Rob Papen’s reputation as a developer of desirable synth plug-ins is now well-founded. With his latest, he’s deliberately turned his sonic expertise to the dark side. Raw caters to producers seeking distorted leads, basses and synth drums, alongside a wider collection of sounds loaded with grit, drive and power. While the most immediate target audience might be those working in commercial dubstep, there’s plenty here for a wider community of electronic producers, as well as sound designers and soundtrack composers.
When set up as a software instrument, Raw defaults to a view offering its complete set of features via a single grey-and-green page. The alternative is to switch to the Easy page, which simplifies and condenses this main window to offer only key parameters for each section. Raw’s most unique feature offers itself early in the sound-building process, as distortion can be introduced directly into both available oscillator waveforms once you’ve configured the more standard assortment of parameters. These include choosing a modelled waveform, tuning and spreading, and going further with pulse width and symmetry controls. Frequency modulation is possible between the oscillators, too, but the real fun starts below, where the Raw dial introduces distortion into the signal chain for the first time. Further complexity can be added with a pair of per-oscillator LFOs mapped to the X and Y axes of a visual display. This can provide modulation to the signal, moving and warping it in a range of ways. This is where dubstep producers will come to add grinding wobble, but it’s also a place where you can add gritty overtones, sweeping metallic rasps and plenty more, producing an assortment of animated sounds.
To the right of the oscillators is the multimode filter, offering comb, vocal, formant and ring modulation alongside a raft of high-pass, low-pass and band-pass options of various strengths. Alongside resonance, you’ll also find filter envelope controls, filter-via-velocity dials and LFO to filter amount options. To the right, the amp section lets you control the shape of the output signal, with a dedicated envelope available alongside global velocity and pan dials. The main LFO, which lies below the filter, can be routed either to volume, for tremolo-style effects, or to pan, for side-to-side movement. Below the amp lives a global three-part EQ, with neat colour-coding to help keep bands visually separated. Each band has frequency, bandwidth and gain dials, and there are options for pre- and post-processing and a global filter option to scoop out low and / or high frequencies. The bottom-right corner expands the effects capability with three further flavours of distortion available via dedicated waveshaper, distortion and lo-fi modules. These all offer a mix slider for easy-to-configure parallel treatments, while the distortion module offers 13 flavours of the effect.
The lower-left corner can be toggled between five dedicated pages. The first of these shows an arpeggiator pattern; you’ll need to select arp as the play mode to hear it. The arpeggiator offers up to 16 steps, each of which can feature a tuning offset and a velocity value, and clicking an X to tie a step will stretch the previous one to elongate through a gap. A whole series of playback modes are provided, and you can easily switch speeds to double, quadruple or halve the original tempo of your sequence. In the Wave page, you can draw waveforms directly into the window, either free-hand or with a ramp-drawing tool. Any created waveforms can then be selected as User 1 or User 2 in the oscillator section, providing a neat way to create completely new sounds from scratch.
The Mod page is where modulation routings are made, with sources, targets, amounts, offsets and upper and lower threshold boxes allowing you to configure up to eight independent routings. Finally, there are two more effects sections, labelled A and B. In FX-A, you can add a doubling effect from your choice of chorus, phaser, flanger or ensemble, with length, width, speed and feedback dials alongside the mix control. The second effect here is an auto-gate control called Gator, which lets you create gated steps at the speed of your choice for both the left and right channels. This instantly allows your sounds to be bypassed from one speaker or other, impressively forcing even the most pad-like patches to become animated. The FX-B page provides stereo delay and reverb at the output stage, with both modules containing enough parameter options to ensure that these studio staples are fully configurable.
There’s something slightly dangerous about designing an instrument aimed at a particular type of producer making a particular type of music. As trends are fleeting, Raw is in danger of being too closely linked to particular time and place. I’m hopeful that this won’t prove to be the case, however, for two reasons. Firstly, at its heart, this is a fantastically capable synthesizer, with enough parameters and options to reach well beyond its remit as a distortion synthesizer. The other reason is that, while genres and styles come and go, aggressive sounds will always find a place in music. Just as certain forms of distortion appealed to rock guitarists in the ’70s, so others will appeal to producers of electronic music this year, next year and beyond. With Raw readily integrating so many types of distortion, it should continue to prove popular even when some of its presets feel like they’ve had their day.
Ease of use: 4.1