- Band Management
- Home Recording
- Live Sound
- Best Instruments
- New Music
We reviewed the original Hydrasynth from ASM when it debuted in “the before times,” and now we’ve had the pleasure of going hands-on with two new iterations of the HS engine in the Deluxe and Explorer versions.
So, what’s new? Let’s start with the Deluxe model. For starters, it’s clear this is meant to be ASM’s flagship entry in the lineup. We’re treated to a well-constructed and solid chassis, and a deluxe 73-key layout with poly-aftertouch and two wheels (mod/pitch) with great travel and movement. The most striking feature is the increased polyphony, now basically packing in two Hydrasynths in one case for a 16-voice powerhouse that’s not your grandpa’s old subtractive synth machine.
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While the Hydrasynth line can certainly do old-school Moog sounds, its genius lies in its unique engine, combining wave shaping capabilities, modulation routing and filter controls that mix analog and digital in a delightful, engaging, and surprising way. This is all easy to understand, even for those new to the ASM architecture, because the UI is so intuitive that you’ll never be scratching your head wondering which parameters you’re affecting.
The ribbon controller is a great touch and feels smooth, adding even more expressive capabilities than the already impressive mod matrix, and the ability to split and layer are welcome here, as well. All in all, at this price point, the Hydrasynth Deluxe’s competition is likely to be the Korg Prologue series, or one of the entry-level Sequential models. And for our money, this competes incredibly well against either. It even puts up a good fight against the Novation Summit, which was out pick for best flagship synth the last time we did a big shootout.
If big, 6-octave beasts aren’t your bag, there’s the Explorer model. Now, we did enjoy this little-sibling version. But the move to include tiny keys may didn’t sit well with us, as anyone wishing to play with keys will undoubtedly be using a better MIDI controller, or would wish for real, full-sized keys (hence ASM’s other offerings in the HS range). Perhaps this would have been better served in a Eurorack format, or desktop module at the same price, sans keys?
That quibble aside, this is a helluva bargain, almost too much so. Many users may simply opt for the $599 Explorer is they just want access to the Hydrasynth sound engine without extra polyphony or bells and whistles, especially if space is at a premium. If anything, it might be priced a bit too low for all you get in this package. We had to double check the price twice to ensure we were reading it correctly.
At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with either one depending on your needs. The sound-design capabilities inherent to both are simply outstanding. ASM have clearly thought through not only the sound design aspect, but the physical, tactile control aspects as well, to make a lineup of killer synth machines that fit just about any budget.
Kudos for doing something new, offering it as a reasonable price, and putting it all in attractive housing. Totally recommended.
excellent sound-shaping capabilities, unique and intuitive control interface, well-priced
mini keys on Explorer aren’t great
$599 (Explorer) and $1799 (Deluxe)