IK Multimedia’s UNO Synth Pro is nothing short of amazing

I’m used to reviewing and using high-end software synthesizers like Hexeract on the Mac and Moog 15 on the iPad, but I have limited experience with analogue synthesizers. That is why I was eager to test the IK Multimedia UNO Synth Pro. I had reviewed IK Multimedia’s UNO before and found it a nice synthesizer but it lacked the power and sophistication of polyphonic software synths. The UNO Synth Pro, though not polyphonic, is different.

The UNO Synth Pro is a paraphonic synthesizer. That’s a synthesizer that lets you use multiple oscillators to play different notes, all routed through the same signal path, whereas a true polyphonic synthesizer will have oscillators that each feed their own filter or amplifier.

Hexeract, for example, is a true polyphonic synth and the resulting sounds you get from it can be everything from rich and upbeat to sinister. That makes Hexeract an instrument that is suitable for creating soundscapes and everything else. Until the UNO Synth Pro came along, I was convinced you need a polyphonic synth to create rich soundscapes and even then not every polyphonic synth will do.

The UNO Synth Pro Desktop version that I received to review is about as small as the original UNO synth, but it’s much heavier and cannot be compared with its predecessor in terms of capabilities and the richness of sound and variation capabilities it supports. As many sound engineers and musicians have written about the UNO Synth Pro and have discussed the technical details in length, I will focus on what you can do with it and how easy it is to create your own unique sounds. Suffice to say you get three oscillators, two filters, two LFO’s, one filter envelope, one amplitude envelope, three voices (Mono, Paraphonic and Legato) and — the most important feature in my opinion — a powerful modulation matrix that connects parts of the engine that are usually not connected.

To try out the UNO Synth Pro, I powered it off a Powertraveller Merlin and Phoenix charger using a 2A USB port. That avoided any hum or other interference coming from the grid or my iMac. I did not hook it up to the Mac using the data USB port. Instead, I used the analogue output ports connected to a 192 KHz ADC hooked up via the S/PDIF port on my Apogee Element 24.

The UNO Synth Pro comes with over 100 presets. You can use them as they are, but if you’re interested in creating your own signature sound, then each of these can be used as a starting point. The most puristic starting point, however, is the first empty slot which has the basic synthesizer sound, a straight no-frills note. It’s here that I started my journey.

That journey started bumpy for me, because unlike people who work with synthesizers on a daily basis, I have trouble imagining what an OSC sync will do — let alone three of them that I can sync in multiple ways — or whether my filter 1 or filter 2, or my LFO 1 or 2 will add to the sound when set to 2P LP serial. Your mileage may vary but if you’re a novice in the analogue synthesizer world, you will do what I did: experiment. And experimenting the UNO Synth Pro makes a lot of fun of.

A good idea is always to read the user guide before you start and that one is not as complete as it should be read it in its entirety. For example, I wanted to try out the arpeggiator and couldn’t see what I was doing wrong when nothing arpeggiating-wise was happening at all. After a few hours of growing frustration, I found an entry on the IK Multimedia forum from someone who was struggling with it as I was. The solution was to set the machine’s internal sync functionality to the “Internal” option. That was mentioned in the manual under the FAQ heading, where I didn’t expect it, so I could have been trying for ages and it would have been like the unit was faulty.

Over the next 14 days, I continued experiments with the UNO Synth Pro and started succeeding in creating interesting sounds that would be worthy of publishing or sharing. When I compare what I got out of the UNO Synth Pro with what I manage to get out of Auddict’s Hexeract or Apple’s Alchemy, the UNO Pro’s results are nothing to sneeze at. This synth is no toy; it can hold its own when compared to these two polyphonic heavyweights.

And after having tried out almost every feature, I today found out that I have still not covered everything the UNO Synth Pro is capable of.

There is, I’m afraid, no better proof of what I tell you here than to torture your ears with one of the better sounds I managed to come up with. Here is a recording of one of my own brews… The changes in sound are done by turning the Cutoff, Resonance and Amp Envelope knobs.