Perfect for the DJ that wants to add some individual performance to their set, the Toraiz AS-1 synthesizer packs a lot into a small package. The AS-1 is an analogue monophonic synthesizer created as part of a partnership between Dave Smith Instruments and Toraiz (this same collaboration produced the Toraiz SP-16). The AS-1 is based on Dave Smiths iconic Prophet 6 voice and offers the same dynamic synthesis engine to produce cutting leads and hypnotic bass lines.
At a little over 26 cm wide, this compact little synth does well to tailor to its purpose. It's 11 knobs control the most commonly used functions: both high and low pass filter cut-offs, resonance as well as attack and decay/release envelope behaviour. Between these and a slider (which can be assigned to adjust one of seven parameters), you have most live tweaking variables covered, especially as an accompaniment to a DJ set. Programming patches from scratch on the small screen using the 'Param/Category' and 'Value' knobs is less enjoyable, but the Sound Tower sound editor gives you control over every parameter in a neat layout designed to mimic the layout of the Prophet.
The software is free but some of its advanced functions (serving as a patch librarian for example) need a purchased licence to unlock the pro version. It's hard to see an immediate need for this, as the AS-1 has a whopping 495 preset programs and 495 user programs split over the five banks. This also serves well as a shortcut to begin programming a patch, finding a similar style from the presets to save time adjusting the parameters. Two digital FX engines add character to the patches and greatly increase the scope for sound design. The fact the slider can control FX depth of either or both add a lot of flavour to performance. Utilising the large preset banks to cue up successive sequences with subtle changes in the patch and FX is a great way to create an interesting progression.
The AS-1 features a ribbon keyboard which while not being so inspiring for performance, serves well for programming the internal sequencer. The sequencer's 64 steps are saved with patch data to a program and can only be programmed by step, which is a shame considering it could've been good to connect an external MIDI controller and record steps in real-time, but traditionally this hasn't been the approach to step sequencers anyway. Apart from the obvious choice to save costs on the ribbon keyboard, the decision may have been inspired by keeping the AS-1 as rugged as possible. I have no intention of throwing this synthesizer across the room, but I'm confident it could handle it. The AS-1's internal analogue components make it quite heavy, but it feels compact and secure; ready for life on the road.
The fact the AS-1's knobs transmit MIDI makes it great for working with DAWs, allowing you to record a MIDI automation envelope to map back into the synth. Ultimately they've done well to create a synth that's easy to program and useful in the studio, then ready to flex in a live setting. What struck me most was the richness of the raw sound and the scope for sound design across such a flexible synth engine. There are a surprisingly large amount of analogue mono synths on the market at the moment, but the Toraiz AS-1 shines as being purpose-built for DJ's, with tactile control and quality sound packed into such a small foot-print. This collaboration between two companies at the top of their respective games packs a punch you can feel.
Hits and Misses
Quality of tone
No real-time sequencer recording