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Since first seeing the StudioLogic Sledge at Musik Messe in the Spring, I've been itching to get my hands on one. The large format, expansive yellow synthesizer is rather bucking the usual trend of less knobs, more menus. It has 8 voice polyphony, 999 memories and is mono-timbral - no splits or layers.
First, lets clear up a misconception - the Sledge is actually a collaboration between StudioLogic (an Italian keyboard manufacturer, who make a lot of keybeds for 3rd party vendors too) and Waldorf. They are the current torch holder for German wavetable synthesis combined with virtual analog. The Waldorf Blofeld is what many people assume the Sledge has inside it, but it is in fact something different. There are less routing and modulation options available, with pretty much everything being given a one-to-one physical control.
What this means is that there are 32 knobs, three chicken head switches, and 37 buttons. These control what appears to be a 3 oscillator, single filter, dual envelope (Amplitude and filter), 3 LFO, subtractive synth. Connections are rather unorthodox in that they are on the left hand side - with Stereo output plus headphones, USB, MIDI IO and two pedal inputs, all on 1/4 jacks.
Lets start with the oscillators, osc one has multiple waves: Sawtooth, Square, Triangle, Sine, Pulswidth and Wavetable. This gives you 66 waves from the original PPG to muck about with. Osc 2+3 are simpler with Saw, Square, FM Triangle and FM Sine and Pulsewidth.
They sound okay, not the fattest oscillators, but acceptable for a VA. What is interesting is that they all have a 64' to 1' octave range. Wavetable and Pulswidth can be modulated for all oscillators (though not separately).
The filter is a single multimode - low pass, high pass and band pass switchable between 12 and 24dB slopes and will go into self oscillation - you can also add a certain amount of additional drive with the drive control, though it is a bit digital sounding. The filter itself is fine, nothing to get too excited about but perfectly okay.
Keys and Case
Sledge is plastic, there's no getting away from the fact, it's also bright yolk yellow. The build quality feels alright, but you are definitely aware that cost has been considered in it's design. The 61 key keyboard is a light synth action which feels a little on the cheap side, but it does have aftertouch. Knobs I'm guessing are surface mount and do have a certain amount of play to them.
Speaking of play, the thing that grabs you right away is the amount of space in the layout, it's almost like one of those novelty education versions of a classic synth which is 2 or three times it's normal size. There's plenty of room between all knobs and buttons, and it's a refreshing change and very conducive to tweaking.
There are two effects generators: a Chorus/Phaser/Flanger. The chorus adds a huge amount of width to the sound which is great, but when you switch it off, you can't help feeling it would have been nice to have some oscillator stereo spread to give it some width without the use of chorus. The second unit gives you delay (mono) and reverb with time and mix being your only parameters.
Despite this apparent simplicity, I found myself creating sounds with ease - you can just go on and on - there are memories (999 I beleive) but frankly with a synth like this you cannot honestly just flip presets - it should be a criminal offence!
There are omissions - no routing of velocity to filter or filter envelope depth means that responsive touch filter sounds are not available. It would also have been great to have a third assignable envelope for Pulsewidth, wavetable or oscillator pitch etc. I don't know if this is ever likely via a software update, but I do hope so.
A very basic implementation of class compliant MIDI is what you get, just one MIDI IO, no accessing the port or the controls via separate software ports. Nothing to get excited about, it just works.
Even with the synth limitations, your going to find it hard to run out of possibilities for a while, the FM waves of OSC 2+3 give you access to clangourous, metallic sounds. I couldn't quite get the filter to track tunefully when in full self oscillation mode, but it made for some great sounds.
Overall, I enjoyed the Sledge enormously and could quite easily get lost in synthesis time, even though it lacked some more interesting parameters and routings.
My only real beef is that it does seem a little on the pricey side, and you do feel that even at they've had to be pretty cost conscious to bring it in at even £779. But purely as something you can actually play and tweak and interact with in real time, there's not much out there that does the same thing - apart from maybe the Roland GAIA and I think the Sledge has it in terms of sound and certainly looks impressive.
Available in the UK
£779 (street) €799
US $1599 Street
The first one he plays is actually rather lovely....