Max for Cats is back with a beast of a Max for Life synthesizer. Taming the modular capabilities of Oscillot into a semi-modular FM synth with potent modulation and effects, Bengal delivers a wide range of tones from growling bass to purring pads and everything in between.
Similar to Ableton’s FM workhorse, Operator, Bengal is built on a foundation of four oscillators, referred to as operators. Six signal paths available in the Algorithm area determine which oscillators modify which other oscillators’ frequencies—the hallmark of FM synthesis, which results in a wide range of unusual tones typically unavailable through subtractive techniques.
The default Partials mode provides standard waveforms that can be adjusted by twenty partial columns—which can also be used to draw in completely new waveforms from scratch. Alternatively, the Wave mode provides an ample selection of sampled waveforms, in addition to the ability to drag in your own, in WAV or AIFF format.
Each Operator comes with Coarse and Fine tuning options, along with a Fixed mode to ignore MIDI note keyboard input. A dedicated ADSR envelope for each Operator is accompanied by a helpful miniature graphic display just above it – along with a Looping option for additional amplitude modulation. Index amounts and Level dials are topped with helpful triangles that display the routing influence of the oscillator.
A pair of filter circuits can be configured in parallel or serial. The first uses a static filter type with five modes to choose from, along with Cutoff and Q, a Mix amount, dedicated Envelope amount from the ADSR Envelope, a Drive control for additional bite, and an optional Comb Filter with bipolar enforcement. The second filter morphs between Low-, Band-, High-pass, and Notch circuits, along with Cutoff and Q controls. Combining the two filters in parallel or serial—and controlling them with Bengal’s wealth of modulation sources—instantly provides this tigress with possibilities for sound design far beyond that of your standard FM synth.
Envelope settings make up the first of three primary modulation sections. A velocity-sensitive ADSR with a Curve control and Loop option is hardwired to the first filter circuit. To the right is a six-point randomizable Function envelope that’s easy to adjust or draw in, with logarithmic curves available by holding the Option key while dragging; Loop and Sustain options make it not unlike a third LFO.
The dedicated LFO section is comprised of two identical host-syncable LFOs, selectable from Sine, Triangle, Square, or Noise shapes, with adjustable Rate, Phase, and Pulse Width controls.
An eight-step sequencer (which should be familiar to users of the popular ML-185 device) rounds out the main modulators. Pitch, Octave, and Velocity can be manually set for each step, or randomized, with Key and Scale quantization elegantly available from the drop-down menus just above. You can deactivate note output and use the Sequencer strictly as a parameter modulation source—or harness the note function for instant melodic ideas along with impressive modulation capabilities. The pattern length is adjustable along with mute and glide toggles for each step, with normal, dotted, and triplet step values from whole up to 1/32 notes and a swing amount available for a wide range of rhythmic results, along with four directional playback modes: forward, backward, backward and forward, and random. A few adjustments to this powerful built-in sequencer will have you tweaking tricky melodies and wild sweeping patterns in no time.
Five dedicated mathematical modifiers help alter parameters even further once they’ve been patched up in the modular section. Lag, Randomization, Scaling, Math operations, and a four-value X/Y map are all available to creatively transform parameters throughout this powerful synth.
Finally, four effects are available: A sync-able Delay with a Ping Pong option, a Krush distortion circuit, reverb Space designer, and lush Chorus all provide additional textural design possibilities. I did notice some gain staging issues as the signal would be reduced fairly dramatically when certain effects were activated—but the Limiter is available to make up any difference as needed, along with a Width control for enhanced placement in the stereo field.
Global tuning, randomizable Panning, and a final Volume dial accompany Glide, Pitchbend, and Voicing selection in the final control area; Mono and an extra-thick Unison mode are available for parts that don’t require any chords or harmonies. At the center of the Editor window are Scope, Phase, and Spectral displays that provide a useful and appealing visual representation of the resulting output.
As one might expect, Bengal excels in the modulation department. Building on the intuitive cable-dragging system of Oscillot, more than 50 output points, represented with squared circles, and 60 input points, shown as normal circles, are available in the Patch Panel. Simply click and drag from an Output to any input; double-click a patch-point to delete the connection.
With Operator, Filter, Effect, and Global parameters available for modulation via the Modifiers, Envelopes, LFOs, Sequencer, and an X/Y mixer, impressive possibilities for feral flux and untamed transformations are just a few experimental clicks away. The eight Macro dials available in Bengal’s default device detail view are also assignable via the Patch Panel, making Bengal easily tweakable from a control surface, even with the Editor fully hidden. The Show Mod toggle at the upper right corner of the interface flips parameter dials into modulation amount sliders for intricate control far beyond the basic patching implementation.
Not only does Bengal sound incredible, but it’s very easy to use, even for someone without much FM synthesis experience. Combining the huge potential of FM techniques with the semi-modular Patch Panel and highly creative tools like the built-in Sequencer make impressive sound design a joyful breeze. Bengal can be a hungry kitty when it comes to CPU, so it may be advisable, depending on your machine’s power, to restrict yourself to a single instance, and disable any unused elements such as secondary filters or operators. But at such an affordable price, it’s hard to imagine a tool this powerful and exciting costing any less. Sleek, intense, and ferocious, Bengal may be Max for Cats’ best feline yet.
Pros: Beautifully designed synth with great creative workflow and excellent sounds for an impressively affordable price.
Cons: CPU spikes with multiple instances may occur on some systems, gain staging issues with the built-in audio effects; requires Live 9 Suite with Max for Live.