Tiptop Audio has revealed a new Eurorack signal they’ve been secretly working on for years. Is it extremely cool, or is it just bringing the boredom of the DAW back to Eurorack?
Well, this is a fascinating development. I’m immediately reminded of the Droid system from Der man mit de Maschine, mixed with polyphonic modular in Cherry Audio’s Voltage Modular and the crazy Midilar guy with the modular MIDI controller that runs VCV Rack. It feels distinctly digital, smells of MIDI and tastes like it’s taking things in a weird direction.
On the other hand, Tiptop Audio know how to make things look fabulous and this looks fresh and exciting. It ushers in manageable polyphony, accurate tuning, precise control, DAW integration and all while being able to run alongside regular modular.
Here’s the intro video.
What’s it all about?
ART is a protocol and a paradigm that allows for new modules to be conceived and realised. It introduces a new patching cable called “Polytips” which uses a USB-C connector for polyphonic, and yet still analogue, signal flows. And it really is analogue coming out of the cable. There’s a breakout module which splits it all back into Eurorack mono signals.
To get the special sauce to work you need to be using ART compatible modules. They suggest starting with the Octopus, which seems to be the master hub, and a few ART oscillators.
All the modules that make sounds do so in the regular Eurorack format so you can run ART oscillators out to regular filters and effects. You can use regular CV from regular modules to modulate them assuming they have regular inputs. Some ART modules are purely about the Polytips and so can’t be controlled by regular sequencers or 1v/oct connections. So, currently, you can only sequence ART modules from a computer or MIDI sequencer via Octopus but Eurorack-based sequencing and pattern-generating modules will come.
So, let’s see if we can get the gist of things by looking at a couple of modules.
Octopus is the USB/MIDI to ART interface. It can generate 8 channels of ART with corresponding velocity CV and 8 drum triggers in response to signals from your DAW or MIDI sequencer. It says that each ART channel can play polyphonically, monophonically or create multi-channel polyphony using an internal voice manager.
The outputs are not 1v/oct outputs….. I don’t understand what they are at the moment. I don’t see how they can be polyphonic if they are using mono-patch cables. There’s no sign of the Polytips socket on this module. Maybe the talk of polyphony refers to using all 8 outputs at once on a single “channel”? If you connect this to an ART oscillator with a patch cable what can you do?
So let’s look at the oscillator. The ATX1 is a classic analogue core sawtooth oscillator. For “legacy” reasons (I hate the use of the word “legacy” – it implies that regular Eurorack has been discontinued), the ATX1 has a 1v/oct mode, so you can use it with regular modular signals. But its main purpose is to be the building block of a multi-module polyphonic system.
So, this is mono. Not very clear, is it?
If you use the ART connection, then there’s no need for tuning because ART takes care of all that, including temperature compensation. I wonder how long it will take for them to add “drift” or “vintage” functions to kill the lifeless perfection of the precision? One interesting feature is that the oscillator has a Gate output which is used to run envelopes for the voice. So the envelope management is now coming from the oscillator, not the sequencer or secondary pattern generator.
There’s also a Vortex Wavetable oscillator and a Control Path dual envelope to help with this monophonic building of a polyphonic patch. But let’s stick to the key elements.
This is a polyphonic wavetable oscillator inspired by the PPG Wave. But we’re interested in the connections. It has a single ART input on a regular mono cable. From that, it can trigger 6 oscillators and output sound and gate for each voice separately or polyphonically through the Polytip jacks. But how does that single ART input work? There doesn’t appear to be a Polytip input – I don’t get it.
Obviously, this is something I need to grasp, and maybe I should just wait until these things become clear. But heck, I thought it was interesting enough to share my immediate thoughts.
Via the Polytip you can then patch into the Octopass Poly Filter, Octostages Poly Envelope and Hexagain VCA. I mean, that’s quite brilliant, in the same way Voltage Modular is brilliant. It’s tidy and convenient and completely solves the polyphonic modular conundrum that sees us trying to patch up Doepfer polyphonic modules with endless bends of patch cables. It’s bringing the convenience of the hardware synth back into modular
Is that what I want? I think I got into modular to escape the convenience of hardware synths and software instruments. I think it was the difficulty that appealed to me. Being forced to think about signal routing, think about tuning, modulation options, feel the cables from one thing to another, and adopt ways of working that would be constantly evolving and devolving depending on the situation at hand. You’re saying with this I just plug in a Polytip and ART sorts it all out for me? Where’s the fun in that?
More to learn
You can probably tell from my tone that I am a little on the cautious and sceptical side. I’m not anti-change or desperate for things to remain classically analogue but I am worried that something is being lost here. On the other hand, it does look completely fascinating and could potentially revolutionise modular synthesis. But a new protocol inevitably means new gear and obsolescence and I’m not sure I want that. I’m already battling a bit with the encroachment of MIDI into my rack. I understand that a couple of modules need it, but I don’t actually want it there.
Is ART about enabling the potential of musical harmony in hardware modular? Or is it a nice new shiny thing that’s not going to catch on? Because Tiptop are going to need widespread adoption if this is going to survive in Eurorack. It will need to be Open Source and readily available for customisation and hacking. If Tiptop keep it to itself then I don’t think it will fly.
Anyway, that’s my thoughts for now on something potentially revolutionary. I’ll be watching with interest. Checkout the video from Sonic State below which leans into a bit more detail. I think the key is that the ART connection is sending commands rather than what we normally see as voltage control and in that context a single ART jack could be polyphonic…..
- Tiptop website.