An affordable compact synth with some bite - and a surprising amount of features packed into a small amount of space. This is no single scoop of vanilla, it appears; we'll be ready to go hands on with it here in Germany soon. Photos courtesy Waldorf, click for biggie size.

An affordable compact synth with some bite – and a surprising amount of features packed into a small amount of space. This is no single scoop of vanilla, it appears; we’ll be ready to go hands on with it here in Germany soon. Photos courtesy Waldorf, click for biggie size.

Germany may have a reputation, deserved or not, for staid, conservative engineering. Waldorf’s Rocket isn’t that. Yes, this new desktop synth has a multi-mode analog filter and the usual complement of MIDI, envelope, and modulation controls. But with a “Booster” circuit to make the sound more aggressive and a full eight oscillators in unison/chord mode for some thick super saws, this promises to be a machine with some teeth. And at €244 (€205 without VAT), due next month in advance of Frankfurt’s Musikmesse trade show, it’s the latest desktop synth that says you can get a lot of sound value out of hardware.

It’s also friendly, with USB power and USB MIDI (in addition to MIDI DIN), a built-in arpeggiator, and lots of hands-on controls (which Waldorf says are “high-end” – look forward to trying them).

We just have a lot of questions coming up when we see Waldorf in April. The Pulse 2 analog synth is also promised for “spring,” so it’s a question of actually seeing these instruments in the flesh and hearing more about how the two compare.

Sonically, I’m definitely intrigued. There’s no absence of features or options to keep sounds spicy. Updated: Yes, these appear to be digital oscillators, which would differentiate this from the Pulse 2 with its analog oscillators. But having eight digital oscillators opens up some sound possibilities. (The puzzling thing is this “eight” business, of course, but that seems to be only in unison or chord mode rather than dedicated oscillators.) In the layout of the controls, however, it appears there are some unusual decisions to fit everything into that square, and those may not suit everyone – at least based on a first glance. A number of knobs and switches do double duty, and the Sustain and Release envelope parameters are switches rather than knobs. (One of those, I could see, but with two, and no attack setting, creating envelopes seems unnecessarily tricky.) I’m eager to try this out to see what it’s actually like to use. You can bet I’ll be visiting Waldorf in April when CDM heads to Musikmesse.

And with VCF input and all these built-in options, this seems ready to prove you can have a non-boring synth at a budget price and in a compact size.

(Oh, and here’s a note to KORG: look, you can even set the MIDI channel. Cough.)

Analog multimode-filter (VCF) with Low Pass / Band Pass / High Pass
VCF-input
Highly flexible oscillator-section with pulse width modulation and hard sync
Up to 8 oscillators in unison for chords or Ultra High Density Sawtooth
Low Frequency Oscillator (LFO) for modulation
Envelopes for VCA, VCF and Sync
Booster circuit to generate aggressive sounds
Arpeggiator with different rhythmic patterns
Glide
USB powered
MIDI in and out
Extensive control panel with high-end pots and switches
Control via MIDI and USB
MIDI clock sync
Line output
Loud headphone output
Launch key for easy pre listening
Made in Germany

Rocket @ Waldorf

More pics:

rocket_backview

rocket_topview

37
  • TT

    VCO, DCO or purely digital oscillators? <- HUGE question mark

    • Bodo

      When there’s no mention of the kind of oscillator(s) on board, you can be almost certain they are of the digital (Blofeld?) variety

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yes, there would be almost no way to do 8 analog oscillators in that case – there isn’t physical room, for one. And you can bet if somehow they had, they’d be pitching the analog oscillator selling point.

      But digital oscillators make perfect sense here; no complaint.

    • Edward On-Robinson

      Of course there’s room for 8 analog oscillators (although I’m sure they’re digital ones in this case). You don’t need a lot of circuitry to make an oscillator, and it doesn’t take up much space with SMT; if you’re using ICs rather than discrete components, You can make an oscillator from a 555 time, but most people rather start with something like a high precision quad op-amp for flexibility (for example http://www.jameco.com/1/3/quad-op-amp-ic).

      The box is fairly tall. the obvious approach would to have two circuit boards, one on top for the panel circuitry, and another one underneath with the connectors and the nose making circuitry – like that Bleep labs drum machine you reviewed a week or two back.

    • Greg Lőrincz

      With the 555 you still have to shape the waveform to get sawtooth or triangle and that’s needs additional discrete components.

    • Radiophobic Workshop

      $250 synthesizer, I would be very surprised if it was anything other than purely digital.

  • markLouis

    Peter, the shadowy fear of abandonment lush gardens [!] frightens developers, too, since most apps get used once or twice and then abandoned by the people who downloaded them. You see a lot of hardware products. Do you suspect–maybe in a little way or a bigger way–that the market dynamics of software apps is affecting hardware? What I mean is, are companies building more and more mid-price or low-price things with strange, idiosyncratic feature sets trying to capture novelty buys and impulse purchases with the fingers-crossed kind of hope that some product may become a sensation? Are the dynamics and expectations of software app stores starting to shape hardware in some way from what you experience?

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Actually, yes, I absolutely think the app economy is having an impact – not in a direct way, but in that the commodification of software is a reminder of the better manufacturer value proposition of hardware. But I can’t say that for sure, because I can’t get inside the heads of the makers. It seems, at least, fair specification – and it’s a good point.

      On the other hand, if you mean are they going for more of a niche audience, no, don’t see that – given how much stuff is at a lower price point, I’d say we’re seeing previously-niche buys (like hardware synths) for a broader market.

  • KNS

    What happened to the Pulse 2?

    This looks cool tho.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Actually, it seems very much like *this* is what happened to Pulse 2. But I’ll ask them about it.

  • heinrich zwahlen

    Now we’re talking..great sound for little money. Hey Peter, didn’t know Germany had a reputation for conservative engineering, certainly does not apply to music software where they’ve been very innovative for that last uhm..20 years or so:)

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Conservative as in reserved – in sound – not lacking in innovation. I think it has something to do with BMW or … who knows. ;) Waldorf was playing this up, so I decided to play along.

      I’m a country redneck from Kentucky, so MeeBlip is slapped together with a lick of spit and possum claws.

    • Joshua Young

      My mom’s side of the family all live in Germany, and you better believe there is an “old guard” that is very conservative and almost annoyingly meticulous when it comes to engineering cars, synths or even ball point pens. But it’s awesome to see how the younger generation is changing everything and creating a more dynamic, more progressive society. NI, Ableton and Waldorf are all part of this … and I’m noticing more smiles and less lederhosen every time I go back for a visit ;)

    • Paul Abruzzo

      You shouldn’t be so happy about that. That annoying “old guard” is the reason why things are still made so good in Germany. The “young kids” with their new progressive dynamic is why everything made elsewhere is going to shit.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Oh, PS – I’m actually really curious where these phrases like “superior German engineering” and so on originated. The best I can figure, they actually came from American ad campaigns for Volkswagen, possibly then varied from there, and 80s CEO James Fuller, and bastardizations thereof.

      Of course, I poke fun because I believe thoroughly that good engineering can come from anywhere, and does so routinely on the site.

      As for the Rocket, my main interest is whether the experience of using it and the sound live up to the ad copy, and for the moment, we don’t have much to go on. But it’s nice to have an upcoming highlight for Messe when we’re still a number of weeks away. Looking forward to a great show, and a leisurely train ride down from sweet home Berlin.

    • markLouis

      Ever use a Leica M9 camera? Good engineering CAN come from anywhere, but Germany has been doing it for a long, long time.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Sure, absolutely. And I’m a German resident, have used a Leica, I purchase Agfa film, I live around the corner from NI and a short bike ride from Ableton and use their products and know their engineers, I’ve put on quite a few miles in a Mercedes, I have friends who work for Daimler and for VW, and I do my laundry in a Miele. So, I am aware German engineering comes from Germany. ;)

      No, what interested me was the ubiquitousness of this *phrase itself*, which I think can’t be an accident – and it seems the origin is that it was drummed into American ears via our televisions by German auto makers, as near as I can work out. Because no matter how good your engineering is, it also helps to have marketers. But I’m not sure exactly the origin – still curious.

      The Miele might even edge out Ableton and NI in importance in my life at the moment. ;)

    • heinrich zwahlen

      It is true there is that there is plenty of stereotypes about Germans and German engineering..and i noticed that particularly once i started living it the US. This can be pimped for better or for worse.. Maybe we can blame it on Wernher von Braun for having designed these rockets and saving America from Russia and communism taking over space:)

  • http://www.facebook.com/djjustinreed Justin Reed

    Rockit is already a synth – what a rip!
    http://hackmeopen.com/rockit-build-info/

  • Chris Sciurba

    Very interesting and at a highly attractive price point. Definitely curious to learn more about this one.

  • Basti

    i dont think this synth got 8 osc! this is a big stupid marketing lie. from a small stupid company full of blabla -> where is the pulse 2?!? i think this is a simple 1 analog osc synth – with a “special” mode to generate an unison-effect. read the specs of the pulse 2 on the waldorf website. there is such a feature. and look a the panel of the rocket – on the osc knob you got a 8 mode. thats it, the next 1 osc synth. waldorf makes me sad…

  • SiobhanG

    Why make it usb powered? What if one doesn’t have a computer to hand or wants to use it live and a computer wil just get in the way? I know a USB power supply can be bought, but it just seems daft to me to make it only usb powered. Maybe I’m missing something.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ezmyrelda Ezmyrelda Andrade

      Why not? USB power is just a specific voltage and amperage.. I believe the power adapter that ships with it is just a wall wart with a usb end on it anyway.. if you lose it you can just go down to best buy or what have you and get a replacement..

    • Jean Paul IV

      Plus everyone get USB adapter from their smartphones! Hope USB powering will be the standard soon and that we will stop ‘collectionning’ power supply (jack with ground on the center or on the side, etc.)

  • winterhater

    looks like a toggle for wave shape, then 2 knobs for detune. im guessing one is detune ammount and one stacks more oscilators

  • winterhater

    it seems very similar to the synth section of the monotribe

  • gLOW-x

    What will ppl DO with it is the only real concern. Concepts, specs…splitting hairs ;) ppl made more music with stylophone and Casio cheap keyboards than with some expansive synths full of features and specs. Sub 250 bucks, essential features…now it is time to HEAR what ppl do with it. That’s where KORG do wonderful things with their killer demos and support artists ;D
    Thanks for your article !

  • Brian stevens

    The sounds seem a bit “tired”, dubsteppy and dirty bass stuff that’s very stylish with the young crowd. Hoping the spectrum would be wider. Listen:
    http://www.palmsounds.net/2013/02/ive-gotta-waldorf-rocket-prototype-by.html

  • http://twitter.com/lazytrap mute

    I like. The launch button, I’m assuming, executes the editor/patch manager. A quality h/w synth the size (or smaller) than the monotribe with full usb/midi/etc support… cheaper than many competing vsts?

    Kind of figures this sort of thing would become more prevalent, other soft/hardware companies have been doing this for 5+ years now for amps, compressors, mixers, etc. (UAD, et. all). Only makes sense Synth companies like Waldorf would follow suit.

  • Greg Lőrincz

    Why all the criticism? It’s a low budget, compact synth. It has digital oscillators so we can afford it. We’re incredibly spoilt. People made groundbreaking music crappy synths and drummachines in the 90′s without moaning all he time. It’s not like Waldorf has betrayed us. On the contrary, they’re reaching out for the low-budget musicians. Bless them!

  • http://www.facebook.com/clesoine Charlie Lesoine

    Looks a bit slapped together and a strange departure in style from the previous sleek blofeld or pulse synths. Straight up copping the exact same switch style from the Monotribe. Why copy when Waldorf already has it’s own unique style?

  • gwenhwyfaer

    Umm…

    “this seems ready to prove you can have a non-boring synth at a budget price and in a compact size”

    Offhand, the synths I can think of at this kind of size and price point are the MFB Nanozwerg, the DSI Mopho, the Shruthi-1, the PreenFM and one you may know a little about yourself, the Meeblip. I don’t think a single one of them could be referred to as “boring”. Perhaps soldering and debugging a Shruthi-1 qualifies, but otherwise…?

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yes, I’ve been pondering a round-up for this reason, actually, though — I might have to hang a huge disclaimer on there, since I do make one myself. Ahem. ;)

    • papernoise

      Wasa bout to say the same thing and honestly, the Meeblip, Preen FM and the Shruthi-1, all somehow seem more intriguing. Among those the Shruthi-1 seems the one with most similarities (digital osc, analogue vcf) but yeah… huge disclaimer also for me… :)

  • regend

    Waldorf Pulse is the business. Check out live playing bass of Waldorf so you can compare it with the digital Waldorfs. FYI: NO SEQUENCERS:

    https://soundcloud.com/scuzzy/knowsleep-i-movement-scuzzy-cover-with-live-band

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IgpZ6HYNXY

  • Esager

    I’m really excited about this little guy. I’ll add that the Waldorf sound is very unique, their digital oscillators are outstanding, so a stack of 8 should sound incredible. Besides if you don’t have the need for digital oscillators, that filter input will let you run your own analog ones through. There’s a new use for that Monotron that you have laying around. I wonder if theres some sort of added polychain functionality there if you have more than 1. The price is definitely impressive for this feature list. I’ll echo Greg comment when he mentioned the many classics that were made in the ’90s with inexpensive gear. We are certainly spoiled these days with all these options.

  • roberto

    but…it don’t have an attack time control (ADSR)…..so it can do only Bass and lead sound ? no drone…no soft synth….