right to get some bizarre and exciting results. Tapping randomly inside the Randomizer bar yields unexpected results. Clicking on more than one of these options (or all of them) is a quick way to develop unique patches. Any of the options selected link the Randomizer to that function on the available Operator slots. Choosing Algorithm (ALG) will even create modules when none are available.
Algoritm might be billed as an FM synthesizer, but it’s so much more than that. Reason Studios has taken it far further with the addition of the wavetable oscillators you can use as sources or modulators. Mix in the shapers and the filters and the extensive routing and modulation capabilities, and you have a powerful synth that excels at glassy and digital textures, yet provides the kind of thick, hearty sound you’d expect from analogue behemoths. If only you could buy this as a stand-alone plug-in, I’d bet many non-Reason users would snap it up and hoard it in their synth libraries.
- Reason 11 or Reason Rack
- MacOS 10.11+, Intel Mac with multi-core processor, 4GB RAM (8GB recommended)
- Windows 7+, Intel/AMD multi-core processor, 4GB RAM (8GB recommended)
- 9 operator slots
- Slots configurable with operator, wavetable oscillator, multi-mode filter or shaper
- ADSR envelopes per slot
- 3 LFOs, 2 curve generators
- 7 reorderable effects including EQ, compressor, reverb, delay
- 250 patches
- Modulation matrix shows routing
- Freely connect operator slots to build algorithms
- Rack Extension format