Zeeon Synth review – BeepStreet’s a new iPad synth sounds great and includes AU support

Download from iTunes App StoreBeepStreet are perhaps best known for their Sunrizer synth app which has been around on the App Store for a long time and has a dedicated following amongst the long-standing iOS synth fanatics. They also offer the excellent Impaktor drum synth which perhaps doesn’t have quite the profile it deserves.

This week, however, they have added a new app to their iOS catalogue and, yes, while it is another synth app (and, yes, we probably all have more of these that we actually need!), Zeeon Synth does look like a very interesting option. And, with a launch price of just UK£9.99/US$9.99, it’s not so far up the iOS music app price range that keen synth collectors would take a speculative punt….

Zeeon Synth – BeepStreet’s first iOS app that includes AU support…..

A to Z of Zeeon

In term of basic details, Zeeon Synth is a virtual analog synth and powered by what BeepSteet describe as ‘an advanced analog circuit modelling engine’. The documentation hints at some pretty detailed algorithms in order to capture the essence of that analog sound…. and, in fairness to BeepStreet, they also make it clear that Zeeon might well hog a decent chunk of your CPU if you push the engine hard and play lots of notes.

Whatever the code, the front-end UI looks very modern and slick with the key controls spread across two main screens (actually, perhaps three, but I’ll come back to that in a minute) within the upper portion of the display. The synth itself is a twin oscillator design with variable waveforms and, rather interestingly, the engine includes code to simulate analog drift and the influence of the power supply.

The UI is slick…. and perhaps has a hint of the SEM about it?

The filter offers three models, there are twin LFOs and both filter and amplitude envelopes. And, to make things even more juicy, you can multiply all this twice as each sound can be built from two layers… and, while the two layers are identical, it’s here that the third screen comes into play as the left-most sub-panel of controls includes buttons that allow you to switch between controls for Layer 1, Layer 2 or Panel 2 (which houses the controls for the various effects). As well as plenty of sound modulation options (including cross-layer modulation), you also get a decent crop of effects including overdrive, modulation, delay and reverb….

When used stand-alone, the lower half of the screen provides the usual virtual piano keyboard….  but also includes a simple polyphonic step sequencer which is actually quite cool. However, the other obvious highlight of the technical spec is that the app is launched with AU support and, while that drops the keyboard (obviously) and the sequencer, the AU UI is otherwise identical so you get each access to the control set and the presets (of which there are plenty).

Zeeon ships with an excellent collection of presets and a browser that allows you to filter your search…..

Even with just a few hours use – yet again – we have another very impressive set of sounds here. Zeeon Synth sounds very good indeed and I’d be very surprised it the combination of features, price and AU support don’t prove very tempting, regardless of how many iOS synths are already stretching your iPad to the limit.

Engine building

As mentioned earlier, the left-most sub-panel of controls provides options for switching between Zeeon’s main screens. You can also toggle layers on/off and bypass the effects section. Tapping the mini waveform display opens the preset system, while you also get buttons to toggle between mono, poly and unison modes of operation. This panel also includes a Mix control to adjust the balance between the two layers and the Amp knob controls the overall output level. The Tools button opens a pop-up selection of options for copy/paste functions, etc.

There is nothing too revolutionary about the control set offered within the oscillator section. As well as coarse/fine pitch knobs, you get both variable waveform and pulsewidth knobs for each oscillator (and don’t forget there is an second, independent set of these on the second layer). There are also three ‘modes’ for the oscialltors to operate in including the ‘vintage’ mode. This engages the analog drift and PSU emulation for a more convincing vintage analog synth vibe. I suspect it also add a little to the CPU load. These modes are not mutually exclusive.

The key synth controls are contained on a single screen…. However, because of the two ‘layers’, there are two independent sets of synth controls to access…. and the Panel 2 that houses the effects controls.

The mix controls for the two oscialltors on the current layer as well as options to add sound from a sub oscillator and a noise oscillator.

Zeeon’s filter is particularly interesting. It offers three emulations – LP24-T, LP24-O and MM12 – each of which is based upon a different ‘classic’ filter design from the world of analog hardware. They certainly all offer distinctive sounds and, with the usual array of drive (Tone knob), cutoff, resonance, envelope modulation and keyboard tracking, you can coax a very diverse range of filter effects/styles out of Zeeon…. and it does (to my ears at least) sound very ‘analog’…. and very pleasing….  sonically, BeepStreet seem to be doing pretty impressive here even if it does come with something of a CPU overhead.

Each layer offers a twin oscillator based synth engine.

The Filter section also houses both the filter ADSR envelope and the amplitude ADSR envelope. These are, in terms of the control sets, pretty familiar territory.

Zeeon offers three different types of modelled filter.

Next up we get the two LFOs and, again, the control set is fairly straightforward. A selection of waveforms are provided as well as a rate control with sync to a BMP available alsongside other retiggering modes. This panel also tucks away the simple looking – but rather wonderful sounding – Drive control. The can be set to either pre or post the filter for very different end results and there is also a ‘soft’ switch which actually gives you a little more (high-end?) distortion. I really like what this can add to the sound – particulary on basses and leads – and it’s a great way to add a little extra weight and warmth.

The final section (on the right side) contains the modulation matrix. Again, this is pretty standard fodder, offering up to eight modulation options for each (displayed in two banks of four that you can toggle between). You getthe usual options to pick a modulation source (just tap a slot and an extensive drop-down menu appears), the modulation amount (via the knob; it’s bi-directional with the 12 o’clock position representing no modulation), and the modulation target (another extensive drop-down to make your choice from).

The modulation system offers plenty of modulation sources….

The whole modulation system is very easy to use at a practical level…. although, as with all such synth programming options, using it and actually understanding the likely effects of a specific modualtion routing are two very different things. The PDF manual (available from BeepStreet’s website) is particularly useful in this regard as it includes some modulation examples. As one slot can modulate another slot within the matrix, there is all sorts of fun to be had here even if it is simply by trial and error.

…. and plenty of modulation destinations…..

A number of the presets make use of just a single layer of Zeeon’s engine but even these produce some very full, satisfying, tones. Having two such layers to work with just means you can get even fuller and fatter – or with pad sounds, more complex and deep – and there are undoubtedly some great sounds available here. Stick Zeeon through a decent monitoring system and this is easily a synth you could wow a live audience with…. and (iPad hardware aside), it costs less than UK£10/US$10. We live in a remarkable time if music technology happens to be your thing.

The Zeeon effect

Toggle over to the FX panel and you get access to the four main effects; chorus, phaser, delay and reverb. These are all rather nicely specified with lots of options to explore. The delay and reverb, in particular, are very good and I do like the tonal options provided by the filter (on the delay) and high/low cut and high damping on the reverb.

The effects options are both flexible and very sweet sounding.

The other element on this screen is the Voice Settings sub-panel. This includes global pitch control, glide and set the pitch-bend range. There are also settings for controlling the spread of voices use and for saturating the envelope curves (this rounds them off a little). This panel is also where you can tweak those ‘analog’ emulations for randomising detuning between the oscillators and the power supply effects. This is all perhaps a bit geeky….  but will, I’m sure, make many analog synth geeks smile :-)

Mode of operation

As mentioned earlier, Zeeon offers both stand-alone and AU modes of operation. As an AU plugin, you simply get the top-most panel as in the stand-alone version so you can access all the sound shaping options and the preset system. I had no issues running the synth via AU in Cubasis, AUM or Audiobus 3, including running multiple instances, although your ability to do this will obviously depend upon just how much CPU grunt your iPad model can offer.

The virtual MIDI keyboard of the stand-alone version is perfectly useable and includes virtual pitch-bend and mod wheel as well as a toggle button for velocity response (based upon the vertical axis of each key). You also get Hold and panic buttons (always useful).

Stand-alone mode includes a simple step sequencer option….

The other feature of this stand-alone section is the 16 step pattern sequencer. This offers polyphonic playback on each step and, once you engage the ‘write’ model via the pencil icon, you can simply pick a step and then play whatever notes you wish to be triggered on that step via the keyboard. Options for erasing notes and to tie steps together for longer notes are also included while there is an Auto-increment button for proper old-school step sequence note entry. Tempo can be set and Gate and swing options are also provided. No, it’s not the most sophisticated step sequencer you will ever encounter but it is easy to use if the need arises.

Too many synths?

So should you buy Zeeon? Well, as a long-standing iOs music app geek, I know I already have way too many synth apps installed, some of which rarely get used. Yes, there are different types of synthesis and it is nice to have those various bases covered but, even with this said, I’m not short of ‘virtual analog’ when it comes to iOS synths.

Multiple instances via AU are possible if your iPad hardware is up to the task :-)

So what’s the incentive to part with the (admittedly very modest) sum required to acquire Zeeon Synth to add to your existing iOS synth collection? I think there are a number of positives here. First, the UI is very slick and, while I’m not sure Zeeon qualifies as a ‘first programmable synth’ suggestion, it is not particularly intimidating for those without suitable ‘synth 101’ qualifications.

Second, while we have masses of iOS synths, good, programmable, ones that offer AU support are still somewhat rarer. Zeeon does a great job in this regard.

Third, it really does sound very good indeed. I can’t say I pushed my iPad Pro particularly hard while using the app but, within AUM, a single instance did get the CPU indicator moving between 25 and 50%. I can easily imagine running out of juice with a few other heavyweight apps running alongside. However, I do love the sound and I expect, to a large extent, that’s down to some sophisticated (and CPU demanding) algorithms upon which the analog emulation is built. Sonically, you perhaps get what you pay for in CPU terms?

Zeeon seemed happy to work with Audiobus 3’s MIDI routing when used as an AU plugin.

I could a a fourth – price – but this applies to so many iOS music apps that danger of taking it for granted. Please don’t; a software synth that sounds this good for such a modest price is difficult to explain in any logical sense of ‘value’.

Perhaps the other observation or make – and lovers of classic synths will have already had this thought for themselves – is that the visual styling is not a million miles away from Oberheim’s classic SEM….  and perhaps that’s what the LP24-O filter is aiming at (although feel free to correct me if your classic synth knowledge is better than mine)?

The SEM is, of course, a hardware synth that Arturia have emulated in software on the desktop and in their excellent iSEM iOS app. I think it is also fair to say that the two apps are taking aim the same sonic territory; emulated classic analog synths with a big, fat, and hopefully, genuinly ‘analog’ sound.

Zeeon behaved itself well in various iOA AU hosts.

iSEM was one of the first virtual instrument apps to get AU support under iOS and it remains a firm favourite for me. Zeeon is less obviously a homage to the original SEM and, as a result, could perhaps tempt you with a few more options in terms of the engine….  but both are great and sit at similar price points. Whether you need both is another matter (although they sound great stacked!) but – and we have had this conversation before on the blog – ‘need’ and ‘want’ are very different things and ‘want’ is not such a big deal in the world of app-based software synths as opposed to desktop software synths or actual hardware synths.

In summary

Anyway, in terms of whether Zeeon synth is a great app, just how many other synths you own is beside the point…. and Zeeon is indeed very good indeed. You might pay for it’s glorious sound in terms of CPU cycles, but it is undoubtedly a glorious sound and the overall design is really very slick.

The app is iPad-only, requires iOS9.3 or later, seems to need an iPad Air or newer, and is just a 14MB download. At UK£9.99/US£9.99, I think it will attract a lot of attention. There are some nice video demos appearing already (I’ve embedded a couple below from Jakob and Doug) that are worth watching for a full audition but, otherwise, hit the App Store download button to find out more… and to put your personal resistance to iOS synth app temptation to the test yet again :-)

Zeeon Synth

Download from iTunes App Store



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    Comments

    1. I am on the edge on this. Sunrizer has been one of my favorite synth on iOS for quite some time now. its just brilliant! What I really loved was the possibility to add some patches with a little star icon to my favorites. Has Zeeon a preset management feature like this too? I hate it when synths come with hundreds of patches and preloaded sounds but no possibility to star them or create a favorite list with ease… any insight ins this? Thanks guys!

      • It doesn’t have a favorites filter, but it does have catagory filtering. You can also create a new bank, name it “Favorites” and put the patches you like best in by saving them to that bank. Not as fast as tapping a star but works.

        Just my opinion but I don’t think they put a lot of power into the stand-alone app since the trend is toward AU, where the host saves/organises your presets.

    2. I made a very rare exception to my “no new synths” moratorium and downloaded Zeeon based on:
      1) Sunrizer admiration
      2) SEM and iSEM respect
      3) Your review above.

      Had it for about a week. I like it even more than I thought I would, and I haven’t even gotten to factory presets yet.

    3. John has isequence hd by beepstreet been updated, if not, when will it likely be updated to ios 11

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