Waldorf Music are set to excite a few synth nerds and gear heads with the Kyra VA Synthesizer on its way down under. A lightweight and ergonomic piece of hardware set to physically downsize your studio or live set up whilst up scaling your entire sound. Suited for the most immersive of musicians, this piece of hardware is hitting the charts and being named one of the most powerful synths ever – and rightfully so.
Connect up your MIDI controller and explore the 26 sound banks, A through Z, each containing 128 patches – resulting in a possible 3328 different sounds that range from impeccable reproductions of such classics as the Juno and 303 to flawless new pads, dirty leads and sound FX. Before we delve any deeper into its overall sound, it’s worth investigating the Kyra’s exhaustive list of specifications and incredible line up of features, because frankly, there’s very little on the market to compare it to.
The Kyra brings digital synthesis as close to the realms of analogue recording as possible. As such, it features 32-bit digital conversion with a 96kHz sampling rate across the board. This prevents common complications of digital conversion such as oscillator aliasing and filter stepping. This can be downsized to 48kHz if your computer can’t handle the eight stereo 24-bit streams the Kyra can send via USB 2.0, as well as the stereo return from your DAW. For multi track recording or live performances, you will happily make use of its four balanced stereo outputs.
A true multi-timbral delight, the Kyra is capable of playing eight individual ‘parts’ at once – effectively working as eight different synthesizers simultaneously, all recorded independently via the aforementioned stereo streams. The sound for each individual ‘part’ is sourced from two alias-free oscillators, two sub groups and is then open to 32-note polyphony. Each oscillator group features saw, pulse, wavetable, noise and detune, as well as real hard sync, ring modulation and frequency modulation between them. The sub groups contain four wave types, two octave pitches and detune, packing a huge low end punch for beefing up brittle pads and creating dense swells.
Next come three assignable LFOs, each with a whopping 128 different wave shapes plus monophonic, polyphonic, random, anti-phase and quadrature stereo phase settings. Wave shapes are displayed to you on the 256x64 pixel graphic OLED display that is automatically set to show the numerical value of each parameter as you adjust it, with Waldorf thoughtfully adding the ability to fine-tune this value and navigate through the other available settings.
The filter section painlessly emulates a classic analogue ladder filter with either 2-pole 12dB/octave or 4-pole 24dB octave low pass, band pass or high passes available at the press of a button. The handy and sizable Frequency knob, complete with resonance and ADSR controls make squeezing out frequencies or accentuating certain passages easily, while a second and third envelope generator section assigned to amp and aux respectively. However, my favourite feature in this section is undoubtedly the dual filter option. This works in parallel or series and adds amazing stereo depth to your pads!
Next comes the six channel mod matrix with three destinations giving a total of 18 possible routings. It’s also worth noting that the LFOs are also available here as well as a MIDI clock sync source, giving you even further potential to create whacky, wobbly sounds.
A transpose function, five available octaves and a beautiful portamento perfectly complement the extensive effects section – five parameters tweaked via their own knob for each EQ, formant, distortion, limiter, delay, phaser, chorus and reverb, all of which sound pretty formidable. I’m also going to stop here for a moment to let you digest all of that, and to kindly remind you that everything we’ve listed so far is capable of working simultaneously on its EIGHT independent parts. This is thanks to 4096 18-bit, 32x oversampled PCM wavetables, which generate its expansive array of sounds and take away the need for any substantial CPU power.
But we’ve saved the best until last because here comes the arpeggiator section. Words cannot describe its versatility; you’ve really got to sit down with it yourself. Designed again for a live or studio setting there are 128 different patterns to explore that can be arranged going up, down, random or in chords – with three octaves, tempo knob and a number of different beats available to flick through in real time – perfect for building intricate highs and lows throughout longer mixes and soundscapes.
This might sound like a lot to take in but in reality when you get your hands on one it becomes incredibly intuitive, although it is wise to brush up on the basics of synthesizers if you haven’t already so you can properly understand the routing and intricacy of the layers you can create.
Each parameter is assigned as a primary or secondary function on a knob or button; this means you can control everything with ease in real time and there is no need to flick through exhaustive lists – the ‘shift lock’ button is sticky which will free up one of your hands.
Perhaps the most interesting feature above all is the ‘hypersaw’ mode, which bypasses the two oscillator groups and instead uses an internal algorithm comprising of a total of six oscillators. If you’re brave enough, you can even double this up to a brutish 12 oscillators in Dual Mode, which really is quite the experience – my bones are trembling just thinking about it. Users can then control the intensity and spread via two knobs. Combining all of this with the ‘panorama’ function for additional stereo spread and detune as well as dual filters and triple LFOs you can only imagine the possibilities.
For this reason alone, the Waldorf Kyra has the ability to add a massive amount of depth to any live performance or studio recording. This is by far its strongest feature as most of the preset patches are pads. However, acid house fans will be excited to know there is an abundance of patches paying homage to the genre’s characteristic squelch. And, of course, the real magic in the Kyra reveals itself when you dive in and create your own patches - but we’ll leave that up for you to discover.
In any case, the Kyra is a piece of equipment to get lost into. Waldorf have made a big statement producing something so powerful, elegant and simple to use.
Hits and Misses
One of the most powerful synths ever made
Record eight independent parts at once
Steep learning curve