John Bowen Synth Design

User Comments October 16, 2017

Received a nice message from Matt Johnson today (www.thethe.com). Here it is, with his permission:

Dear John 

Solaris #295 reporting in. This message is long overdue but I just wanted to belatedly thank you for creating such a beautiful, powerful and expressive instrument. I began using Solaris for a documentary soundtrack virtually straight out of the box upon delivery and it fitted the electronic score absolutely perfectly. 

I also wanted to say that I think you made a 100% correct decision by choosing high resolution 96kHz sonic quality and less polyphony. I would much rather it be this way round and sounding so good than compromise the audio down to 48khz for the sake of more polyphony. To me the proof of the pudding is in the eating (listening?) and the sound of the Solaris is just so organic, creamy and pristine and full of rich harmonics. I even had several friends - experienced in electronic music and synthesis - who found it hard to believe such a sound was coming from a digital and not analogue synthesiser. 

So, congratulations to you John and thank you for sticking to your dream of what the Solaris could and should be and not giving in to lowering your high standards. 

Best wishes

Matt Johnson


 

Comments from Aug. 6, 2016

I got this in my private messages last night from a fellow who had been asking for a demonstration so he could try out a Solaris before purchasing:

John! We spoke earlier this year regarding finding a demo unit in London.

Good news! I found a secondhand Solaris in London for a nice price.

But most importantly, this thing is a beast. It's unlike even what I imagined. I am able even after a couple of hours to coax sounds with such craft and precision. Amazing. My Oberheim Xpander (which I adore!) is looking seriously worried and unloved at this point. All of my favourite modulations from the XP are there but more so and the range of oscillators and sample loading offer an insane amount of diversity in tone. I wondered whether to snitch versatility might lead to Solaris not having much of a personality but it's there alright and its seriously pronounced. Awe inspiring is how I would describe it.

My congrats on what is clearly a massive labour of love. Thanks for having me in your club too ;)


Many thanks once again - I'm in love and in awe of your achievement!


This was posted May 6th, 2016:

Still thrilled and learning after two years with the Solaris"

This remains a wonderful instrument. I have never regretted the wait, the purchase or the price.

1) It sounds better than any softsynth or VST I own or have tried, including stuff like Diva. It is not close. There is a harmonic richness and chime that quality analogs have (like the new OB-6). You can feel the beat frequencies in the harmonics of chords and things like on an acoustic piano. I don't know what to chalk this up to, but it is a "real" instrument in this way. VST's just don't do that - they sound great, but there isn't that visceral harmonic interplay. If you also play acoustic instruments like piano, guitar, drums, etc, this is a big deal.

2) There's enough "stuff" to do almost anything you can imagine. Crazy signal routing (like a modular), really out there modulation possibilities, very subtle control of every parameter, lots of control over each phase of the envelopes, loop EG, arps, sequencer, rotors - it is just endless. John writes in the manual that he hopes it has many hours of exploration in it. Safely accomplished. It is years and years worth of exploration.

3) its like having all the major synthesizers (except a DX-7) in one unit and getting to mix and match. Waldorf, VS, Moog.... it's crazy flexible. Vector synthesis while scanning through four Waldorf wavetables is easy - do you control it with a joystick, a loop envelope, a sequencer? Manually, by time, or by clock? Put it in a rotor? dump all that in a mixer and blend with the four wavetables? Processes each wavetable with its own filter and envelope? There's just no end.

4) the joystick and mod-wheel are wonderful. they are precision instruments and can be positioned EXACTLY. Subtle control is quite possible.

5) It cures a lot of gear lust. Most any subtractive synth on the market has a fraction of the capabilities of the Solaris. There's literally no reason to buy them, unless there's some standout feature worth the price of admission.... the continuously variable filter in the new OB-6 is calling my name..... very sweet. Think about it - 4 OSC, 6 LFO, 6 ENV, 4 Filters (each capable of many types), 4 VCAs, 4 mixers, 2 rotors, Loop EG, vector synthesis, wavetable synthesis, AM synth, FM, lag processor, envelope generator, arps, 4 sequencers, long ribbon.... You can find 2 OSC + Sub OSC designs, but four full OSC? with >8 note poly? It is like a polyphonic modular.

6) I put it in Omni mode and play it from a Roli Seaboard with full Poly-AT control. This is the kind of expression that synths were made for. Just gorgeous.

7) even from the keyboard, there is so much modulation potential that you can make VERY playable, and expressive sounds that you control with your hands. It is a great "players" instrument in that way. You can go deep on making it responsive and subtle, which is very musical. The keyboard is a very high-quality synth action. I don't know if it works for the DJ crowd, or the EDM crew, but for playing a keyboard instrument it is very nice, and the feel can be customized for each patch if you put the time in.

8) The UI is deep, but very well laid out and consistent. You can get very fast at diving into things and get at exactly what you want quickly. Much better than a single tiny screen. The layout makes a lot of sense if you spend time working on the instrument.

Solaris #142 has a very happy owner."

Even though Doug purchased a Solaris second-hand, it always makes me feel so happy to get comments like this:

Doug Bell

I'm just two days into owning Solaris #240. And while I could easily use adjectives like beautiful, incredible, warm or lush to describe the sounds that it's able to produce, I think I'll go with the one that's the most important for me; inspirational.

It's honestly the most incredible polyphonic synth I've ever played. I hate to turn it off at night. I'm looking forward to getting home and firing it up as I write this. Thanks again John. You should be proud of what you've put so much work into

Hi John,
So I've had it for a couple of days now and all I can say is WOW!!!!
 
I got my first synth 33 years ago and through the years have played and owned most of, what are now considered,  classics.. and still own a great collection of about 40 odd synths, including plenty of analogue mono synths,  just about every VA known to man, some nice esoteric stuff like Hartmann Neurons, K5000S, Loads of Waldorf and Moog, all the DSI stuff and some nice high end gear like a System 55 and a Schmidt..... BUT... this is the first synth in a long LONG time that's made me think "Do I need ALL of this other gear anymore?"....
 
The Solaris just sounds incredible... it has that chameleon character that can just turn itself to anything... and in the last couple of days has just stopped me doing commissioned work just so that I can PLAY!!! (which WILL cause me no END of grief in a few days time!!!)
 
I rarely get excited about synths these days.... the last models that REALLY blew my socks off are few and far between and stretch back years... Wavestation, Oasys, Schmidt.... and now this!! I used to be a big Creamware user and so THOUGHT I knew what to expect.... how wrong I was...
 
:-)
 
You should be very VERY proud of this synth.
 
Congratulations to you and your team for making a middle aged synth addict VERY happy...
 
You will now be hearing this ALL over everything I do for TV and film for a long long time!!!!

Hi John,

Solaris #262 has been placed into service in my studio:

It was well worth the wait. I haven't had such a "fat" sounding synth since my long departed Memorymoog. And without the chronic agony of removing all those screws, propping up the switch panel, trying to get voice card #6 to tune, and manipulating the non-ferrite choke tool endlessly while watching the frequency counter go up-and-down. The Solaris is so clean and so thick, it brought tears to my eyes especially on the string patches. The blue LED backlit mod and pitch bend wheels are really sweet. Considering Moog's recent retirement of the Voyager, I'm glad you were still able to obtain them. I need to spend some deep dive time on the user manual, the interface, and the CF card format. My ears keep telling me this will be my "go-to" keyboard for a long time to come. Thanks for realizing your dream to manufacture an instrument we all can be proud of.

Regards,

John Sillari

Serial #255 just arrived in Chester New York and it’s a beauty!

First off, the sound is just inspiring. Thick, fat, clear, organic –the filters sound fantastic. The YouTube and Soundcloud demos don’t do it justice. You just feel connected to the sound when playing. I have a few favorite VSTs, and my original hope was that it would sound like a better version of these – but the Solaris sound is completely in a class of its own.

The build is solid and oozes quality. The keyboard is one of the best synth keyboards that I have ever played. Getting around the interface is easy and intuitive. Within a few minutes of previewing the presets, I was already tweaking them to my taste. I know it will take some time to get into the deeper functions, but I am looking forward to it.

A few notes about shipping - the keyboard was securely shipped and came sealed in a thick plastic bag, inside a sturdy cardboard box, which was inside another sturdy cardboard box. There were foam supports on the ends and middle of the keyboard. It arrived completely unscathed. From reading other posts, I was expecting an extra charge from UPS – but they just dropped it at the door, rang the bell, and left.

John - I am completely blown away by this synth. Congratulations on such a great accomplishment and thank you for bringing this to market for all of us!

 

Update On Pre-Orders - September 25, 2017: 

We are now open for new orders for Production Round #6! Orders have been coming in, but there are 3 spots on the list to go. Please go to the Purchase page for more information.

 

New version 1.3.1 OS Released - May 13, 2017

As happy I was to finally have a major bug fix release with v1.3.0 on March 15th, I am really excited to announce our first major OS "feature upgrade" in quite a while - v1.3.1 is released today! Solaris Owners can download from the private Owner’s Forum in the Data Files section. Many thanks to Jim Hewes!!

There's a huge number of new features added with v1.3.1 OS:

1. Joystick position is now stored in the preset.
2. Assign buttons and Unison Chord stack now stored with the Preset.
3. A Random Tune parameter both in a preset and at the global level. This works per voice, and only affects the whole voice’s tuning.
4. Preset names and categories of the current bank are now loaded into a memory cache, making selection and viewing of them faster.
5. New MIDI Realtime on/off in the global MIDI page to send/receive Start/Stop commands. (see details the Owner’s Forum).
6. Ribbon now outputs MIDI controller on CC18 & CC19 (see details the Owner’s Forum).
7. Solaris remembers the last presets selected when you turn it off, so it will resume where you were.
8. Global override parameters added for Sustain and Expression Pedals.
9. Changed the Mod Source listing of Ped1 and Ped2 to "ExpPed and "SusPed" to make it more clear.
10. In Preset list mode, each page now starts from a multiple of ten. (e.g. 0, 10, 20, 30, etc).
11. The ribbon Offset parameter now works differently. It adjusts the "neutral" point from the left end to the right end of the ribbon (see details in the Owner’s Forum).
12. FX Bypass now does not alter the on/off state of the Preset’s effects parameters, but truly bypasses the FX bus, and stays bypassed when selecting through presets or using the Compare feature.
13. Solaris now responds to MIDI CC4, foot controller.
14. All remaining system bugs fixed. These include numerous display-related issues (parameters not being refreshed, wrong pages appearing where they shouldn’t, etc.).

Solaris owners can download from the Owner's Forum, under the Data Files section. If you are not registered as an owner there, send me your serial number and Forum USERNAME, and I can add you to the group.
I hope you enjoy this new operating system update. We are totally indebted to Jim Hewes for all of the hard work to get this update done, and in just 2 months following the v1.3 bug fix release!

 

Sound Synthesis Group Panel

If you are able to come to the NAMM 2017 show in Anaheim, I will be participating in a discussion panel on hardware synthesizers. It's on Friday, January 20 — 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm. The location will be in the Master Class (202A) room at the Anaheim Convention Center.

 

New Event Horizon 2 Presets with Audio Demos - Jan. 9, 2015


Black Octopus Sound presets Event Horizon 2 - 128 high quality presets for John Bowen Solaris created by Toby Emerson. The follow-up to Toby's excellent Event Horizon 1 set:

Take your John Bowen Solaris into the next dimension with 128 brand new patches created by Toby Emerson. Event Horizon 2 picks up where volume 1 left off and now includes many new tricks that have been learned after extensive use of this exquisite synthesizer. Both the digital and analog realms are fully explored in this soundset and includes crystal clear bells, warm evolving pads, creamy deep bass sounds, and spaced out leads. If you are one of the lucky few that own this beautiful instrument you will definitely want to pick yourself up a copy of Event Horizon 2 today!

All sounds make use of the Joystick to dial in the desired intensity for the sound.

Note: The audio example demo includes some reverb with Valhalla reverbs and a bit of extra compression. Everything else is all Solaris!

 

 

 

"The John Bowen Solaris is simply one of the most fantastic instruments I have ever worked with. Everything about it screams class. From amazing sounding filters to countless oscillator types, I feel after several months of using it I still have not even scratched the surface. The architecture and programming behind it allows for huge sounds which can range from very organic and analog sounding to crisp and precise digital style sounds. The sound quality of this synthesizer is absolutely exceptional and I would highly recommend this synthesizer to any sound designer or professional musician that can budget for it.