I borrowed a string machine years ago that was very primitive, cant remember the make (this was 1986), it was old then, you had little control over the levels of the voices, but it had that 70s cheesy string sound which I quite like, and taken out of context, mixes well with other sounds. Ultimately I gave it back when I had finished that project and pretty much forgot about it to be honest.
That is until I saw Waldorf had released the Streichfett, apparently the name translates into “Spreadable fat” – this is a digital machine, which at first thought would be comparable to various softsyths, but actually, in reality sounds vastly better overall (I dont quite know precisely why), at least at these sounds. Their website overview also points out ” is essential for recreating how adult movies sounded thirty years ago” OO-err! Followed by “The Ensemble Effect handles lubrication of the String Section” Fnarr! Fnarr!
However onto the unit:
The box is well made, solid. Theres no play on the knobs, and the switches are solid enough. Outputs are two standard stereo jack line outs, a mini jack for headphones, USB and both MIDI in and out.
The great thing is this will work on USB power from the laptop (Mains USB adaptor is supplied) which means one less plug socket to search for when gigging- The USB is used for sending MIDI signals and wont take audio, you still have to connect the audio L and R channels to your soundcard (or whatever else)
The instrument divides itself into two sections; on the left is the ‘ensemble’ section, which has a large knob which morphs seamlessly from violin, viola, cello, brass, organ and choir- dont be fooled, these are not realistic sounds, but impressions made by synths, then as you turn the knob through to the right these begin to mix, in various combinations, making some great morphing effects if you hold down a key. On the right side is the ‘Solo’ side, named Bass, E.piano, Clavi, Synth and Pluto!! Advise not to take these names at all seriously, in the same way one wouldnt with a 70s string synth, but the sounds are great and very usable.
The two sections are controlled by central ‘balance’ knob, the ensemble side is fully polyphonic, the solo side is 8 voice. Theres a three way switch with allows you to split the keyboard between these two channels or have them layered, both occupying the keyboard at same time
There are some very usable effects on board- the solo side has a reasonable tremolo- the left can be animated with the ‘ensemble’ button plus theres a three way selector switch which covers Animate (a sort of LFO), Phaser and Reverb, with a depth knob besides it. Basic, and easy to use, The only thing I would add here is a delay effect would be nice.
One thing worth noting is the modulation wheel on the keyboard is automatically enabled to control the vibrato of the strings, and if you select the ‘pluto’ sound in the solo section it controls that as well- making some quite interesting sounds
The sounds are plush, straight out of the box, at the bottom of this blog I’ve recorded a demo track using some of the possible voices, there are 12 memories on board, which you can overwrite by holding down a button, when the button flashes, press it again and your sound is stored. I did find one nagging thing in that I had a conflict in Ableton with the Nano Kontrol 2 (stopped working suddenly) but this was resolved by not having the Streichfett on the USB control hub with the NanoKontrol-
This unit is easily capable of good usable sounds and can be very seventies but there are also some very nice 80s sounds in here, esp around the “choir” register, which make it much more flexible that one might imagine, especially as the registration knob allows for some interesting morphing, together with the ensemble button.
Use in music thats not intended to be retrospective:
These types of sounds are really great or adding polyphonic pads and washes- the fact they sound little as to their intention adds to their usefulness because the end result sits very easily with other synthesized sounds. Their use in the 1970s was largely down to having something electronic that could play chords in an era of monophonic sounds which didn’t involve humping a mellotron around, but also the fact they sound really good in any mix when used a background instruments, whereas a good hammond organ can easily dominate a mix, a string synth would be used to smoothly blend in. We can now of course add the sound of real strings with a sampler, but they too, have their limitations of usefulness in any setting. These type of sounds fill some gaps particularly well, and in that context, can be used in all sorts of genres and musical situations that require polyphony. In modern “art” music, this unit is good at high clusters due to smoothness of sound, and extended chords in the middle range.
The manual is online, and quite straightforward. http://www.waldorf-music.info/streichfett-overview
The following demo was recorded dry, into Ableton Live 9, no effects had been added