Manufacturer: Waldorf GmbH
Release Date: 1999
Type: Virtual Analog / Subtractive Synthesis
The Waldorf Q is an incredibly deep virtual analog synth that is flexible, easy to program and sounds amazing.
This is a synth that is fun to play at a high-level, but also logically laid-out and inviting to learn to program and dive deeper. Even though it has 300 presets, the Waldorf Q’s strengths lie in sound creation and sonic exploration for the adventurous. In addition to bread and butter sounds, it can create some very abstract soundscapes, and lends itself well to experimentation at the hands of both beginners and advanced users.
Whereas the Waldorf XT excels in wavetable synthesis, the Waldorf Q excels in virtual analog subtractive synthesis (it does have 2 wavetables as well). One can get very warm or icy cold sounds from this synth, and it has a unique sonic character and clarity that few other digital synths can match.
I own both a Waldor Q 16-voice rack and Waldorf Q 32-voice keyboard, both of which provide quick and easy hands-on control for real-time tweaking. The keyboard has 58 knobs (near knob-per function) and is aftertouch and velocity sensitive, whereas the rack has 28 knobs (and no keyboard, of course) and is also aftertouch and velocity sensitive. Even with less buttons the rack is still very easy to program as the user interface is logical and well-laid out. The knobs are endless rotary encoders so keep that in mind, if you prefer that style for live tweaking.
The Waldorf Q has 3 digital oscillators with a range of waveforms – sawtooth, sine, variable pulse, triangle + 2 wavetables. The sound of the oscillators in their most basic waveforms is excellent, in that they almost sound analog at times. Each oscillator is detunable and has an adjustable octave knob for multiple octaves up and down.
Further, each oscillator can do FM and oscillator sync is possible as well. The ring modulator and noise generator also add some nice texture and character to the overall sound when used. 2 wavetables provide additional sound generation possibilities… but as this isn’t primarily a wavetable synth you’re limited to just 2 wavetables. Nonetheless they have an interesting quality to them and its pretty cool to create sounds that use a combination of traditional oscillator waveforms plus wavetables.
The 3 LFOs are excellent on the Waldorf Q — they are easy to setup and modulate other parameters with, and speed-wise they can get up to 2600Hz (within audio range), potentially giving you additional oscillator-like sounds. The various LFO waveforms include sine, triangle, square, sawtooth, random and sample & hold.
The Waldorf Q’s 2 multi-mode filters are quite a treat — they are self-resonant, sound rich and provide a variety of filter types including 24/12dB low pass, PPG lowpass, bandpass, highpass, notch, comb. The filters are digital but have a smooth, precise sound to them that works well with the character of this synth… for example, depending on the patch you can obtain some cool harmonics and “liquid” type-sounds via resonance and filter type/cutoff settings, which lends to further sonic exploration.
Waldorf Q Rack
At the heart of the Waldorf Q lies its versatile modulation matrix, and it is certainly flexible and deep. 16 slots are available and there are so many routable sources/destinations, the synth almost becomes semi-modular in a way. If you enjoy modulating various parameters in a patch quickly, this is a good synth to do it on — the mod matrix is for the most part intuitive and easy to use, even though it’s setup within the confines of an LCD screen. An unrelated but equally cool feature is the XMORPH function, which enables you to “morph” between patches in real-time.
Speaking of the LCD — while a bit small, it is for the most part easy to read and navigate/use. Waldorf has logically laid out the various parameters of the synth such that most functions can be easily accessed from the surface controls, but if you need to dive deeper it doesn’t take much effort to locate the parameter you want to tweak within the LCD.
Now, what would the Waldorf Q be without an arpeggiator? Here, the Q comes up trumps as it offers not only an arpeggiator, but a 32-step sequencer as well. Both the arpeggiator and sequencer are programmable — the arpeggiator allows you to control accents, timing, glide, swing, chords and more… while the sequencer gives you the ability to easily program 32-step patterns and adjust those patterns in real-time, for live tweaking. As most synths typically only have an arpeggiator, the addition of a 32-step analog-style sequencer on the Waldorf Q is certainly an added bonus.
Beyond this, there are 4 ADSR envelope generators which lend themselves to easily crafting sounds that evolve over time. The EGs are loopable, and there is also one-shot functionality available. Needless to say, with 4 envelope generators it’s possible to create some unique sounds that can change character completely or blend from one state to another, depending on EG adjustments and settings.
When it comes to effects, the Waldorf Q has 2 dedicated FX units that offer a variety of types: Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, Overdrive, AM, Delay, Reverb, 5.1 delay, tap delay and more. I must say, the quality of the Waldorf Q’s reverb is excellent — is sounds very spacious and has long decay times, which allows sounds to blend and mix with each other in lovely “open” spaces. This is particularly useful for ambient and soundscape composition.
Further, the Q also has a 25-band vocoder, for some additional fun. You can also route outside audio into the Q via 2 analog inputs, and output sound at 44.1khz or 48Khz via S/PDIF. TO my ears, the audio quality output on the Q is crisp, clear and pristine.
Build-quality wise the Q is well-engineered, and certainly constructed out of high-quality materials. The knobs, buttons and LEDs are professional grade, and the chassis is solid. However, as with other Waldorf gear that use endless rotary encoders, sometimes the knobs can get glitchy if unused for awhile. If that’s the case, turn the knob 50 revolutions left and right and hopefully that should lubricate it. When purchasing a second-hand Waldorf Q, keep an eye out for any glitchy knobs and buttons that may not respond to pushes.
Overall I’ve only just scatched the surface of the Waldorf Q and am definitely impressed… it is a high quality machine produced to high standards, as expected from Waldorf. If you pick one up, you will not be disappointed in the clarity of its audio output, its extensive features and capabilities, easy-to use interface, and most of all its modulation flexibility and penchant for sound creation and sonic exploration.
While the 16-voice models are somewhat plentiful, the 32-voice versions are more rare and command a higher price. If you feel extra special and are craving analog filters and 100-voice polyphony (16 when using the analog filters), consider purchasing the ultra-rare Q+ — but expect to pay a pretty penny, and be advised that some units had crashing/glitchyness issues (which Waldorf eventually was able to resolve, likely via OS update — but don’t quote me on that).
Either way, if you have a chance to try or purchase a Q, you will not be disappointed whether it’s a rack or keyboard model. Give it a go and see for yourself!
|Keyboard – 58 knobs, 42 buttons, 72 LEDs
Rack – 28 knobs, 48 buttons, 69 LEDs
|Waldorf Q: 16 or 32 voices
Waldorf Q+: 100 voices (dynamically allocated) with digital filters enabled; 16 voices with analog filters enabled
|3 Osc per voice: sawtooth, variable pulse, sine, triangle, 2 wavetables, oscillator sync.
3 FM, 1 ring modulator, 1 noise generator, 3 octave + detune, glide
|3 LFOs – sine, triangle, square, sawtooth, random, sample & hold
LFO speed rate up to 2600Hz (within audio range)
|2 independent multimode resonant filters; 6 filter types – 24/12dB low pass, PPG lowpass, bandpass, highpass, notch, comb
|4 envelopes (ADSR with loop and one shot function, bipolar)
|16 slots, each with individual source, destination and amount
|Arpeggiator: Many user patterns (accents, timing, swing, glide, chords and more); Sequencer: 100 user patterns; 32 steps per pattern, polyphonic
|8 effects processors (2 per sound that include Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, Overdrive, AM, Delay, Reverb, etc.)
|61 notes (velocity and aftertouch)
|300 single programs, 100 multi programs
|MIDI (16 multitimbral parts). 2 analog audio inputs, 6 outputs and 1 S/PDIF output (44.1kHz / 48kHz switchable)