We’ve been lucky enough to break the story of Circle, a new soft synth with a creative user interface, and to take you behind the scenes of its creators thinking process in creating the software. But maybe you don’t buy into the idea of a synth that focuses on flow and working method, or its wave morphing, modulation and effects, and quick MIDI learn features. Well, now you can give Circle a try for yourself, because it’s publicly available:

Future Audio Workshop Circle

It’s obviously something a lot of people are eagerly anticipating, because, having missed the announcement only by a day, my inbox is full of tips. (Thanks to all of you for the reminders – and seriously, don’t hesitate to nag me on a story; sometimes I get distracted!)

Normally, this is where I’d put the specs, but the specs you’ve seen before: wavetable plus analog-modeling synthesis, with lots of modulation and effects. That’s the formula we’re seeing in plenty of new synths. The difference here is an unusually clean interface with color-coded assignments and bright, friendly graphics that have been optimized to support touch should computers go that way. (Windows 7? Snow Leopard?) There’s drag-and-drop assignment, much like what I loved in Native Instruments’ Massive, but with a distinct, graphical approach here. And, incidentally, you get this graphical goodness without the latest OS – Vista and Leopard are supported, but so are XP, Tiger, and Panther. Thank cross-platform libraries in the software’s foundation – it’s the Other Platform.

The creators also tell us this release is just the beginning, with additional features in store (like OpenSoundControl support, which I’m personally eager to try out).

I’ll be playing with this in the coming weeks. Stay tuned. But I’m very eager to hear your feedback – and sound designs, if you go that route.

And if anyone sees a cheap airfare from New York to Ireland, I may have to go visit FAW myself. Hmm … Farecast?

  • http://www.45tribute.com actuel

    i have been following this app for some time. after the interview here i became even more intrigued. downloaded the demo and within an hour bought it.

    stunning sound, modularity, very intuitive…yum.

  • D, Kristian

    I tried the demo earlier this morning and was fairly impressed.

    After going through some of the presets, I reset the synth and built a sound from scratch. It took a little over 5 minutes to come up with a complex sounding pad.

    Even on my old "Internet computer" (a single processor AMD Athlon 64 which also serves as a VSTi tester), real-time tweaking was pretty much glitch-free, opening up a lot of possibilities in a live situation.

  • http://www.myspace.com/videomusik Jakob

    I, as well, got isntantly hooked on the idea when CDM first wrote about it, and have regularly checked back to FAW's website to see if there were any news. CDM's interview with the developer was like a bag of candy, but afterwards I was really hungry for more.

    And then I received the news of the public version. Oh joy! I am surprised how much I was anticipating this, and even more to learn that the product actually could live up to my expectations once I downloaded the demo. Actually I was really surprised that having read so much about it I still found features I hadn't heard about, but which elegantly provided a useful way of manipulating the sounds, without clottering the interface.

    And the ease! Like D, Kristian I found myself making complex pads or 64'esque arpeggiator sweeps in 5-10 minutes.

    This synth rocks! I am so throwing my money at this as soon as I can afford it.

  • noisegeek

    I seem to recall the FAW guys saying this was going to be affordable. What the hell happened?

  • dead_red_eyes

    Yeah noisegeek, I was interested until I saw the $200 price tag. Maybe this is targeted towards touch screen people? Or people that want OpenSoundControl support? Then again, I really don't need anymore soft synths, as Zebra pretty much trumps them all as far as I'm concerned, and it's easily worth the $200 price tag. Using Thor and the NN-XT together in Reason 4 can produce some amazing things too. And with Spectrasonics Omnisphere coming later on this year (supposedly) … just might have to save my cash. Anyways, enough competitor talk. It looks like Circle has a nice clean interface, that's more than I can say for a lot of soft synths. What else does thing have that other soft synths don't? Sequencer?

  • Carl Lumma

    I don't see anything new or innovative at all. What am I missing? -Carl

  • MonksDream

    Carl,

    What's innovative to me is the cleanliness of the interface. No extraneous anything. That and instant visual feedback about what you're doing. I, for one, love the way the envelopes and modulations are displayed and implemented. It's one of the few soft synths I've run across where you can tell at a glance what's going on and what nerds to be tweaked to get closer to the sound in your head. Reminds me of the MiniMoog in that sense.

  • Mary

    I think this is the best software synth i played in my life, really. i like it too much!

    but the price is too high… you can buy leopard or windows xp for that price!! don´t you think?

    bye!

  • rhowaldt

    @Mary: you would pay money for windows XP?

    sorry. :D

    will check this out this weekend, and I'm already very pleased about a simple thing as envelopes being made visible. I hate when I can't see what I'm doing.

  • mckewans

    I was really looking forward to this, tried the demo and was left feeling deflated. It wasn't that special – nice interface, but the sound isn't that amazing compared to Tassman or Gforce synths. And, it is a little pricey too.

  • http://petebrunelli.com pete

    I'm one of the folks who saw the FAW article here a few months back and got on the mailing list for updates about progress on Circle. I might be the target audience because I am all about the user interface, and I'll support a product if the developers are "going my way". This is a very well thought out interface, and it has a some serious growth potential. Looking at the few comments in the Circle forum, and the developer response, I'm impressed that they are both open to feature requests and sticking to their design philosophy.

    I'm thinking user waveforms/wavetables and external modulation for my feature-bloat wishlist. That was my initial impression of "what if?" A little more time working with it as a standalone and in my DAW and I'll know if any of that is already there and I missed it.

    As for comparing it to other VAs, IMO they mostly all have the potential to sound good, or even great. For me it comes down to how intuitive the routing and mixing is, and Circle is super intuitive for me. I deal with cluttered and/or poorly designed interfaces for a living! I certainly don't want one in my music workflow.

  • Channa

    Carl, I don't really see what all the fuss is about either. Sure it looks and sounds nice, but at that price its less than remarkable.

    Maybe CDM are getting commission….

  • Sebastien Orban

    The user interface is a joy to use. Easy to grasp, easy to use, and well, not ugly. It's fast too.

    After that… well. I'm an Absynth fan, so maybe not the target, I dunno. But I have to try it a lot more I think :)

  • http://fallsastar.com Foosnark

    I really like some of what's going on in the interface, but not all of it. The wavetable selection thing doesn't close when you think it should. Keyboard input doesn't play notes in FLStudio unless you unfocus it with an extra click (a few other synths have that same issue) and notes tend to stick.

    It also sounds to me more like a $60 synth than a $200 one. Few of the presets really grab me compared to FM8 or the like.

  • Matt

    Does anyone know if this works on a 1024×768 screen? My tiny laptop doesn't have much resolution.

  • brianvega

    I like the interface which is very… Ableton like. Otherwise the feel of it seems in beta stage (notes get stuck, quirky response).

  • poorsod

    I have to agree with most people so far: having played the demo, it's intuitive, immediate and fast interface… but far from cutting-edge sound.

    The formant filter is nice (though we see that already in Reason 4, with similar execution but much better value) but I was very unimpressed by the standard analogue filters, and the modulation is frankly lacking (more envelopes and cross-modulation please!).

    Hopefully they won't do what every developer does, and actually pay attention to what the users want. It's a great idea but at this stage lacking in execution IMO. I await improvements in later versions.

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

    @Channa: all I can say is, the hookers FAW sent over to my office say they find Circle intuitive and powerful, especially when we all drink the champagne FAW gave us. ;)

    Seriously, if we have relationships with the manufacturer, we'll be sure to disclose them. Either way, of course, you're still welcome to disagree with me.

    In this case, FAW came to us because they liked the site and we shared some interest. And I sent our writer Eoin over to talk to them since they're all in Ireland and happened to be in the same city for a few days. Eoin came back with this massive transcript, so they obviously had a good time. (Disclosure: I expect Eoin received some free beers. Well, at least, I hope he did.)

    Personally, for me whether or not Circle is the "greatest synth ever," I do like it. For me it's on a short list of favorite synths, including this, some of the Image-Line stuff, NI's Massive, definitely Urs' brilliant Zebra, Cakewalk's z3ta+, String Studio, Apple Sculpture. I think Massive is probably the easiest direct comparison, as the idea is the same — flexible routing, drag-and-drop UI, Virtual Analog plus wavetable, lots of wavetable sources, effects goodies. Massive to me is less intuitive and has less visual feedback, though there are some things I like about it sound-wise. Circle is about the fastest synth I've worked with, workflow-wise, and with sound capabilities merging in all of these synths that's important.

    OpenSoundControl for me will really set apart Circle, because you can hook up modulation to visual effects and fun stuff like that. We're told it's coming. And I hope that other software follows with OSC; we've been waiting for some software that we can advocate to try to encourage other developers to adopt it.

  • http://www.45tribute.com actuel

    ya know it's doesn't matter to me whether folks like or dislike the synth, as that's relative to the user and their needs, but the i don't understand the everyone whining about the cost.

    when i look at other software manufactures price over at AudioMidi it appears to be right in line with what other companies are asking. some are less, some are more, but Circle appears to sit right in with the average cost.

    i suppose i just don't find the cost of $200 for a soft-synth with tons of synthesis possibilities, flexibility, and nice ui outlandish. i love and prefer hardware but not it's attached cost. me finding software i enjoy using is a rare thing. let alone enjoying the sound of a softy.

    it may not be free, or even cheap, but i don't feel it's overpriced. at least i don't think so…and no i'm not sipping on whine and eating cheese on a beach right now. :)

  • Eoin Rossney

    Ok ok, I'm going to come forward here and disclose that I did in fact partake of up to three cups of industrial-strength coffee during my interview with Gavin. There may have been biscuits involved. (Eh, there were supposed to be beers though???!!!)

    Not on commish, just interested is all – when I heard about Circle I wanted to see if FAW were just marketing hype or whether they were actually commited to usability/flow and likely to deliver the goods in that respect. I haven't yet had a chance to put the demo through its paces but from what Gavin showed me it seems to at least go quite a ways towards that.

    I felt it was important to highlight this whole concept of Flow in music software, since often (always?) Flow is exactly what we're trying to achieve – hopefully other manufacturers will take heed and look at ways of making their software seamless. Even boring ways.

    Like Gavin alluded to, us nerds can and do take for granted that certain features (the bread-and-butter parts of the software that define what it is and put it under your radar in the first place) will be included – for our part, we probably consider it 'nice' or even gimmicky when a usability shortcut gets put in, and probably notice it once and then forget it from then on as we just get on with things, so it's not exactly what we look out for when shopping for new toys/tools. But extra attention paid to usability and Flow can only be a good thing in my book, and I'm more likely to gravitate towards software that's been 'vetted' for the best workflow possible.

    Now where did I leave my glass of champagne?

  • Rupert Lally

    Hi

    I too have been eagerly looking forward to this synth for months, ever since I saw a preview of the GUI on Synthtopia. I love the interface (it's up there with Massive, in my opinion for being about the only softsynth where the GUI is large enough and intuitive enough to make me want to play around and create new stuff with it and its nice to see that the included presets go beyond the standard run of the mill analogue emulations and techno sounds. However, despite FAW's claims that it'll run happily on Tiger and Panther and needs only minmal CPU resources, I found it difficult to play more than one note at a time onsome of the patches on my (pre intel) mac laptop. Hopefully FAW will follow Massive's lead and allow users to select a "low CPU" version like Massive in a future update. For now, for me at least, it remains something to "play around with" rather to use on a regular basis.

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

    Yeah, unfortunately, that may be a PowerPC vs. Intel issue there. But I agree, a low CPU version would be nice for use on older machines.

  • ERS

    Not only intuitive, but I could see this being a great teaching tool for understanding the basics of synthesis.

    I do wish it was a little cheaper, but I wish lots of things were cheaper, all about priorities :) Especially if the price of admission includes entry into a "Circle Community" with lots of tinkering, updates, ongoing dialogues with the developers, etc, I think it is a fair price.

    Goes back to our discussions of a few months ago about what you are buying when you buy software these days.

    Though with it being such a great teaching/learning tool, it might be nice to see educational/nonprofit pricing available as well.

  • Dn

    They just posted educational prices on their site forum comes out at 100 euro. Still on the fence to get it or not it does seem to have a few quirks and I was thinking my money may be better spent on massive or Zebra

  • Damon

    I like it. Personally, I can find my sound design guy in it. The odd thing is though it is intuitive, but I get a sense that it is nearly perfectly intuitive to the guy who designed it, and he expects that everyone who uses it will resolve to his process and creative sense. There is that immediate gratification feel to it, so in that it fits, but I hope future versions will go deeper. It would be nice if such products could really allow deep design without resolving to the matrix approach. The question then becomes though, where is there left to go? I think we are all starting to hit interface critical mass.

    Blessings,

    Damon

  • fiz

    I love Zebra (and Urs' companion synths — Filterscape VA and Triple Cheese), and wondered how Circle would impact my use of it. Frankly, I was a little worried I'd have to choose one over the other. But after downloading Circle, trying it and then buying it, my sense is that Circle and Zebra will only complement each other. With Circle I'm already learning much from the animated interface. Zebra, meanwhile, remains unique in so many ways I can't see it ever being outmoded. Its sound and structure will only be enhanced by Circle's deepening my understanding of how synth's structure sound. Put 'em together and whaddya got? A perfectly Round Zebra.

  • jt

    tried and bought it. i love the wavetables as i'm a huge prophet vs fan. so far this is the only virtual synth software wise that feels as comfortable as patching my 4 row modular system. it just makes sense. i feel the quality of the sound is up there with the best virtual synths. you have to build your own sound. forget about presets. although these aren't horrible. 4 morphable wavetable oscillators is fantastic. i have no complaints about the price. other companies seem to be charging way more for stuff that barely works. it also seems FAW actually care about what they are doing. installation and activation is as simple as the interface. no service center crap or ilok or syncrhosoft bs here. i hardly ever use plug in synths, but i was excited about this one coming out and feel confident i'll be using it a lot.

  • chris

    I like it. When I'm making patches for it, it feels like playing around rather than programming, it is actually exiting to use, and there was almost no learning curve. It kind of feels like circuit bending to me, which makes it familiar – the ability to preview modulation speeds up sound design significantly. The thing to look at is where it's starting – right out of the gate it's already so flexible and easy to understand, i can only imagine where it can go from here – But thats just me.

  • Captain Howdy

    Despite what some have said, it is not really all that innovative at all. The interface and voice architecture is very similar to NI Massive, and to some extent, Vember Surge. FabFilter's products also employ a similar modulation routing scheme.

    It's a nice synth but the included patches aren't very impressive and the price point is a bit high. They should really put more work in the presets and knock about $50 or so off the price.

  • Captain Howdy

    actuel

    i don’t understand the everyone whining about the cost.

    The price will be dictated by what the market will bear.

    When compared to a more feature rich, and IMO better sounding, synth like u-he Zebra2, which can be purchesed for $150.00, via the u-he "Dinosaur Crossgrade" offer, it makes the price of Circle a bit hard to justify.

  • mary

    Hi again

    when I said "but the price is too high" i want to say "maybe the general price of the software is too high", not this sytnh in particular.

    I don´t know the software market, and i don´t know what price the programmers have to put for taking benefit. but 10-150 € (i will pay 150€ only for a copy of a OS or others big programs) for a copy of a program seems the limit to me. And this software is in the 30-100 € limit in my opinion.

    So im going to check the education version.

    Maybe the problem is my mentality about how much pay for a piece of software, no the price of the synth

    Bye!

    (sorry for the bad english)

  • http://www.3amnoise.net/runagate/VSTs.html runagate

    I'm having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around the apparent conflict between being serious enough to pay 200$ yet the "cleanness of the GUI" being the tipping point in favor of using it. I can certainly see the arguments for speed of workflow in a DAW but this hardly seems an issue with any but the most abstruse plug-ins – almost all of which are well worth the time spent. There's so many plug-in instruments that most people have come to value unique sound possibilities over replicating the same bread & butter sounds ad nauseum. That's what preset wankers use.

    Shouldn't the sound, and the sound designing capabilities, relatively outweigh any other consideration? Am I the one that's confused here?

    Granted I've tried out a few thousand VSTis so maybe my perspective as to what's available out there is different.

    I do, however, have to give kudos for OSC support! I'd really like to see what capabilities this gives Circle, as I don't know how it's been implemented or seen an example of this in use.

  • D. Kristian

    I agree that this is a somewhat expensive softsynth, but I think the price will drop, or there will be a promotional discount offered in the coming months, as was the case when Camel Audio first released the Cameleon 5000. Circle is a well designed, great sounding synth, but it's not as deep and versatile as u-he's Zebra 2, or innovative as AAS' String Studio.

    That said, I also agree that Circle has great potential as a learning tool (yet another reason to lower the price). I'm already recommending it to friends who are just getting into Electronic music.

  • cosmonaut

    "What’s innovative to me is the cleanliness of the interface."

    *shrug*

    NI has done something similar for the last year or two and they both borrow heavily from ableton. i think it's more hype over a wanna be boutique instrument cast in abeltons image.

  • fiz

    Cost question aside, it may be that what distinguishes Circle as a unique instrument is as many folks not liking it as there are that do. I was definitely prepped to care less for Circle's interface when I downloaded the demo. (Last thing I need is to drop another 2 bills on a softy… But, as soon as I sensed how the sounds I was creating were flowing directly from the lighted shapes I was seeing, it was all over.

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

    @cosmonaut: Really? I mean, these things all do have a tendency to borrow from each other, which to some extent is a good thing. The filter graph, for instance, is a pretty straightforward x/y plot of a filter — hence, we can read it. :) To me, though, this looks quite different from the Ableton synths. They're more about presenting a lot of information in a compact space; this is more about a full screen with extra space and visual feedback on routing. Ableton has you focused on one parameter at a time, in other words, or the key parameters, as makes sense in the context of a host, whereas this is more of a synthesis workflow where everything is there at once. As I said, the closest similarity is to Massive, but the feeling for me of using this and Massive is very different, and I tend toward different sounds.

  • cosmonaut

    I agree, massive was the first thing I thought of myself as a comparison. But I meant they seemed like they were aligning them selves alongside of Ableton's marketing presence.

    Now, I'm all for finding that one product that will take your work flow to the next level, but I tend to be a very conservative buyer.

    If you're just starting out and / or considering massive, this could be an alternative. But considering they both cost 200$ and the differences may surmount to personal preference in the GUI, I'm wondering if they aren't trying to sway your purchase by offering you the sizzle of their brand against the establishment of NI's.

  • http://none johnboy

    Hello,

    i tried the demo and some of the presets sound really good and interesting.

    particulary i like the way they implemented the routing, to pull the dot from the lfo to whatever destination yu want is really well thought out. The filter did sound ok to my ears, the oscillators sound good too. the interface is well done in general. it took minutes to figure out the basic usage of FAW.

    however, i can´t stand working with softsynths anymore. i´m a bad keyboarder but it´s priceless to twiddle real knobs and push real buttons.

    johnboy

  • http://www.elektron-users.com actuel

    already a nice update in case anyone is still following:

    Future Audio Workshop (FAW) has updated its wonderful semi-modular virtual synth Circle to v1.0.2.

    Changes :

    - Added a CPU economy mode in the setting pane. This allows Circle to use less CPU for a minimal reduction in audio quality.

    - There have been some updates to the OSC messaging.

    - A bug related to the mouth filter clicking during modulation has been fixed.

  • http://syncretism.net niall

    Eoin wrote:

    Ok ok, I’m going to come forward here and disclose that I did in fact partake of up to three cups of industrial-strength coffee during my interview with Gavin. There may have been biscuits involved. (Eh, there were supposed to be beers though???!!!)

    O, well there goes a nice opportunity to ask if they gave you Galway Hookers. Too bad.

  • Hyram H.

    I love the interface. The further away the computer is from my creative flow, the better I like it.

    What would SERIOULY own is Circle running on a Jazzmutant Lemur. That, I would pay any price for. ANY price.

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