Cherry Audio Sines FULL Review (+70 FREE Presets!)

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Cherry Audio Sines FULL Review (+70 FREE Presets!)
Sines is a powerful and fun synthesizer from Cherry Audio. For those who are curious about FM synthesis, this is a great place to start, but experienced veterans will appreciate the unique approach that Sines brings to the table.
Features and Specs
Value For Money
Awesome 'hybrid' synth engine that blends FM, PM, and subtractive synthesis
Fantastic sound with a lot of mix presence
Funky UI design features scopes for each oscillator
CPU heavy
Limited mod matrix slots
Aliasing can become unruly on higher notes

Sines is a new softsynth from Cherry Audio that makes FM fun and easy for producers of all skill levels. It also comes with a great library of presets that sound fresh, especially given that retro 80s synth sounds are all the rage in pop music in the early 2020s.

It’s not just an FM synth either, as it manages to incorporate subtractive and some quasi-west coast elements with its waveshaping features.

In this review I’ll look at who Sines is for, what makes it so fun and interesting, and if it’s worth adding to your collection.

Features and Specs (8.5/10)

Sines is a 4 operator hybrid FM / subtractive synthesizer with a lot of very powerful waveshaping options. You’ll also find scopes for each oscillator, reminiscent of Korg’s recent hardware synths like the Minilogue. It is available as a VST2, VST3, AU, AAX plugin and you can also use it as a ‘stand-alone’ synth.

Sines provides a clever set of tools for giving you a huge range of sounds that will fit into any genre you throw it at. 

There are four oscillators which can be freely routed to modulate a huge number of parameters. This makes both FM and PM synthesis possible, plus it opens a lot of doors for some really out-there sound effects.

Many of you probably know that when we refer to FM synthesis, we are actually talking about PM or Phase Modulation synthesis (at least most of the time). In short, frequency modulation can be unstable and not as musical as phase modulation, but Sines gives you both options. For the sake of convenience, I will use FM and PM interchangeably in this review.

Because each oscillator has dedicated shaping options for feedback, width, shape, wavefold, and drive it feels much bigger than a 4OP FM synth. Even if you forget about FM entirely, these waveshaping controls alone are enough for a wide range of subtractive synthesis sounds when combined with the sharp and crisp filter section.

The oscillator section in Sines.

Rather than force the user to grapple with ratios only, there are adjustments for octave and semitone / cents for each oscillator. This makes ‘musical’ ratios much easier to achieve.

The modulation options are generous with the sole exception of limiting the modulation matrix to only 4 slots. This is not so bad when you consider that most controls have their own dedicated modulation controls right nearby, but it can still be annoying when you want to modulate the ones that don’t (such as envelope times).

Having 4 LFOs and 4 envelopes is obviously enough for a lot of sonic exploration. I’m a little disappointed that they settled for ADSR envelopes, but the fact that LFOs can be used like envelopes is really useful.

This means with a bit of trickery, you can add a ‘fade’ stage to an envelope by attaching an LFO to the same mod destination, but it’s not quite as neat as having it as a dedicated parameter on the actual envelopes.

One feature I really appreciated was the velocity controls for each envelope. FM synthesis has the potential to be very expressive, and being able to easily adjust how much the velocity affects each envelope with a single control feels very powerful.

Look and Feel

Cherry Audio’s Sines has a funky retro-futuristic vibe reminiscent of late 90s / early 00s synthesizer design trends that merged heavy dollops of blue and silver.

With its ‘what you see is what you get’ approach to UI design, Sines manages to avoid the boring bits of FM synthesis and lets you take ‘shortcuts’ to get to the sound you want. These shortcuts come at the expense of some functionality, but it doesn’t feel too lacking, and it’s still more flexible than most other VSTs in its price range.

The ‘wavey’ alignment of the controls is a bold move that really pays off. It never feels distracting that the controls for each oscillator are not strictly horizontally aligned.

I did find some of the text labels for the controls hard to read, even on a big screen. For example, it’s really hard to tell if the button on the Mod Matrix says “Via” or “V/A”. When viewing Sines on my laptop’s built-in screen (which is 16 inches), I had to really rely on the plugin’s built-in zoom and resizing controls, as well as the tooltips.

Ultimately I do really respect CA’s approach to having all the controls available on the one page. Menu diving can make synthesis intimidating and tedious – two words I associate with FM synths, and anyone who has programmed a Yamaha DX series with the data slider alone know what I’m talking about.

Having oscilloscopes for each oscillator feels like luxury living and not many synths out there have this feature. With so many waveshaping options for each oscillator it helps to make sense of what the controls do.

One thing that absolutely kills me is that the scopes don’t reflect any frequency, phase, or other oscillator modulation. So you’re viewing the oscillator’s ‘ideal’ shape rather than what you’re hearing. Maybe it would just look like a mess if you could see the modulation, but I would prefer to at least have the option.

What’s Missing?

Overall there are no ‘deal-breakers’ here as far as I am concerned. There are a couple of ‘quality-of-life’ features that are absent, despite the presence of some very useful utilities like oscillator copy / paste.

As mentioned the UI can be tricky to read on smaller screens. I understand there are a lot of parameters in a single window, and there are options for increasing the window size, but the label text is still annoyingly thin. I feel like this could easily be solved by using a bold font.

While having velocity tied to each envelope is a great feature that really helps with expression, there is no Key control that increases or decreases the envelope strength with the keyboard pitch. This is a really handy feature for FM synths that feels sorely missed.

Only having 4 mod slots is a bit limiting in certain scenarios, but thankfully it’s not the only place where modulation happens.

Yes, keyboard pitch is found as a modulation source, but the total phase modulation level for each oscillator is unavailable as a destination. Instead, you need to set keyboard pitch as a ‘Via’ source when patching the phase modulation in the first place, but this still gives you far less control. Having key tracking on a lowpass filter helps, but it doesn’t solve aliasing (I’ll talk about this later).

Finally I felt that Sines used more CPU than it should have. This is especially true compared to FM8 which is technically much more advanced despite sounding more ‘vanilla’. It’s understandable that perhaps having 4 scopes for each oscillator is resource intensive, but even closing the plugin window didn’t make a noticeable difference on my system.

Sound (8.5/10)

This synth lends itself really well to raw, growling basses, crystal-clear bell sounds, ambient synth pads, bubbly and robotic sound effects, and lead tones that remind me of a Sega Genesis. Sines is able to cover a wide range of classic subtractive ‘analog’ synth sounds as well – no FM required.

Cherry Audio’s Sines synth manages to stand out by never sounding too thin or digital, criticisms which are often leveled at FM synths. There is a heap of power in each oscillator, and the filter section is sharp and responsive rather than flat and utilitarian.

The inbuilt Drift control helps to make things sound organic, and you’ll hear the oscillator pitch fluctuate more and more as this control is increased (filter cutoff is also affected). Certainly not something you expect to find on an FM synth!

On this note, if you’re looking for a pure emulation of a Yamaha DX type synth, then I’d suggest checking out Arturia’s DX7 V and the wonderful free Dexed VST from Digital Suburban. 

However Sines certainly scratches the itch when it comes to classic FM synth sounds, it’s just way less lofi than its inspirations. The inbuilt “Sample Crush” distortion type does add some lofi charm in a pinch, and there’s always room for your favorite tape sim VST after.

In-built Effects

A special mention is warranted for the effects, which sound fantastic. I’ve always felt that FM synths benefit from good quality effects processing as they can be a bit dry on their own. The effects here really seem well suited to this particular synthesis engine, even if they are more or less the same effects you get on other CA products like Dreamsynth.

They sound very ‘lush’, adding an instant touch of warmth and movement to any patch. The controls are pretty bare-bones but you do get a good variety of effect types to play with.

I’m particularly fond of the galactic and plate reverb types, as well as the rotary speaker emulations. The tape delay is stellar but the ‘warming up’ pitch effect that occurs when you select a patch that uses it is annoying.

There’s even a graphical equalizer for good measure, just to help deal with any harsh frequencies that ring out, or sweeten up a frequency range you want to enhance.

Aliasing – A Necessary Evil

Let’s talk about aliasing. These are sonic artifacts that occur when frequencies in a signal exceed the available bandwidth to represent them, resulting in a ‘mirroring’ effect that is distinctly digital.

FM / PM synths can generate a lot of very strong high frequencies in a digital domain and thus are very prone to aliasing. However, this can also be a desirable trait if you wish to sound ‘old-school’.

Sines certainly has these artifacts but they can be mitigated with the oversampling options. However, oversampling is global and not per-patch, which can make things tricky if you’re working on a patch with oversampling enabled, unaware that it might sound crap to a different user – or later on when you use Sines again.

So I think the aliasing in Sines could be managed a bit better, but it’s only really an issue when playing higher up on the keyboard with certain patches.

Value For Money (9/10)

The full price of Sines is $59 however all Cherry Audio products are frequently on sale. Currently, you can find it for $39 on Cherry Audio’s website.

Ultimately, Sines holds its own against synths that cost twice or three times as much. This is no toy, and the amount of sound design potential here is truly impressive.

If you’re just starting out and are building up your collection of plugins, buying this synth will ultimately save you a lot of money as it feels like two synths rolled into one, in the best possible way.

Sines comes with over 500 presets which suit a range of modern production styles. There is no shortage of arps, pads, bells, and bass sounds here and I found most sounds to be quite usable.

Even though Sines covers a lot of ground, it doesn’t get too specific. This means if you want a ‘do-everything’ FM synth that lets you tweak every detail then it may miss the mark, and FM8 remains the synth nerd’s choice when it comes to pure sound design in this area.

FM8 is more powerful and efficient but is less immediately fun than Sines. I will also say that Sines sounds more interesting to my ears.

Still, Sines is more flexible than most other synths in its price range, including many of Cherry Audio’s own synths.

Overall (8.7/10)

If you’re after a clever and inventive take on FM synthesis, Sines by Cherry Audio delivers while also including a range of filtering and waveshaping options to really extend the sonic possibilities.

For those who are curious about FM synthesis, this is a great place to start, but experienced veterans will appreciate the unique approach that Sines brings to the table.

Honestly I think it’s pretty hard to go wrong with this synth considering the price. The only people who might be let down are those with limited system resources as Sines is quite demanding in this area.

70 Free Presets by MGF Audio

I had a lot of fun playing with Sines, and I’m excited to share these patches with you. In the link below you’ll find 70 patches I made for Sines in the process of writing this review.

I leaned most heavily on the PM capabilities (which as I mentioned is what really drives most ‘FM’ synths). The sounds here are not too genre specific, so I invite you to be creative with how you use them.

Included in this collection you’ll find:

  • 18 basses
  • 16 bells and keys
  • 22 pads and SFX
  • 14 leads, plucks, arps, and chords

Download the presets from my Gumroad here.

(Dreamsynth is another great synth by Cherry Audio and you can read my full review here.)