Studiologic Sledge 2.0 Polyphonic Synthesizer
Review by: Scott Kahn
|Features Usability Sound Documentation & Product Support Price Other Comments
Contact Info Overall Rating—Product Summary
When the original Sledge synth was released, it generated some buzz but wasn’t embraced favorably by the critics. It had limited polyphony and a higher price tag than the feature set dictated. But the clever folks at Studiologic didn’t take that as a sign to quit. Rather, they were just getting started, and the bright yellow beauty before you, Sledge 2.0, is everything the first release should have been. So forget whatever you heard about the first release—this is a new synthesizer worthy of consideration.
Sledge 2.0 (or more specifically, version 2.1) is a very nice virtual analog synth with lots of polyphony, a fantastic user interface, superb keyboard, and ridiculously low street price (under $1,000). Players in need of classic analog synth tones in their rig will find tons of useful sounds on tap ranging from pads to synth bass to brass and more, and the user interface is a programming dream. For players who have shied away from learning to program their synth workstations, Sledge 2.0 makes sound design easy and fun, with a great user interface that demands you tweak some knobs and play with it. The ability to load your own samples and use them as waveform data is just one of the many nice touches to be found.
The Studiologic Sledge 2.0 Synthesizer strikes you immediately with its bold yellow case. From front to back, it’s a rather deep enclosure, and the injection-molded housing is remarkably solid feeling. Sledge 2.0 sports a generously sized front panel that evokes a Moog-like vibe, with big knobs and sliders that provide a mostly one-knob-per-function interface.
Under the hood, Sledge 2.0 is a Waldorf-designed, three-oscillator-per-voice synthesizer, with twenty-four voice polyphony. While two of the three oscillators feature familiar sawtooth, square, triangle, sine, and pulse waveform choices, OSC 1 also includes sixty-six original waveforms from the classic Waldorf PPG Wave, enabling a far greater variety of sounds than any strict analog emulation—or true analog—can deliver.
Each oscillator has selectable ranges from 64’ to 1’, with semitone and detune controls. There’s a noise generator (both white and pink noise), and each oscillator can be synced to the preceding oscillator. Further, there’s basic FM modulation. Each oscillator can modulate the frequency of the preceding oscillator.
Additionally, users can load their own samples into the Sledge 2.0 via the free Sledge Spectre utility software (Mac/Windows). There is 60MB of Flash memory for user sample data, so loaded samples remain in the Sledge after you turn off the power. User samples load into OSC 1, and can then be manipulated just like any other waveform.
The latch-able, MIDI sync-able, arpeggiator covers a ten-octave range and can be set for Up, Down, Alternating Up, or Alternating Down, but it lacks a randomization feature.
Whether using the arpeggiator or controlling the Sledge via MIDI, sometimes stuck notes happen. We were happy to discover that the (free) 2.1 firmware update added a MIDI All Notes Off feature—just turn the master volume knob down to zero and then back to wherever you need. Given that in a panicked live situation, most people would race to grab the volume knob in the absence of an obvious notes-off/panic button, this is a cleverly implemented solution. Note: If you experience a stuck note problem tied to the arpeggiator, there was an actual software bug that the 2.1 firmware update fixed, so there’s even less need for the Notes Off feature than you might think.
When it comes to modulation, there are two principle LFOs per voice, each with adjustable Speed and Depth, while a third modulation routing is assigned to the mod wheel. LFO shapes include sawtooth, rectangle, triangle, sine, sample and hold, and ramp. They can be routed to Osc 1, Osc 2, Osc 3, or PWM/Wave/FM, volume, or filter cutoff.
Once you’ve created a sound, double your pleasure, because Sledge 2.0 can play two sounds at once, either split or layered (limited to 24 voice output, naturally). Clever Pitch & Hold features enables you to target pitch bends specifically at the Upper sound, while a sustain pedal can be set to hold only the Lower sound.
Sledge 2.0 has a basic compliment of effects: Effect 1 provides chorus, phaser, and flanger, while Effect 2 provides delay, reverb, and a combined reverb + delay. These can be utilized simultaneously if desired.
There is onboard memory for storing up to 999 sounds, which can be single sounds or splits/layers. Sounds can be selected either via a rotary control or directly via the numeric keypad. Additionally, there are macros (category search) that let you scroll through pre-selected groupings of sounds (lead sounds, pads, etc.).
Sledge 2.0 features a Fatar 61-key keyboard with aftertouch, and pitch and mod wheels are located adjacent to the keyboard. Other than a power cable connector on the rear (internal power supply, happily), all interface connections are made on the left-hand side of the Sledge synthesizer.
Connections include a pair of ¼” audio outputs, headphone jack, expression pedal and sustain pedal input, 5-pin DIN MIDI In/Out (no Thru), and female USB Type B jack for connectivity to your computer for loading samples and performing firmware updates.
For the most part, Sledge 2.0 is an extremely easy to use synthesizer. With its simple, 16-characters per line, two-line display, there wasn’t much to learn except how to select a sound and/or use the expansive user interface to program a sound.
The most important thing we took away from a few months with Sledge was that this is an easy-to-operate, fun-to-play synthesizer. If you are new to sound design/synth programming, the Sledge synthesizer offers a super-easy way to get into learning how to create different types of sounds. Controls felt solid, and the one-feature-per-knob interface made it very easy to manipulate sounds.
The Fatar keyboard is outstanding. It has a solid and very springy feel to it, with a very quick return. This is nothing like the low cost keyboards you’ll find on inexpensive controllers, and in fact, it would serve you well as the interface to your virtual synth collections on the computer.
We were able to select presets a few different ways, whether scrolling via the Value knob, using direct numeric input, or scrolling through categories of sounds. Additionally, there is a 10’s bank hold button, which enabled us to select sounds within a bank with only a single button press.
The arpeggiator required use of the small display, and hitting the up/down arrows beneath the display scrolled through pages of settings (while the Value knob was used to adjust the actual settings). One observation: If the arpeggiator is On in a saved sound, the indicator button doesn’t light up when you select the preset, though the arpeggiator plays. That’s because the indicator is really a global button that accesses arpeggiator settings, but its status isn’t tied to the actual sound’s saved settings (just like the knobs aren’t motorized).
Our only real complaint had to do with the size of the Sledge. It’s perfectly light weight and rugged, but with a front-to-back depth of 16 inches, it won’t fit into a single keyboard case or gig bag that we have on hand. You’ll undoubtedly need to purchase a new case if you plan to take the keyboard out of your studio.
The Studiologic Sledge 2.0 synthesizer delivers on its promise: this box is full of classic analog synth tones, and players in need of some vintage synth sounds on a budget will find much to love here. It’s a perfect addition to a rig for someone with piano and organ in need of a basic smattering of classic analog synth sounds. And it’s an outstanding first synthesizer for a younger player interested in exploring sound design hands on.
If we had to sum the Sledge up with a wild-ass ballpark description, we’d have to say that the Sledge sound mostly reminds us of the early Roland Juno synths, particularly when playing pad sounds and other basic synth tones. And the brass sounds in particular remind us a lot of the Prophet 5. They were easily among the stand-outs in the collection of preset (one preset was even named with reference to the Prophet, and given the abundance of Dave Smith instruments in our studios, we think this was right on the money).
Pads, synth brass, and synth bass tones are plentiful in the Sledge 2.0, and were among our favorite sounds right out of the box. If you want to create synth bass lines with a new wave vibe, you’ll have an easy go of it with Sledge. It was easy to find sounds we really liked in each of these categories, actually, and we easily created new sounds specifically to our taste. If you’re after classic Oberheim synths, however, the Sledge falls just short. The filters here are definitely cut more from the Roland and Sequential camps.
There are a few nice ARP-like sounds in the Sledge, though without a step sequencer, you’re limited to creating animated music sequences via the arpeggiator. And thanks to the included PPG waveforms, there were even a few digital sounds that evoked the Waldorf PPG or Korg Wavestation. It’s all preset wavetable stuff, though. This isn’t an editable wavetable synth.
Most of the lead synth tones covered familiar territory, but required some additional programming work before we’d call them great. If you’re looking for the lead sounds of classic prog rock, for example, you’ll have to roll up your sleeves a bit and ultimately arrive at a compromise. While the core timbres are easily achieved with basic waveforms, we needed a delay effect with additional parameters beyond simply the rate and level to achieve our programming goals.
There is a nice assortment of vintage keyboard sounds on tap, too. The electromechanical pianos sounded very nice, though we found the clav sounds a bit too thin sounding for our taste. We were impressed by the variety of organ sounds that Sledge was capable of generating, and they were easily usable in a pop music scenario if you don’t need access to real-time manipulation such as with drawbars.
Many sounds with fast attacks and short sustain/decay characteristics had abrupt cutoffs with an audible click at the end. We attribute this mostly just to programming, though, since there were many great sounds lacking this issue.
We also experienced some stair-stepping sounds when adjusting the Cutoff on certain sounds depending on the waveform in use. All told, Sledge 2.0 isn’t a keyboard to make you toss your pricier emulation nor the real thing if you’ve got true analog polysynths in your collection. But that’s not the point of the keyboard. For everyone else, though, it’s a nice sounding board with tons of useful presets and which makes sound design fun.
Documentation and Product Support
Sledge 2.0 has good documentation. It’s brief, straightforward, and is an easy-enough read that it won’t scare synth programming newbies. The feature upgrades for Sledge 2.0 aren’t incorporated into the manual, though—they appear in a separate document (Sledge 2.0 Manual Addendum Quick Guide), so you kind of have to work through the old manual first, and then supplement it with the few pages of information pertaining to the updates. Then, there’s a third document pertaining to the Sledge Spectre software.
The Studiologic Sledge 2.0 Synthesizer (MSRP $1,799.95) sells for approximately $1,000. This is an excellent price for a 24-voice, virtual analog synthesizer with a top-shelf keyboard and great, tactile user interface. Similar products from the competition easily sell for up to 2.5 times the price.
Overall Rating - Product Summary
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