Originally announced about nine months ago at NAMM and discussed amongst synth users ever since, it has not been an easy synthesiser to get hold of as production has been slow from the get-go. But it is slowly coming to a point where stocks of Waldorf’s flagship synthesiser are looking to be heading Australia’s way very soon. For those of you who are looking for a real workhorse in sonic exploration, this is going to have you screaming to hand over your hard-earned cash. Straight out of the box, before I even powered the unit up, I was impressed. It is big. It is heavy. It has beautiful timber inlays in each end of the metal housing. It looks like it has been built to last. And then you engage the power switch and realise it has been built to impress.
The keyboard comes to life with an LED at the base of every potentiometer on the top panel, of which there are more than 70 – yes, more than 70 knobs to play with, and every one of them has a smooth action that is a joy to adjust. The pitch bend and modulation wheels are cast in a slim metal design and have a really nice feel to them, with just the right amount of spring tension so that you have perfect control of your sound. There are a couple of dozen buttons to go with all of this and then, in the middle of the panel, there is a colour screen that brings it all together and makes working with the Quantum a real visual experience as well as an aural one. Move any controller on the top panel and the screen jumps to the relative window to show you exactly what is happening with your controller. Envelopes not only show the slope of the signal, but show animations of each of the eight voices and their positions through the envelope as the sound is played. You get a real visual idea of how long notes are taking to decay and can really come to terms with how to better understand your sound sculpting with this added information. EQ and dynamics are shown visually too, along with waveform shapes, so you can see just how any parameter affects the visual representation of the sound.
The Quantum is backed by a 4GB internal flash memory that is preloaded with 1GB of samples, wavetables and presets. Being that Waldorf has become so well known for their wavetable synthesis over the years, it is to be expected that this would be the basis of the engine in the Quantum. When you add in the visual element of the colour display and are able to see the wavetable laid out in front of you, it really comes to life and changes one’s understanding of how this style of synthesis works to bring a sound to life. So, yes there is plenty going on visually, but of course it all comes down to the sound in the end. The Quantum sounds, as one would expect of a Waldorf synthesiser, very German. Unlike limited German techno-machines like the Pulse, this sounds like a German synth that has a very international feel. There is a bit of everything going on in there. It took me about an hour to stop jumping back and forth through the presets before I actually started looking at what it could really do. You could very easily work with just the presets and never go beyond them – aside from some minor tweaks – and get amazing results. But when you look at what is on offer with three stereo oscillators and up to eight simultaneous waves per oscillator, along with six LFOs and six envelopes, you really won’t get caught up on just the presets for too long.
The Quantum just cries out for you to experiment with your sound and it makes it so easy to do it. The top panel layout is very intuitive and well labelled for an ease of workflow that lends itself to creativity. There is plenty going on with the I/O side of things too. With two pairs of stereo outputs, along with stereo inputs for sampling and real-time processing of external signals, all the sound is given the care it deserves with 24bit A/D converters to ensure the best quality both in and out. Of course, there are MIDI in, out and thru ports on five-pin DIN connections, along with both USB A and USB B connections for a host of connectivity. Did I mention it was built like a tank? Well, it is. Not the sort of keyboard you want to take with you to rehearsals three times a week, but certainly one you would want on stage for the sonic capabilities. For the many years I have played with, admired and owned Waldorf synthesisers, none have come close to this monster. The Waldorf Quantum is without a doubt one of the best digital synthesisers I have ever powered up – possibly the best.