When I reviewed the Orba back in late 2020, I was told there was no plan to open up the internal synth engine to users; That because of the limited resources available it would be difficult to make it user friendly. Artiphon just didn’t seem to think there’d be much interest. Well, I’m happy to report that the company has finally realized the error of its ways and built a (reasonably) friendly UI that allows you to custom design patches for the Orba’s internal synth engine.
The core is a two oscillator engine with triangle, saw and square wave options, with pulse width modulation. There’s also a noise source and a ring modulator that you can mix in as well. There’s an LFO, three envelopes, a multimode resonant filter, a waveguide for physical modeling, as well as reverb and delay effects. It’s not the deepest set of sound design tools you’ll find, but it will still allow you to craft a wide range of sounds.
The engine seems to excel at sparkling plucks, organ drones and digital howls. The one thing unfortunately you can’t do is build drum kits, you’ll still need to rely on prebuilt sound packs for those.
The app itself is free (“for now” in the words of Artiphon) for MacOS and Windows, and is laid out logically from left to right, broken up into modules that should be familiar to anyone who has spent time exploring a synth. The few somewhat unique bits are the waveguide and gesture mapping controls.
The waveguide, which models the harmonic behavior of strings or pipes, depending on the setting, adds an impressive amount of complexity and some rich tones to what is otherwise a fairly simple synth core. You can even blend between the plain dry singal and that from the waveguide for additional depth.
OrbasynthTerrence O'Brien / Engadget
The gesture controls is what really makes Orbasynth special, though. It is, rather obviously, built specifically to use with Artiphon’s Orba, so taking advantage of its unique gesture controls should be a given. Here you can map tilts, shakes and outward glides to control everything from LFO speed, to filter cutoff to vibrato.
It would be nice to see a few more options added to Orbasynth to really open it up. The LFO for instance only has a rate control, no depth and you can’t assign it to custom parameters. Similarly some further control over the effects would be nice, as would being able to control the waveguide with gestures.
Still, it’s hard to complain too much when this is something I and plenty of other Orba users have been clamoring for since day one. And, it’s free. Even if you don’t have an Orba you can go download the app from Artiphon’s site and start exploring.