Today we’re looking at the PONY VCO from Befaco. Why is it called the pony? I don’t think it’s important. What is important is that it’s an adorable, mini, compact analogue VCO with Wave Folding, Through Zero FM modulation and a built-in VCA. It’s the perfect little module for a small compact little modular system. But, of course, it can hold its own anywhere.
This is an edited and adjusted transcript from my video review for people who prefer to read. You can view the video on YouTube.
Buy Pony VCO from:
- Perfect Circuit – https://tinyurl.com/perfectcircuit-befaco
- Thomann – https://thmn.to/thoprod/551806?offid=1&affid=1460
PONY VCO has a choice of four waveforms. You can tune it up and down either the entire range or to an octave or to a semitone. The Timbre slider is rather fantastic, and it also has an octave switch up and down. It really is very compact. This is also available in a 1U version which is quite fascinating.
It really is small compared to some of these other modules. It is half the size of Befaco’s EvenVCO, and you would miss it if you weren’t looking for it. That definitely makes it ideal for a compact system, but also you shouldn’t discount it from being a completely valuable VCO in any situation.
So what do we have? well, rather than having individual outs for the waveforms you have a single output, and then we can select between the four different waveforms via this little tiny switch.
Let’s start by looking at the tuning knob at the top.
You can operate the tuning knob in a couple of different ways. You can either go full range or you can switch it to become an octave or a semitone. Or if you prefer, you can knock it all the way over and it becomes an LFO that goes from slow to just about up into audio rate.
It’s an interesting approach to tuning. You do kind of expect it to hold its notes as you move from one to the other, but it doesn’t necessarily do that because the placement of the knob will be different depending on whether you’re looking at an entire range or an octave or a semitone. So initially it’s slightly bewildering because you think I’m gonna tune this in and then move to the next range to tune this in and then move it to the next one. But as you switch to the next range the tuning has moved, which is exactly what it should do when you consider what it’s doing. My only fear is that as I move that switch my finger tends to just stroke the knob a little bit which is going to knock it out of tune.
However, the semitone range is great for detuning once you’ve got it married in with another oscillator.
Anyway, what we have is four waveforms; sine, triangle, sawtooth and square.
So the Timbre slider is where all the action happens and is what makes the PONY VCO something more than just a waveform generator. It then becomes a Wave Folding generator or a generator of folded waves. Except for the Square wave where it turns into pulse width modulation.
With the triangle and sine wave it’s really nice how that it sort of rips an edge through that waveform. The Sawtooth is interesting because it kind of does the opposite. It starts off edgy and then it folds itself into some nice little curves before then reasserting some edginess and then again finding mellowness.
The PONY VCO has a built-in VCA, so you don’t need to have another VCA module alongside in order to run it. Again, that is great for compact modular setups. So what would you stick in the VCA CV input? Well you could stick anything but most commonly I suppose you would probably put in an envelope. But it does depend on what it is you want to do. If you want it to just wobble, to tremolo, then you can stick in a an LFO but normally speaking, we could stick in something which is going to give us an envelope to control the volume of the sound.
That’s a very useful and simple thing but you don’t have to use it if you’d prefer to use a more complex or fully featured VCA.
Let’s play with modulating the Timbre
There’s a vast range of possible sounds that you can pull out of the PONY VCO. This Timbre slider is just so playful, so tactile, it just makes you want to get in there and keep changing things. What I find with wave folding is that it kind of replaces the need for a filter because it’s bringing in that change; it’s bringing in that difference. Not to say that it’s the same thing at all but it’s that movement, it’s that modulation, it’s that slight change to the tone which is really interesting to the ears and that’s what wave folding does.
If you run it through a filter you have this interesting experience of adding edginess and harmonics with the folding and then taking them away with a low pass filter. What I’m getting from it is this ever moving, ever changing tone and timbre. It’s fascinating how the wave folding and the filtering kind of fight against each other, they’re doing the opposite thing and the interplay between them is really quite fascinating. The square wave on the end of this is just fat and sounding fantastic through the filter. Without a doubt the PONY VCO has a nice fat Square end to it.
The playfulness of the way that moves about and the way it just keeps moving, keeps that interest, keeps your brain going oh well there’s something going on there is really very interesting. I wish the switch between the waveforms was a little bit smoother. Because if you wanted to use that within a performance it’s not a completely easy switch to move, but hey, maybe stick with the waveform that you’re after. The octave switch on the other hand is really nice being able to go up and down.
My least favourite thing is the Thru Zero FM but heck let’s have a look. so I’ve got another oscillator coming in from my main rack and I’m just taking a moment to show how easily it is to detune this one to another oscillator because of that whole knob range switched to a semitone.
Anyway, now they’re more or less in tune I’m going to stick that other oscillator straight up it’s Thru Zero.
In moving the tuning around, swapping in octaves and then pumping in the same melody to both it is possible to find relatively musical tones of the FM variety. It’s certainly a lot better sounding that regular audio rate modulation of FM. It’s pretty good.
What a nice little module. It’s just an oscillator with wave folding and a VCA built in. But it’s nice in that it gives you a complete sound source within a small or larger rack. Befaco have managed to pack a whole load of functionality into this little thing and it’s just super. The movement and the sound through that filter, I mean obviously the filter is doing its thing too, but it’s the Timbre I really like. It’s that tone as it changes, it’s that movement, it’s that subtle underbelly of folding and stuff like that. And it doesn’t feel like it’s weird and Buchla, if you understand me. It feels more like pulse width modulation, it feels like it’s there and is making things juicy rather than completely pulling things apart as wave folding can sometimes do.
So it feels within the sinewaves and the triangle waves that they start off nice and round and they go edgy but they don’t go ballistic they don’t go crazy or into chaos, they just fold nicely to give you these edges that come and go as you modulate. Or you can just dial in for a straightforward folded edgy waveform.
The way it switches from the wave folding to the pulse width modulation on the square wave is slightly annoying because you might often be somewhere on the Timbre slider, and then when you switch to the square wave it disappears because it’s the other end of a pulse. So you’ve just got to keep an eye on things and know where you’re going so that when you do make a change to a big fat square wave, you pull the Timbre down at the same time in order that you don’t lose that waveform in the modulation.
I think I was able to make some kind of melodic use of the Through Zero FM as well, which is just quite exciting. I very rarely get to do anything useful through that sort of input, so I think it all comes down to trying harder. And as I do more of it and as I try more of it, maybe I’ll somehow come across the way in which you can do it without having to have a Bastl Pizza which is definitely the best FM thing I’ve come across so far. The manual explains it really quite well in the fact that it’s taking modulation from another oscillator through both the negative and the positive rather than just summing it and getting a positive waveform as you generally do with FM. And then it sort of turns itself off when it goes negative. Don’t know what I’m talking about? No, I don’t either really, but in the manual, it goes go into some nice detail which is very handy.
Having the VCA built in there is very very useful, although it’s only of a particular type. You don’t really have any control over it other than the CV that’s going in; you’ve got no way to set the response. So it’s simple, it’s basic, it does a job you know in the vast majority of cases. And it saves you a whole other module in both space and costs, and so that’s nice.
So overall, I think the bizarrely named PONY VCO is a nice little thing. It’s available built for just over £200. The forthcoming kit version will have most of the work done for you as they’ve pre-soldered the surface mount components. So, it’s mostly soldering the front panel controls and sockets for a nice and easy build. The kit will cost around €180 from Befaco direct.
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