Review: Diva Utopia by Sonic Underworld


For Utopia, it seems as though Sonic Underworld were lost in space with only a laptop, some headphones and a copy of Diva for company and the resulting sound set is great!

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Review: Diva Utopia by Sonic Underworld

Stephan Baer, aka Sonic Underworld, is no stranger to sound design, but compared to his work with Zebra, Diva has not had quite as much attention from him. So, it was exciting when he recently released a brand new preset pack for the analogue modelling synth from u-he. As with all his packs there is a common theme running through them and with Utopia we enter dark alien worlds and at times stare the great abyss right in the face.

Diva Utopia sells for $35.00 from Sonic Underworld


There is a good balance of sound categories as always, each one with a description and instructions for use. The latter is especially useful when quickly auditioning presets, as it enables you to know exactly what modulations are on offer and what they do.

There is a good number of arps to start off this collection. They range from fast and reverb soaked to slow and ping ponging. All are pretty sparkly, vibrant and give a sense of urgency. The basslines continue this tense feel, but are a bit more dark and brooding. City Of Ezra is a prime example and uses a quantised LFO on the cutoff and oscillators to add a simple melody to the straight pulsing arp. A super quick envelope adds a rhythmic click and the rotary effect then adds width and distortion. By varying the amount of modulation on this patch extra notes and weird noises started to appear, so it can really pay to use your favourites as a starting point and then dig in and make them your own.

The basses vary from fizzing space synths to growling, evolving drones. All of them show off the characterful Diva filters superbly, with the Roland inspired cascade filter playing a part in many of them. There are five drum patches including an amazing supernova sized boom that changes attack and space as you move up the keyboard. The FX again are extremely varied, all the way from the solar winds of Mars to an alien fart!

The leads focus on plucky, often glassy sounds yet they are never tame and would cut through a big mix very well. However, my favourite is the most epic on offer called Fermanx. It’s a full bodied mono lead with two VCOs, a fairly open 12db cascade filter and plenty of delay and plate reverb. There is very little going on in the way of modulation on this one, but it goes to show just how nuanced Sonic Underworld can be by setting just the right amount of balance between the oscillators, just enough envelope on the filter and so on. Not every sound needs complex programming, sometimes it is simply the choices and fine balancing of basic parameters that makes it work.

The pads are lush, widescreen ambient affairs most using a good amount of delay, chorus and reverb until we are all floating in space. The vocoder-esque Yevgeni preset is outstanding and had me creating a chord sequence to complement it straight away. If the pads erred towards utopian then the soundscapes are quite the opposite and conjure up the darkest deep space and inhospitable planets. A number of his preset descriptions use the phrase ‘darkscape’ which is quite apt. A handful of poly synth patches round out the soundset. I love Kosmata which is beautifully damaged and atmospheric. Many of these ones also drift out of tune to various degrees, using a number of methods available in Diva to achieve such an effect. This lends them a realism and retro quality. Photum shows this feature off superbly, as its sprightly digital attack fades to a thick detune.

My only criticism is that when playing some patches and especially if it is chordal and the modwheel opens up the filter I get digital clipping in my DAW. It would have been better to have left a little more headroom as the output does not really need to be at mastering level. Easily solved by turning down the master volume of course, but would be better to have it lower by default.

A few of us here at SLR are becoming big fans of the work that Sonic Underworld is doing. It just seems to fit so well into our current synth aesthetics, whilst still been quite timeless. Utopia continues this run of successful releases with aplomb. It is epic, dark, futuristic and emotional and manages to cover a range of sci-fi sub genres – from dystopian Blade Runner, to the space hell of Event Horizon, via the drama of Gravity to the subtle moods of Moon, it’s all there. These sounds could work very well for electronica and EDM artists that have cinematic stylings, but will likely be most at home with media composers looking to add a sense of futuristic lushness to their compositions. Utopia is highly recommended and amongst the best soundsets presently available for Diva.


Diva Utopia consists of 150 presets for the u-he Diva synth. You must own the Diva synth to make use of this product. There is an in-depth walkthrough below, which plays every sound included and also some superb demo tracks which show off the presets within a compositional context. I highly recommend you watch and listen to both (and then struggle to find a good reason not to buy it!).

Diva Utopia sells for $35.00 from Sonic Underworld


Demos of Diva Utopia by Sonic Underworld

Videos of Diva Utopia by Sonic Underworld

Contributor Sam Burt reviews Diva Utopia by Sonic Underworld
“Sonic Underworld are lost in space with only a laptop, some headphones and a copy of Diva for company, which is bad for him but great for us”