Synthstrom Deluge Review

The Synthstrom Deluge – a new stand-alone portable synthesizer, sequencer and sampler- is now shipping.

The Deluge lets you do grid-style sequencing, using 128 RGB pads; play samples from SD card (up to 32GB); create new sounds with an internal synth engine (FM & subtractive synthesis); control other gear, via MIDI & CV/Gate outputs; and work anywhere you like, since it has a built-in battery, mic and speaker. 

This video, via loopop (Ziv Eliraz), offers an overview and review of the Deluge, along with his take on what makes it unique:

Features:

  • Piano-roll-style sequencing on 128 full RGB pads (16×8) with scrolling and zooming.
  • Full-featured Internal synthesizer engine (subtractive and FM).
  • Plays samples from SD card (up to 32GB SDHC).
  • Sequencing limited only by device RAM (many thousands of notes).
  • Polyphony limited only by CPU. Typically around 48 synth voices or 64 unaffected sample voices may play.
  • 64MB of sample ram – work with up to 12 minutes (if mono) of CD-quality samples per song.
  • Live adjustment of synth and effect parameters with two endless-turn encoders with LED level-meters.
  • Easy buttons to select the functions these control. Parameter automation recording.
  • Advanced syncing capabilities. Weird time signatures supported. Adjustable swing.
  • Dedicated volume and tempo knobs.
  • LFOs and envelopes on each synth / sample. Highly customizable patching matrix.
  • Synthesizer engine features LPF / HPF, arpeggiator, portamento, oscillator sync, ring modulation, unison detune, and more. Four basic waveforms, or select any WAV file from the SD card.
  • FX including delay, reverb, chorus, flanger, phaser, bitcrushing, sidechain effect, live stutter, and more.
  • Time-stretching of samples
  • Keyboard mode, where the pads become a live instrument on a 2D grid.
  • Preset or custom scales, or chromatic mode.
  • Internal speaker, rechargeable Li-ion battery (6+ hours of operation), and microphone.
  • 3.5mm mic and ¼” line inputs.
  • Two ¼” line outputs, and 3.5mm headphone output.
  • 2x CV outputs. 0 – 10V, individually configurable to 1, 1.2, 0.26 or 0.32 volts per octave, or to hertz per volt.
  • 4x gate / trigger outputs individually configurable to v-trig or s-trig, with shared voltage switchable between 5V and 12V. Trigger clock output configurable, up to 192 PPQN.
  • Trigger clock input, also with adjustable PPQN.
  • MIDI input and output via hardware connectors or USB. Syncing via MIDI beat clock as master or slave.
  • Simultaneously output separate sequences to all 16 MIDI channels, 2 CV / gate channels and 2 additional gate outputs, in addition to internal synthesizers / samples (limited only by CPU and RAM, as above).
  • Powered via USB or 9 – 12V centre-negative (pedal-style) power supply (500mA) (not included).
  • User-upgradeable firmware – expect updates from Synthstrom Audible.
  • Dimensions: 305mm x 208mm x 46mm (12 x 8.2 x 1.8 inches).
  • Weight: 1.5kg

Pricing and Availability

Synthstrom is currently shipping pre-ordered Deluges. They have not announced pricing and availability yet for the next batch, but you can sign up for their mailing list at the site to get updates.

29 thoughts on “Synthstrom Deluge Review

    1. Maybe to keep costs down? If I had the cash I would have pounced on this beast during the intro price. Still might buy it full price if I come into some expendable income.

      1. it is because the grid is the display. I think the dev has a very flexible firmware so could eventually code in different display settings for the grid. If you are concerned about menu diving, the entire grid has individual shortcuts for synth params. It’s really direct. Mine’s on it’s way within the week. 😉

        1. lucky you.
          i got the feeling i missed the best hardware sequencer at a good price…

          (especially as some nice features are not mentioned. like that you can have different bassline variations for example and one can mute the other automatically)

    2. Big displays are usually compensating for the fact that synths don’t have enough physical controls.

      Does a Moog synth need a big display? A DSI synth? No – they’ve got tons of physical controls, so you don’t have much menu-diving.

      This has tons of controls, too, so it doesn’t look like that would be an issue.

      The other thing is that you add a big color display on this, and it’s going to cost $1,200 or more, like and MPC Live, instead of $750. (that’s what the pre-orders went for, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t end up being a little more than that).

      1. No, a large display will not increase the price by $400 to $500 dollars! And no one said this requires an enormous display. Displays with their controllers in the size range of 2.8″ to 6.5″ (diagonally) cost anywhere from $14 to $78 per unit! Vendors such Phoenix Display, Edge, Advantech, and Pacer to name a few will accept orders as small as 50 to 200 batches depending on the display.

        Whilst Moog and DSI may think displays are not a requirement, having access to parameter information and minimising menu diving is greatly aided by intelligent design and display choice.

        1. Think about what you’re saying.

          Let’s say you add a $78 part – that’s before markup, which is often 100% on hardware.

          Then consider what you’d want to see on that screen. How about wave displays, to make editing samples nice and visual! Somebody’s got to program all that stuff, which would be tremendously time consuming. A device like the MPC Live is designed by a big team of people, not by a dude in New Zealand.

          I know that some people want to put an iPad screen on everything, but some of us still prefer physical knobs to touchscreen and menus.

          If you want to watch TV, get a damn TV! But if you’re making a synth, put some knobs on it!

          1. You’re not making any sense. I certainly don’t need a touch display nor a screen the size of an ipad. Having information, and parameter values and even seeing a wave-shape/form coupled with ample knobs needn’t be mutually exclusive.

            I have designed synths for a living Jert. You don’t need a team to create a functional UI. There are libraries of UI code.

            The market per part is not 100% and you of course used the the most expensive part. Then again, your first assessment was nearly $500.

  1. Whilst the feature set is impressive, the display choice is terribly short cited and limiting. In the age of high resolution colour screens and even HD monochromatic OLED displays, this is just horrid.

    Why work in the blind when you needn’t to! Can you imagine figuring out the edits you have done after the fact?

  2. Yeahhhh…. not a big hardware sequencer fan. I’ll let lemur or touchable do the midi. It’s so much easier and as complex as you want it to be with minimal wires with the help of studiomux. But if you have the cash or cash or the need then by all means go ahead.

  3. It’s looks pretty interesting. As far as the display it doesn’t need one. The intuitive layout of all the controls together with a 4 segment display reminds me of the the SE Engine – they don’t need displays – it’s goal of the design not to have the crutch of needing to use a display for fast workflow and live use.
    I want to look into it more though, I wonder how it handles samples, if it simply loads samples into slots it probably doesn’t need a better display, if it has advanced editing then maybe it could be an issue. (even then my favorite samplers of all time are Ensoniq EPS and ASR-10 and they are deep and have minimal displays).

  4. The internet eh? Another piece of gear that someone has never seen in person, or touched, is pronounced horrible in some way.

    I understand if a thing doesn’t look like your cup of tea. But someone else may look at the same exact thing and think “this makes so much sense to me.” The bottom line is, do you like working with it? If you don’t, you don’t.

    My Deluge should arrive early this coming week. I looked at it as the perfect way to sequence and mangle my field recordings of found sounds. I am more interested in it as a synth and sampler than as a drum machine. I will see how I get along with it before declaring it incredible or horrible.

    1. Shadow, that is a fair statement. However if your statement is directed at mine, in fairness I derided a single aspect of this instrument for which I felt was critical to its functionality. And I may be wrong yet I spoke of my preference. And it speaks nothing of the sheer brilliance of all that this instrument does seemingly well.

      Cheers!

  5. Hmmm, all the functionality of this could be easily replicated as an iPad app. This in itself is enough to put me off this.

    1. It certainly looks like the iPad could replicate the Deluge, but…
      (and I bought an iPad specifically for this)
      …it has not been able to pull it off after all these years.

      All the grid sequencers, that run several sequences and run external devices are not very tight, are they.

      There seems to be something in the iOS, that makes it difficult to make it happen.

  6. It’s a wonderful machine. I’ve had mine for a little while now and am thoroughly enjoying it. I took the Synthstrom Deluge 2hr Challenge and made a recording within 2 hours of opening the box. I barely knew the device. Also, I was hindered by the really small display. ?

  7. I would’ve bought this if it had more midi and cv outs. 1 midi out? 4 gates and 2 cvs? With that paltry amount of i/o, you are really banking on people caring about the internal sounds and sampler. I for one, don’t.

  8. If I buy an Arp 2600 I don’t complain it hasn’t got a screen. Methinks synthesis these days is too infected by gamers and ipad kids. Music is sound not vision. This machine looks pretty good and the screen doesn’t matter at all.

  9. Been there done that, I own tons of things that can already do what this does…..and who are they kidding with that price?

    1. Have you got tons of sequencers that can do 10.000+ bars in one pattern, or 65.000+ notes in a sequence ?

      Anyways, the price is for: “.. a lifetime software license – with this project, it’s not buying a machine, it’s buying into a special community – one where the developer is so dedicated and committed he is continuing to support wholeheartedly his previous version which sold just ten units – that small group have had their device change radically the past year with a feature set far beyond what they bought into. This is the kind of person Rohan is (the main/only developer) and why I work with him.
      I wanna see what Rohan comes up with, not what others already have.” (Quote from Ian Jorgensen, project manager @ Synthstrom)

      1. I agree wholeheartedly. I bought into the Spectralis years ago for the same reason. It, like the Deluge, was a labor of love by someone who truly wanted it to be the best machine it could be, rather than worrying about selling thousands of units. In this case, for whatever reasons, the Deluge seems to be enjoying much more rapid development (perhaps since technology has become cheaper since then? I’m not sure).

  10. The Deluge has a huge 128 pad/pixel display plus loads of controls and other display elements. The lack of a screen is one the main reasons why I prefer this machine to all other sequencers/DAWs.

    There aren’t many stand alone grid sequencers available and none that I know of compare to the Deluge. I tried a Novaton Circuit but it is extremely limited and could not even remotely replace a DAW. The Polyend SEQ looks nice – but is more expensive and has no synths/samples/effects.

  11. For anyone who is criticizing the size of the screen and hasn’t laid hands on the machine, I implore you to seek one out by any means necessary and just give it a try. I was skeptical at first too. But there has been so much thought and planning put into this thing, the screen size really doesn’t matter. Every function has been planned out down to the finest detail and it is the most intuitive piece of gear I have ever owned, and I’ve been through just about every groovebox there is. Seriously, before you assume that the screen is a hindrance, just try it. This machine is a gamechanger like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I’m just glad I was fortunate enough to have the funds for it when I saw a used one for sale. Give it another year or so and people will be dying to get their hands on one, once word gets out.

    One thing that doesn’t seem to be listed in the spec list in this review that should really be talked about more is the polyphonic pitch shifting! You want to talk about a game changer? This allows you to run any monosynth you like through it and play it as a poly. You set up a synth patch with one oscillator using line in as the source. Choose the note intervals you want for your chords and enter a single sustained note across your pattern to let the line in audio play at each of the pitches and boom. You run your monosynth through the line in and you can play it live in real time as a poly. It could be that I’ve not been getting the most out of my other gear for the past 15 years and had this feature without knowing it, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the case; as far as I know, this is the only machine around that can do this.

    I could go on and on about how great the Deluge is. It’s changed the way I look at making music and has made it fun for me again in a way that nothing else has. Got it next to my Tempest and I have all the analog, digital and sampling that I need. And don’t just assume that the onboard synth engine of the Deluge is simply tacked on or something like that, it’s extremely capable and I think it sounds wonderful!

    Much respect to Rohan and the rest of the team that is working so hard on this. I hope they do sell thousands of these and I hope they get all the props they deserve because they really have created something very special. Like I said above, give it a year or so to let the word get out and this will be the piece everyone wants. <3

  12. This machine looks great for wielding samples and composing but am I really going to have to view my file system through a 4 character display? 4 characters might not be a problem when jamming or composing but storing projects and browsing samples through this minute window seems problematic.,

    1. The 1.4 firmware dropping real soon which we are beta testing right now, includes scrolling of the text in the display in a neat way.

      Anyways, I’ve been browsing my massive library and storing lots of projects on it, and it’s not that bad at all 🙂

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