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Z3TA – Review

February 25, 2014

Z3TA is made by Cakewalk
Available in The iTunes App Store

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Cakewalks Z3TA (Zay-Ta) Wave-shaping synthesizer is now ready to be yours on your iPad. At 1/5th the price of the PC/Mac version and every bit as powerful in every way, its a steal.
Cakewalk says this iOS version has all the power, features and rich wave shaping goodness as its famous computer version. Only significant difference is that the iOS version has fewer presets. Which is no loss for those who want to really see what this sound designing behemoth can do at their own hands.

This beauty is something you should put your hands on and never let go.

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Alrighty then. I think I’ve pretty much used up every clever (and not so clever) euphemisms describing previous iOS synthesizers. Forgive me if I borrow from some of those other reviews here.

Z3TA is a god among synth gods. We have seen some amazing entries come our way, but this is ridiculously awesome. The first of 3 pages is the main “Synth” page for your sound sculpting joy.

6 wave-shaping oscillators each with dozens of waveforms to choose and assign to them. With these come 3 (A,B,&C) sections of more shaper controls to further twist, mangle and fold each oscillator to mind boggling sound angles. The textures and degrees of options leave me blissfully drooling.

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OK we have a lot of oscillators, but also a large collection of Envelope Generators (EG). Eight EGs to be exact. 1 bipolar (for pitch), 1 Amp, and 6 unipolar envelope generators for for general purpose. All but the pitch EG are 5 stage envelopes with independent curves.
Much of what you can do with these are brought to life with the modulation assignments. I’ll get to that in a bit.

I should also point out that there is a single die which would commonly be seen as a randomizer, it’s not. Touching the die will only randomly select a preset patch. It will not randomize any parameters.

Also found on this screen are parallel and dual mode filters. Again, dozens of filter types to choose from. 36db Low Pass Filters, resonant boosters, formant, comb and more. No shortage of filtering options and you can adjust panning separately or linked. However the Formant filter is a bit weak and I’m not entirely clear on why its separation slider won’t move?

Then we have the LFOs. Six LFOs! Again each with dozens of waveforms to choose from and assign. LFO One thru four affect all voices simultaneously, where LFO 5 and 6 affect individual voices.

Are you getting the picture? Power.

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The second page is the MOD/ARP section.
Divided in half this page houses the 16 source modulation matrix and the Arpeggiator.
The Mod Matrix should look familiar to eyes used to seeing such things, but if not its still intuitive enough to jump right in. Select the route, curves, controls, destinations etc, all very easily. It won’t be long before you find new textures and morphing designs of all sorts. More power.

The Arpeggiator operates as a standard algorithm type, or as MIDI mode. The algorithmic mode is strait forward with the usual up, down, octaves etc and nothing particularly challenging. We’ve all seen this. It works, no problem. The MIDI mode is a little more interesting as it plays preprogrammed patterns. Select from hundreds of creative MIDI patterns. There are some real gems. Additionally there is the swing and humanize dials to modify the groove with.
Lots of fun.

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The third and last page is the Effects page. Six advanced modular effects. Varied distortions, 3 Delays with sync, cross, ping/pong, modulations like Stereo Chorus, Flanger, Phaser of different types. A Reverb with big booming sound or subtle room types. A Seven band EQ with several mode types and speaker simulations.
All the FX in the chain can be re-ordered to your liking.

This is where I usually make note that I can’t list every single available parameter and feature. This is especially true with Z3TA. There are more than I have time to count. So please do visit the Cakewalk site for many more details.

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Even though I’ve included the more important details, many are left out.
I shouldn’t forget to mention that Audiobus, Inter-App Audio, and MIDI are supported. Also the multi range keyboard with x/y, modulation and bender are included standard. Really who didn’t expect that?

This synth is beyond worthy of the obligatory “HUGE” exclamation. It is not just that Cakewalk delivered the very same feature packed version as its PC original. Its in the sound. The feeling of control and satisfaction with what is heard will raise neck hairs.
The degree of shaping sound designs is enormous. I can’t take my eyes off this nuclear power plant of synths.
I’m not saying its the best synth ever made, but at the moment she does hold my heart firmly.

Z3TA (damned threes posing as “E”s) launches with a bang resembling independence day fireworks and celebration.
Only small concerns perplex me. Most are design related. I don’t get why there is no On/Off button on the Arpeggiator? Why is it in the settings drop down menu? Really, why? Another really silly design flaw is that with some parameters they only cycle in one direction. Such as selecting an oscillators octave, you have to cycle all the way through, one way with no backing up.
Also there’s no real arpeggio customization such as what’s found in synths like CubeSynth.
When using this with IAA hosted by Cubasis, some of the patches I tested crumbled and crackled while trying to record on iPad 4. However bad that sounded, the recording was pristine. It didn’t happen a lot, but it was bad on a couple occasions. I did not have that same experience on my iPad Air.
Plus Cakewalk seems to think we don’t want to easily share our custom patches with each other. There is no option to email custom patches or banks. Why? They don’t seriously expect us to plug our iPads into a computer just to dig them out and then share? Not me. No way.
That’s all I have to complain about really. It’s relatively cheap and I don’t think anybody complaining about its price can be taken seriously. This is worth every penny if not twice more.

Z3TA is sublime. Find a way to get yourself one.

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2 Comments
  1. papertiger permalink

    The biggest gripe I have about Z3ta/Zeta+ on ios is the choice to have some buttons that force you to cycle through all possible values to reach a specific one. WHY? Incredibly stupid design decision. Try it with transpose and/or Octave to see what I mean. Perhaps I’m missing something. I hope so.

    • YES thank you. I forgot that. It is a terrible design decision. I meant to throw that in the review but forgot. It’s been a busy week. Thank you for reminding me, I’ll edit that in.

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