Waldorf Sound Cards 1-3
The first three cards in the Waldorf Microwave sound library, reviewed by Paul Ireson.
Paul Ireson listens in to the first three cards in Waldorf's Microwave sound library.
The Waldorf Microwave is hardly the most popular synth module, but those in the know value its distinctive gritty wavetable sound, programmability, and indeed that fact that not everybody else has one. The factory patches didn't do it full justice however, so sound cards from Waldorf will be welcomed by anyone that has a Microwave and hasn't yet explored the possibilities or original sounds.
Cards 1-3 in the Waldorf sound library play to both the Microwave's strengths and weaknesses. Each has 64 single Sounds and 32 Multi patches (card 1 uses RAM, and 2 and 3 both use ROM), and rather than specialise in different areas the Sounds on each card are a mix of bass, pads, instrument simulations, analogue sounds, and all those synth sounds that don't quite fit into an easy category.
The sonic strength of the Microwave is principally the 'edge' that its wavetable-based sounds can acquire. This means that the unit lends itself very well to powerful lead sounds (the lack of a 'real' hard oscillator sync function is compensated by the provision of sync wavetables) and bass patches and, oddly enough, to delicate textures that have a quite beautiful quality without ever becoming boring.
The best of the three cards is probably their bass sounds (all three cards have some quite inspiring examples, along with some pretty wet, weak ones, it must be said) and analogue recreations. Actually, "recreations" is not quite accurate, as the Microwave uses a real analogue filter and amplifier section after its digital oscillators, and that's why it's pretty good at this kind of thing. Card 1's 'Bigness' and 'Oberstrings' (the title says it all, with a bottom end rich enough to, well, do whatever you can do with a rich bottom end) are fine examples of this. Fans of screaming lead lines should fall in love with 'OSCar PWM lead'.
On the more subtle side of the sonic coin, there are some great textures from 'Wavetrack 1', amongst others, and a surprising number of the soft pads are perfectly usable without any external processing (there are no on-board effects, remember). The two sides of the machine's character are exploited to the full on a handful of patches such as 'Ominous Sync Pad', at once both sharp and sinister yet quite ethereal.
Such first-class programming unfortunately sits alongside a good number of sounds where the potential of the Microwave to produce rather nasal voices is equally well demonstrated, and disappointing 'acoustic' recreations. This is half due to unimaginative programming, and half due to bad choice of sounds. Imitation is not the instrument's strong suit, and frankly trying to imitate an electric piano or a harp is a waste of time. Nevertheless, there's a cracking distorted guitar on card 2, all the more impressive for the fact that there are no internal effects.
Other particularly stunning sounds, which fall pretty much into the 'effects' category, are 'Blade Runner' and 'Cyberpunk' (on card 3), making good use both of basic wavetable synthesis and the instrument's modulation facilities.
There's not really much to say about the Multi patches - I tend not to use them, I must admit, as I always use expanders in multi-channel mode, usually sticking with the same standard multi-timbral patch and just switching single sounds within that patch. In any case not that many of the cards' Multis add much to the single Sounds, although some of those on card 3 do present you with some very playable combinations. The review copy of card 2, oddly enough, contained Multis that used internal rather than card sounds, which I presume was a mistake of some kind. If it's not, I can't comment on what the Multis should sound like as I ditched most of the original single Sounds long ago.
The Microwave's limited appeal means that there are never going to be the same number of sounds available as there are for, say, the Korg M1, Roland D-series, or even the Emu Proteus. If you need new sounds for your instrument and aren't inclined to program yourself, then Waldorf's own sound library is obviously something of a lifeline (although there are a few third-party sounds out there). Cards 1-3 may contain a fair amount of dead wood, but there's plenty to inspire you nonetheless.
Card 1 (RAM) £82.19 inc VAT.
Cards 2 & 3 (ROM) £46.94 inc VAT.
MCMXCIX, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul Ireson
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