Max for Cats is here with SynthieCat. It’s a brilliant matrix synth based on an experimental classic – and feels like using Ableton Live in an alternate universe where it was developed at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Note: This article was briefly published in December 2022; it’s been republished now following delays in restoring the (excellent) sonicbloom site.

Think of this as a new matrix synth heavily inspired by the original EMS Synthi A from 1971. Freely patch signal and modulation as you like. The EMS’ three-oscillator + noise architecture, filter, ring mod, envelope shaper, reverb, and even its X/Y stick – here reimagined as an X/Y pad – also seem right at home in Live’s UI. You just get a warmer, vintage sound, though even Live’s own internal devices have started offering that (either by default or as an optional mode).

Plus, the SynthieCat does double-duty as both synth and effect – with sidechain built in. Trigger with MIDI and the unique envelope shaper.

Yes, the Synthi was a favorite of everyone from Pink Floyd to Aphex Twin. But its experimental approach to sound feels ready for 2023. At the heart is a 16×16 “you sunk my Battleship!” grid matrix, here clearly labeled. Want to route the trapezoid (from the envelope) to the ring mod, the X/Y pad to the decay and filter? That’s all easy to spot.

20 EUR is barely what you’d pay to rent a studio with a Synthi for an hour or two; here, it gets you the whole Max for Live device at intro pricing.

Christian Kleine, creator of this gem, knows his stuff – he’s been a big part of the Max for Live content team at Ableton since 2012. This one is released independently under the superb Max for Cats lineup.

That also means a seamless integration process. You get a self-installing Live Pack complete with the MIDI instrument and 23 presets, though… go tweak this thing. You can’t break anything.

Just started playing with this and… wow. It seems an overnight Max for Live favorite. You will need Live 11 or later with a Max for Live license (as in Suite). macOS and Windows.

Sidechain mode lets you use it as an effect.

Full specs:

  • 16 x 16 matrix to connect signals and modulators
  • 3 oscillators (sine or sawtooth)
  • Noise generator
  • Low Pass Filter
  • Ring modulator
  • Trapezoid envelope shaper
  • Reverb
  • Patchable XY pad
  • 32-note keyboard
  • Sidechainable to use as an effect
  • Push Mappings
  • MIDI Sequencer

SynthieCat by Max for Cats

Pricing: 19.99€ early bird until February 22, then 29.99€.

And finally, because now there’s Synthi for Live, we can truly say – every nun needs one.

Every picnic needs one.

Every Christmas needs one.

(Wasn’t it also EMS who had that ad comparing the price of a synthesizer to the price of a truck?)

And yeah, Battleship for those who don’t know what I’m talking about: