support reviews Image Line Sawer

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While not a straight emulation, Sawer is intended to pay homage to the envelopes and filters of the Polivoks, and as far as the sonics are concerned, it does a very creditable job. Image Line have secured the services of veteran VSTi designer Maxx Claster, who knows his way around a virtual synth or two. The basic set-up is pretty much as you'd expect from a decent analogue-based soft-synth:

  • Main saw-shaped oscillator for subtractive synthesis
  • Sub oscillator (-2 to +2 octaves) with level, phase & detune controls.
  • Noise oscillator.
  • Variable polyphony (1 to 24 voices).
  • 8 voice unison with user-adjustable stereo panning, detune and 'Octaver'.
  • Sync & Ring frequency modulation.
  • 2 ADSR envelope generators (one user-assignable to modulation parameters).
  • 4 filter modes - low pass (24 & 12 dB/Oct), band pass and high pass.
  • Chorus, Phaser, Delay & Reverb effects
  • Muti-mode Arpeggiator

... what sets Sawer apart is the introduction of a few "deliberate mistakes" in the code, simulating the imperfections that made the original hardware so distinctive, and giving a fuller bass, some light noise on the attack and an overall richer sound.

Sawer doesn't go as far as emulating the Polivox's tendency to detune during use - something that even the most dedicated of purists would surely find an annoyance rather than part of the hardware's "character". Also the programmed imperfections aren't quite as fully realised as those in the aforementioned Olga, although in practice this makes for a more stable tweaking experience (Stillwell's soviet synth can be rather unforgiving at times).

So far so good then. The synth's sound has a great presence, cuts nicely through the most dense mixes and, while clearly better suited to searing leads and beefy basslines, sonically it holds its own in that corner very well. The arp provides plentiful possibilities, and the built-in FX are competent. The supplied presets also give a solid bank of sounds to get you started... provided you can access them that is...

You see, it's here that we hit the first of Sawer's problems. The synth uses Image Line's online preset library, which means the first time each sound category is accessed, the application goes online to download the presets. Now, in theory this is a fine idea. Users can be sure of an up-to-date selection of presets, and once a set is downloaded they're stored on the local machine. The problem with this is that the Image Line downloader runs as a background app and requires an active internet connection to function. Once the presets are downloaded this isn't that much of an issue, but when you've optimised your set-up with the minimum amount of background clutter hogging valuable system resources, its annoying to have this extra bit of software forced on you. Not only this, but for a company who's flagship product is such a firm favourite with laptop producers, the reliance on an internet connection is frustrating. Popping the laptop in a bag and working up a quick idea while out on the road or waiting for a flight simply isn't a fun experience when preset-skimming forces your PC to hunt for a wireless connection every time.

Further problems were encountered when using the synth in a host application. We tested Sawer with several non-Image Line products with mixed results. Ableton in particular proved problematic, the synth losing settings several times on saving, closing and re-opening the software. This unrealiability alone makes Sawer a no-go in one of the most popular single-screen DAWs.

Sawer is a frustrating product in many ways. The synth itself is perfectly competent, and does a fine job at bringing some of the Polivoks' charm to a software environment. We coaxed some great sounds out of it, and had a lot of fun tweaking away at the well-balanced filters.

The problems seem to come from Image Line's VSTi wrapper, which seems temperamental to say the least, and the fact that you're forced to go online whenever you wish to browse the preset library.

So a mixed bag then. On the one hand a well crafted synth with lots of audio potential, but on the other, an implementation with some annoying niggles, and with unreliable results in environments outside of Image Line's own applications. Without these problems we'd have no hesitation in recommending it, but until that time we have to rate accordingly. Original from

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