Rob Papen Blue 2 – The Planet Crusher!
Rob Papen Blue-II synthesizer review
Blue-II is a PC/Mac instrument in 32- and 64-bit VSTi, AU and AAX formats. Titled ‘Cross-fusion synthesis’, and after a little Googling, I found that’s Rob’s made-up term for ‘it pretty much does everything‘, and I think he has a good point. A mix of FM subtractive synthesis with phase distortion and wave shaping – what you’ve got here is a pissed-off DX-7 on steroids….and things are going to get loud!
Just to further provoke the beast, Blue-II features a whopping 6 oscillators, 2 stereo filters with 27(!!) filter types, and a bunch of pretty nifty tricks like a step sequencer, arpeggiator, envelope generator and trippy XY pad. Four FX processors are available with various routing capabilities and 35 FX types. Neat analogue features like drift and sub-oscillators are added. With around 2500 patches, Rob Papen is seriously holding nothing back here.
Ok, so it’s big. But do you know to use it?
The XY Screen is worth the price of entry alone. Use it in vector mode or set up your own parameters, drawing paths on the screen for the oscillators to chase is not only fun but intuitive and very musical. You can modulate oscillators with oscillators, and though the routing system is a little tricky to get a grasp of at first, it’s amazingly powerful. Once you get used to it, configuring patches is a breeze.
There is a mind-boggling number of oscillator samples to choose from – analogue, additive, spectral, wave samples and more – this is the all-you-can-eat buffet you’ve been dreaming of. I actually found a lot of the base oscillator samples were really useful raw with no processing applied, that’s always a good sign. There are no life-like pianos or cellos here, but the strings and vox samples are great, even on their own. Its a bit of a bummer you can’t import your own WAV samples.
Blue-II is a behemoth beast that is a little daunting at first, but with some time spent with your nose in the manual most aspects become familiar fairly quickly. Anything boasting 6 oscillators you know is not only going to be massive sounding, but complex to drive. I’m not going to say Blue-II is a walk in the park, but as far as modular synthesis goes, this is not as steep a learning curve as I expected. If you’re fresh to synthesizer music there are easier paths to take, but they won’t be nearly as much fun as this.
Rob Papen has created a welcome addition to the mega-synth market that fits nicely alongside the likes of Spectrasonics and Camel Audio. Blue-II, for me at least, feels more like a great collection of vintage FM synths bundled up with some really trick technology. While it can be a crazy psychopath if you let it, I think its appeal is more to sound designers wanting a classic synth tone then wacky soundscapes.
Blue II might possibly be too epic for its own good. The incredible amount of presets available means you spend more time auditioning sounds than creating your own from scratch. It seems a strange thing to be complaining about. Even the number of filters available to choose from makes you cross-eyed, and to be honest each offer only subtle differences.
Blue-II has the potential of being the only synth you will ever need, it’s just a matter of deciding if you have enough time (and brain power) to sit down and study all its finer points. It’s all too tempting to just mindlessly click through the presets until something sticks, but then why would you bother getting a giant piece of kit like this when there are plenty of ROMPlers out there?
Since I’m a techno-geek, I’m happy as a pig in mud with Blue-II. It’s pushing my synth knowledge and I’m learning new skills, and the rewards are well worth the effort. The sound is top-notch, as it should be from such heritage. It deserves to be up there with the big guns, let’s hope it doesn’t crush itself under its own weight.