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Brand Profile: Waldorf Music

Brand Profile: Waldorf Music

Click here to check out Waldorf at Store DJ.

About halfway through 2018 we were lucky enough to get hands on with the, then yet to be released Waldorf Quantum. As Waldorf's first large scale synthesizer in a number of years and the understandable comparisons to it's 1993 cult classic the Wave, there was definitely some high expectations! Now that the Quantum is in production and starting to appear on the market, we thought it was a good chance to look back at the unique history of Waldorf and it's distinctive line of synthesizers.

To look at the history of Waldorf Synthesizers you need to start with Wolfgang Palm and his company PPG (Palm Products GmbH). Palm began making synthesizers around the mid 1970's and is probably best known for two things - his PPG Wave 2 instrument and the development of wavetable synthesis. At it's core, wavetable syntheisis loads a wavetable (a collection of waveforms, more exactly single cycle waveforms) as its sound creation source. Rather than a traditional single waveform (Sine, Square, Triangle). The user can move through the wavetable, morphing the sound from one waveform to another and the various in-between states. This can also be modulated to great effect to create interesting, dynamic movement and timbrel variety. You will have encountered wavetable synthesis if you've ever used Native Instruments Massive or Ableton's Wavetable.

Example of wavetables in Ableton

This is important to note, because at the time, most commercial synthesizers were analog. Palm's new form of synthesis was digital, allowing him to go beyond what was currently available on the market, including features like new sound characteristics, oscillator stability and saving presets. His iconic PPG Wave 2 used wavetable synthesis coupled with analog filters and VCA's and was used by artists like David Bowie and The Pet Shop Boys. Subsequently, Wolfgang Palm has come to be regarded as one of the pioneers of modern music technology and the father of digital synthesis.

The Microwave and Wave synthesizers

PPG officially closed its doors in 1987, but one of its distributors, Wolfgang Duren began his own company in 1989. Duren called his new business Waldorf Electronics GmbH, named after the German town Waldorf, and carried on the legacy of Wolfgang Palm's PPG. In 1989 Waldorf released their first synth, the Microwave, which built upon and incorporated much of Palm's design. Palm actually developed a custom wavetable chip for the Microwave, which for the most part, contained the majority of the sound engine from the PPG Wave 2. However, unlike the Wave 2 the Microwave was a rackmount unit and much more affordable than its predecessor. This coupled with its warm and complex sounds helped Waldorf break into a market dominated by American and Japanese manufactures.

In 1993 Waldorf followed up the Microwave with the Waldorf Wave. Only 200 Wave's were produced worldwide, but is one of the most advanced wavetable synthesizers ever made and is a full realisation of the technology shown in the Microwave. Despite its immediate intimidation factor and a (perhaps) undeserved reputation as being hard to program, the Wave features a reasonably intuitive layout and is capable of some incredibly complex sound design. As standard it came with 16 voices, but this could be expanded up to 48!! Detroit electronic music pioneer Mike Huckaby is a famous advocate of the Waldorf Wave, having spent years working with the instrument, he has used it on many tracks. Mike released the first of two sample CD's "My Life With The Wave" in 2008, containing sounds he recorded from his Wave. These samples have become extremely popular among Deep House producers and the original, limited edition CD fetches a decent price online.

The Waldorf Q

1999's Waldorf Q took another direction and ventured into the world of virtual analog synthesis. Available in keyboard and rack mount version, the Q offered a fantastic sound engine with excellent analog emulation capabilities and analog-style front panel control (the keyboard version has 58 knobs on the front panel!). It's two multi-mode filters and host of onboard effects made it highly versatile as a both a studio and live use instrument. The Q+ was later released upgrading to 16 analog filters and up to 100 voices. The company also began to step into the virtual market, designing and releasing VST plugins, including a digital emulation of the PPG Wave! However due to financial issues Waldorf was declared insolvent in 2004.

Blofeld, Rocket and Pulse 2 synths

Waldorf wasn't gone for long though, and in 2006 was reformed. By 2007 they had announced a new line of synthesizers and for the for the first time an electric piano. The Blofeld was the first of these new designs, an affordable desktop wavetable synth it's a direct descendant of the Q and Microwave II, including wavetables from these units (and others). With 3 oscillators, the Blofeld offered not only wavetable and analog modelling synthesis but also oscillator sync and ring mod, making it capable of a wide range of tonalities. It was later expanded upon in 2009, with the addition of a four-octive keyboard. Continuing with the desktop style form factor, Waldorf released the Rocket a a paraphonic hybrid synthesizer and the Pulse 2, a paraphonic analog synthesizer in 2013 (the original Pulse was released in 1996). And have more recently stepped into the world of Eurorack, with the kb37, mod1, dvca1 and cmp1.

The Quantum

Seemingly harking back to their roots, 2017 saw the announcement of the Waldorf Quantum, a mammoth instrument that continues the Waldorf tradition of blending analog and digital together. It combines their famous wavetable engine with classic synthesizer waveforms and a sampler capable of multi-sampling and granular style functionality. This is coupled with 2 analog filters, 6 LFO a full suite of onboard effects, arpeggiator, step sequencer and a lot more!

For more info on wavetable synthesis, check out this great article from Music Production Nerds and click here to check out Waldorf at Store DJ.

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