It’s the summer, right, so nothing really happens. Very little actually occurs in the world of technology synthesizes and other bits and pieces, and probably more the better because we’re outside getting far too hot or getting burnt or sitting on the beach and do we really want to talk about Gear? Well, this Is What we’re here for ultimately, so I had a dig around and found a few bits and pieces this month which are going to be boutiquey and modulatory, as there are no big releases from the big guns.
For the video version, please head over to my YouTube channel. Also, I have affiliate accounts with Thomann, Perfect Circuit, Sweetwater and Clockface Modular, so if you go to buy something via my links, I get a little kickback – it doesn’t matter what the product is, and it’s always appreciated.
Anyway, I’m sure you could tell it’s going to be a fun-packed and slightly delirious Monthly as I haven’t had enough sleep for last few days.
Pittsburgh Modular truncates the menagerie.
Noise Lab gets throaty.
RYK Vectors some waves.
Liquid Sky bamboozles with alien devices.
Voltage Vibes helps you route cables.
Tesseract modular gets its faders in step.
Future Sound Systems filters, folds and fiddles.
Busy Circuits sequences like it’s 1984.
Hikari modulates the modulator.
Tronix Audio does weird things with melody.
Noise Engineering does the same thing but different.
Faded Instruments opens up a sweet shop.
Elta Music puts a Soviet filter in a box.
Tenderfoot gets triggered.
Ghost In Translation has a new drone.
Cherry Audio resurrects an old crappy looking synth.
Ginkosynthese has volcanic compression.
Simon the Magpie pulls a drone out of his pocket.
Twisted Electrons has another go at FM.
Atomosynth gives us a semi.
WMD to Close
But first, we have the news that WMD are planning to close by the end of the year. This is another casualty of the component shortage, costs going up and it’s really sad to see such a legendary modular manufacturer just have to give it all up. They have made modules for all sorts of people as well as doing some of their own quite extraordinary bits and pieces. The one that probably everybody knows is the Performance Mixer which is probably the tidiest, most efficiently laid out and usable performance mixers in modular. It’s always been a mixer that I’ve aspired to have. And more recent models like the Metron, which is an extraordinary beautiful looking trigger sequencer. So yeah, lots of interesting stuff.
But in order to celebrate or commiserate, just as they’re coming to the end of their life they release three new models which they hope will help them over the hump of closing down factories, production and other bits and pieces. So within the three we have Legion which is an analogue oscillator that has a Roland Alpha Juno-inspired sawtooth section, a sort of supersaw going on, is the idea. They have Orion which is an analogue Phaser which is fun and then Subway, which is an eight-in-to-one output crossfade scanner. The idea is you turn the knob to scan between any 1 of the 8 ins to output that to the output. Good for weird modulations, mixing audio sources together, so whatever you like.
It’s great that they continue to innovate and be interesting even when they’re out the door. I imagine we’ll see more of this and so it’s very very sad. But that’s also why I want to spend the time today talking about lots of the Boutique makers in the hope that we can find interest and reasons to buy and invest in the people who are trying to build these fabulously creative tools for us to play with. For that to continue we have to keep investing we have to keep looking we have to keep trying things out and investing what spare cash we have into the industry that we love so much.
Noise Lab Formantic
Noise Lab have a new filter out, a formant filter which seems to be a little bit on trend at the moment. For some reason we like those throaty sounds. I don’t know if this is really my thing but there’s a lot of it about and so it must be something that people enjoy.
So, this in the fabulous Noise Lab style is called the Formatic and combines a pair of 12dB bandpass filters with a single 24db low pass filter. Each one has its own resonance and filter cutoff controls and if you really want to push it about then they can all do their own self-oscillation. But I guess what stands out is that it has a weeny joystick on the front to take control of both of those bandpass filters giving you all sorts of expressive and intuitive control over where the cutoffs are going to be, where your peeks are going to be, and the sort of vowel sounds that you can sculpt with it. I think that makes it really quite interesting.
Vaemi Osi-Op Thru-Zero Oscillator
The Osi-Op is a thru-zero oscillator. What is this thru-zero thing all about? It keeps cropping up and you keep looking at it wondering how is the thru-zero thing different? Good question and one that I don’t feel remotely qualified to answer. However, I’ll throw out there from the top of my head the idea that is to do with frequency modulation. Stick another oscillator into it and rather than just wobbling in the positive side of things it will wobble in both directions. What does that mean? I don’t know. Apparently, it creates a more musical FM tonality.
The Osi-Op really looks the business; the blue, silver and black are all dazzlingly projected from this front panel. I think it looks pretty fantastic. And you got four waveform outputs to play with and also a sub-oscillator output. So as a standard stand-alone oscillator it’s going to look really nice in your rack. And then you can pile in the modulation in a regular FM way or in a thru-zero FM way.
We should all get together and explore what that means or maybe I’ll do something about it.
It also has wave shaping we can use the internal sine wave to start modulating and pushing the other waveforms about. It’s kind of seeing it as more of an additive module where you’re combining and adding waveforms together rather than breaking them apart. At some point within this waveshaping and thru-zero FM-ing then carriers and operators start to emerge. It’s complicated stuff. You know people come at these things from all sorts of strange angles that just makes you scratch your head, but there’s definitely a fundamental place that people come at something from, trying to achieve something in particular. It is just sometimes hard to enter into the mind of the module maker and to work out exactly where they’re coming from.
On the other hand, it’s a fabulous-looking oscillator with a lot of potential for sound mangling and tonal shifting that could go well.
- Vaemi website.
RYK Vector Wave
This is a stunning-looking thing. Vector Wave from RYK Modular. Now RYK has, up to this point, only really made the M185 sequencer. It’s a big chunky System 100 that your man recently brought down and turned into Eurorack. I love it. It’s like 8 steps of lots of different Gates stoppings on it, it’s the thing that inspired that one from Intellijel. But anyway the M185 has been a fantastic module all by itself for sequencing and interesting things. The Vector Wave has been in development for a little while and it’s been creeping into Instagram posts for ages making me think there must be something fascinating coming along here and this is looking that way. So what is it?
Well, it’s a Vector Wave synthesis in a module with this fantastic lo-fi LED display which is being used to show envelopes, to show spectrums, routing and all sorts of interesting bits and pieces. But does it sound as good as it looks – that’s the question?
I’m still trying to work that one out. I mean it could be really interesting. Vector synthesis is the basic idea of having four sound sources and then using a joystick to move between them. The closer you get to a corner on a square plain, the closer you get to that particular sound. As you sit somewhere between them you get little elements of each, and that essentially gives you vector synthesis. Within the Vector Wave what you actually get is 16 oscillators, four per bank. I’m assuming each bank is sitting in a corner that you then move between. They can be configured to crash into each other or just layer on top of each other, FM into each other of course because you always forever doing that and all of the waveforms can be morphed into triangles into sawtooth in other waveforms and sonic blending within its wave warping engine.
But what’s really going to happen is that you’ll fiddle with that joystick, blending waveforms trying to find the sound of something you like. So there are all sorts of possibilities to be found in here. Now with a bit of luck, I might be getting one in for review, and so I’ll give that a good rummage around and see what I make of it, but it looks totally solid and amazing.
It’s also MIDI capable which means you could be playing like polyphonic stuff with it if that’s something that you want to do to bring in a bit of a keyboard into your rack and play with it that way. It also has an expander module to it, which adds another three CV/Gate inputs to give you a four-channel polyphonic voltage controllable sound source within your rack.
Liquid Sky d-vices
Liquid Sky then. They’re a delicious bunch of weirdos. Sort of an artistic community where they get together and bang electrons together until things form into extraordinary explorations into sound, noise, nuttiness and all sorts of bits and pieces. They vowed never ever to get involved in Eurorack, they like to express their hardware in larger and less modulated fashions or something. And then here they are kicking off a range of Eurorack modules. What that really means is that the rest of us finally get a chance to immerse ourselves in their form of madness, and they’re not disappointing.
You’ve got two things. I mean they’re launching this range of UFO in space modules that they are calling d-vices. You’ve got the fabulous front panel artwork, you’ve got the signal and routing possibilities that are fabulous and you’ve got the glitching and the hackableness of the circuits which is again also fabulous. And the fact that most of the profit that comes from these devices will be used to plant trees, which again is fabulous, so you’ve got too much fabulousness, I think, going on in one thing.
However, the first one is called the V4CO and it’s a dual 8-bit wavetable oscillator. So two wavetables. 8-bits, so a bit crunchy. Two of those in an extravagantly wide module with plenty of room for sliders and knobs in which you can make space and work out how these two things are going to either play independently or work with each other or crash into each other or just generally do weird bubbly things in the background. But it also has a companion board and it took me a while to get my head around it and I don’t actually believe that I have done yet.
The other module, which is just as big as the other is called the Glitchboard it seems to be a panel of patch sockets. In the demo video he’s patching a couple of things, and nothing seems to change and so it still remains a little bit mysterious. I have absolute faith in Liquid Sky and that they know what they’re doing, because they are, after all, fabulous as I said the first place. And so this glitch board thing needs some exploration, they need to get down into the nitty gritty of what is going on because there’s a lot of noise is a lot of sound and slight changes in sound but what is it about?
There is weirdness at play but there seems to be an extraordinary potential with the glitch board to patch in all sorts of weirdness and I think you can essentially patch everything to everything for every element within every wavetable, every parameter can be fed other bits from other bits so the potential and possibility of sound and tone is of course endless.
- Liquid Sky website.
Pittsburgh Elephant and Narwhal
Pittsburgh Modular still appears to be working towards something on the horizon, something huge, and something important because every month or so they come up with another couple of animals in their mangerie of experimental modules.
Quirky, interesting, expansive, innovative as well as looking fabulous with all the artwork. Currently, the latest one is the Elephant and Narwhal which are percussive modules and follow on from the Llama and Polar bear.
The Elephant drum is a reimagining of the Pollard Syndrum which was some kind of weird 1970s drum synthesiser. I mean it probably doesn’t look much like it but apparently, that’s the idea, that’s the inspiration, the vibe that they are going for. So the Elephant can create all sorts of weird drum sounds and you have controls like “Tension”, stuff that speaks of drum heads and objects that are being clattered around the place.
The Narwhal on the other hand is a cymbal. It uses a form of analogue physical modelling and sounds something along the lines of something which you could describe as not quite being unlike a cymbal. You can get all sorts of squeaks, noises and clangs out of it. I mean when you squeak it all down to a hi-hat it’s certainly very convincing, otherwise, you’re looking at weird-sounding analogue sounding strangely synthetic percussive sounds.
The question then becomes where is it all going? Is there a massive synth around the corner? They’re more of these models to come. you can see them when Richard is demoing the various modules. There’s always something else knocking around in the background. So it’s fascinating to know where this is going to go. Obviously, we’ve seen some of it spill out into the Cre8audio products, and hopefully, maybe there will be more of that sort of thing to come. But it also feels like Pittsburgh is heading towards some big synthesiser of their own and that’s terribly exciting.
- Pittsburgh Modular website.
Voltage Vibes NixPatch and Drop
I like Voltage Vibes because they listened to me and made a module in my honour, which is nice. But they keep coming up with interesting ideas as well. Let me rephrase that, they’ve got one bog standard idea, nicely done, which I quite like, and now another that looks just potentially awesome.
The first one is called NixPatch which has 14 sockets on a module and 14 sockets on another connected via a ribbon cable. So the idea is that you put one over here, and put one down here, and you can plug things into there, and it’ll pop up out of here! It’s a cable tidying exercise. You can transplant CV from one place to another and that’s very useful for ferreting things like drum triggers around the place or pulling modulation from one place to another and NixPatch just makes things tidy. Do we want our patch cables tidy? Not necessarily, but maybe it could be useful if you did. And there are more helpful and useful bits and pieces like that that Voltage Vibes are coming out with all the time.
But something else is popping up on Instagram which I think might be called the Drop and it starts to create interesting things in your imagination as to what it could be. There’s only one picture so far and it’s going to be released or shown at the Dutch Modular Festival. I’m imagining you’ve got this build-up of something, is it level or CV? I don’t know but you push push push push push it and then there’s a button which makes it disappear – that’s the Drop.
Maybe it’s the opposite, I don’t know anyway, I’m intrigued and you should be too.
- Voltage Vibes website.
Tesseract Modular Step Fader MkII
Tesseract modular keeps playing with these big arrays of faders. This one is a Mark 2 of the Step Fader, something they’ve already done but doing it slightly differently. One thing is that they’ve brought in a whole button interface to make it easier to use. And you’ve just got outputs and inputs galore for all of it. It is a dual-channel sequencer. You’ve got 16 faders, well actually 18 faders as each sequencer has a master fader as well as the step faders, and you can use it as a single 16-step or dual 8-step sequencers either independently or working together in some kind of way.
It gives you a lot of space for running two tunes together which I like a lot and has all sorts of modes in which to explore those notes. So I can just go straight, or straight there and back, but also can randomise about the place and add probability. There’s a built quantizer which cuts out the middleman and it can give you instant melody through randomisation. It’s there. It’s very accessible. It’s very much hands-on and looks like a fun way to deal with a pair of sequences.
Future Sound Systems FIL4
Future Sound Systems always manage to generate something weird and interesting and the FIL4 Timbral Scultping Machine is certainly that. It’s a filter with folding, a folding filter that filters and folds the stuff. It’s a filter filtering folding fiddler of frequencies. It has weird stuff like folding within the resonance circuit which I don’t quite understand. I think the idea is that you’ve got some nice crunchy filtering going on and then what you want to do is really distort that by folding the waveforms and the circuitry signals that are passing through the resonance circuit, and then when you finish doing that you should fold it again through some other bit of wavefolding nonsense in a Buchla style West-Coast kind of thing.
So you’ve got ping and pongs and you’ve got crunchies in cringes, you’ve got multimode high-pass low-pass filtering and so it’s going to be edgy and gruesome and fabulously fun to play with. It’s going to be generating harmonics and then letting you fold those into other harmonics. It’s going to be filtering out bits of stuff before folding them back in again. So it’s an exploration, it’s a playground, it’s a fun adventure park of filtering and distortion and sound mangling.
ALM Busy Circuits ASQ-1
This is a stunning-looking sequencer inspired and based upon the Roland SH-101, what does that mean? It means you just tap in a bunch of notes and the notes are there, and it sequences. I don’t really know why it seems to be thrown at the SH-101 as if that’s the source of this sort of thing whereas it seems to me to be just basic step-sequencing in any form shape or otherwise. But I remember using an SH-101 back in the 1980s that I borrowed from a mate and doing the step-sequencing thing, and it was just an absolute joy. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Just tapping in notes, and that would be it, and it would never be quite what you thought it was because you’re trying to put in a rhythm to that, and the rhythm doesn’t exist when it comes out the other end. Because all you’re doing is filling in steps; you’re not putting on a performance. And so it has a quite unique ability to generate melodies that weren’t necessarily exactly what you thought they were going to be. Of course they can be, and that’s because once you get the hang of it, of entering the notes and the rests and the ties; once you grasp all of that, you started making melodies really really fast.
So yes, the ASQ-1. What you get is two channels of this sort of melodic sequencing along with four channels of trigger sequencing. All of it is run on this clickety clackety mechanical keyboard style interface. As a module is quite big, it’s got quite a lot of expanse to it, which makes it quite luxurious. But what you get is a very functional front-end a very touchy-feely vibe which allows you to sequence and it’ll run the lights through to give you 8-steps at a time of percussive sequencing. There are lots and lots, and lots of steps you can do with you can save and load bits and pieces.
It would really, really like it if you had a Pam’s Workout to plug into it to be the clock. But otherwise, what you appear to have is an extremely playable and melody-focused Eurorack sequencer. I have one here that I purchased, and I intend to do video review of it very soon.
Hikari Dual LFO
Hikari Instruments has a Dual LFO, that’s two LFOs in a single module. These two sources of modulation are completely independent or you can cross-modulate them into each other to create more complex oscillations and therefore complex modulations. You have various waveform shapes and also wave shaping between them. You can choose whichever output you want to use, either an independent output or a merged output.
So this is really all about having a couple of sources of modulation, which you want to push into each other for more interesting possibilities. It has an offset to get the timing bang-on or start to shift them apart from each other to see how much they going to overlap or how that affects the kind of output you get. It has a strange barcode-style front panel which I found a little bit baffling as it just makes it hard to see but I’ve never really seen one in the flesh.
It is very interesting, and I’ve not done a lot of purposeful modulation shaping. I tend to take an LFO and use it as it is so I think it would be interesting to start to merge these sorts of things together and the Dual LFO from Hikari is certainly designed to do that.
Tronix Audio Roots
This is a weird fella. I don’t know what to make of it. It’s doing what exactly? They call it a musical sequence generator, so it generates sequences through some forms of randomisation, of sample and hold, or some sort of triggerable comparator. Ultimately you fiddle with the knobs, and it creates some kind of melody, which is nice. It has its own VCA, it has an LFO inside which is moving stuff about and then it’s sampling itself through its movement, I think, and then you can push things out of a gate out or CV output in order to generate melodies and Gates. I’m not explaining it very well, but I don’t really fully understand it.
But in the demo videos there just seems to be an element of moving stuff about and sound being generated, melodies being generated, through whatever sound source you’re going to plug it into. And that looked like a load of fun and 8 HP worth of craziness. You know, if nothing else our modular should have crazy fun in it.
- Tronix Audio website.
Noise Engineering Tymp Legio and Polydactyl Versio
Noise Engineering know what they’re doing, my goodness yes. While many others are struggling with the old component shortage Noise Engineering has found a couple of DSP platforms running on two slightly different-sized modules that they can actually get hold of. They have the Versio platform that they’ve had for a while, which had started off with a reverb and then a delay and other weird stuff. And now they’ve got the Legio platform which is a smaller, sort half the size which can run different things. And they seem to be sticking with those platforms.
So every so often they release a new Versio which gives you a new front panel and a new firmware. The beauty of it is that you can run that firmware on all the other previous Versios. So whatever Versio you buy at any point with a particular front panel, you be able to run all of the firmware that come along. It can be a bit confusing in terms of the front panel, but at the same time you’re getting a whole load more functionality within a module that you already own for free, which is awesome. The new Legio platform is a similar deal and this is the next release of that.
So on Legio we have Tymp. This is a slimmed-down version of Basimilus Iteratas Alter, and that is one weird module. It’s a digital percussive crazy module that creates all sorts of weird sounds. Tymp is like a scaled-down version of that but with all of the potential sound weirdness. It has an intriguing Wackitude knob and everyone could do with one of those.
With the Pterodactyl Versio you get a multiband compressor and saturation. So it’s a big fat model that you stick at the end of the chain of something. So when it’s fed up with it being a grain delay or some weird stuff you can then turn it into a module that will completely tidy up your mix as the end of things.
Noise Engineering is going great guns with these two things and I think it’s a great way forward and a great way to continue development on a platform. It also means that people who already own your stuff are going to get added value down the line.
Faded Instruments Faded Toolbox
Faded Instruments are a software plug-in company that suddenly decided to release a whole bunch of candy-coloured 1U modules. They’re great! I mean there’s nothing particularly unexpected except for maybe one or two, but for the most part you’ve got awesome utilities that you would use all the time you got mults, you’ve got attenuators, little mixers, patchbays all sorts of things. All of them look great.
You know there’s something refreshing about having colourful modules within your Eurorack because often black and silver tends to be the way, and so injecting a little bit of fun and brightness is no bad thing particularly in 1U, which can seem a bit complex.
There’s one in particular that deserves a special mention and it’s called the Janglar. It has touch plates on it so you can use your body as some form of control voltage modulation from the currents and electricity inherent within the wetness and saliva and sweat of your body. So you plug things into is, jam your fingers in and it changes stuff about.
- Faded Instruments website.
Elta Music Polivoks PF-3
This looks like it’s a nice desktop unit that’s got that Soviet-era Polivoks filter inside. It was kind of the Soviets’ answer to the Minimoog really, and the filter just has its own character through whatever it was they’re using to tie things together. It has this own sound, its own arc, like when you go through the cut-off it just has a different feel to it than a lot of other filters. And so what Elta Music has done is to take a pair of them and drop them in a desktop box so you can use it within a DAWless set-up.
There are plenty of Polivoks filters available in Eurorack, but in terms of having something more line level which you can run through a mixer or with other synthesizers and bits and pieces it gives you a whole Polivoks filtering engine if you like, to run all of your lovely synthesizers filter through. So, if you have a lovely Roland synth with a creamy Roland filter then you can stick it through this thing and wind in the gnarliness. Now that’s got to be a good thing!
There are two of them, it can work in stereo which is nice with lots of your synth being in stereo, or you can run it as two monos. It also has a noise engine so you can mix in a bit of noise which is a really nice touch, and you can link them together to use as a single stereo filter or have them running completely independently.
I think it’s a great idea, and I hope to see more filters in this sort of format. Another good idea is the dry/wet mix so you do not necessarily have to filter everything that’s going through it; you can also route some of the original input back to the output. So you have just like a soft filtering going in the background or part of it being filtered or half of it while not losing the entire output of your synth.
I’m a fan of Tenderfoot Modular over there in Taiwan, and they do lots of interesting things. I’ve got bits and pieces of theirs knocking around like the Quad Quantizer which is quite brilliant, although I haven’t yet really got to the bottom of it. A couple of little sequencers I’ve got of theirs and other bits and pieces. I use their mult called Dupe all the time; it’s fantastic stuff.
One of the new models coming out is called the TrigSeq-1, and it is a 16-step trigger sequencer – a drum sequencer. I’ve got lots of different ways now that I can do that sort of thing, including with the ASQ-1, so I am up to my eyes in drum sequencing, and I hope to get one of these as well because it’s quite fascinating.
One thing that Tenderfoot are particularly good at is building lots of functionality into a small space without it feeling crowded. It does inevitably mean a little bit of button pressing and potential behind-the-scenes menu messing about. But if the interface works right, then there’s no reason why that has to be a hindrance. And in fact, in opening up the space you often find with trigger sequencers you have a lot of stuff going on whereas this is really quite compact, and that appeals to me. I also like the two rows of LEDs and the way it’s offset.
This is actually two modules. There’s an expander for it that gives you access to another four channels. So potentially it has 8 channels of sequencing in there. So it has the potential of running quite an impressive system within it, if the interface is workable enough then it could be a real winner.
I don’t know if you’ve come across GhostInTranslation, but they built this really interesting hybrid MIDI-modular system. Essentially it was MIDI control but in a Eurorack form so it fitted into a Eurorack case. It had no patch sockets, instead, it was all running to a control board that went USB into your system. So you could use these modules to control software or, I guess, other bits of MIDI hardware. It gave you this interesting patch-free control system that was very much a hardware experience but for running other software things.
This is started to develop and now GhostInTranslation has got a new version of this coming along which has embraced Eurorack fully in becoming patchable and analogue/hybrid/digital and it looks really interesting. So this is kind of delving into the world of Teensy, which is what a lot of other manufacturers like Noise Engineering and such like are doing, in using these platforms to build the synthesis on, and then the front panel and patching is building in the control system and the routing for bits and pieces. And so at the moment GhostInTranslation is sort of working through the process of designing the interface that’s best going to suit what it is he wants it to do. There’s still a lot of emphasis on MIDI control and i2c control as well.
So it is still under development. Exactly how everything is going to relate each other I’m not entirely sure? But it’s a fascinating project, and I’ve been really interested to see where it’s going to go. And until then we can just gaze at it on Instagram.
- GhostInTranslation Instagram.
Cherry Audio Elka-X
Cherry Audio has taken on another synthesiser and this time it’s the Elka Synthex. This is an Italian-designed synthesiser that did some extraordinary things, lasted for about a week and then disappeared completely. It came out around the time of the Prophet 5, the Jupiter 8, the Oberheim OB-Xa, you know the big legendary synthesizers, and this thing came along looking kinda weird kind of brown, is it brown and cream? I’m not really sure about that. Honestly, for me personally, it just looks a right state. There’s something about the Prophet 5 that makes me think wow that’s a gorgeous piece of engineering. There’s something about the Jupiter 8 that invites you in as an instrument. The Synthex looks like some old organ and you go why would I want to play that? It looks like Grandad’s organ or a keyboard he would like – and maybe it does. Because ultimately Elka was an organ company, so that’s kind of where they’re coming from. And so it brought a bit of that vibe with it even though the synthesizer itself was designed by somebody else and was completely innovative and new.
In some ways it’s the organess about it that gives it its longevity and its individuality and its huge sound because there’s nothing quite like it. I was unprepared for the sound that came out of my system as I was playing the Cherry Audio’s Elka-X. It has this layeredness about it, something that you didn’t really encounter until the big workstation that were later in the 80s and early 90s. Whereas this was the early 80s. You had the two-layer system like you often had on organs where you would have two layers of different sounds and the Synthex follows that by having two patches going on at once – quite extraordinary. But the other key feature that it had was DCOs, Digital Controlled Oscillators. These weren’t digital oscillators, these were analogue oscillations but they were controlled digitally in order to keep them in tune. And this was different to everything else where you had to spend time tuning them which was a major pain in the ass. And so this is one of the reasons why this was so good. But it wasn’t that ultimately, I think it just came down to the fact it had this big, really big sound and that comes across in the software very very much. Of course, Cherry Audio has augmented it with MIDI, with some more effects although it did have a chorus already built in which is another reason why it sounded so great. But they’ve added a reverb and delay, expanded the polyphony, added an arpeggiator and so it’s now at its best I suppose.
Heck, it just sounds really good, I couldn’t quite believe it. It has a sequencer as well that works brilliantly and some of those patches, I mean normally speaking, when you get a new software synthesiser it always says it’s got this team of top producers creating the patches for you and they inevitably sound all a bit synthy and ok. But the patches on this are fantastic! Every one of them is fabulous and you’re going to some of the sequence patches and there’s all this stuff going on and stuff moving about – amazing!
It has a quality about it that makes it sound like a mixture of an old string machine and some other synthesiser, in a mismatch of stuff. In some ways it doesn’t have its own sound, it has a sound of a bunch of a synthesizer squashed together and that’s just a different thing. I found that you tend to play it by itself, it’s not something that you automatically think was going to drop nicely into a track, no no, you think THIS is the track, I am Rick Wakeman playing everything all at once on this one thing. That is definitely what it feels like rather than it being able to slip itself quietly into the back of a track. So maybe on the reflection, it might be a bit of a struggle to try to squeeze that into something useful.
However, it’s a joy to play, it really is nice to play, and it’s like $39 or something, which is great. It does absolutely hold onto the authenticity of looking a bit ropey. I mean Cherry Audio, god love you, you do make some great sounding stuff, but your interfaces are a bit 2003, you know, a little bit “Synth Edit”. I guess you invest your money in and your attention in making it sound great and so the looks ultimately come in second and that’s ok, but I do personally like something which is also visually pleasing, and this really isn’t. I also totally respect the fact that you have a zoom button that allows you to zoom in on the interface even more to make you go “yuk” and then back out again. It’s alright, it’s not beautiful you know but it sounds phenomenal.
Ginkosynthese has been banging on about this module for quite a while. It’s called Magma and it’s looking great. This is a compressor with sidechaining because we all like that these days, we like to sidechain our compressors so that we can get out kick drums through in that classic pulsing kind of way. But this is a diode-based compressor which makes it different and adds character and stuff that we won’t have encountered before. So that’s nice. But, more importantly, it’s got a glowy light on the front. It glows with the warmth and awesomeness of it all so you know by that light the signal going through it is being baked to something fabulous.
Anyway, if you’re starting to get into compression in your Eurorack then this looks absolutely the business.
- Ginkosynthese website.
Simon The Magpie Mini Mini Drone
Simon The Magpie recently released the Beehive, a massive yellow drone farm which is fantastic, with lots of different banks of oscillators. Well now, he’s produced a pocket version. I don’t sure how “pocket” it is – I think you need quite wide pockets. But anyway, it’s a box and it’s got 12 oscillators divided into 4 banks. So you have like 3 oscillators in a row and volume knob and you can pitch those oscillators to anything you like. It’s a drone, you’re not trying to play it, or sequence it; you’re just creating these sounds and changing them. You have 3 together so you might pitch them the same for something nice that’s just beating with itself, and then set another note on the next one, and you can alter the levels, or you can have them all set to different things and then bring different things in and out so that they mess with each other.
Simple, good, interesting, Simon is a great guy and I love the fact that he’s making hardware. It’s good fun stuff. So if you fancy starting your own wasp factory drum machine then maybe give this a go.
Magpie Pedals website.
Twisted Electrons MegaFM Mk2
Twisted Electrons is having another go at the MegaFM. This is the mark 2, second generation of their quirky FM synthesiser. This time it’s built with slightly different chips, probably because they can’t get the original ones. But you can also swap the chips out yourself, because you normally have a bunch of chips knocking around. Do I have to get my own chips? Maybe that’s the answer that we now have to source our own chips. I mean that’s a little bit hardcore.
So this time around rather than using the sound chips from the SEGA Mega Drive they’re using a sound chips from the SEGA Mega Drive 2 which is actually very similar, but it has improved sonic fidelity and other bits and pieces. But instead of soldering them to the board, they have put them in IC sockets which means you can open the case, take them out and put in another one. So if you’ve got an original one you can put some of those chips back in for a bit of a change or even potentially use your own FM chips. I don’t know how that works but what I can tell you is that the MegaFM is an interesting and quirky take on FM synthesis where you’ve got a number of algorithms you can select and a whole bunch of sliders for bringing different bits and pieces, envelopes and pitches and how they relate to each other. And so it gives a very hands-on way of experimenting with FM synthesis.
AtomoSynth Mochika X5
This is the fifth generation of the AtomoSynth Mochika synthesiser that continues to evolve, continues to get more interesting and more polished and more finished, with more lights and lots of interesting bits and pieces going on. It’s an entire semi-modular synthesiser voice although it’s now also available as a Eurorack version. It has an analogue oscillator with multiple waveforms. It has a wavefolder, everything has a wavefolder at the moment, wavefolding is the thing you need to be doing, and if you don’t have wavefolding you’re not doing it right, so it seems at the moment.
So it has wavefolding inside which allows you to flip those sine waves and triangle waves on top of each other and it also has a digitally controlled square wave oscillator. It has interesting things like a vactrol-based filter for sound sculpting and some unexpected EQ which you don’t get on many synths. There’s all the usual modulation like LFOs and ADSR envelopes and also a little built-in sequencer. You can actually set 8 parameters per step which pulls it into quite a potentially complex area of sound and sequence generation. It looks relatively simple and straightforward on the surface but actually, behind the scenes, it has quite an interesting digital engine for storing and changing parameters in a very step-modulated fashion.
The Mochika X5 is hand built in Peru, it’s relatively affordable, and it’s looking pretty nice.
- Atomosynth website.
Moog Price Rises
And lastly we have the news that Moog are increasing the prices on things. This is a worry because the price of gear tends to remain relatively stable the only fluctuations you seem to get are in the second hand market which can go nuts for no reason from time to time, but generally speaking the price on synths stays the same when you buy them from the shop. So they have a sudden large price increase from a company like Moog is quite alarming. I mean it has to be the effect of things like the chip shortages, the increasing energy prices, the cost of living going up, you know. In different territories this has been affecting people differently but a price hike from someone like Moog really does bring these things into focus and makes you wonder about how we’re going to keep this going? How are we going to move forward, should we be keeping it going, maybe it’s all time to move beyond this and get back to building our own instruments out of twigs? Who knows?
At one point the Moog prices for things like the Matriarch and Grandmother and just lept 60%. They’ve calmed down a little bit since because I think everyone panicked but now they’ve brought them down a bit which isn’t quite as bad, but it’s still, you know, it’s still like a 34% price increase. I mean companies have got to do what they’ve got to do to pay their employees and acquire stuff. They are not beholden to us and our desire to buy things cheaply. It is also interesting about the silence from Behringer over the last 6-months. They are evidently struggling to build things, evidently struggling to acquire the chips they need in the quantity where they can keep things as cheap as possible.
So is it possible at this time that we are moving past affordable synth space? Let’s hope not. Affordable synths are good – expensive synths are good also, so it’s not that everything should be terribly desperately cheap as chips. No, but for there to be an entry-level place for people to come is important and if more expensive synths start to balloon in price what’s to stop the ones below from similarly moving up. Or if Behringer find that they just need to release something and are going to have to add €100 to the price of every product. You know, that could be tricky. But it’s one to watch certainly.
That’ll do for this month I think. I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to get more videos out recently but hopefully things will start to get better over the next month or two.
This summer has been really quite difficult to get videos done whether it’s been the heat or the other work and getting food on the table and holidays, being away and other bits and pieces, so it’s been quite slow in terms of videos and I’m sorry about that. I have a load of great products to tell you about lots of great ideas for interesting videos. I’m just trying to find the time to make that happen.
Otherwise things coming up. Synthfest on the 8th of October up in Sheffield, that should be great. I plan to go. I’m trying to bring some kids to play on the synthesizers. I’ll have a poke around, shake a couple of hands, have a coffee and that kind of thing. I’m not doing anything as far as I know so I’m just going to be there walking about and poking around at things. So if you do go along then by all means come and say hello, I won’t mind, I’ll probably be embarrassed and won’t quite know what to say, but I will do my best to be friendly because I mean to be in every way and it’s always good to say hello, to meet people, and chat about synths and stuff. So yeah, go and do that, that would be great.
I have no further news on my proposed Norwich Molten Modular synth meet as I’m still looking for a venue. I have a feeling that we might have to fold this over into the spring rather than trying to squeeze it in this year simply because time is marching away. But I still think it’s a genuinely awesome idea that I’m going to continue to pursue.
We will follow this Monthly up with a live stream where I will plug a bunch of stuff in. I’ve had all sorts of things sent to me over the summer that I haven’t had the chance to look at yet and let’s plug it all in and have a bit of a first-impressions play with it. That could be fun and will kick start some of that movement towards doing videos on these lovely bits of gear. So come and join us for that and in the meantime, go and make some tunes.