FXPANSION CYPHER 2
Looking, sounding and flowing better than ever, this revitalised plugin synth takes performance expression to new heights
Nine years after the release of the original Cypher – then a member of DCAM Synth Squad (9/10, 143) – version 2 of FXpansion’s virtual analogue synth (VST/AU/AAX/ Standalone) is here. With the developers now owned by Roli, Cypher 2’s headline feature is support for the MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) standard, enabling the ‘5D’ modulation signals output by controllers such as the Roli Seaboard and Lightpad Block, and Roger Linn LinnStrument, to be assigned to any and all parameters, for unprecedented depth of expression on a per-note basis.
Beyond that, in terms of the sheer volume of changes made to the original Cypher, the sequel is a huge step up, and we can safely start this review by saying that the £64 upgrade fee is a no-brainer for existing users.
Cypher2 is still a three-oscillator synth with two filters, two waveshapers and up to 32 unison voices. The oscillators can now use a sine as their starting wave shape, as well as the established triangle, with the Wave knob morphing through saw, square and pulse; and the audio rate modulation routings have been diversified so that Osc 1 can now take (throughzero) FM from Oscs 2 and 3, and each can be ring modulated by the next.
All of these inter-oscillator modulations (as well as filter responses, envelope and LFO shapes, etc) are beautifully visualised in the contextual Scope Panel display. This could do with a ‘pinning’ option, though, as it only ever shows the waveform of the oscillator currently under the mouse pointer, which isn’t necessarily the one you’re actually working on. You can’t see, for example, the changes made by the tuning of Osc 3 on the frequency modulated output of Osc 2 as they’re dialled in.
You now get four more filter types to choose from, too, the original SVF and Moog being joined by an MS-20-style Sallen-Key, a Rolandesque OTA, an edgier Moog and a comb. The two Shapers are similarly beefed up, with five new modes (two wavefolders, soft clipper, diode clipper and rectifier), all of them enabling keytracking for the incorporated one-pole filter.
One of the biggest areas of improvement in Cypher2 is the TransMod modulation system. This is FXpansion’s alternative to the traditional mod matrix, putting 24 slots (three times as many as in v1) at the top of the interface, each housing any modulation source from an impressively extensive menu, plus a secondary scaling modulator. With a TransMod slot selected, dragging up and down on the collar that pops up around any knob or slider when moused over sets the amount by which the TransMod source modulates it. As well as the increase in slot number, a plethora of new modulation sources and scalers has been rolled in, including the brilliant Euclid processor (a cross between an XY pad and a spring-loaded physical inertia modelling system), three curve remapping processors, two editable keymaps,
and a range of paraphonic functions and gates. The three ADSR envelopes remain largely the same, but the two LFOs now feature sub oscillators that clock-divide the main oscillators for mad rhythmic modulation, and are available as separate mod sources in their own right. There’s also an entirely new Maths section, in which four pairs of mod sources are brought together through a variety of mathematical functions – gloriously scientific stuff for those who can get their heads round it.
The completely new and immensely powerful Sequencer page is home to a Step/gate Sequencer, an Arpeggiator, a bank of eight scale selectors and three Mod Sequencers. The last can be used as TransMod sources and/or used to modulate the eight parameters in the Matrix section, which include Pitch, Duration, Scale and switching between up to eight sequences. It’s without doubt one of the most advanced internal note generation systems we’ve ever seen in a synth.
Finally, with Cypher, effects were loaded into the optional DCAM Fusor shell, but now they’re handled directly within the synth itself. Two chains of three effects each are provided, configurable in series or parallel and mixed manually or via TransMod. There are 30 high quality modules to choose from for each slot, from EQs and filters, through dynamics processors and distortion, to reverbs, delays and all kinds of modulation effects.
More than before
We’ve focused on Cypher2’s new features here, but everything that was great about v1 – wave modulation, audio-rate S+H, preset morphing, tempo-synced oscillator beating, etc – is still here, and none of it has lost any appeal over the last decade. We’re surprised that a couple of old UI bugbears haven’t been fixed, though. First, the mouse pointer doesn’t change appearance when placed over the mod amount collar (but at least the collar lights up now), so it’s easy to accidentally dial in a modulation for a parameter when you mean to adjust the parameter itself. More frustrating is not being able to reset controls to default by double-clicking.
Like its predecessor, then – but much more so – Cypher2 is an incredibly deep, unyieldingly complex plugin that pushes the limits of what an ‘analogue’ synth can do and be. The addition of MPE makes it a must-have for owners of any compatible controller, but for everyone else (us included) the real draws are its big, warm sound, empowering, expansive architecture and endless versatility.
“With the sheer volume of changes made, the sequel is a huge step up”
PRESET MORPH Morph between presets and ‘freeze’ intermediate states MIDI MAPPING MODE Switch between 2D and 5D control PRESETS More than 1300 patches in a searchable, taggable browser AUDIO-RATE MODULATION Apply FM, RM, WM and sync X/Y & EUCLID Click to open the XY pad and Euclid generator controls RAMPS Two very useful modulation and scaling generators TRANSMOD Assign up to 24 modulation sources to limitless targets DUAL LFO Divide the main oscillator with the sub oscillator MATHS Four modules for mathematically combining sources PERFORMANCE KNOBS Three assignable modulation macros DUAL FILTERS The two filters boast plenty of types and modes VISUALIZER See your routings and waveforms in real time
The Sequencer page is absolutely stuffed with wonderful creative notegenerating systems