The Hydrasynth is a powerful new digital synth from the folks at Ashun Sound Machines, ASM. It's really good at making dreamy pads as well as aggressive, dirty sounds and classic poly sounds. It also can make sounds you simply have never heard before and may not be able to imagine without experimentation. It's that powerful. The Hydrasynth would pair perfectly with a powerful analog bass/lead oriented synth like the Moog Subsequent 37. You could make nearly any sound you could dream of with that combo. It's like ASM took the building blocks from the Roland D-50, Yamaha DX-7, EMU Proteus and a Prophet and added more oscillators, filters, LFOs, built-in effects and endless ways to modulate the sound and then modulate that even further. Not to mention you can process external audio from other instruments or playback devices as well. It's kinda nuts. The Hydrasynth sounds very clean and ASM added a 'warm' option that you can toggle on and off with any patches to indeed warm them up a bit. With all this power it's pretty easy to dial in interesting and new sounds that broach the digital and analog realms. Sure the Hydrasynth leans to the digital side of things but you'd be hard pressed to identify it in a mix with a carefully crafted patch. It's a synth that is begging to be programmed and experimented with.
Everything is readily accessible but we're still getting familiar with all the capabilities of this synth. It's not that it's hard to program, it's just that there are endless options and modulations and it's really deep, so you can go down the rabbit hole of just one little element of sound design. Luckily there are some amazing free patch banks being released that serve to show off the capabilities of the Hydrasynth but also act as a starting point for creating new sounds. The Hydrasynth also includes a 'Random" button which will create random patches. These can range from chaos and noise to really musical and interesting sonic detours. This is a great discovery tool and every electronic instrument should have some kind of random button. If you've ever said, "if only I could do X" with your current synth, odds are you can do X with the Hydrasynth. Hitting 'random' will both delight and baffle you as the machine does it's thing. Really watch your levels when playing with this feature as you can varying levels of output that may suprise you and we'd recommed not using this feature while using headphones to protect your ears.
The Hydraynth features a Polytouch keybed that offers polyphonic aftertouch over each note. This is really great for expressive playing and works as advertised. It also features a 4 octave ribbon controller which is fun to experiment with too. The pitch and mod wheels aren't great with the goofy handle on top. We'd prefer the classic Moog style with the indent. However, we imagine less funky Moog style pitchen bending on this unit anyway. So not that big a deal but really don't get that choice. The Hydrasynth keybed is just ok and if you already have a master controller you love, we'd recommend getting the synth option without the keys, unless the ribbon and polytough is important to you. We always prefer a full synth versus just the brain but if you're on the fence just get the brain.
The Hydrasynth is built like a tank. It's heavy with lots of metal. However we're baffled by the use of a wall wart for power and the cheap feeling buttons. Wall warts are just a hard stop. We lose them, we break them, they cause a tangled mess and Ashun bundles a unit with a really short cord. Please no. I see this getting yanked out on gigs. It's cool that the buttons light up so you know what's in use..etc, but they're a bit wobbly and mushy and instill no confidence during use. The encoder knobs are much hardier and have a good feel. It's like two completely different levels of quality. Perhaps ASM is still dialing in their design language, fit and finish and bill of materials strategy and there's an opportunity for big improvements here in future product release, similar to how Elektron updated it's Analog Rytm MKII with a much better feel/buttons than the original. They layout is great but wobbly, noisy buttons need improvement. Steel the feel of the MPC Live transport controls.
Overall, the Hydrasynth is a good value. We wouldn't call the experience of making new sounds immediate. It's too deep for that. You couldn't make enough knobs and buttons. However, the flow is well laid out and by using some existing patches as a jumping off point you can quickly lose yourself in sound design for hours; like hurt your neck looking down at the knobs and buttons as you tweak away. The Hydrasynth comes with 5 banks of storage, each holding 128 patches. Doesn't seem like enough. Between downloading patch banks, the factory presets and making our own patches, 5 banks will get eaten up fast. 10 banks would have been great. With so many great sounds why force me to delete patches? The patch manager runs on Windows and Mac OS and is an easy way to manage patches. So, once we settle on our favorites we can make that work.
ASM has been rolling out updates and we used the firmware update tool on Windows and it was a seamless udpate. We'd like to see more videos on sound design and a breakdown of how to create a specific patch and what that process is for someone of the top sound designers in the synth world. That would be really cool. Even if you're familiar with synthesis and sound design ASM is coming at this with some new capabilities and you'll need a deep dive to truly appreciate all if offers.
It's a pretty impressive initial product from ASM and we're looking forward to future updates as this synth evolves. Expect to hear this beauty on a lot of records this year. Well done dudes, well done.
Get uploads and free patches for the Hydrasynth here.