Waldorf Blofeld Review


You were always into bad guys? Then you don’t wanna miss out on this evil beauty! Although being around for quite some time and having planted devil-ish plans everywhere, you might like to face the most complete and intense review ever on the Waldorf Blofeld series – including a free SL sample-set by CFA-Sound. Join us once more!

Mr. Blofeld, Mr. Bond!

There are plenty of virtual-analog synthesizers out there – and there seems no reason why a plugin can’t do the same work. Right? Well, for “live on stage”, for being in touch with the instrument, and for the ones believing hardware does offer the magic touch, even for the virtual-analog section, Blofeld has quite something to offer.

Waldorf became famous with its wavetables, expanding the “simple” oscillator section of saw, square and sine big time. They also managed to not deliver the same kind of VA-sound like Roland or Access, addressing the more harsh, exotic, cold or maybe digital/hifi sound corner. “From Germany with Love” the welcome screen says – well, let’s see…

Hardware.

Having a Blofeld in your hands for the first time, you quickly realize the quality this synth offers. The housing is all-metal, knobs are well fixed and everything is just right in place. The keyboard is a truely valuable light-weighted one with great playability, aftertouch, velocity, everything. It’s nice to see Waldorf built in the power converter – so all you’re carrying around separately is a thin cable. The display is literally great: huge, well readable and a pleasure to work with – maybe the best way to compensate the few knobs and buttons for accessing all parameters. Blofeld offers MIDI in/out, USB for fast MIDI/SysEx transfer and sequencer control – so everything standard for fluent studio work. All those connections work without any problems and don’t require a dedicated driver on modern computers. The ice on the cake would’ve been some usb-aided, Virus TI Control-related plugin…

A completely different aspect is, that for a low price there are some sacrifices to make: the LEDs slightly flicker when turning a knob – not really a problem and not causing any issues. Besides that, it takes (professional) headphones with high resistance to use the dedicated jack, as you will otherwise hear background white noise. However, the stereo-outs work with any kind of headphones and offer professional quality all the way. The left channel works as a single-jack stereo-out, if desired.

Inside the Box.

As mentioned before, the wavetable part is and always has been the feature fascinating synthesizer fans & freaks. Due to them, and especially the chance to load own wavetables, Blofeld can adopt manifold sonic facettes like acoustic instruments, e. g. a bass guitar, or other synthesizer features like the JP Supersaw, Virus Hypersaw and many more. In combination with the famous PPG filter and enoumerous multimode filter models in general, there’s quite a lot to play with.

3 oscillators (all Q-Series oscs included), 2 of them capable of wavetables (all Microwave Series tables included), offer some serious punch. 3 fast LFOs, 4 fast envelopes, a huge modmatrix – they are everything needed to make the often evil and harsh Blofeld character shine. However, the latest soundsets released by Waldorf, e. g. the Rob Lee set, show very nicely the silky and smooth side of this synth. Really cool are the loop envelopes repeating certain parts of an ADSR curve – sometimes all you need to do is take a patch you like and switch the envelope to loop mode: this can really do crazy, groovy or lovely things to a sound.

Effects like chorus, flanger, phaser, overdrive or reverb finalize the respective patch. Especially chorus and reverb are well suited for judging a synth’s quality – and the Blofeld does quite well here. Surely the reverb isn’t of Lexicon or ArtsAcoustic kind, and especially as there are quite some metallic sounding wavetables around it has to be used carefully – still, on smooth pads for example it shows off its quality.

Some interesting features for achieving complex sounds are still to mention, like the pretty versatile arpeggiator, capable of up to 10 octaves, delivering inspiring patterns – and, most importantly, being open to completely free pattern programming, including glide, accent and some more candy. Next to the loop envelopes mentioned before, Blofeld can run up to 16 single patches simultaneously – although it might be hard to use it extensively. With up to 25 voices in total where 1 osc consumes 1 voice, 16x multimode with 3 oscillators is not possible. But honestly: you probably couldn’t control such a thick sound without ending up in a muddy mess anyway.

Diversity.

So what’s the sound all about? Well, Blofeld can do so many things – the currently available soundsets prove it once more. We got a chance to test Rob Lee’s and Ingo Weidner’s soundset, and judging from that it can do convincing analog sounds right next to modern electro and dance music tunes. Rob Lee really managed a perfect balance between the evil, nasty side of Blofeld and the soft & smooth one – you may enjoy earthshaking basses right next to smooth and warm pads. Ingo Weidner focussed on pure analog sounds, recreating famous machines like oberheim, moog and many more. You ever thought Blofeld can only do the cold and nasty part? Think again…

Rob Lee Demo
Ingo Weidner Demo 1-16
Ingo Weidner Demo 17-32
Ingo Weidner Demo 33-48
Ingo Weidner Demo 49-64
Ingo Weidner Demo 85-80
Ingo Weidner Demo 81-96
Ingo Weidner Demo 97-112
Ingo Weidner Demo 113-128

Sound.

There’s very different taste out there, diverse opinions of how a synthesizer has to sound. We like about Blofeld that it can do very different, from harsh and evil to smooth and silk, although it requires quite some sound design skills for that. Well, make your own decision – we created a detailled demo (all sounds are from the Factory / Rob Lee / Ingo Weidner banks):

Blofeld Demo

Pushing borders.

Waldorf has always been well-known for expanding the principles of substractive synthesis by special oscillator-types being wavetables. However, implementing a sample option surely expands the sonic possibilities once more. Blofeld offers the so-called “SL option” – which the user can unlock on the desktop version or receives right away as it comes to the keyboard version. 60 MB flash ROM are available to surprise with special sounds – and the free “Spectre” editor by Waldorf may ease turning your blofeld into a synth-rompler-hybrid. With this you may truely add the typical Waldorf touch including the famous filters and drives to any sample. Just a pity there’s no possility to expand the ROM space… In our download section you can find a free sample-set for the blofeld(sl) designed by CFA-Sound, which contains supreme sounds out of the Virus TI – CFA-Sound VirusSL Blofeld[WPC]

Besides this being great comfort, a minus remains: the user may currently map the keyrange of samples with root and highkey, whereas the lowkey parameter option is still missing (and according to Waldorf currently in the works).

The sample factory contains the following instruments: Clav, Piano, Acoustic Gtr, Zither, E-Organ, Mixed Choir, Ney Flute, Marimba, French Horn, Kalimba, Strings, Tubular Bell, Pizzicato, Hi Hat Open, Hi Hat Closed, Ride Cymbal, Cymbal, Crash Cymbal, Cymbal Bell, Tambourine, Triangle, Guiro, Bongo Low, Bongo High, Agogo, Infinite Ending, Sad Strings, String Chord, Sweet String, Score Spectrum, Gong Spectrum, Soft Gong, Hose, Electricity, AC 230/50 Hz, AC 110/60 Hz, Machine, Shellak Viny Noise, Sonar, Spring and Impulse.

Bad Blofeld.

There are always those annoying “minus” aspects about a product – and this is not any different. To be honest, it took Waldorf quite some time to deliver a well-running system, especially speaking of the keyboard edition. Obviously this is the price to pay when a small company tries hard to deliver new soundware, not sticking with a single product like Blofeld. However, the current firmware seems to be mostly bug-free, and after a long-awaited, separate keyboard firmware update, all Blofeld versions work like a charm. Besides that, we recommend to all Blofeld customers to watch the official Waldorf website download section for new additions, as there are quite some at a time but not a single mention on the news page…

Sweet Downloads.

There’s one big issue for sure: Waldorf doesn’t offer an official editor for Blofeld (besides Spectre, offering sample management for own wavetables). Although the display is quite huge, well readable and after a while makes the synth easily editable, this is nothing for experienced sound designers who like to work in no time with a good editor. You’ll probably find lots of magazines and blogs citing the hope of an official editor – but actually there’s bad news: after a chat with Waldorf there’s currently no plans for such a highly anticipated goodie. However, there are quite some free, third-party solutions available:

[1] Waldorf Blofeld Editor 1.13c by Kotró László (download),
Wavetable Creator 0.2beta (download)
[2] Blofeld Virtual Editor 0.8.3beta by Softknobs.com (download old version)
[3] Waldorf Blofeld Editor by Wojciech Chabinka (download)
[4] Free Samples, Patches, Soundbanks at Stromeko (download)

To our knowledge, they only work for PC and not for MAC; the only MAC editor in development wasn’t accessable lately so we left it out here. Furthermore, although we need to greatly acknowledge the work those people invested without being paid, there’s no “ultimate editor” out there until now in terms of full functionality and stability.

[1] is probably the most complete one, including full patch- and even multimode-management next to the actual sound design. Sadly there’s not really a GUI – and most importantly it often crashes; still, in terms of functionality this is the best choice. [2] is a quite nice-looking and well working editor, but it lacks full patch management: you can only load a single patch, design it your way and upload it again. [3] is another nice-looking editor, but with limited functions even for sound design – and with quite some polish labels as the author is from Poland; so unless your language skills aren’t including polish, this is probably not your choice.

To finish this section with quite some goodies, you might wanna notice there’s plenty of free sounds, patches and samples available for Blofeld at [4]. It’s also worth visiting the official Waldorf website for free sounds – we really liked the Easter Soundset for example.

Summary.

To be honest this was quite a journey. Being excited what we get for a quite low price, Waldorf didn’t disappoint us at all: the synthesizer is truely well-built, a real eye-candy and lots of fun to work with. The sound follows James Bond’s Blofeld by being really bad, harsh and nasty, but with some sound design skills just as silky at the same time. The sonic possibilities are huge, the sound is crystal-clear and professional. By using the SL-expansion option, the user can load own samples – so if you enjoy sound facettes from other synthesizers like virus ti, JP80XX or also acoustic sounds like e-pianos and strings, you can easily load them into your Blofeld and have exactly that sound passed through Blofeld’s supreme filter and effect area. Since the SL-option is already included in the keyboard-version of Blofeld, this seems the most attractive buy to us. Only one thing disappoints: the missing editor. Free options are available thanks to lovely people investing their time without being paid, but all those solutions don’t work perfectly. Still: looking for a professional and versatile virtual-analog synthesizer, wrapped in precious hardware for very few money – there’s no other choice out there. Well done, Waldorf!

Positive:
- superb sound
- high end filters, including the legendary PPG filter
- Microwave wavetables inside
- optional SL option for the desktop version, already included in the keyboard edition
- top-notch manufacturer quality
- excellent price-value ratio

Negative:
- some features not perfectly working or details missing (e. g. lowkey mapping option, previously buggy OS)

Waldorf Blofeld Desktop, ca. 390 Euro
Waldorf Blofeld Keyboard, ca. 700 Euro
SL Option for Blofeld Desktop, 99 Euro

More information: waldorfmusic.de

Sound Quality - 100%
Features - 100%
Value for Money - 100%

Summary: Waldorf didn’t disappoint us at all: the synthesizer is truely well-built, a real eye-candy and lots of fun to work with. The sound follows James Bond’s Blofeld by being really bad, harsh and nasty, but with some sound design skills just as silky at the same time. The sonic possibilities are huge, the sound is crystal-clear and professional.

100%

Well done, Waldorf!


Published on January 10th, 2013

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