The East Beast is an East-coast synthesis-inspired subtractive semi-modular little synthesizer and Eurorack voice. It has one oscillator, a filter, an envelope, an LFO, VCA and then just a little bit of magic permeating in through the bottom section. It’s capable of smooth buttery sounds, of weirdness and strangeness; it’s capable of taking you out into the woods and leaving you pondering on the nature of life.
This full and detailed review is an edited transcript taken from my video review of the East Beast (below).
It’s been really interesting because when I first received the East Beast I absolutely assumed that this was going to be an edgy bone-splitting nasty monster of a synthesizer and it’s not that at all. But that’s not to take anything away because what it is, is this gentle soul of mellow thoughtfulness. It’s like one of those monster movies when you discover that the monster is actually just a poor fragile little being that’s reaching out for love and attention. So the mysterious beast in the woods that they’re talking about is this fractured soul of smooth buttery analogue synthesis dripping in sumptuous filtering and single oscillator loveliness.
Now it may well be that I’ve completely misunderstood it and there is actually a growling howling horribleness inside it but I can’t seem to find that. What I do find is joy and loveliness and interesting modulations some strange approaches to sequencing some randomization which is just to die for, all wrapped up in a tiny little box. It’s a plastic box, it’s not made of metal but then the price point of this places it somewhere reachable.
It has a vibe of the Moog Mother 32 to a degree but at half the price and actually what it reflects is the evolution of the Pittsburgh Modular SV1. The SV1 is a lovely synthesizer voice from Pittsburgh Modular, their sort of most famous, most successful voice. Pittsburgh Modular seem to have got themselves ensnared by Cre8audio and they’ve developed this creative partnership that’s really bringing out some interesting flavours. So if you take the oscillator and the VCF from the SV1, things that Pittsburgh Modular has been working on and massaging for a decade, that’s what you’re going to find in here. And the result is an oscillator that sounds really nice in different ways and a filter which is just lovely all the way around. You can push it into a little bit of screaming but not to the horror of everything else. It’s a level which feels right and appropriate and useful and musical; that’s what I’m finding here.
To round it all off what Richard at Pittsburgh has done is developed this digital side, this engine which starts off with the keyboard, which is in fact a MIDI controller that you can use to send out and control other MIDI gear if you want, but it’s also converted into CV so you can use it for playing other cv gear. In fact if you were to pop this out of the case and put it into your rack, which you absolutely can do, it would become a little Eurorack CV/Gate keyboard. That would be phenomenally useful and there’s a sequencer, oh that’s useful too, and an arpeggiator. So, the usefulness is starting to build upon itself.
Then beyond that, it has this digital modulation engine which offers further LFOs, further envelopes, randomization, and then they did something weird to the sequencer where it can self-generate and go off and do all sorts of things by itself. All very interesting and then they started to poke randomization into the waveforms and into the filter so it becomes this little funfair of stuff going on. Everything’s moving and knocking about the place and it allows you to explore interesting ideas and just sit there and fiddle. You’re not just playing a tune, you’re now investigating all sorts of bits of modulation. It does remind me a little bit of the auxiliary output of the Mother 32 because like in that it’s hidden away behind multiple folds of strange button presses. But it’s also a bit like the Dreadbox Nymphus that has a strange menu system based on lights. This has a bit of that and so in their attempts to keep it simple, to keep it affordable, there are certain hurdles you have to get over in order to understand exactly what it is that’s going on or what these lights are precisely telling you. But that’s all part of the fun, part of the adventure and the journey.
Let’s talk about the basics. It is a semi-modular, completely patchable, East-coast style subtractive synthesizer which means you have an oscillator running into a filter, you have a VCA, and you have an envelope. Those are your basic building blocks. Add in an LFO and you’ve got a fun time single oscillator monophonic semi-modular synthesizer that’s fun all day.
The keyboard is clacky and buttony, there’s no velocity, there’s no aftertouch so think of it as purely for playing a few notes or sequencing something or arpeggiating something. There’s no way I’m going to say that it’s completely awesome because it’s not. It’s simple, it’s basic and it does the job.
The keyboard also has this multi-function ability which is labelled either in green or in blue and these two white buttons on the left give you access to green and blue functions. These buttons should be coloured as that would make things a whole lot easier but no they’re just sort of ironically bracketed as if to suggest that this is blue and this is green. All that matters is that you hold the green button and now you can access all of the green stuff.
If I want to change the waveform I can do that on the oscillator wave button. You have four different waveforms but you also have combinations and it steps through as you go. So, there’s our square wave with nice pulse width modulation but then you get a combination of the sine wave and the ramp then you get sine wave and square wave then you get those two noisy ones together then you get a lot which creates some kind of weird noise thing. Then you’re back to your basics.
In terms of direct LFO modulation, you have PWM on the square wave and FM modulation, further destinations are available via the patch bay. The LFO has a couple of ranges, it can go really down to a lovely long low speed or up into audio rate.
Over to the filter. This is the PGH state variable filter. Pittsburgh Modular say that this is designed to have no dead spots and it’s just lovely and cool all the way around. Even with full resonance it’s just super nice. You have different filter modes of course; lowpass bandpass, and highpass which you can access via another green button.
In the envelope section, we get a regular ADSR which is normalled to both the VCA, which is just the volume knob, and to the filter for which you have a depth control. That’s kind of an efficient way to combine a single envelope into two modules rather than having individual envelopes but it also kind of has its downside as well. As you’ll see in a minute there’s another envelope hidden away in the back of the beast which you can use separately on either the filter or the VCA so there are ways out of this single envelope business.
Sequencer / Arpeggiator
Let’s check out the sequencer and arpeggiator. They are tied to an internal clock that’s controlled via a Tap Tempo button.
For the arp you push down keys and it plays them in the order you pushed them. Now there may be other modes for the arp but I haven’t found any. I should have a look because the digital engine is quite deep there are several pages devoted to it in the manual and I haven’t absorbed absolutely all of it yet. What’s interesting is that you can move directly from an Arp to a sequence and back again without stopping or changing the playback.
In Sequencer mode you simply hit a note and it starts playing that note. You can keep adding in more notes until you hit 32 steps. There are Transpose functions, randomization as well as options for gate length. You can also throw in some swing. You’ll notice a row of lights are doing things and it’s kind of showing you what level of swing or whatever that you’re on.
The randomization can also be applied to the oscillator waveforms and then also the filter modes. This creates a marvellous sence of change and movement as every step has a different waveform or mode. That immediately starts throwing in some interesting bits and pieces.
There is an element of getting the hang of it, seeing when things are active and when they’re not. I haven’t quite spent enough time absorbing exactly what’s going on, so I sometimes completely lose it. I was trying to transpose and I somehow didn’t do that and ended up adding another note to the sequence. Well, you know, accidents can happen but you can actually save patterns within the synth. You’ve got Load and Save in order to load up different patterns which is very interesting.
Lastly, we’ll look at the Multi-engine which is something that brings out an alternative form of modulation. So out of this Multi output there can be a number of things. If we stick it into the filter it’ll probably give us the best chance of understanding what it is that’s going on. The first option is MIDI control so if i had a midi keyboard attached you can use a modulation wheel and that will come out of here and be applied to whatever you want to apply it to. So a little bit of MIDI-to-CV conversion there which is nice.
The next option is a triangle LFO followed by randomization which both have time-division functions to make their speed a factor of the clock. The final option is an envelope. This is what we can use to modulate the filter and VCA differently. Plugging this into the filter mod input bypasses the main ADSR. There are no real controls over the envelope stages, just options for length but it works well enough to give you that familiar acid feel to the filter. Of course, patching is here to do with whatever you want.
So there you have it, the East Beast from Cre8audio and Pittsburgh Modular. A combination of minds and creativity that takes them into the woods in order to seek out some form of synthesizer. It’s nice, smooth, mellow, it’s quite a joyful little fun synthesizer that just sounds delicious. I can’t quite get over how nice it sounds; that combination somehow of that very mature filter and oscillator combination is just really nice. Once you started listening to it properly it opens up and I went on a bit of a journey trying to look for the beast, trying to find the overdrive button; where’s the crinkly bit-crushing nastiness that’s supposed to be in here? I can’t find it. It’s a lovely smooth monster that you just want to stroke and give a cuddle and say it’s all going to be all right, we’ve found you and you can come in here and have a nice hot cup of tea. Here’s a blanket, let’s play some really nice tunes. Then as you have a conversation with it you work out that it’s got these interesting depths, it’s got this strangeness about it. It’s not a Mother 32 it’s something else. It’s the intelligently thought through combinations of changes, of randomization, of an interesting sequencer.
I haven’t even shown you how the sequencer generates! So, get a little sequence going, hit this blue button and it will just start making its own sequences. This is another feature I haven’t exactly gotten to the bottom of but it just seems to go off and do its thing.
They could have added a display to it to give you a bit more information on exactly what’s going on but then that just adds to the cost and the complexity whereas as it is you can access nearly everything that you need. there are a few extra bits on these lights which you just have to get the hang of or look into the manual and work out yourself but it’s not difficult. Also, the fact that you can drop it into your Eurorack is really cool and also gives you as I say the MIDI in and out which makes this keyboard incredibly useful within a relatively small setup. But it’s at home just as much on the desktop as a synthesizer.
Perfect Circuit: https://tinyurl.com/Molten-East-Beast