U-He Hive – Gearjunkies review

Here we have a new product from U-He that was released a while ago, is their new synth called HIVE. U-He is known for their very elaborate synths like Zebra, Diva etc., but HIVE walks a different path. This is a synth that is both low on CPU and very easy to work with. The user interface is divided into 2 equal halves and in the centre of it is a hexagon, that looks like beehive, hence the name HIVE. The filosophy behind the symmetrical setup it is that you can easily layer two voices in a simple way for quick results.

At the top of the User Interface is the control bar. This is where you can select several voice modes (poly, mono, legato & duo), along with transpose and fine tune. There’s also preset selection (in good U-He tradition, Hive is chockful of good presets), the save menu, undo, redo, output and at the far right a cog wheel (click on it and you get to the MIDI controller and preferences menu.) In the preferences menu you can alter things like the default skin, UI size, text anti aliasing (for better readability) and more.

The next row on the UI is where the oscillators are situated. There are 2 main oscillators that also have a sub osc and in the middle are the different engine modes that HIVE has. The engine modes are a cool little feature where you can alter the caracter of each sound slightly through altering the engine mode that suits your sound the best. It even affects the way the filters behave.

Here’s a little explaination of the 3 different modes:

  • NORMAL Exponential oscillator detune, s-shaped envelope attack, short decay, oversampled self-oscillating ëladderí filter model with non-linear resonance.
  • DIRTY Evenly-spaced oscillator detune, exponential envelope stages, oversampled self-oscillating ëdiode ringí filter. Highly non-linear and unpredictable!
  • CLEAN Slightly wider oscillator detune, linear envelope attack, exponential decay and release, linear (non-distorting) ëstate variableí filters, no oversampling.

Experimentation is key with these 3 modes, definitely a cool addition to this synth.

Also worth mentioning is that oscillator section has a small down arrow symbol in the menu, if you click on that, a list of presets is opened. A feature that is copied throughout the synth and that forms great starting points for your own preset design. It’s a surefire way to get some results, lightning fast.

Each osc has enough waveforms to choose from and unison is on board going up to 16-voices per osc along with octave -2 to +2 and semitone -12 to +12. There’s also pan, width, detune, vibrato and volume and the forementioned sub osc, where you can dial in semitone and volume. Several waveforms can be chosen as a sub osc or you can choose like osc to get the same osc setting as the main osc. Lastly there is a phase setting that (in tandem with your unison setting) can create different results.

3 options are available

  • Reset Phase is fixed at 0∞ ó where the wave crosses zero in the positive direction. Use this mode whenever you need robotically consistent attacks.
  • Random Phase is set to a random value whenever a note is played. Very organic.
  • Flow The phase of a note picks up where the previous one left off, so the phase relationship (and therefore any beating) between oscillators is continuous.

Moving on to the next row, we find where the filters are situated. U-He filters are always top notch and this time it’s no different. Filtertypes are: bypass, lowpass 24, lowpass  2, bandpass, highpass, band reject and peaking. Also, the difference between the 3 engine settings becomes far more noticeable in the filter section.

  • NORMAL Oversampled self-oscillating ladder filter model with non-linear resonance, listen to the tonal difference when you crank up the Input Gain.
  • DIRTY Oversampled self-oscillating diode ring filter model. Turn up the resonance for interesting, unpredictable results. Also try Input Gain values below 0.00 dB.
  • CLEAN Linear i.e. non-distorting state variable filter model. This option is particularly CPU-friendly as non-linearities don’t need to be calculated and there is no oversampling.

Filter Input Selectors
The vertical row of buttons labelled OSC1, SUB1, FILT1 (filter 2 only), OSC2 and SUB2 select which signals will be routed into each filter. Filter 2 has an extra FILT1 button, which brings in the signal from filter 1 at full volume. To use the two filters 100% in series, turn filter 1’s volume down to zero and select the FILT1 button (only) for filter 2.

The usual stuff is there like input gain (to drive the filter harder or softer), cutoff, resonance (even self oscillation), Volume as well as selectors for LFO 1 and 2 and mod env 1 and 2 with a KeyTrack knob to make your sound more even across the keyboard. A link knob is also provided to link the filter cutoffs of both filters.

The next row is the LFO, Amp and Mod env section. LFO can be sync, gate, single and random, so again, plenty of waves to choose from and some really cool starting points in the LFO menu. Amp and Mod env have that same easy setup menu, so you can quickly whip up some cool stuff.

Bottom row
On the left, there’s a menu where you can set glide, vibrato and pitchbend. In the middle you can either choose keys (which makes the keyboard visible) or mm1 and mm2, where you select your modulation routings. The great thing about the modulation section is that it is drag and drop, so just select a source and the destination you can drag too. Easy peasy.

Finally the heart of the GUI the hexagon section where the Arp, Seq and Effects are housed. The arp and the seq share a clock. The clock has a multiply setting that goes from 50 to 200% and a swing function from 50 to 100%, so triplets and dotted swings are in the realm of possibilities. The step seq goes up to 16 steps and the timebase settings are plentiful. The seq has also some neat tricks available, most noticeably, the cc control that you can use to control different parameters in HIVE that you have selected via several cc’s.

Lastly, there’s the effect section with distortion, chorus, reverb, delay, phaser, equaliser and compressor. All high quality effects that are very useful and bring something extra to your patches. You can shuffle the order of the effects too., and the preset menu is there to give you some great startingpoints for your effects.

Final thoughts
HIVE is a modern synth with a great sound and (via the different engine modes) the versatility is greatly enhanced. Drag and drop modulation, copy paste, undo redo are all functions that are a must nowadays for a speedy workflow and this synth is very easy to learn and understand and low on CPU. If you’re in the market for a synth like that, you can owe it to yourself to try out HIVE.

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