Modal Electronics Craftsynth 2 Review, Wavetable Synthesizer

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With the Craftsynth 2, Modal Electronics has succeeded to develop a small affordable digital Synthesizer which is not only compact but also deep in synthesis.

Shortly before my summer vacation, Modal Electronics’ latest release the Craftsynth 2 arrived in my office. It is a big further development from the first Craftsynth, which initially came as a DIY project to put together on the market.

With a fresh developer team in the background, Modal has now infused the little new power and wrapped it in a new fresh dress. How it turned out in the test, you will learn here.

Craftsynth 2

Interface, Many Parameters On A Small Area

With 150 x 68 x 135 mm, the Craftsynth 2 is tiny and fits in every pocket. However, the developers have managed to place a full set of parameters on the interface. Craftsynth 2 features 12 knobs, 8 key touches that can be used as a MIDI keyboard with custom scales or for the navigation in the menus. The knobs do not feel very high-quality and have too much play. They lack grip in my opinion. The keyboard, on the other hand, feels good and can be used well on the go. If you use the synth for the most part in the studio, I recommend a MIDI keyboard, because playing it a lot is tedious and tiring.

The operation of the Craftsynth 2 can be tricky because it doesn’t have a 1 knob per function design but is splitted into three levels: white, blue, and gray. On each level, there are 12 parameters that can be used either immediately (white level) or with the help of tactile combinations. Press shift for the blue section, preset for the gray area or the other buttons for selection of the LFO or the envelope you want to edit. So it’s a 1 knob for 3 functions design.

This concept has its good and bad side. Sounds can be very well programmed with the interface, but if you want to manipulate sounds live on stage, it can be more complicated. Especially with live performances, you have different thoughts in mind than the keyboard shortcuts. However, you can use the free editor or you can opt for hand acrobatics, your choice. If you accept the tricky operation, you can control the synth completely on the interface which is very good considering how small the synth is. The full operation is therefore possible on the interface, but with obstacles.

Craftsynth 2 Backside

Backside, Much More Is Not Possible

The backside of the new Craftsynth gets fat plus points. Where the predecessor still had a fiddly micro USB port, there is now a large arsenal of ports. This is also the possible reason why the synth has such a funny design, “big bottom”.  Here you can find full MIDI DIN in-/outputs, yes the big ones, analog clock sync in & out for KORG Volcas & Pocket Operators, USB with class-compliant MIDI drivers, headphone and line output.

Not so good is that there is only a micro-USB port where there is already USB-C, which is much more solid and future-proof. Nice is that you can power the synth with USB or classic 3x AA batteries. In the battery mode, the synth lasts for several hours without problems.

Everything Starts With The Oscillators

The Craftsynth 2 is still a monophonic synthesizer but with a digital wavetable engine that offers a lot. The core consists of two oscillators each having 8 different wavetables with 5 morphable waveforms One extra sine/noise bank is available on the oscillator 2. That is already a big amount of different waves for such a mini synth. They range from classic virtual analog waves (sawtooth,…), digital to more special ones from the Modal 002 synth.

Craftsynth 2 wavetables

Especially, those who do not try to sound analog are the most beautiful in my opinion, because they have a nice digital character and are rich in harmonic content. Already the waveform morphing is a lot of fun and already inspired here. However, the sound design journey starts here and the waveform morph was just the beginning. So you can process and cross modulate waveforms (8 wavetables) with 1 of 16 oscillator modifiers, yes 16. There are well-known modifiers onboard like FM, PM, RM or AM but also more unique ones like window sync, wave-folders, bit crusher & more.

One thing is for sure: with the modifiers, you can have a lot of fun. You can spend hours shaping the individual waveforms and finding new timbres again and again. One more thing: chords.

Fake Chord & Filter

Craftsynth 2 is also capable to create “fake” chords with the help of the unison & spread function. Here you can detune the oscillators to 8 oscillators which allows you to create big sounds. The chords can be routed to scales or scores. Yes, they are not real chords, but they sound surprisingly very good for a mono synth.

The journey of the oscillators then goes on into a filter that seems a bit boring compared to the sound generators. It is a 2-pole filter with resonance. Interesting, however, is that you can morph it from lowpass, through band-pass, to highpass without hearing steps. This morphing can be modulated and thus produce interesting filter effects. Sonically, however, he can fully convince and can compete well with analog filters from budget synthesizers. The filter packs nicely and can also nicely “crowl” with a lot of resonance.

Tiny Synth With A Lot Of Modulation Power

The heart of the modulation in the CS2 is the 8 channel modulation matrix with 8 different sources: aftertouch, expression, 2x LFOs, mod envelope, mod-wheel, note & velocity. Further, these modulators can be mapped to different parameters. Interestingly, some modulation sources have more destinations than others. Velocity per example offers 36 destinations where the LFOs only have 12. The developers have thought about it here, which makes sense and makes it easier for the user, which I like. The modulation section of Craftsynth 2 is also consistent. The many morphing waveforms make the LFOs very flexible and allow beautiful vibrant or unusual sounds. Thanks to the audio-rate LFOs, even very bizarre harsh sounds can be built with crazy modulations.

editor

Simple Effects Complete The Sound

In the final stage, you can add a distortion and/or a delay effect processor, which you can mix separately. The distortion (waveshaping overdrive) has only one knob, the delay offers a delay amount, time and feedback control. Both effects are solid and can finalize nicely the sound, but doesn’t have a major impact on your final sound character. Good but not more. Not to forget, the MIDI clock can also be synced to the delay.

Sequenced Arpeggiator

Yes, an arpeggiator is also on board but it’s actually more a sequencer because you can program notes in the sequencer step by step. The Arp-Seq can be enabled/disabled by pressing the touch-pad and notes can be entered including resets using the built-in keyboard. A bit pity is that you can not program a sequence into the editor. However, it is very easy to use and can be very versatile. I like it more than a classic simple arpeggiator

Editor

A very nice gift from the developers is the free editor with which you get access to all parameters. This is compatible with PC, Mac (VST3/AU), Android, and iOS. Nice is here if you turn a knob on the hardware, it will also play on the editor. Not only do you have access to the engine but you can also manage presets, enable/disable various settings or even play the synth from the editor.

Since the hardware operation is a bit more fiddly, the editor helps a lot with the deeper sound programming.

editor

Further, Craftsynth 2.0 can store and recall up to 64 presets internally.

Craftsynth 2 Review (German) & Sound Demo

Conclusion

The further development of the former bright blue DIY Synthesizer was worthwhile. Craftsynth 2.0 has become a versatile digital Synthesizer with a unique character. Do not be put off by the format, it is not a toy but a full synth with lots of energy. Especially its deep wavetable oscillator engine makes the successor to a true powerful synth. Craftsynth 2 is perfect for musicians who have lost the taste in classic mono analog Synthesizers and are looking for something refreshing new that will not break their budget.

Yes, the synth is small. Yes, the operation is sometimes fiddly, but what is internally hidden, is very powerful for a +/- 150€ synth. It sounds beautiful digital, has a lot of character and loves timbres with a lot of harmonic content. The fat warm sounds that you look for in analog synths, you will not find here. For the asking price, the second generation of the Craftsynth is a modern great-sounding budget synth with a different twist. Come to the dark “digital” side!

Pro

  • powerful morphing dual oscillators
  • rich in harmonics
  • excellent sound quality
  • battery-powered
  • connections (MIDI DIN…)
  • smart app (PC/Mac/Android/iOS) with a perfect integration

Neutral

  • the feeling of the knobs
  • limited keyboard playability

Contra

  • no USB-C (2019)
  • tricky operation in standalone mode

More information here: Modal Electronics 

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