Synth Spotlight: Spire


You know how you’re always emailing me about making videos covering specific synth models and I’m always like “yeah, maybe later” or “that’s not a synth, that’s a calculator sir”?

Well those days are over: here is the first ever video in our new Synth Spotlight series where we will -you guessed it- spotlight synths! Again with the creative naming here.

First up: Spire. We’ll be covering:

  • Wavetable integration
  • HardFM
  • Super Saw unison
  • Analog/Digital/Hybrid Filters
  • Shaper Filter
  • Roland-style Chorus
  • X-Comp
  • EQ Character
  • Envelope Slope Time/Level
  • LFO Waveform Morphing
  • Weird LFO shapes
  • Stepper

If you have any questions or if you want to join the discussion, head on over to our forum, just please stop it with the calculator requests. I beg you.


All right, welcome to the first “Synth Spotlight.” In this video, we’re gonna talk about Spire and specifically, we’re gonna talk about how this synth is different from others. Why you might pick this synth over another. That’s the whole point of this “Synth Spotlight” series.

There’s tons of synths out there now, which is a great thing, but they- most at least share the same core parameters. Can make the same core sounds. We talk about those parameters in Syntorial. That’s why Syntorial works, `cause you can take what you learn there and apply it to lots of different synths but, that’s also what makes it very hard for you to pick a synth. If they all can do the same core things and they all share so many features, why should you care about one synth over another? That’s what this “Spotlight” series is all about.

Now, I’m just gonna cover specific things I like about the synth. Things that kinda stand out to me. But, if you wanna discuss more about the synth, you have more questions, requests that I cover more parameters in another video, just in the description of the video you’ll see a link to our forum. There’s a topic there I’ve started for this synth. Ask whatever questions you want and either I or other users will get back to you and help you out navigating Spire.

Now, at the time of the making of this video this is version 1.1.14 and overall, the biggest differentiating theme of this synth is that, yes, it’s a very modern sounding synth. But it has all these analog emulation elements in it that you can incorporate in it. You’re gonna see it time and time again as I walk through some of these features and it’s a really cool concept. So first, let’s start with our oscillators.

Now, you’ve got a lot of different options here. Classic, which gives you saw or square, you have a noise, FM, sync. You can even create kind of vowelish sounds like a formant filter. But then, along with all of these which kind of changed what happens right here in the middle of our oscillator, you have this additional set of waveforms and the ability to kind of mix them into your main oscillator type up here creating a basically, a wavetable option to go along with all of your different options up here.

So let me, let me show you an example here with this classic. With classic, we can choose between a saw or a square. We can even pick a hybrid between which is nice. I like a saw square. Meanwhile, down here, we have a different choice. We can, for example, choose sine wave and we can mix that in instead. We go full sine and if we want. So you essentially create a wave table that is morphing between whatever you choose down here and whatever’s going on up here. So it takes each of these oscillator types and multiplies what you can do with them. It’s a really interesting approach this sort of wavetable plus a design structure.

Specifically of all these options, I really love hard FM. It’s this really interesting approach to FM. Before we can explain how that works and why it’s beneficial, let’s first look at FM. So, if you’re not familiar with FM, it’s where one oscillator modulates another oscillator and you usually get these kinds of metallic string-like tones. So by default, what we have is whatever is selected down here, modulates a sine wave and this is the amount of modulation.

We have a basic sine wave now, but as you turn this up we get that metallic tone. Then over here, this sets the pitch of one of the oscillators. Shows us how high or low that FM sound is. That’s FM. This is very straightforward. It’s a nice, simple approach and I like it. It’s easy to use. However, FM has one downside and that is the pitch of your overall sound can change. Right now am playing in G. It does not sound like a G anymore. Almost sounds out of tune. If you wanna mix in this waveform, it’s really out of tune because this is actually controlling the pitch of this one, the modulator. That’s just the downside of FM. You can run into pitch issues. So they invented HardFM.

So, HardFM is a little bit different. It essentially takes whatever way from what you have chosen here and it modulates itself. So this again by default, is a sine wave modulating a sine wave and on the surface, it sounds similar. Okay, great. So what’s the difference? The difference is over here, in the pitch. It’s gonna jump between pitch settings, frequency settings, and it strives to always say in tune till we removed that pitchy issue. You hear it snap? It’s really cool. So it’s a FM, but it makes it way easier to stay in tune and as sort of an extra side bonus. This, instead of mixing in one of the sine waves, this will mix in the next waveform on the list One octave below totally unaffected by FM. So it’s like a sub oscillator.

So here comes a triangle. One octave below For just an extra dimension. So now this sort of becomes this wave table mix. Now becomes a sub oscillator volume knob. You can do this for any sound So for example, This is a violin, when it gets a real raw FM and then mix in the next violin two, right? Violin two an octave below it All right. Hard FM.

Next I’m gonna jump over to our unison section. So by default, it’s pretty straight forward. You pick the number of voices and then you can detune. You can mess around with how the voices are spread out. You create chords and stuff like that but what I really like about this is this density knob Essentially, density changes the sort of spread of all the different voices, it makes them less uniform. It just changes the pattern a little bit. The description isn’t very specific. I don’t know exactly what’s going on but you can hear the nature of the unison change as you increase it

Specifically, they say in the manual that if you crank density, what you get is an emulation of super saw from Roland JP-8000. It’s a classic analog synth that was kind of known for this specific saw unison. It’s just a real lush, thick unison. Compare it to density up here, which they describe the sort of seven voice middle density as a hypersaw, which is a well known saw from the Virus TI a famous digital synth. Just compare. This is a little more cleaner and precise versus it’s just more going on there. It’s lusher, it’s thicker. You can really hear it with nine voices. This is the first example of being able to kind of dial in an analogish emulation into this otherwise very modern digital synth

Alright, next. Let’s hop over to our filter. So, this is yet another example of the sort of analog digital hybrid approach. This isn’t your ordinary synth tutorial.

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We’ve had a lot of different filter types here. Let’s take a look at Acido. This is an emulation of the TB-303. Another classic analog synth bass synthesizer and our envelope is much like our cutoff, by the way. We’ve got different slopes for our low pass. This is like a 24 dB, this is like a 6dB Alright, so there’s an option. There’s an analog style filter Or we can go Infecto, which is like an imitation of the Virus Ti. So this is a digital approach. This is our low pass, this is a 12 dB slope bandpass, high Pass, Notch.

All right, great! so we got an analog option, we got a digital option. But then, since they can do this they created two hybrid filters. This is perfecto, this essentially inside the algorithm is taking elements of a digital filter and elements of an analog emulation and combining them. we got a 24 dB low pass, bandpass, High pass and a peak and they did the same thing with this Scorpio. This again is an analog digital hybrid with various types of low pass and then a high pass, a bandpass. So, you have options here. If you know you want a low pass, high pass or bandpass, try these different things out. Do you want an analog approach? Digital approach? Do you want something in between?

Nice options, what I also like about this filter is they have this one option, Shaper. This combines like a distortion wave shaper with a low pass/high pass filter. So our resonance, we turn off envelope. Our resonance becomes our basically, our distortion amount and saturates a very kind of warm distortion. You can dial in how much of that distortion you want and then you can use cut off. If you lower it, it’s a low pass. Raise it – a high pass. Noon is no filtering.

Alright, so here’s a nice warm kind of style saturation. You can incorporate in your sound or you can go more of like an aggressive digital. It almost kind of starts to sound a little bit crushy at points. and then we can… Very nice, cool little touch to have in the filter. Since there’s two filters here, this is more like an effect. You run through this first one, you can then set your second filter as like a regular low pass-high Pass bandpass. If you want that actual regular filter to come after the shaper. Cause by default, filter one runs into filter two. All right, that’s our filter.

Next, let’s hop over to our effects. So you got yet another wave shaper, but here’s a ton of options. So this is like a more detailed wave shaper. Phaser, got delay, reverb good, just good solid effects with lots of parameters. What I wanna talk about is the Chorus `cause here’s yet another example of incorporating an analog element into the synth.

It’s got a lot of modes and by default J8 is selected, which is JP 8000. Again, this classic Roland synth. One of the things it`s known for is having this wonderful chorus. It’s kind of like the chorus that other choruses try to emulate. What I love about this is you don’t have to set anything. If you just want this classic lush chorus, just increase your dry wet. Ah! So nice. But again, maybe you wanna kind of start to move over into the digital realm.

All right, so it’s a cleaner, more precise chorus We get thinner and thinner. So eventually, with one we have more of a flanger. Increase your full back, turn on your delay and then you can get this. Real flangery sound. So I love their approach to chorus.

Next effect I want to talk about is this X-Comp. This is a multi-band upward downward compressor and if you’re not familiar with that, usually they’re way more complex. There’s a lot of different parameters. This is literally just one knob. Everything else is set internally for you. It’s kinda like a secret sauce of this synth You turn it up a little bit and it instantly makes your sound more kind of upfront louder and aggressive. Just that like sort of It’s a real sort of typical kind of compressor result that you want.

All you need to do is turn up one knob and on a plain saw it’s not so obvious. So let me show you on a couple presets. See here we go without it with it. Ah! It`s kind of in your face now. Ah! It’s just instant oomph. Let’s look at the next preset this one doesn’t have it on it. Now with it. Ah! if you want your sound louder, more aggressive, just dial up this knob If you go really far with it it squeezes the life out of it, which is kind of a cool effect in itself.

Typically, you wanna keep it right around here. All right, and last in the effects is this EQ. Now, for the most part, it’s just sort of a boring simple EQ. It’s there for you to use. No need making EQ complex. It is what it should be. You got a shelf, peak and shelf. However, it has these character presets up here. So here’s a plain saw You can boost it, That just makes it louder pretty much. You can also make it warmer. Listen to the low end the body of the sound. Kinda thin.

There’s another example, of like bringing this almost kind of analogueish sort of warm characteristic into the sound. Then you also have the soft option which just takes a little bit of the highs off Again, that can kind of get rid of some of that sort of precise high digital sharpness. Very nice. Okay, that’s our effects.

Let’s move on to some modulation sources. Let’s talk about our filter. Oh, excuse me. Our envelope and you’ve got four envelopes. One, two, three and four. Three is set to cut off by default. So let’s enable it. We got a decay going down to a sustain So, it looks like an ADSR at first attack, decay, sustain, release but there’s two parameters in between. This is slope time and slope level. It’s really like a second decay and sustain.

Let me give an example. You know, oftentimes an envelope with the decay sustain part, you usually use it for one of two things You either can create an attack transient like this. Right, so I’m shooting my cutoff down really fast increase this DEOW attach transient or you can create kind of a longer fade like this. But what if you want both? what if you want a little transient followed by a fade? That’s where this second set comes in. So I bring my sustain at about, let’s say, halfway, I create a little transient Great, there’s my transient I leave my slope level all the way down and I increase my slope time. Now watch what happens. It completes this first decay/sustain for my transient and then it goes into this second decay/sustain All right, so just you know, it’s a simple ADSR plus two additional settings making it just a little bit more of a complex envelope, ADSDSR.

All right, next, let’s talk LFO. We have four LFOs as well. One, two, three and four. Let’s route this to cut off and what I like about this is how they handle wave forms. So by default, it’s a sine wave. But you can morph between a sine wave and a triangle or a square. So first off, you know, sometimes people ask what’s the difference between a sine and a triangle when it comes to LFO? Sounds about the same.

The difference is what happens the top and the bottom. So sine wave kind of curves more softly So the sound kind of hangs out at the top and the bottom a little bit longer Triangle just hits a point immediately turns around So just listen to the top and bottom. See how abrupt that is? but this allows you to get best of both worlds.

All right. So it lets you really dial in exactly how long you want this to hang out at the top and the bottom Or maybe you like square You want the jump, but it’s too jumpy Dial it back. Then we can determine where it starts in this waveform right. So now, every time we hit a note it starts right at the top or right at the bottom of say.

So thats kind of a nice core use of this LFOcause really this sort of sine, triangle or square. Those are some pretty common shapes for it. However, if you wanna get a little weird, if you wanna experiment with shapes, we’ve got a whole huge amount of options down here . It`s very similar to our waveform options over here. So I’ll just pick a random one, let’s do vocal. So you can just get some really bizarre shapes and you can morph these as well. Could be really nice for let’s say, like a pad where you want some sort of irregular just sort of movement in it. That doesn’t sound like it’s such a pattern the way a square or sine is so obviously a pattern. Alright, that’s our LFO.

One more feature. I’d like to talk about and that is our stepper. The stepper is, it’s kind of like an LFO by default, right? So in order to route it, you go into matrix. You select stepper, which is off screen. Stepper one and I’m gonna set it to cut off. I need to disable envelope, okay, and increase our amount. So just executing into this little light. It’s executing one saw at a time and I can reduce it. So now, it’s just gonna use the first four. One , two, three, four. One , two, three, four. So right now it’s like a saw LFO. It`s just repeating saw over and over again that I can change each one.

So I could say go in here and drag this shape down or I could select a different one and it’s got some kind of presets like this. Or I can create multiple repeats within one little column so, Right, so you can create these really complex sequence of modulation shapes.

Let me show you some examples here. This is that kind of classic dubstep wub but it’s complex instead of being you know, repeating shape from an LFO, it’s changing as it goes along. That’s kind of a real fun use of the stepper but you can also do more simple things with it. Like for example, this guy. This is just routed to our oscillator two’s volume I’m gonna turn oscillator one and three off Just oscillator two and it doesn’t retrigger. That’s what these buttons are about.

Just goes through it one time So it’s basically like an envelope, right, it just kind of really fast attack and then it kind of had two decay stages But unlike the envelope, you can really mess with the shape of each column of each stage So it turns into a really precise envelope. T

hat’s one of the reasons I love this. Yes, you can do these long, complex sequences. But you can also treat it like a customizable LFO or a customizable envelope. It’s just sort of a really, limitless modulation source.

All right, that’s my take on Spire Those are some of the really the coolest features from Spire again, if you have any questions, you want me to cover more parameters, you just want to talk about the synth in general, just check out the description below for the link to the article.