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Super6 is inspired by Roland‘s classic Jupiter-6, but goes its own sonic way with a combination of digital oscillators and an analog filter.

Review: UDO Audio Super 6

Published 10:55 am on Saturday 13th February 2021 by Beat Magazine

From lovers for lovers

Super6 is the debut synthesizer from the young company UDO Audio from the UK. The driving force behind this synthesizer is the likeable George Hearn, who was already involved in the development of the Modal 008 and is at least as fond of synthesizers as the potential buyers are! Even if the name and the overall design suggests it a bit, the Super6 is more than just a clone of analog vintage classics like the Jupiter-6. Although the basic sound of the Super6 definitely leans in the direction of Roland, you can also hear American influences ranging from Moog to Sequential.

Eye-catching design

The sound synthesis is built into a robust metal case of the „Made in Germany“ level of quality, which is optionally available in a blue or dark gray finish. We somehow liked the blue even better on the pre-series model presented at the trade show, but that may be deceptive and design is highly a matter of taste anyway; especially when Axel Hartmann is behind it. In any case, the design in conjunction with the white, straight-line lettering looks very technoid. The upper area allows direct access to the parameters of the synthesizer. Based on the Roland classics, UDO relies primarily on faders. This is especially practical for the envelopes because, in this way you can also visually follow the course. With the help of 24 faders, 6 knobs and a variety of switches, you can create just the right sound without any detours.

Only 64 memory locations

In the lower section, you load and save sounds, operate the arpeggiator/step sequencer and adjust the performance controls. A total of 64 factory presets and 64 custom sounds can be stored in eight banks of eight sounds each. Sure, this is also a reminiscence of the old Roland synthesizers, but with a digital synthesizer from the year 2020, there surely would have been a few more memory slots. Due to the lack of a display, you are also flying blind when selecting the sounds or have to rely solely on your ears, but we didn‘t really find that too annoying. Fortunately, sounds can be exported and imported via USB; when a computer is connected, the Super6 appears as its own drive and files can be easily exchanged between the computer and synthesizer.

Good Fatar keyboard

The lever-bender as a replacement for the pitch bend and modulation wheel is also a Roland relic. With this, you cont- rol a hidden second LFO for vibrato and filter modulation. A very playable keyboard from Fatar was built into the Super6, which handles aftertouch, as well as velocity. It covers a range of four octaves; therefore, the Super6 remains reasonably transportable despite a healthy weight of a good 10 kilograms. Nevertheless, we would have liked to see a version with 61 keys. Overall, Super6 leaves a solid impression; nothing wobbles or creaks, and this synthesizer should survive rough everyday touring without any problems.

No CV/Gate

The rear panel is unspectacular. USB and the classic MIDI trio serve the connections to computers and other equipment. There are no CV/Gate connectors for linking to analog sound generators, but the alternative use of a MIDI socket as a DIN socket for synchronization with analog drum computers is being considered. Two pedal connections will please the traditional keyboardist and underline the Super6‘s claim to be an instrument rather than a mere sound slinger. Matching this is the built-in power supply, which connects to the wall socket via an IEC cable. Two jack sockets bring the stereo audio signal to the outside world, plus there’s another output for the headphones.

FPGA chip inside

The generation of the sounds is done by an FPGA chip in the Super6. This chip is so popular with virtual-analog synthesizers because it can be programmed in a highly specialized way, coming closer to the actual behavior of real analog hardware circuits than other DSP solutions. Similar to Roland‘s Boutique series, the Super6 uses all of its processing power to deliver the most faithful sound possible and, accordingly, can only deliver a limited number of voices. In return, no aliasing or other digital noise is audible even when played in the highest registers.

Two digital oscillators

Super 6 offers two oscillators per voice, named DDS1 and DDS2. Both oscillators have the standard waveforms: sawtooth, square, triangle, sine and noise. DDS1 grants access to an additional 16 digital waveforms, which can also be exchanged via computer. In addition, it can be expanded sevenfold without loss of tuning for the infamous SuperSaw. This also works with other waveforms including the digital variants, so sounds beyond classic trance horns are possible. And a sub-oscillator can also be activated, but then DDS2 is no longer available.

Flexibility thanks to digital waveforms

DDS2 has a square wave with variable pulse width, which can also be modulated (PWM). DDS2 can be synchronized to DDS1 and its pitch modulated for classic sync sounds - that sounds really good! Anyway, the basic waveforms of the oscillators sound very strongly analog and also feature those subtle changes with each keystroke that our ears perceive as lively and organic. With the additional options, however, a digital variant can be added, if necessary. The digital waveforms, in conjunction with the analog filter, are quite reminiscent of hybrid classics such as the PPG or Prophet VS.

Audio range LFO

LFO1 deserves special attention, because it can do so much more than just filter wobble and PWM. In HF mode, it reaches frequencies up to 20 kHz - well into the audible range. Moreover, key tracking can be activated and the frequency can be adjusted to the two oscillators, allowing harmonic FM sounds. And besides the standard waveforms, the digital waves of the DDS1 can also be used for the LFO! For weird, overtone-rich sounds, there‘s also cross-modulation.

Binaural stereo sound

Despite the simple structure at first glance, Super6 also offers a lot of sound options on the oscillator level that go far beyond classic analog synthesizers. And to make the whole thing sound nice and wide, there is also the so-called binaural mode. Here, the sound is doubled and distributed in the stereo field to provide more spatiality and liveliness. This costs half of the 12 voices - the sounds are then only playable in 6 voices. But the effect goes far beyond simple doubling and hard-panning and also allows subtle sound migrations in the stereo field, since phase shifting and detuning can be adjusted.

Analog low-pass filter

Another important component of the Super6‘s convincing sound is the analog filter. It is a 24dB low-pass filter, based on the filter model used in the Korg Polysix and currently in the Prophet X. The filter sounds excellent, nice and creamy and smooth and, even at high resonance values, not exhausting, but wonderfully harmonic - very Roland style! With a drive that can, unfortunately, only be adjusted in three steps, it can be driven hotter for more aggressive, distorted sounds. A switchable high-pass filter thins out the low frequencies, if necessary; and, in TRK mode, bandpass-like filtering is also possible.

Envelopes with extras

Two ADSR envelopes for filter, amp or other destinations like pulse width or pitch (also inverse) complete the sound generation. What’s interesting here is the adjustable delay time of Envelope 1. keytracking and loop functions extend the possibilities of the envelopes and turn them into additional super-flexible LFOs, whose intensity can also be controlled by velocity. The assignment of the modulation sources (including DDS2!) to the modulation destinations is done via a small modulation matrix.

Chorus and delay

As befits a synthesizer inspired by Roland classics, the end of the signal chain is followed by a chorus that can be switched in three stages via two buttons; but it can‘t quite keep up with the great models in terms of sound. The same applies to the delay. You only have access to intensity, delay time and feedback. There are no options like ping-pong or even multitap, and the effect also sounds rather digital in a negative sense and lacks warmth and liveliness. The effects in the current version should, therefore, be seen more as a practical addition for live performance. In the studio, the Super6 with good external effects, again, significantly improves.

Apeggiator / Step sequencer

Of course, there is also an arpeggiator, which is also limited to direct access to rudimentary features. At least it saves the order of the notes entered, so that sequences of notes beyond simple ascending or descending sequences can be created. Swing provides further loosening up, a hold function frees the hands for further tasks like tweaking the sound. A classic step sequencer is also on board. It records up to 64 steps and allows you to set slides, accents and pauses. You can save 64 sequences and link them to sound presets to call them up together during live performance.

Alternatives?

Anyone who has had the pleasure of playing the Modal 002, which is, unfortunately, no longer available as a new purchase, will be reminded of this hybrid synthesizer by many things about the Super6. No wonder, given the career of the main developer described in the introduction. Contemporary, transparent sound with vintage charm probably describes it quite well. The Modal Cobalt8 can, therefore, definitely be kept in mind as a much cheaper alternative - even if the analog filter there was replaced by a digital emulation for cost reasons.

Both in terms of price and sound, the Roland Jupiter-X plays on a similar level. Its sound generation is even more flexible and the excellent analog emulations of Roland‘s classics impress with a punchy hi-fi sound; but, due to the lack of an analog filter, it lacks the last bit of vintage character and thus also a bit of a goosebump effect. Novation Summit offers a similar hybrid concept with flexible digital oscillators and an analog filter, but also sounds a bit more well-behaved and inconspicuous than the Super6. On the other hand, it offers more sonic variety, not least of all due to the split and layer options and the very good effects. Korg‘s Prologue also combined a digital engine with an analog filter and is now available in an 8-voice version for under 1,000 Euro.

Verdict

Sonically, the Super6 shows what optimized digital technology is now capable of. The oscillators sound analog in a positive respect, with a powerful and lively sound. The frequency modulations in the audio range also know how to please and do not sound harsh and exhausting as is the case with many other digital synthesizers. The digital substructure has the advantage that the options of the oscillators go far beyond what analog technology has to offer. Paired with the excellent sounding analog filter, Super6 excels at all standard analog sounds, be it warm and wide pads and strings, creamy leads or rich synth basses. The basic sound definitely leans in the direction of Roland, but with a certain American touch. However, the hybrid concept also allows for sounds full of character that go beyond the classic analog sounds. Super6 responds very well to high-quality external effects. And if you then play the synthesizer via the excellent keyboard like a real instrument, goosebumps are guaranteed! Although this pleasure is not quite cheap, in this respect such a small company can not keep up with the global players like Roland, Yamaha & the like, however, in return you get an extraordinary synthesizer of the highest class, individually developed with attention to detail.


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