Thumbs Up for Madrona Labs AALTO Software Synthesizer


Peter Kirn over at Create Digital Music did a post on a new synth by Madrona Labs last month. Even though I wasn’t in the market for a new synth right now I ended up buying Aalto within an hour or so of downloading the demo so I wanted to pass this along and help promote Madrona’s great work. At $99 this is an incredible value.

Brief Video Overview

Watch embedded video


  • Semi-modular software synthesizer.
  • Fantastic flat popup-free patchable UI.
  • A Buchla-inspired complex oscillator, with FM, timbre and waveshape controls that enable a wide range of expressive sounds… made with dynamic calculation, not static wavetables.
  • Each voice has a separate, built-in sequencer with a patchable, independently controllable rate and offset that make it easy to achieve evolving, chaotic textures.
  • Each voice also includes a lowpass gate module with a vactrol emulation in the control path. The vactrol equation slows down the response to incoming control signals through a complex nonlinear filter. You can turn the vactrol response down to instantaneous, or up to a pronounced ring.
  • A patchable waveguide / delay module with a waveshaper and a peaking EQ built into the feedback loop. Because it has such short and controllable delay times, unlike a typical analog delay, it can be used as an additional oscillator or waveguide.
  • Aalto's filter is a state-variable topology with mixable simultaneous outputs, tuned to have a similar range to an Oberheim SEM filter.

Aalto 1.1 Acid House Demo Video

View embedded video by Madrona’s Randy Jones

Share Patches XML Patch Format

Another cool feature is the ability to copy patches in XML format to the clip board which allows you to email patches to a friend simply by pasting them into the body of an email.

Speaking of sharing patches, there is a site for patch sharing here

Use the Factory Sounds for Inspiration, Then Get Patching!

I emailed Madrona’s Randy Jones just to let him know how much I was loving Aalto and he emailed back “It's my hope that Aalto's ease of use will suck some people into patching, who might have been relying on presets otherwise.”

First Impressions

I love the GUI and work flow which is very straightforward yet extremely flexible. I’m a big fan of FM synthesis and I’m really glad Madrona chose this type of synthesis with it’s straight-forward “patcher” modulation architecture. It’s an immediate and transparent approach to FM with a huge range of sonic and rhythmic possibilities.

The gate feature offers the possibility of creating and modulating drones without MIDI input. It is such a simple idea and I'm loving creating self-triggering rhythmic patterns.

My personal experience was that I groked the synth almost immediately and then started patching new sounds from “default” within the first hour of use.


I like sound quite a bit and the factory patches are unusual and inspiring. Note they are not huge “workstation” type sounds and while there is a reverb and a waveguide / delay module built-in, Madrona assumes you are going to bring your favorite fx plugins to the table.

“Subjectively speaking, Aalto can make a wide range of soundsAalto can make a wide range of soundsfrom lush to edgy, including some very complicated ones, without sounding too thick in a mix. Aalto's sounds are not hyped or confined, they are wide-range, open and natural. We hope our approach will appeal to experienced sound designers who have their own favorite EQs and limiters. And for those just getting into synthesis, Aalto is an accurate and honest tool for learning. We have tried to make Aalto a deep instrument that will reward lasting engagement.”


If you are a seasoned sound designer you’ll enjoy the immediate interface, sonic possibilities and work flow.

If you are newer to programming yet ready to branch out beyond subtractive synthesis, you can’t go wrong with Aalto. The price is right and there are a good amount of sample patches to learn from.

If you are a composer looking for some very unique sounds to add to your palette, Aalto is worth a look as well.


Mark Mosher
Electronic Music Artist, Boulder, CO
Synthesist | Composer | Keyboardist | Performer
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Hi, this is Mark Mosher. Welcome to my blog. I’m a synthesist, Composer, Producer, and Visualist living in Boulder CO. I’m also the founder of the Rocky Mountain Synth Meet and Synth Patrol.

I’ve been blogging wince 2005 and this blog is a mix of posts on artistic news as well as synth tech & technique posts under the category Modulate This!

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4 responses to “Thumbs Up for Madrona Labs AALTO Software Synthesizer”

  1. Absolutely! Highly recommended for someone looking for new ways to work with conventional (and a few unconventional) sound modules! Thanks Mark for pointing me in the right direction.


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