Which high-end polyphonic synth would you choose?
Keep in mind though I own a Quantum and have great familiarity with the Waldorf wavetable synths features, capabilities, workflows etc., I have not touched a Groove Synthesis 3rd Wave yet. Pre-release public information is a little thin as well currently. There are some conclusions I can reach though, based on what appears to be a strong relationship to existing Sequential synthesizers. I currently own 2 Sequential synths and am very familiar with their features, capabilities, workflows etc. that I believe are applicable to the 3rd Wave. On the whole I am very pleased with Waldorf and Sequential products. The 3rd Wave’s Sequential pedigree means a lot to me and my expectations for it are high.
The Groove Synthesis 3rd Wave and the Waldorf Quantum have similar form factors. Both are full sized flagship synthesizers with 61 key Fatar keybeds. The Waldorf Iridium Keyboard has a 49 key Fatar keybed, and the Waldorf Iridium Desktop has no keybed of course, but it does have a 4×4 silicon pad matrix that can play notes etc. Quantum/Iridium synths are capable of polyphonic aftertouch via external MIDI inputs.
The Quantum/Iridium has a large color touch-sensitive display with more graphic display of various things like wavetables, waveforms, filters, envelopes, LFOs, etc. The 3rd Wave appears to have a Sequential influenced display system which works pretty well. Most Sequential users will be immediately comforted by the familiar 4 knobs across the top and 4 buttons below the display to navigate the very accessible menu structure. The majority of display commands on the Quantum/Iridium are also accessible by knobs and buttons on the panel. The Iridium keyboard a little less so. The Iridium desktop even less so. The 3rd Wave I would expect to equal the Quantum for real time access via knobs/buttons on the panel.
The Quantum has 8 voices. The Iridium has 16 voices. The 3rd Wave has 24 voices.
The number of voices is an important decision factor. I tend to record layer/split type candidate sounds separately so 8 voices are good for me, but I can see 24 voices being a big pull for multi-timbral live performance or jamming… Aside from system performance or expense, there is no downside to have more voices.
The 3rd Wave is quad-timbral: split and/or layered mode.
The Quantum/Iridium is dual-timbral: split or layered mode.
Analog or digital?
All these synths are digital, however the Quantum and the 3rd Wave have analog filters.
The 3rd Wave has the Prophet 5 Dave Rossum-designed 2140 analog low-pass filter (24db) and SEM-style state-variable filters (low-pass, high-pass, notch, and band-pass)(12db) per voice.
The Quantum has two analog low-pass filters per voice (24db or 12db) with innovative link modes. The Iridium has a digital approximation of these filters (as the Quantum does also). Plus the Quantum/Iridium has a digital former with additional digital algorithms per voice like comb filter, high-pass, band-pass & notch filters (Nave, Largo or PPG models), bit-crusher, drive and more which are to die for honestly.
All these synths have 3 multipurpose oscillators. However, the Quantum/Iridium can run as many as 6 or 8 oscillators/kernels within some of the oscillator types.
The 3rd Wave has 3 multipurpose oscillators that each can run 1 of the 2 oscillator types: wavetable or traditional waveform.
The Quantum/Iridium has 3 multipurpose oscillators that each can run 1 of the 5 oscillator types: wavetable, traditional waveform, particle generator, resonator, and kernel.
The 3rd Wave has 48 wavetables of 64 waveforms each (32 legacy PPG wavetables with room for another 16 of this type). Additionally there are 32 factory high resolution wavetables, and 32 high resolution user wavetables. My guess based on the Sequential Pro 3 wavetables that I believe one of the Groove Synthesis founders was involved with, is that the user added wavetables will have very specific parameters required.
The Quantum/Iridium has pretty much the original wavetable synthesis, evolved from earlier PPG and Waldorf hardware and software synths. There are 68 wavetables of 64 waveforms each, and 16 wavetables of 14-377 waveforms for a total of 6013 individual waveforms. Plus, with user supplied wavetables, the sky is the limit. Not only are there many pre-made wavetables available, but you can also make your own custom wavetables from samples, in the voice synthesis function, and in 3rd party wavetable building utilities. Depending on the number of samples per waveform, wavetables with as many as 2,000 waveforms will work on the Quantum. There are also interpolation functions like smoothing or stepping.
The 3rd Wave can have up to 3 traditional oscillators. There are 7 waveforms (sine, saw, triangle, supersaw, pulse, white noise, pink noise) to choose from.
The Quantum/Iridium can have up to 3 traditional oscillators. There are 6 waveforms (saw, sine, triangle, square, pink noise, white noise) to choose from. Each traditional oscillator can be composed of up to 8 kernels for a total of 24 kernels that can be tuned, detuned, or panned.
Samples and other oscillators
The 3rd Wave can only import a sample to convert it to a wavetable.
The Quantum/Iridium can also import a sample and convert it to a wavetable.
The Quantum/Iridium’s 3rd oscillator type, the particle generator is generally a sample manipulation machine on steroids. It has normal and granular sample playback.
The Quantum/Iridium’s 4th oscillator type, the resonator oscillator uses an exciter signal, like a sine wave to produce ringing type sounds as well as samples.
The Quantum/Iridium’s 5th oscillator type, the kernel oscillator was introduced in OS 2.0, and in its most basic implementation is FM-like, but goes far beyond FM, an oscillator construction kit of sorts which uses 6 operators or kernels, each of which can be sines, other waveforms, or factory wavetables.
Hold vs. Chord and Latch Buttons
This is my personal pet peeve. I expect the 3rd Wave hold button to work exactly like a Sequential hold button. The arpeggiator has a relatch function which lets go of the voice to start anew with new keys, but the hold button alone does not let go of voices until it runs out of voices and they drop. I really dislike this and really hope Groove Synthesis changes this in a future firmware update if it hasn’t already.
The Quantum has a latch button which essentially operates the same as the 3rd Wave hold button. It also has a chord button which does let go of the voices with new keys. Much better, much more useful. Groove Synthesis take note.
Sequencers and CV in/outs
The 3rd Wave sequencer is insane with each (of 4) multi-timbral parts getting its own sequencer track with 24 sequences of up to 32 measures in length with note and parameter sequencing, and variable quantization resolution per sequence (32nd, 16th, 8th, quarter, half, whole note, or quantization off).
The Quantum/Iridium each (of 2) multi-timbral parts gets its own 32 step sequencer with note and parameter sequencing, and scale-based pitch quantization.
The 3rd Wave and Quantum do not have CV in/outs, but the Iridiums do.
LFOs, envelopes, and mod matrix
The 3rd Wave has 4 LFOs, 4 envelopes, and a 28 slot modulation matrix (16 freely assignable slots, 12 additional fixed-source slots) with 27 sources and 114 destinations.
The Quantum/Iridium has 6 LFOs, 6 envelopes, and a 40 slot modulation matrix with 48 sources and 185 destinations. There is also the Komplex multistage LFO/envelope modulator with blend, speed, warp, amount, envelop, entropy, sync, mode, slew, phase, delay and more too extensive to detail here.
The 3rd Wave has 2 digital effects: BBD, stereo delay, tape delay, chorus, phaser, flanger, distortion pedal, rotating speaker, ring mod, room reverb, hall reverb, super plate reverb.
The Quantum/Iridium has 5 digital effects: phaser, chorus, flanger, delay, reverb, eq, drive, and compressor. The Quantum compressor also has its own knob on the main output.
Both the 3rd Wave and Quantum/Iridium are amazing synths in a class all to themselves apart from other wavetable synths. They each have their strengths over the other.
I have a Quantum and I would buy the 3rd Wave enthusiastically. If I could only own one, it would still be the Quantum, which yields a lot more function for $1000.00 more.
Between the Iridium keyboard/desktop and the 3rd Wave, I would still recommend both. Winner takes all, it gets a bit tougher to decide between them. I still lean to Waldorf, there is just a whole lot more there than wavetables and modeled analog waveforms.
First and foremost I consider myself a Sequential person. I can totally see the 3rd Wave as a very attractive entry into a full blown wavetable polyphonic for a Sequential owner however. The 3rd Wave is an amazing synth, if it was my only synth, I would still be blessed.
I’m always looking for more information and more accurate information. If you see anything in this post that is inaccurate or you have more detail to share, holler at me.
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