Waldorf Pulse 2 reviewed

February 12, 2014
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Since their introduction back in 1996, Waldorf’s original Pulse and Pulse+ synths have become collector’s items. With three oscillators, a beefy lowpass filter, and some exotic cross-modulation options, the original Pulse synths had an aggressive, punchy sound that cut through a mix and were therefore loved by the early-’90s rave scene. Now that Waldorf is back, it was only a matter of time before they released a more modern edition of this beefy monophonic synth.

 

PROS: Beefy, aggressive sound. Great sounding multimode filters that can push near to self-oscillation. External input for processing audio. Paraphonic mode for simple eight-voice polyphony. 

CONS: Parameter grid doesn’t allow custom assignment of knobs.

Bottom Line: An aggressive analog hybrid synth with a ton of useful amenities.

$849 list | $799 street | waldorfmusic.de 

 

Interface

The Pulse 2 keeps the original’s grid-plus-knobs approach to navigating parameters. Over the past few years, I’ve been spoiled by my one-knob-per-function collection of analog synths, but as the Moog Phatties and several Dave Smith synths show, this approach is easy to adopt. In fact, since Waldorf has sensibly arranged the parameters according to synthesis function, the only thing I really missed was being able to adjust the decay, release, and cutoff simultaneously.


Oscillators

The Pulse 2’s oscillators are analog but digitally controlled, which allows them to do some interesting tricks that purely analog oscillators simply can’t. Digitally controlled oscillators (DCOs) are extremely stable in terms of tuning, which means that they’re fantastic for bass, with none of the phase issues that often happen when using multiple analog oscillators for a bass patch. Of course, you trade away some of the organic chaos that true VCOs deliver. That’s not to say that these oscillators sound subpar at all. But it does make Pulse 2’s overall character more authoritative in some ways, if a wee bit static in others.

Now, as to those nifty tricks that straight-up analog VCOs can’t do. There’s an “XOR” oscillator mode that, according to the manual, produces “inharmonic spectra unlike anything associated with any analogue synthesizer other than the original Pulse.” In practice, this is a sophisticated cross-modulation feature. It really does give the Pulse 2 a wider range of nasty sounds, especially in conjunction with its ring modulation and new filter FM options.

The Pulse 2 can be switched to a “Unison 8” mode that layers eight detuned pulse oscillators for super-fat lead sounds. Also, a paraphonic mode allows for up to eight-note polyphony, but with the trade-off that you get a single oscillator (with pulse waves only), filter, and envelope. This and the unison mode sound amazing and are incredibly useful, but if no one told me the Pulse 2 was analog, I’d expect to find capabilities like these only in synths with at least one digital oscillator, e.g., Waldorf’s own Rocket tabletop synth.


Filter and Modulation

The Pulse 2’s filters are distinctly analog, with options for 24dB-per-octave lowpass as well as 12dB-per-octave modes for lowpass, highpass, and bandpass. All filter modes are fully resonant. Speaking of resonance, you can push these filters right to the edge of self-oscillation for massive sweeps and whistling tones that sound downright raucous when the oscillator FM is applied.

All the essential modulation sources are present and accounted for, including amp and filter ADSR envelopes, as well as a pair of LFOs with sine, triangle, square, sawtooth, and sample-and-hold waveforms. LFO 1 can be clocked to tempo via standard MIDI or USB, making rhythmic integration with your DAW a simple task.

All of these modulation sources, along with a collection of MIDI controller options and velocity, can be assigned via an eight-way modulation matrix, which allows for a ton of performance and animation possibilities. The destination routings are similarly complex, with every essential synth parameter covered. 


Other Amenities

At the end of the Pulse 2’s signal chain is a VCA that includes a clever distortion effect that’s switchable between “tube” and “fuzz.” Both of these emulations sound fantastically nasty in context and really give the unit a distinctive sound compared to most of the current generation of analog synths. There’s also a complex arpeggiator, with step-sequencer functions such as accents, ties, and glide that make it great for TB-303 emulations. While it’s a tad fiddly to program these from the front panel, the results are well worth it.


Rear Panel
 
 
The Pulse 2 includes stereo outs, MIDI I/O, USB, and a headphone jack. In addition, a 1/4" audio input lets you route external signals into the filter and amp sections for warming up tracks in your DAW or more dramatic effects. A pair of CV and gate outputs can function in either volt-per-octave or Hertz-per-octave mode, making the Pulse 2 compatible with wide variety of analog gear. Waldorf’s attention to detail here is wonderful.
 

Conclusions

I was extremely impressed with the Pulse 2 and its beefy sound. Analog purists may huff at the DCOs, but the fact that the Pulse 2 is capable of paraphonic polyphony makes it one of the few analog-based polysynths on the market today, which is quite a distinction in itself. The Waldorf filters sound great and can process external audio—another big plus. Plus, its CV/gate outs let it convert both MIDI and modulation sources to analog voltages, making it a possible bridge between your computer and modular worlds. For $800 street, the Pulse 2 is packed with more than enough synthesis resources to earn a place in your analog arsenal. 



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