You will encounter the Mutant 1-4 button when you move from left to right in the signal chain. One press and bring up the OLED parameters on the right. (Noticing a trend?) Depending on which mutator you choose using the encoder above, you’ll see several options for controlling here. But most fundamentally, you just turn one knob to say, say PWM, then the other set the wet / dry value of your choice.
There are eight different mutators to choose from, but I would like to briefly focus on PW-ASM, or Pulse Width ASM. There are two things that make pulse width modulation special in hydrasynthesis. One, you can use it in any wave shape – usually associated with PWM square waves. And two: in ASM mode you can create your own custom pulse width patterns. PW-ASM splits a wave into eight distinct sections and you dial the amount of modulation around each slice point. This is not the easiest thing to explain, but with this feature I have enough knowledge of Synthesis. (If you do, please let me know in the comments.)
Below the mutant are the buttons for ring modulation and sound parameters, and then as you follow the line representing the signal chain on the right you can see that they are all feeding into the mixer. Here you can dial the volume, ring mode, and noise sections of each oscillator, as well as panning for each. And this is where you decide how many to send to a filter and whether the filters are series or parallel. It’s one of the categories with the most pages of options for scrolling, but it’s still straightforward. Press the up and down buttons on the side of the display until you see the parameter you want to see, then turn the knot on its side.
After the mixer, you will see your audio signal with your envelope (ENV) at the top again with the signal chain branches, filters, amps and effects off again with LFOs at the bottom and middle.
By default ENV 1 and LFO 1 are connected to filters, while ENV 2 and LFO 2 are connected to amps. There is no way to break the connection between ENV 2 and amp, it will Always Define the total volume of your words. This does not mean that you cannot control the volume of the oscillator separately; That means you have to be creative.
So if you want OSC 2 to come after OSC 1, you can use ENV 3 to control it, a little more attack time than ENV 2. To make the connection you can press and scroll the Mode Matrix button at the top. All options. But the easiest way is to hold the ENV 3 button, then press the mixer button. Then those two modules will be connected automatically and all you have to do is select the parameter you want (in this case OSC2CVol) and dial in depth. It is also worth noting that there are six stages of hydrasynthetic envelope – delay, attack, retention, decay, survival and release – in contrast to the more common ADSR. This means you can actually delay the start of the envelope for a certain period of time after pressing a key.
Even more interesting are LFOs. Although you can use them to create hushing filter sounds and mild pitch warblers, you can also use them as a sequencer. Step mode lets you create a customized modulation pattern up to 64 steps.
On the fourth page of LFO settings, though, you’ll find the SemiLock option – that’s where the magic happens. You see, Hydrasynth does not have the exact sequence, but you can use LFOs locked in Semitone thanks to the latest firmware. So, with fairly minimal work, OSC 2 can come behind OSC 1 and play tunes on a pad. This is just an example of how to use this power. You can sequence anything from filter cutoff to wet / dry mix to reverb to detune or glide time, and even mutator parameters. This level of control opens up a whole world of possibilities.
At the end of the signal chain you have four effect slots to work with: a pre-FX, a post-FX and the sandwiched between them is a dedicated delay and reverb module. The next two have a few different varieties. The reverse delay is nice, and the plate and hall reverbs are hard, my favorite setting for clouds.
The post- and pre-FX sections have the same options to choose from, including Phaser, Distortion, Compression, Rotary, Tremolo, and more. But at the end of almost every patch, my favorite is Lo-Fi. You can lower the sample rate to get some crunchy digital sound, and there are a variety of filters that give you the quality of something to play with over the phone or radio. It’s a nice touch to keep everything from getting too crisp and clean.
Here’s the thing: it’s only scratching the surface of what Hydracinth is capable of doing. There are several options in the voice menu to add depth and warmth like a vague analog feel. There is an incredibly capable arpegator with eight different modes. There is a macro section where you can assign multiple parameters to a single knob so that words can be dramatically converted in a performance-friendly way. And I’ve rarely mentioned a keyboard that has a polyphonic aftertouch – at this price point it’s basically something unheard of.
The Hydrangea Explorer, at least under the hood, is virtually indistinguishable from its larger counterpart the Hydrangea Key, which costs almost twice as much. So what are you giving here? Okay, the Explorer has a mini key instead of a full size one, but it may not be detrimental to some people like me with small hands and limited piano skills. There’s no proper pitch and mode wheel, instead you’ll get a touchstrip; They are OK, but not nearly as accurate. The biggest disadvantage is the loss of control. Filter knobs have been reduced from five to three, and larger models have eight versus only four macro / parameter knobs. But to be honest, these are small sacrifices to reach this price.
One last thing to address is that ASM calls the Hydrangea Explorer “portable”, but this is true only in the most technical of the senses. In addition to the included AC adapter, you can power it with eight AA batteries – which is not a small amount – for three to four hours. Also, the Explorer weighs 7.5 pounds and is about 22 inches long. Of course, it’s smaller than the 22-pound and 32-inch of the hydraulic keys, but it’s not something you’d toss in a backpack and bring to the park. Although easy enough to toss in the trunk and bring to the jam session, the fact that ASM does not include or sell a travel case for it weakens the portability pitch.