Red Dog Music | Oct 9, 2018 | 0
Waldorf Rocket synth: hands-on review
I was quite excited when I first heard about the Waldorf Rocket. The price looked good and, without even knowing any more about it other than a look at a rendered image of the unit, it just looked like it would be fun. Having got my hands on one not long ago, it turns out that my initial suspicions were correct, it is fun. Time for a little Rocket review!
Waldorf Rocket to the moon!
On first look, yes, it does look a little bit ‘my first synthesiser’, but don’t let that fool you. It actually feels nice and chunky, it’s heavier than you might expect, and all the knobs and switches move with a nice firm, yet smooth, action. There is perhaps some sideways movements on the knobs, so maybe a little of looking after might be required if you’re going to be throwing it around in your bag.
Setup is also incredibly straightforward. Having been inspired to leap straight in and get to work with this little box, I spent some time looking for the power supply, before realising that the Waldorf Rocket is, in fact, USB powered. The USB connection also transmits MIDI information if you’re using this with your DAW. A USB cable is included along with a USB power adapter (with adapters for different geographies) to power the unit if you’re using old-school MIDI connections.
So, my setup process to get the Waldorf Rocket working with my MacBook Pro and Ableton Live 9 went thus:
- Open box and remove chunky piece of Waldorf Rocket synthy goodness
- Look for power supply
- Realise that it doesn’t need one
- Connect Rocket to computer via USB
- Connect audio out on Rocket to audio in on my Focusrite Scarlett 2i4
- Create MIDI track in Live and select Rocket as the MIDI destination
- Create Audio track in Live to accept the incoming audio from the interface
- Program a MIDI pattern and hit play
- Get tweaking the knobs and switches on the Rocket
And that was that. Really straightforward and hassle-free installation. Easy.
Waldorf Rocket Science
With its versatile digital oscillator and an analogue filter, things look pretty good starting out. The oscillator offers a choice of saw and pulse waveforms, but these can conjure up a lot of raw material for shaping when you start to play with the Wave and Tune knobs.
The analogue filter of the Rocket gives you low pass, band pass and high pass options, with the cutoff, resonance and envelope mod knobs perhaps putting you in mind of a 303, although things don’t get quite as thin and squelchy as the bassline classic.
The envelope shaping options are again quite limited, with a knob for decay, and sustain and release being either ‘on’ or ‘off’. Given that it’s unlikely that you’ll be using this for huge, evolving pad soundscapes, this wan’t too limiting in practice.
The LFO/arpeggiator section is really straightforward. If you’ve been put off synth programming because of convoluted parameter mapping, all you do here to make those dubstep wobbles is flick the ‘Target’ switch to ‘VCF’ and adjust the filter cutoff, lfo speed and depth to taste. Easy. Wub. Wub. Wub.
Waldorf Rocket sounds
This is what it’s all about though, isn’t it? You’d have thought I would have learned after the power supply incident, but no, I just started playing without reading the manual. And why not?! A new synth should inspire you just to get your hands on it and start making sounds straightaway, but this little synth is more powerful than its knob count suggests, so a cursory glance of the paperwork might let you get more out of it!
So, with everything successfully configured in Ableton Live, some quick MIDI loops were programmed, play was pressed, record was pressed and real-time knob tweaking led to the following little demo:
[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/97678607″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
For this demo, I really spent no time delicately preparing patches, all the composition, sound design and recording took under ten minutes. There is no eq, but some compression, reverb, delay and autopanning has been used in the arrangement.
With the lower number of controls of the Waldorf Rocket, you can come up with very different sounds very quickly, and nearly all of them are useable. The digital oscillator means that you’ll always be in concert pitch, without wandering all over the place and the sound doesn’t really suffer, so don’t be put off by the fact that it’s not 100% analogue. The filter, however, is…
If you get a MIDI clip looping, you can get lost for a long time in your knob and switch tweaking, and you will come up with some great sounds, from thick, throaty basses to screamingly resonant cutting leads and squelchiness, you’ll get them here.
What is a nice addition is the ability to create chords with the simple turn of a knob. While the chords are pretty simple pre-programmed choices, they cover the standards that you’ll probably want. If not, then just record some sounds and stick them in your sampler for polyphonic goodness!
Waldorf Rocket salad
The Waldorf Rocket is a fun and creatively inspiring little synthesizer. It’s controls may appear limited at first glance, but they mean you’re never that far from a great sound, and can produce a wider range of sounds than you might expect.
The slight wobble in the knobs is perhaps something to look out for, and the lack of a master volume control might be limiting for some situations, but for recording it wasn’t any problem, and I didn’t clip the inputs of my Focusrite Scarlett 2i4.
If you’re looking for a synth module to use with your DAW with the minimum of setup fuss, the Waldorf Rocket is a great choice. With its simple USB integration, it offers more than boxes such as the Korg Monotribe, and while more limited than some other modules such as the Moog Minitaur, it is considerably less expensive and much easier to use.
You probably should give one a try, just get the ‘phones plugged in and hit that launch button to go.
I like the Waldorf Rocket a lot. Not sure about their choice of Def Leppard song for the name though…
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