User-Friendly Modular Synthesis – Circle Soft Synth Update + Mike Huckaby Preset Pack

Future Audio Workshop’s Circle Synthesizer is powerful soft synth that has been gaining attention by way of a new update to the instrument, a recent price drop and a new producer preset pack from Mike Huckaby.

Circle is a VST/AU plug-in instrument that offers a collection of wavetable and analog synth sounds in a modular environment that was designed with the computer user in mind. While most virtual synths of recent past have used virtual cables to create patches, Ireland’s Future Audio Workshop have taken a new approach to this idea by using colored circles throughout the interface as points of contact that can be routed from one to another. For experienced users, this means less time patching cables with your mouse (which from personal experience is not the most time-effective method). For those new to modular synthesis, the circles allow you to bypass the need for knowing what each part of the synth does and opens doors to experimentation and learning. In use, it quickly becomes apparent that this synth was build with workflow in mind with design and user experience at the forefront of this plug-in’s features.

“The main idea is just, you know, you’re on a computer,” FAW’s Gavin Burke explained in an interview with Create Digital Music. “Why would you have a hardware panel with cables everywhere or right-clicks, all that kind of stuff? Why not show the LFO, why not put a dot on the envelope so you can see it? You know, let people see what’s actually happening rather than everything always being hidden behind the scenes. Then modulation is no longer this kind of thing that’s just ‘LFO 1 Amt’, you can actually see that the LFO’s moving.

“There is a very famous book by [Apple pioneer and founding Mac team leader] Jef Raskin called ‘The Humane Interface: New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems,’ Burke continues. “The inspiration for the color-coded connections came from Raskin’s example of how a simple device such as a multimeter has very easy-to-use, color-coded cables. He describes how all of the multimeter’s functions are different. Here you’ve got these leads: one’s red and one’s grey. That’s your positive and your negative, and when you actually have color representations of things that you can connect up, that was one of the influences for Circle.

While Circle was released in 2008, a number of updates and improvements to the synth helped get the instrument into the hands of powerful users that includes top-tier artists such as Mike Huckaby, Ripperton, iO, and John Tejada. Most recently Mike Huckaby released a series of tracks using circle and simultaneously released the presets he used as a free preset pack that Circle users can download. Huckaby explains his love for Circle in a thoughtful interview that you can read on FAW’s blog:

“I really like the aspect of placing the “circle ” on to the destination, or target for modulation.  No other software synthesizer has implemented modulation in this way. This is a great way to learn synthesis, and to understand what the desired result will sound like. All the user has to do is simply drag the circle onto a destination to see what the desired result will be. I’m starting to think in terms of this process mentally now. Whenever I’m in front of a piece of gear such as my Waldorf Wave, I mentally imagine placing a circle onto the parameter being modulated. This is a great third eye perspective in terms of synthesis.”

Circle is currently available for $69US and can be purchased from Future Audio Workshop’s website. Be sure to check out their blog as well, where you can read interviews and production tips from artists who use and endorse Circle for music production.

Michael Walsh is a producer of audio/visual art and a journalist living in Southern California. Read more of his work at