D16 GROUP LUSH-101 – TOTAL PACKAGE
The D16 Group have a well-thought-out selection of vintage electronic instruments in their catalogue, the LuSH-101 being the flagship synth of the line. The rather humble Roland SH-101 synth inspiration has been transformed into somewhat of a beast with clever use of modern VST technology. So this looks very promising.
I am very excited to try out LuSH-101, not just as a fan of D16 products in general but I have for a long time pined to own a genuine Roland SH101 synth due to many of my favourite New Wave bands from the 80s using them. This is one synth that I never managed to play, let alone own.
This multi-layered offering certainly looks the part and I am intrigued to see how well the 8 layers can be incorporated into a playable instrument. I could not wait to get LuSH-101 downloaded and installed. This should be fun!
LuSH-101 is an unapologetic Roland SH101 subtractive synth clone featuring most of the original controls and wavetables from the original hardware synth with a selection of thoughtful modernisations.
Most noticeable is the multi-channel module allowing the device to run as either separate devices or a massive eight-layer single patch beast!
Included is a full mixing section with EQ, compression and effects making LuSH-101 a full sandbox-style production tool. For more control, you can bypass the mixer and route directly to your DAW if you prefer.
Each of the eight layers includes a full gamut of synthesis controls: arpeggiator with presets, insertable effect, dual envelope and LFOs, plus typical synthesis controls such as filter, wave mixer and oscillator – all controllable via separate MIDI channels, of course.
Really, this is eight separate synths with a global mixer. The name LuSH-108 is very appropriate and I bet that was a consideration when they named it.
You can further split individual layers into keyboard zones, making for really interesting combinations of sounds.
The synth features 32-note polyphony, 8-voice unison oscillators with supersaw, HardSync and typical Saw, Noise and PWM choices. A nice-sounding sub-oscillator for each layer with 5 waveform choices, two featured LFOs, and two envelopes with an equally nice-sounding filter section.
LuSH-101 comes with a whopping 1600+ presets. You will never be stuck for inspiration here.
For an instrument over six years old now the gorgeous GUI looks crisp and modern, with a good amount of retro aesthetics in slightly Star Wars-esque red-on-white styling.
The high-res GUI looks amazing, especially with the option to swap between 1087×675 and 1449×900 on our high-resolution monitor. The ability to scale greatly assists the navigation, a big thumbs up for this feature.
The GUI design is skeuomorphic and unapologetically inspired by the original hardware, and overall it is very immersive and fun to use. I found it easy to get confused as to what layer I was working on due to the largely white and grey colour scheme, often making changes to the totally wrong channel before I realised. The small LEDs along the top layer indicator buttons are the only reference to your location, perhaps a subtle colour tint or icon indicating what layer you are on would be nice.
The control dials, sliders and switches are all styled in keeping and have a nice feel, digitally speaking. In typical Roland fashion, everything is rather uniform and regimented looking, but anyone familiar with late 80’s synths from the company will have no problem finding their way around.
There is a strong emphasis on hands-on control with the one-function-per-button controls. The faders and knobs design allows for pattern recognition at a glance, making ADSR, filter and other controls familiar and memorable more from their shape rather than their specific relationship with each other. The natural tendency to dial something up from mesmerising patterns is a big reason why I love to use this synth as my immediate go-to.
LuSH-101 has a simplistic workflow for creating synth tones from scratch. There are two oscillators (square and saw), a noise generator and a variable sub-oscillator. The main filter on each layer sounds nice enough, but a little underwhelming on its own. An option to flip modes from normal to SH-101 style introduces some analogue inaccuracies, though they are very hard to pick.
The sub-oscillator can sound quite growly, especially when pitched low. Inducing the excellent unison control takes a rather plain tone into another dimension
The dual LFO section is a very nice addition and together with the arpeggiator is easy to create pretty wild sounds, even within just a single layer.
Loading a global preset from the main browser could contain tones for multiple layers, depending on the preset. You can actually load individual presets, or ‘Timbres’, for each layer as a creative starting point, then it’s just a matter of wobbling faders to see where the sound leads you.
There is a good selection of presets to choose from separated into single and multis. The vast majority are electronica/EDM focused, but some quite cool retro-inspired patches caught my attention.
The browser allows you to lock sections of your currently loaded presets, only importing elements to the unlocked layers. A nifty idea and great for somewhat randomising sounds. You can star-vote your favourites, but strangely there is no way to search for patches.
There are a few very cool surprises buried away so it’s well worth cycling through to get a feel for the synth’s capabilities. Everything from leads, pads and full mixes of drums, bass and sequenced arpeggiators are available.
The modulation section is simple yet surprisingly powerful once you start digging in. A source is defined with a destination, in a kind of “if this, then that” process. A slider graphic lets you pinpoint how much of your modulation is available. It is simple and works rather well.
The arpeggio and gate
A simple sequencer with gate controls, and as with the mod matrix, is surprisingly flexible when used in conjunction with the LFOs and arps from other layers.
The sequencer is a basic 16-step affair with ties but no accents. The range and repeat controls hark back to the hardware sequencers of old, and the preset browser holds a bunch of handy patterns with most of the classic dance grooves on call.
I found the gate control very effective for altering an arpeggiated groove on the fly, especially when used in conjunction with the filter cutoff and resonance to open up and lengthen the notes.
The mixer section
The mixer is key for creating larger comps so it’s worth spending a little time understanding the routing. There are multiple points for inserting reverbs, delays, EQ and other effects that drastically change the sound, taking you off in different sonic directions.
Again, some slight colour tint variation would help identify sections as the white-on-grey GUI looks to clump everything into one big mass of faders and knobs.
The EQ is a little harsh for my taste, but I feel the design ethos here was for colouring the sound not for corrective surgery. The simple 3-band filter covers high and low with a sweeping mid. The high end can get very fizzy when pushed; great for effect, but not so much for the ears.
Each layer has a channel compressor which sounds surprisingly nice, even when pushed pretty hard. It bites when hit hard, but I still really like the sound of it. Unfortunately, there are no gain reduction indicators so you’re left to judge everything by ear.
The effects section is outstanding, especially the reverb device. The included presets are all well-tailored for synth tones and mostly all work well.
Applying any of the effects to even a simple sine wave I was able to create excellent leads from just using the mixers compressor, EQ and effect processors alone.
Each of the effect processors has a dedicated bus channel with character EQ, which is a nice touch.
The only thing missing is a master bus compressor and possibly a global saturation processor to glue everything together. You can easily add such 3rd party effects in your DAW, but I think something tailored for the synth would have rounded out the whole package perfectly.
LuSH-101 is a deceptively complex instrument which is reflected in the CPU hit. Though our test machine handled a single instance of the instrument with ease, it was a different story once inserted into an arrangement.
Loading up each of the layers with arp, FX and all the trimmings expect your PC resources to dwindle fast. LuSH-101 gets very glitchy once you start sharing PC resources with other sample libraries, so a little restraint needs to be shown, or perhaps bouncing down freeze lanes when you’ve finalised your workings.
Even running on its own presets can range from a few to up to a whopping 40% CPU per instance, depending on the number of layers in use.
I do not feel there are memory leaks or anything like that. This is just a beast of an instrument that loves to chew RAM. The more you can feed it the better.
While not an overly deep synth in single-layer mode, the ever-increasing complexity of dual LFOs, arpeggiator and effects on each layer, combined with the flexible modulation matrix, this monster synth is capable of sounding absolutely huge.
The oscillators are chunky and pack a punch. The low range sounds best to me, with lots of characteristic analogue roundness. The extreme high-end, on the whole, gets too sharp and buzzy for my taste.
Though the instrument excels at bass sounds, the pad and string capabilities are phenomenal. The layer effects and unison voices can produce huge pad and string sounds totally outside the capabilities of the original hardware but at the same time provide a flexible and very modern sound.
LuSH-101 certainly has a retro vibe but the presets and general design of the instrument push more towards contemporary EDM and pop. It is capable of being stripped back to a convincing new-wave-sounding vintage emulation, but on the whole, I think the target market is not purists.
The layering and mixing features have been implemented well though there is a hefty CPU price to pay once you start hitting the limits of the instrument’s capabilities.
At around $250 NZD I feel this is pricey but good value. There is plenty of competition on the market at this price point, but nothing as authentic and featured as LuSH-101. While there is some room for improvement, the overall workflow and design are excellent and certainly one of my top-5 synths for both immersion and ease of use.
LuSH-101 has a full demo available and is included in D16’s Total Bundle deal. Check the website for full details and purchasing options www.d16.pl
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