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Horizen reviewed: a serious rival for Omnisphere’s synth crown

3 minute read

The Horizon project started out from small beginnings to become something that could rival synth giant Omnisphere when it comes to creating cinematic music.

The Horizen synthesiser started out as a project by composer/producer Andy Hodgson who worked on various Netflix and Amazon titles and veteran audio developer Lindon Mulcahy-Parker of Channel Robot. Horizen has a 10-engine architecture based on a combination of four Sample engines with four dual OSC/wavetable Synths and two Loop player engines. Each engine can have up to 16 unison voices.

Horizen has an exotic, appealing user interface and I’m happy to say it doesn’t stop there. Playing a few of the included patches reveals that you can do things with Horizen you can’t do with other synths, except perhaps the far more expensive behemoth Omnisphere.

Yet, creating your own sounds isn’t as difficult as you’d expect from such a multi-layered synth. The biggest problem is knowing which samples to select that match your vision for the Sample engines.

Horizen isn’t perfect. A few details could be better. For example, the plugin offers a well organised and clear workflow but some buttons should be made to stand out a bit more. If you’re distracted, you might be thinking you’re working on the engine you’ve just solo’d while you wouldn’t be, and any edits to the envelopes and other elements would affect the wrong generator.


The centre piece of Horizen is a large modulation panel with six LFOs that can be anything from an ordinary sine wave to a MSEG. Besides those, there are two Keytrack and two Velocity modulators.

There are no obvious controls for the modwheel or other MIDI keys, but if you click on practically any control, a MIDI Learn / MIDI CC Select popup appears and you can assign as desired. The caveat here, though, is that there isn’t instant visual feedback that shows which CC matches which controls. You’ll need to list them in a notepad.

Modulation and arpeggios create endless motion

A big plus is that you don’t have to use the Keytrack modulator to exclude a specific key range from making audible sound. There’s a couple of separate controls for that. Each modulator can also be run over various time sequences and you can of course lock to DAW tempo, run free or make your modulation run in single shot mode.

Modulation is so powerful in Horizen that you can press a single key and initiate an evolving sound that lasts for a very long time and never repeats. Combined with its two arpeggiators that allow each individual engine to arpeggiate, the motion you can introduce is virtually limitless. The arpeggiators come with velocity, note length and per-step adjustable pitch, and you can play them back in six different directions, including chord playback.

Even better is that you can also route a voice to one or both arpeggiators, or to none. The result is that you can end up with voices running freely and others running one or both arpeggiators — all simultaneously — creating an animated, very motional sound that is sheer impossible to create with other synthesiser plugins, bar perhaps Omnisphere.

Filters in Horizen include four state variable filters (LP, HP, BP, Notch), and all of it can be modulated. In the same section of the UI, you’ll also find a FM switch with nine shapes, an amount setting that can be tied to key velocity and depth modulation, and a knob to increase or decrease up to four octaves with detune capability.

Finally, each engine has four available send effect slots — so each engine can be set to have different effects — with the sum of the engines potentially being routed through four available master effects.

The result

What you can get out of this plugin is extremely well suited for cinematic sound design and music, for Foley (including imaginative, like in sci-fi) and special effects, as well as for experimental music. To complete the picture, Horizen has an XY pad — a blue globe encapsulated by an invisible square — that allows you to drag any of its 10 engines to any of its corners. You can then blend the voices together in different mixtures by moving a puck across the globe with your mouse and record those movements and play them back with an adjustable level of chaos.

And all that in my opinion makes Horizen a serious contender for Omnisphere in terms of sonic capabilities and power.

Horizen can be purchased at the Tracktion website and retails for $129.

Tags: Audio