MATRIXSYNTH: John Bowen Solaris Has Arrived

Saturday, May 16, 2020

John Bowen Solaris Has Arrived


A few pics of my newly arrived John Bowen Solaris in the studio. I've wanted one of these since they were announced, but could never afford one until a couple of years ago. I talked myself out of one in the beginning, as I already had a Waldorf Q rack and an XTk keyboard, along with plenty of other virtual analog and real analog gear. In the back of my mind though, I knew I might one day own one. A few years ago I reached the breaking point with the synth collection I picked up over the years. I found myself going into the studio and spending time with synths I wasn't sure about keeping to see if I indeed wanted to keep them. I'd decide yes, this synth is great, I should keep it, only to walk out of the studio neglecting other synths that I honestly wanted to play more. I did this for years. The breaking point for me was when a few of the older analogs started exhibiting problems and I realized I didn't have a solid tech in the area. The only way to fix them would be to ship them off incurring the shipping costs to and back over the cost of the repairs. I also began to realize how redundant my synths were. Seriously. They are all either subtractive analog, wavetable, FM, additive, or PCM/sample based in the end. They are all just different flavors of the same thing. I mean how many different brands of vanilla ice cream do you really need? For me synths are about getting lost in the sound - about exploring sound. So yes, the more brands the better, but... just like there's only so much space in my belly for ice cream, I only have so much time in the studio. I realized it was time to let some go and in doing so I could use the money on other gear I'd been GASing on, like the Sequential OB-6, Elektron Digitakt, a Jupiter-XM to replace some vintage Rolands I gave up, and of course the Solaris. The Solaris was actually the first on the list. As I said, I wanted one since the start. I also know John Bowen, and no I did not get a deal on my Solaris. The Solaris is a labor of love and John pretty much runs the show on his own. He does work with others on building them of course, but this is a small enterprise. You can't find these in shops. They are exclusively sold on John Bowen's website: https://johnbowen.com, and there is a wait time. When I reached out to John about finally getting one he let me know this might be the last run. It was run number 7 and I asked him if I could get the last one. He said yes so I went for it. A couple of years later it arrived. (P.S. I heard there might be another run and John is still working on the OS, an expander, and possibly a desktop version, see the update in red below).

Do I have any regrets? I can emphatically say no. This is an amazing synth. What sets it apart is it has four, not three fully blown oscillators that can be morphed with a joystick for vector synthesis of wavetable and virtual analog synthesis. No other synth that I am aware of can do this. It is also fully modular. If you look at each display panel section, each knob, you can essentially load anything into them and route them however you want. Things aren't locked in place like other synths. The Solaris also runs at a super high resolution - 96kHz to be exact. People say it sounds analog and this is not an overstatement. It sounds amazing. I hate to say it, but it leaves my Q in the dust. It just sounds so much more bold and present. It is hands down the best sounding VA and Wavetable synth I own. I've owned a lot of synths over the years including some of the most sought after - Jupiter-8, OB-Xa, Matrix-12, Prophet-5, Rhodes Chroma, Alesis Andromeda A6, Yamaha CS-60, original Minimoog Model D, ARP Odyssey with CMS mods, and more. The Solaris is right up there with them if not surpassing them. It is that good. It feels different too. It feels like a powerhouse design tool. A synth of synths, so to speak. Note it also has the Prophet VS waveforms. I have a Prophet VS rack (you can see it in the top right), and I can say the Solaris sonically matches it - it has that transparent, bold presence missing in many digital synths. An unintended added bonus is the Solaris joystick actually works with the Prophet VS! :)

That said, if you do plan on picking up a Solaris or a Solaris expander, reach out to John first. This isn't an order now and get it next week sort of synth. It's more of a long term investment. How long? For me it was two years as I wanted the last of the final run. It was worth the wait.

Update: I should note my Solaris has a unique serial number out of the standard sequence. It's 10041. I'm curious if anyone will recognize the reference. :) So, although this might not be the last Solaris keyboard, it will have an interestingly unique SN. :) I also updated the above with the following: "Note it also has the Prophet VS waveforms. I have a Prophet VS rack and the Solaris sonically matches it - it has that transparent, bold, presence missing in many digital synths."

As for a new Solaris, there is work on a Solaris expander and possibly a desktop version. See this post for some desktop pics including an OS update (also in my studio), and see here for the expander sitting on top of two 1U mixers in the top right. You can find a demo from Sonicstate at NAMM 2020 posted here.

2 comments:

  1. Congrats! I was lucky enough to get one in the first production run. I'm looking forward to the new software update with FM & PD added.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Congrats and welcome to the club, I kind of regret not going for the white version, but sonically. is an amazing synth!

    ReplyDelete

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