Zebra 2.0 is the deep, rich “everything, plus the kitchen sink”, “next-generation” synth. It was a wildly powerful subtractive + additive synth when it first came out, and version 2.0 adds FM capabilities, basic modeling, and wavetable, plus a mini-synth for learning and quickie programming called the Zebralette. All of this is packaged into a truly attractive and innovative UI from one of the masters of musical UI design. Now out of beta, the full-blown Mac/Windows instrument (AU, VST, Universal Binary for Mac) is just US$199.

The result is a powerful “modular synth without wires.”

Here’s CDM’s Adrian Anders’ take: “I tried out the demo during its beta period. All I have to say is wow. It sounds great, and at $199 it carries alot of bang for the buck when compared to other semi-modulars like Tera and Absynth.”

Or, as BT says: “the new Zebra s*** looks aaaaaamazing!”

Throw out that old synth?

Adrian points out that Urs Heckmann is doing something a bit unorthodox: featuring a gallery of vintage, synth hardware that’s supposedly been retired by Zebra2.

I’m hoping that this “retire-your-synths-for-Zebra” thing catches on, so that dumpster diving leads to finds like this.

What qualifies as a dinosaur? “Not all synthesizers qualify for the Dinosaur Crossgrade offer. As the name implies, Dinosaur stands for a piece of musical hardware that has a certain vibe to it just when you say its name. It’s easy to imagine that such a piece of synthesizer history must have cost thousands of dollars back in the seventies or eighties. It certainly has a bunch of knobs on the panel and it certainly has a 3-5 octave keyboard. Well, maybe it has no integrated keyboard but a weird bunch of spaghetti hanging in front of it. Or patch cords, as they called it.”

Okay, let’s be honest. This is all supposed to be a marketing gimmick, and sending in a photo of the right kind of synth will earn you a US$50 coupon off of Zebra. Theoretically, the whole thing could be a statement about how software synthesizers allow richer sonic capabilities via a more programmable interface at a far cheaper price than pricey, bulky hardware synths once did — and that would be true.

But what you get, of course, is pages of gear pr0n:

Dinosaur Crossgrade Gallery

Hey, we can be software synth aficionados and still love that old hardware, right? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pull up a beach chair and sip a Cosmo with an old E-MU.

Wow, that E-MU really is out of date. Everyone knows Cosmos are, like, totally over.

Software Ubersynth Shootout: It’s heating up a bit here, with Native’s just-announced Absynth4 and Massive, VirSyn’s TERA, Zebra2, and synths like Cakewalk’s Rapture. Each has a different take, but each seeks to redefine how synths work in software. Which synths would you want to see duke it out in this category?

  • http://www.metro-sonus.com Metro:Sonus

    Well, damn.

    In quite a few audio demos, I've heard that subtle noise ambience I swore I'd never give up my DW8000 / D550 because I love it so much.

    Howd they do that ?

    Anybody notice more and more the Live look is being copied?

  • http://virus.info/ Jay Vaughan

    No way I'll throw away my room full of Virus gear just coz I installed Zebra2 last night (and had fun with it) .. for one thing, the Indigo2 has a far better user interface than Zebra2, and doesn't require me to set up a mouse, and for another thing, Zebra2s' UI makes my eyes bleed. Can't tell whats what from what isn't.

    Sounds great, though. Should make a preset-only player available, that'd be kind of fun (throw away the editing features..)

  • http://www.metro-sonus.com Metro:Sonus

    Well, I dont think it captures the digital sound at all. Im just not hearing next summers block buster dance floor hits coming off this thing…

    This may scratch my itch for an analog sounding moudlar soft soft synth with which to do retro soundtracky stuff and ambient with.

    Im buying rapture pretty soon though.. It's nice to have all those staple dance and harder sounds in one place.

  • http://syncretism.net Niall

    MOTU's MX4 {mac only}, Vember Audio's Surge and Zebra would be a delightful menage. I still think Tassman's the best-sounding one I've heard, though.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Good suggestions, Niall.

    Actually, looking at that lineup, you begin to understand why there are so many different options — sure, they all have some of the same basic underlying features and synthesis methods, but the way you actually program sounds and use the UI differs, and a lot of the subtle details have a big impact on the sounds that result. And for those of us who can't afford investing in hardware (or lack the space, or both), software does make a compelling alternative on a budget, even if you wouldn't actually throw away / eBay hardware over it.

    Metro, Zebra2 looks like Live to you? Really? They look completely different to me. The only thing I can see is the graphical pots, but those weren't invented by Ableton and they're a pretty essential UI concept. I'd say Live's minimalism is about the opposite of Zebra2.

  • http://www.metro-sonus.com Metro:Sonus

    Well, Live is the first place I've seen the graphical pots like that.

    It just seems lately alot of programs are following the same color scheme then.

    So I guess having seen it in Live first, everything tastes a bit like chicken. But yes, other than that they are quite different.

    Although, I'm not complaining. :) I think the graphical scheme and colors work well in darkened situations.

  • Thomas

    A really cool marketing idea. Much better than the boring "Reason 3 will replace your Workstation" ads from Propellerhead Software ;-)

  • http://www.u-he.com Urs

    Hey Peter, thanks for the article!

    Jay, you're pretty biased of course! LOL! – You must know that Zebra was originally designed to complement my Virus (I was one of the first owners in Germany), and it kind of still has that different sound to it, a bit more organic, less aggressive etc. I use my Virus merely as a control box nowadays…

    Metro, I'd be more than happy if it was used in music, not in dancefloor hits. All I know is, it's already in use for upcoming cinema blockbusters.

    Have fun,

    ;) Urs

  • http://www.metro-sonus.com MetroSonus

    From the audio demos and from what I read, I really got the idea that Zebra 2 caters to a more expressive style of synth and music programming. I really only use vanguard right now with quite a few samples I've made myself along with my outboard hybrids. I've been holding out for a soft synth that would give me a vintage edge in writing music that may have been a sound track to a sci fi flick from the 70's.

    So to repeat myself, how did you capture the noise from the synths? Every sample set I've heard has allways been too clean and dissapointing.