Best new synth 2023: Intellijel Cascadia | Juno Daily

As 2022 draws to a close and we look ahead to 2023, we’re bringing you our picks of the best new gear this year, from drum machines to turntables.

Runners up: Synclavier Regen and Erica Synths Syntrx II

In a strong year for new synth releases, a few instruments stood out. Our winner this year is a brand-new design, but we’d also like to give honourable mentions to a couple of new synths which can trace their origin stories all the way back to the 1970s.

Synclavier’s Regen marks the return of an iconic name in digital music history. With roots in a Dartmouth College research project, the original 1977 New England Digital Synclavier was one of the first commercial digital instruments. Uniquely powerful, wildly forward-thinking and painfully expensive, it developed into the Synclavier II with its cutting-edge FM synthesis, sampling, sequencing and digital recording features. The Regen is the modern interpretation of that unit, revived by original developer Cameron Warner Jones. An incredibly deep, distinctively retro-futuristic instrument with aspects of FM, additive, wavetable and subtractive synthesis as well as sample playback and resynthesis involved.

Erica Synths’ Syntrx II is also inspired by a classic synth, although it couldn’t be much more different. Drawing loosely on the format and functionality of the iconic EMS Synthi, the updated Syntrx is a slightly more conventional and versatile instrument than Erica’s original Syntrx I. Gone are the built-in speakers and spring reverb, but in comes an external gate input, envelope follower and joystick recording/automation as part of the built-in sequencer. Still based around that unique digital modulation matrix with up to 256 simultaneous patch points, the Syntrx II demands a lot from the user but rewards you with huge depth and the option to get experimental. Well worth a look for anyone who likes to get creative with sound design.

Read our reviews of the Synclavier Regen and Erica Synths Syntrx II here.

Best new synth 2023:  Intellijel Cascadia

The Intellijel Cascadia was one of our most eagerly anticipated new releases this year. Even from the first announcement, it was clear that this was a serious semi-modular synth, packed with features but also designed thoughtfully with an eye on live performance as well as studio use. However, that’s only half the story. Intellijel is a brand synonymous with Eurorack, founded in 2009 and growing into one of the most reliably consistent manufacturers in that hugely competitive space. With the Cascadia representing Intellijel’s first foray outside the Eurorack world, what were the reasons for that move and would they prove justified?

The end result completely backs up Intellijel’s choice to depart from their usual approach. The Cascadia is more or less a combination of East Coast and West Coast synth philosophies, but the way its done is exceptional. The Cascadia is a synth which lets you push it in all sorts of different directions, whether you stick to conventional East Coast principles with the two versatile oscillators and multi-mode filter, or lean to the West with the wavefolder, cross modulation and VCA B’s low-pass gate mode. You can easily channel Buchla lushness, weirdo ARP 2600 impressions or classically effective Roland-esque monosynth tones.

The existence of the Cascadia certainly doesn’t imply that Intellijel might turn their back on Eurorack. In fact, its vast array of inputs and outputs would pair just as nicely with well-chosen Eurorack modules as they would with controllers and sequencers in a live setup. The Cascadia proves uniquely compelling in its own right but also clearly works as part of Intellijel’s broader philosophy.

Read our full review here.

Greg Scarth

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