Connect with us


Cherry Audio PS-3300 Software Synth: the Synth and Software Review



Released today: a recreation of the Korg PS-3300, released in 1977, and less than 50 of them were made. And of course, we’re here with the review.

Any synthesizer that can use patch cords for sound design gets my pulse pounding, so I was excited to have a chance to dig into the Cherry Audio PS-3300. To write a review, I was allowed to download it a couple of weeks before it was unveiled to the public. It’s a remarkably faithful replica of the incredibly rare Korg PS-3300, and it can make some seriously huge sounds.

The original all-analog hardware instrument was manufactured between 1977 and 1981. It was expensive, and only a few (between 25 and 50) were ever built. According to Cherry Audio, the price of the original was $7,500. That would be at least $20,000 today in inflation-adjusted constant dollars, but now you can have one living in your computer for $49, which is a pretty sweet deal.

The new PS-3300 can run in VST2, VST3, AU, or AAX format, or stand-alone. There’s a 30-day downloadable demo.

At the outset, you need to understand that this is not a do-everything synth. It lacks many of the features musicians today have come to expect. For instance, there’s no oscillator sync, and the filter is always lowpass. On the other hand, it has a couple of special features that you won’t find in many modern instruments. And while Cherry Audio has retained the signature design and sound of the PS, they’ve added a few things that we just can’t do without, including velocity sensing, a trio of vintage but good-sounding effects, and a powerful MIDI Learn facility that’s almost as good as being able to grab and tweak hardware knobs.

From here on out, references to “the PS-3300” (or “the PS” for short) will refer strictly to the Cherry Audio instrument except where indicated otherwise. The features mentioned may or may not reflect what was true of the Korg hardware.

Ready for a closer look? Let’s get started.

The Preset Library

When I start looking at a new synthesizer I may have an eye on the front panel, but I start by going through a bunch of the presets. It’s not much different from using the instrument in a track, really: I look through the presets to see if there’s something I like, and then fiddle with the parameters if I need to.

The pre-release version of the PS-3300 that I installed had a generous set of more than 460 presets. There’s quite a lot of variety, but most of them have a distinctively old-school analog character. That’s not surprising; it’s the instrument’s strength. Again and again, I found myself thinking, “Yeah, I could hear Vangelis or Jean-Michel Jarre using that sound.”

A few of the presets use square-wave LFO modulation to introduce pulsing rhythms. The PS has no arpeggiator, so the sound designers used this type of patching to add an extra dimension. Naturally, the software’s LFOs can be synced to the clock of your host DAW. However, it’s worth noting that there is no way to lock the LFOs’ pulse patterns so that they start with a key press. Once the LFO is going, it’s just going. It references bar 1, beat 1 of your DAW’s transport. A workaround would be to capture a few measures of the sound as an audio clip, after which you would mute the PS and move the clip to whatever starting point you needed.

The pads, leads, brass, and strings are very satisfying. While the basses are usable for some musical styles, they don’t have that aggressive modern twist. There’s no category in the preset browser for analog percussion, but I’d speculate that this may be a limitation of the instrument. Even with the amplitude envelope set to zero attack, zero decay, and zero sustain, the sound was not exactly snappy. 


At heart, the PS-3300 is three identical polyphonic synthesizers set side by side in the panel. Off toward the right end of the panel, there’s a global section that includes the effects and some other features. The three synths (let’s call them modules, just to keep the discussion clear) can have completely different sounds, and layering them accounts for a lot of the sonic richness of the instrument. There are no keyboard splits, just layering, but you can adjust both the panning and the output level of each module individually.

Each of the modules has normalled connections for standard signal routings, but there are also patch points where you can insert a virtual patch cord to do new things. You can easily patch a modulation signal from one of the modules into another, so they’re not quite as separate as they may seem.

Each module has an oscillator, a lowpass filter, an ADSR envelope generator, and two LFOs. One of the more interesting features of the module is a 3-band resonator. The intensity of the resonator is a single knob that controls all three bands, but each band has its own frequency knob. There’s no signal input for modulating either the intensity or a single resonator frequency, but the frequencies of the three bands together can be modulated from LFO 2, which can add either subtle animation or some fairly wild sweeps to the tone. And you can easily automate individual band frequencies via MIDI.

LFO 1 has a variety of waveshapes, including both pink and white noise, and its frequency can be dialed well up into the audio frequency range, so it can drive the oscillator into primitive FM territory. LFO 2 is limited to a triangle wave, and it only goes up to about 12Hz, but it can modulate the resonator or be patched to modulate something else, so it’s quite useful.

Only one envelope generator per module? Yes, that’s a limitation. It always controls the module’s amplitude, and there’s a knob for applying it to filter cutoff too. There’s no output jack from the envelope, so it’s not possible to use the ADSR from one module to control another module’s filter independently.

On the good side, there’s a knob for controlling how the filter tracks the MIDI keyboard, and also one for controlling the loudness as a function of keyboard position. While the effect of the latter is maybe too subtle, the knob has an output jack, so it can be used for other things too.

The oscillator produces a basic triangle, sawtooth, or pulse wave. A pulse width modulation input from LFO 2 is normalled, and of course, there’s an octave switch and a frequency knob.

Two other features should be noted. Each module can be monophonic or polyphonic, and the mono mode is switchable between low-note, high-note, and last-note priority. Last but not least, each module allows individual tuning of each of the twelve notes in the chromatic scale. Yes, the PS can play in just intonation — or it can just play out of tune, if you hanker for that sort of thing. The row of tuning pots can be seen at the lower edge of Figure 1.

Global Features

In the global area, the PS boasts a sample-and-hold with its own clock and an external input for the signal to be sampled. There are two simple control voltage processors, which can attenuate the range of a modulating signal or even invert it.

The global delay/attack/release envelope has three outputs with different voltage characteristics. I tried using this to add a quick pitch envelope to the attack of a sound in order to do an analog drum patch, but I found that even with a zero release time it just wasn’t snappy enough. Probably, the envelope was faithfully modeled on the behavior of a hardware PS-3300, so I don’t know if this counts as a defect. It’s just the nature of the instrument.

The chorus and echo effects are plenty good enough, but I was less thrilled by the reverb. It offers a choice between spring, plate, and “galactic” models. This spring sounds about as vintage as you’d expect. The plate is good, and it would be my first choice for most sounds. To my ears, the galactic has a rather harsh, artificial color.

About The Audio Examples

There’s no substitute for trying out a synth by doing some actual recording. My usual DAW is Reason (currently at version 12.6). Since The PS lacks percussion sounds, I used Reason’s standard Kong drum instrument and loaded one of the stock 808 kits. I quickly learned that the PS hijacks one of the QWERTY key presses to adjust its display size, so Reason’s standard number pad command for stopping the transport didn’t work when the PS panel was being displayed. This is fairly annoying, and the settings box for the PS didn’t offer a way to shut it off. But on with the show.

My first clip was inspired by the pad sound, which reminded me of Jean-Michel Jarre. I lowered the filter cutoff of the bass preset to get a stronger low end, and also boosted the lows a bit in Reason’s mixer. For the bell sound, I reduced the resonator intensity, which was making a couple of my notes pop out of the mix, and turned on the reverb. To create the trumpet-like lead, I removed a patch cord that was adding an ugly jittery quality to the tone. For the effect that enters at the very end, I added echo and panned the three modules separately.

In the second clip, I wanted something more upbeat, maybe in the Gary Numan ballpark. Again I darkened the bass preset, which had more highs than I wanted. I reduced the velocity response of the ADSR in the Clavinet preset and then ended up using the same velocity throughout the track. Finally, I added sustain to the brass preset and re-balanced the three modules in the lead sound to make it a little less bright.

The Envelope, Please

I don’t have a hardware PS-3300 to compare this emulation to, so I can’t testify to how authentic it is, but the sound feels authentic to me, and only a few essential features have been added. In this, it’s quite different from the Cherry Audio PS-20, which I reviewed for S&S two years ago. Though the PS-20 was modeled on the Korg MS-20, it was spruced up with a lot of modern extras.

If you’re craving that vintage ’70s or ’80s synth sound, the Cherry Audio product line has a lot to offer, and the PS-3300 is certainly a worthy addition to their catalog. Some of its layered sounds are huge, and it has a definite character.

When I need a modeled analog instrument I already have way too many to choose from, so I can’t say the PS-3300 would always be my first choice, but I think it’s fair to say that when I use it, it will add something special to the mix.

Current price: $49

Click here for more info

Continue Reading