Review: Waldorf Blofeld Keyboard
Waldorf Music AG is a synthesizer company hailing from Germany – they were founded in 2003, taking over the business of the Waldorf Electronics GmbH which had become insolvent. They’ve been best known for the Microwave and the Q synths. The Blofeld Keyboard is the keyboarded version of the Blofeld module synth, and has just started shipping.
Since the Blofeld module was a hit, I was excited about take a good look at the keyboard version.
The Blofeld module is a great looking unit, and the keyboard version is a real looker – it looks like the sophisticated big brother, and screams “this is a real synth”. The casing is the same thick metal, and feels completely solid, unlike many other plasticky synths in the same price range.
The synthesizer is just heavy enough to make you think it’s serious, and weighs in at 8kg, inlcuding a built-in power supply (yes!). This makes it light enough to chuck in the back of your car, and there is enough metal in there to keep it together when doing so.
The 49-key, semi-weighted keyboard action feels quite good – it’s fast and has a good positive feel and bounce back and also has aftertouch. The pitch wheel and mod wheel look and feel great, with raised ridges which give them a really nice positive grip and feel.
For some strange reason they’ve put the headphone socket on the back, dead center. What this means is that unless you have a super-long headphone cable, it will drape over the font panel of the keyboard when in use.
The biggest omission that came immediately to mind was the lack of external audio input. It seems as though every synth worth it’s salt has one of these, and when you have a synth with a great character, it just begs to have an external sound source plugged into it.
At it’s core, the blofeld’s 25 voice Blofeld synthesis engine uses digital wavetables to produce a variety of oscillator types, and a matrix-style programming interface to edit it’s huge amount of sound-shaping options. The display uses popups and zooming to help focus on important data and the large metal selection/data input dial looks and feels great.
The sound definitely hails form a Waldorf pedigree – warm and deep, but it can also screech and crunch in a Nine Inch Nails sort of way. The configurable filters give it a clean, punchy sound and it seems at home with bass sounds, leads, pads, effects and ambient sounds.
In true Waldorf fashion, the filter is very configurable – you can set it to Lowpass, Notch, Bandpass, Comb and even a PPG LP filter is there. The modulation matrix is huge, with 15 or so PAGES of modulators.
All the usual parameters are present: oscillator sync, unison modes (and variable polyphony), four envelopes per voice with a variety of trigger methods, noise generator and many LFOs. There are also 2 drive/distortion stages that can go from subtle warming to completely destroying the sound.
The wavetable memory includes the full wavetables from the Q and the Microwave, the upper wavetables from the PPG, and also all the usual analogue-type waveforms. There is also 60MB of onboard sample memory, which makes me not worry about the lack of external sound input quite so much.
There was a time when the cool-factor of a synth was judged by how many knobs it had. Sadly, things have changed, and the Blofeld is no exception – I really wish there were more real-time performance controls. That being said, putting a rack of knobs on the synth would likely raise the price dramatically. Having said this, the matrix system is by far the next-best alternative, and works extremely well once you get the hang of it.
Other than this, it’s extremely hard to find fault with this synth. It’s solid, sounds great and is fun to play. What I’ve always liked about Waldorf is that they sound *different*, and this new product doesn’t dissapoint. If you don’t already have a Q or a Microwave, you’ll be able to come up with sounds on the Blofeld that chances are you won’t be able to make on any other synth. It would make both a great only synth or a perfect complement to a massive wall of Moog-Korg-Roland.
I’m just amazed at what can be packed into a synth these days for such a low price – this is a great, solid product that rewards the user with sonic gold, and the variety of wavetables and onboard sample memory make this a winner.