KORG NTS-1 is here: A pocket ‘logue voice as $99 DIY kit

KORG is kicking off a new product line – the DIY-focused Nu:Tekt – with a $99 screw-together instrument. And it has the same programmable guts as you find in the prologue and minilogue xd, complete with SDK.

The Nu:Tekt NTS-1 is funny to describe, in that it represents different things to different people. For the very few of you who are actually audio programmers, it’s something special … but it might also be of interest if you just want an inexpensive sound toy or particularly like operating a screwdriver. Let’s break it down.

If you just really love using screwdrivers: Yes, this is a kit. There’s no soldering involved, if you need the smell of hot solder flux more than the calming grip of a Philips head.

But if you do enjoy a bit of assembly, you do get the NTS-1 in pieces you screw together. If you love screwdrivers but also have … misplaced all of them (I feel you), there’s even one in the box.

If you want an amazing pocket instrument for $99: Holy crap. The NTS-1 is very possibly the most synthesizer per dollar I’ve seen. KORG actually don’t even really describe how powerful this is in the press release, sheepishly saying it’s “inspired by the MULTI engine” on the prologue and minilogue xd.

So, you have something that’s small and has some onboard jamming features, like a KORG volca, but with the audio depth of their flagship instruments. And it’s even cheaper than a volca – even if you’re the one doing some of the final assembly, and the case and fit and finish are a bit more ‘rustic.’

It actually is the guts of the ‘logue voice. See the developer section below; the NTS-1 retains compatibility with the prologue and minilogue xd.

So that means you get the single oscillator from the ‘logues, plus a multimode filter, a single envelope generator, three (!) LFOs, and three (!) effects processors – reverb, delay, modulation.

You can play that, volca style, using an onboard arpeggiator. Or you can connect MIDI input. Or there’s an audio input, too, making this a very handy pocket-sized effects units for other gear.

For those of us who love collecting little sound boxes, like the Pocket Operators, volcas, Twisted Electrons, and our own MeeBlip, I can see the NTS-1 doing double-duty as an effects box and extra sound source. Life is getting pretty darned good for us – you can literally put together a full studio of gear for the price of one high-end Eurorack module, you know.

That’s already worth a hundred bucks, but the really interesting bit is that the NTS-1 is supported by the ‘logue SDK. This means you’ll be able to load custom effects and oscillators onto it, almost app style.

There are 16 custom user slots for loading your own oscillators, plus 16 slots for custom modulation effects, 8 reverb effects slots, and 8 delay effects slots.

That’ll be fun even if you aren’t a developer. As a non-coder, you probably don’t want to mess around with GitHub and the SDK, but KORG is planning a librarian and custom content page you’ll be able to use on the Web. which will eventually be here:

https://www.korg.com/products/synthesizers/nts_1/librarian_contents.php

And if you are a developer, well –

If you’re a developer: This just solved two problems for you in getting into KORG’s SDK for the ‘logues. First, it makes your price of entry way cheaper. (And even developers I know who own the keyboards are considering buying this, too, because it looks like fun.)

Second, if the NTS-1 takes off, the installed base of people who can make use of your creations also expanded.

The SDK here supports both custom oscillators and custom effects, as with the full-fledged keyboards. Check out the dedicated SDK page:

https://www.korg.com/us/products/dj/nts_1/sdk.php

Full details:

  • Ribbon keyboard
  • 1 digital oscillator, 1 multimode filter, 1 EG, 3 LFOs
  • Multiple effects: Mod (chorus, ensemble, phaser, flanger), delay, reverb
  • Minijack audio in and out
  • Minijack MIDI in jack
  • USB port (definitely necessary for loading custom programs, but I think also supports USB MIDI – I’ll check)
  • Runs on USB bus power (< 500 mA)
  • 129 mm x 78 mm x 39 mm / 5.08” x 3.07” x 1.54”
  • 124 g / 4.37 oz
  • USB cable, manual, and screwdriver in the box

The NTS-1 ships in November. I’ll definitely try to get one. US$99.

https://www.korg.com/us/products/dj/nts_1/index.php

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A tour of a high voltage coil in a rack: Gamechanger’s PLASMA

Rack-mounted audio equipment – once fairly vanilla stuff, now it’s turned to high voltage coils. Meet PLASMA Rack, now in a new full-length video tour from Gamechanger Audio.

When we last caught up with Gamechanger Audio, they were screwing about with motors:

PLASMA RACK is a rack-mounted larger sibling to the company’s PLASMA Pedal. The rack form factor accommodates even more power – a big xenon tube with voltages of up to 5500 volts. (Don’t, uh, lick it.)

This really is a bit like bottled lightning. The rapid discharge gives you instant, ultra-heavy distortion with unique harmonic saturation characteristics. And because it’s lightning-quick, you also get a sort of noise gate effect out of it.

That is … absurd. But as with the Motor Synth, the folks at Gamechanger have managed to wrap some smart extras into the package:

  • Tremolo/ring modulation
  • Drive (powered by Op Amps)
  • MIDI sync
  • Oversaturation (Octa-Fuzz-esque)
Signal flow of the rack.

You also get ample I/O, including three external effects loops, for patching this into a larger rig. If you’re really feeling flush, you can get two of these and work in stereo; they can be configured with one as master timing source.

I have no idea who you are, people who can spend EUR1499 on this, but – I’m jealous of you. For the rest of us, though, there’s also the 299EUR PLASMA Pedal, which has the same bonkers idea but at a price that’s musician-friendly. Regardless, it’s a very fine concept. I’m happy it even exists:

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Delaydelus 2 is a patchable sampler/delay from Daedelus, Dr. Bleep

Delaydelus 2 is a devilishly clever box that’s really two devices in one – it’s a sampler, and it’s a pitch-able delay with feedback. And the whole thing is patchable. Meet the latest from Daedelus and Dr. Bleep.

Daedelus is the southern California producer and artist who among other things has pioneered visual immersive shows and was one of the first champions for the monome. Dr. Bleep is John-Mike Reed, the imaginative engineer behind the likes of the Thingamagoop. The original Delaydelus certainly embodied their collective ideas. But it was more of a alligator-clipped art oddity. Delaydelus 2 looks like a serious pedalboard contender.

There’s a great demo video:

Check the specs:

Stereo 16bit 44kHz audio i/o
Banana plug patch bay allows you to play up to 4 samples at once triggered from the two arcade buttons or trigger inputs.
Control the speed and direction of the samples with the knobs as well as the CV FM (-5V to 10V) input
CV envelope follower out (0-8V) based on audio playback level
Trigger outs (10V) from each sampler button.
One shot mode, Gate (mpc style) mode, + Send external audio through the built in 1 second stereo delay.
Record into one of 10 banks. Each can hold up to 17 seconds of high quality audio.
Delay sync in and out with the ability to divide and multiply incoming sync rate.
Micro SD card slot allows loading and saving WAV files to and from the 10 banks.
Built-in new samples from Daedelus
Powered by a 12V DC adapter – included.

Gorgeous artwork on the top panel by Chicago’s Trek Matthews, too.

What I think makes this musical, as on any musical delay, is really making pitch and time open to control and modulation. Pairing the delay with a sampler means this instrument can do a whole lot – and it’s nice having removable SD storage.

This is available for preorder now, with the first units hitting production in August (if you get in on that preorder).

US$295.

https://bleeplabs.com/product/delaydelus-2-preorder/

By the way, as we wait on this preorder, I’m in the next days putting the wraps on my review of Snazzy FX pedals, including in particular their wonderful WOW AND FLUTTER. I could imagine this pairing with the Bleep offering nicely – like faking a whole tape studio in two compact pedals:

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Delaydelus 2 is a patchable sampler/delay from Daedelus, Dr. Bleep

Delaydelus 2 is a devilishly clever box that’s really two devices in one – it’s a sampler, and it’s a pitch-able delay with feedback. And the whole thing is patchable. Meet the latest from Daedelus and Dr. Bleep.

Daedelus is the southern California producer and artist who among other things has pioneered visual immersive shows and was one of the first champions for the monome. Dr. Bleep is John-Mike Reed, the imaginative engineer behind the likes of the Thingamagoop. The original Delaydelus certainly embodied their collective ideas. But it was more of a alligator-clipped art oddity. Delaydelus 2 looks like a serious pedalboard contender.

There’s a great demo video:

Check the specs:

Stereo 16bit 44kHz audio i/o
Banana plug patch bay allows you to play up to 4 samples at once triggered from the two arcade buttons or trigger inputs.
Control the speed and direction of the samples with the knobs as well as the CV FM (-5V to 10V) input
CV envelope follower out (0-8V) based on audio playback level
Trigger outs (10V) from each sampler button.
One shot mode, Gate (mpc style) mode, + Send external audio through the built in 1 second stereo delay.
Record into one of 10 banks. Each can hold up to 17 seconds of high quality audio.
Delay sync in and out with the ability to divide and multiply incoming sync rate.
Micro SD card slot allows loading and saving WAV files to and from the 10 banks.
Built-in new samples from Daedelus
Powered by a 12V DC adapter – included.

Gorgeous artwork on the top panel by Chicago’s Trek Matthews, too.

What I think makes this musical, as on any musical delay, is really making pitch and time open to control and modulation. Pairing the delay with a sampler means this instrument can do a whole lot – and it’s nice having removable SD storage.

This is available for preorder now, with the first units hitting production in August (if you get in on that preorder).

US$295.

https://bleeplabs.com/product/delaydelus-2-preorder/

By the way, as we wait on this preorder, I’m in the next days putting the wraps on my review of Snazzy FX pedals, including in particular their wonderful WOW AND FLUTTER. I could imagine this pairing with the Bleep offering nicely – like faking a whole tape studio in two compact pedals:

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KORG’s nutekt NTS-1 is a fun, little kit – and open to ‘logue developers

KORG has already shown that opening up oscillators and effects to developers can expand their minilogue and prologue keyboards. But now they’re doing the same for the nutekt NTS-1 – a cute little volca-ish kit for synths and effects. Build it, make wild sounds, and … run future stuff on it, too.

Okay, first – even before you get to any of that, the NTS-1 is stupidly cool. It’s a little DIY kit you can snap together without any soldering. And it’s got a fun analog/digital architecture with oscillators, filter, envelope, arpeggiator, and effects.

Basically, if you imagine having a palm-sized, battery-powered synthesis studio, this is that.

Japan has already had access to the Nutekt brand from KORG, a DIY kit line. (Yeah, the rest of the world gets to be jealous of Japan again.) This is the first – and hopefully not the last – time KORG has opened up that brand name to the international scene.

And the NTS-1 is one we’re all going to want to get our hands on, I’ll bet. It’s full of features:

– 4 fixed oscillators (saw, triangle and square, loosely modeled around their analog counterpart in minilogue/prologue, and VPM, a simplified version of the multi-engine VPM oscillator)
– Multimode analog modeled filter with 2/4 pole modes (LP, BP, HP)
– Analog modeled amp. EG with ADSR (fixed DS), AHR, AR and looping AR
– modulation, delay and reverb effects on par with minilogue xd/prologue (subset of)
– arpeggiator with various modes: up, down, up-down, down-up, converge, diverge, conv-div, div-conv, random, stochastic (volca modular style). Chord selection: octaves, major triad, suspended triad, augmented triad, minor triad, diminished triad (since sensor only allows one note at a time). Pattern length: 1-24
– Also: pitch/Shape LFO, Cutoff sweeps, tremollo
– MIDI IN via 2.5mm adapter, USB-MIDI, SYNC in/out
– Audio input with multiple routing options and trim
– Internal speaker and headphone out

That would be fun enough, and we could stop here. But the NTS-1 is also built on the same developer board for the KORG minilogue and prologue keyboards. That SDK opens up developers’ powers to make their own oscillators, effects, and other ideas for KORG hardware. And it’s a big deal the cute little NTS-1 is now part of that picture, not just the (very nice) larger keyboards. I’d see it this way:

NTS-1 buyers can get access to the same custom effects and synths as if they bought the minilogue or prologue.

minilogue and prologue owners get another toy they can use – all three of them supporting new stuff.

Developers can use this inexpensive kit to start developing, and don’t have to buy a prologue or minilogue. (Hey, we’ve got to earn some cash first so we can go buy the other keyboard! Oh yeah I guess I have also rent and food and things to think about, too.)

And maybe most of all –

Developers have an even bigger market for the stuff they create.

This is still a prototype, so we’ll have to wait, and no definite details on pricing and availability.

Waiting.

Yep, still waiting.

Wow, I really want this thing, actually. Hope this wait isn’t long.

I’m in touch with KORG and the analog team’s extraordinary Etienne about the project, so stay tuned. For an understanding of the dev board itself (back when it was much less fun – just a board and no case or fun features):

KORG are about to unveil their DIY Prologue boards for synth hacking

Videos:

Sounds and stuff –

Interviews and demos –

And if you wondered what the Japanese kits are like – here you go:

Oh, and I’ll also say – the dev platform is working. Sinevibes‘ Artemiy Pavlov was on-hand to show off the amazing stuff he’s doing with oscillators for the KORG ‘logues. They sound the business, covering a rich range of wavetable and modeling goodness – and quickly made me want a ‘logue, which of course is the whole point. But he seems happy with this as a business, which demonstrates that we really are entering new eras of collaboration and creativity in hardware instruments. And that’s great. Artemiy, since I had almost zero time this month, I better come just hang out in Ukraine for extended nerd time minus distractions.

Artemiy is happily making sounds as colorful as that jacket. Check sinevibes.com.

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Free Downgrade turns Ableton Live into lo-fi wobbly vaporwave tape

Fidelity? High-quality sound? No – degradation! And if you don’t have a ragged VHS deck or cassette Walkman handy, these free effects racks in Ableton Live will sort you out.

Downgrade is the work of Tom Cosm, long-time Ableton guru. There are five effects:

Fluffer
Corrupt
Hiss
Morph
Flutter

— plus if you give him literally US$1 or more (you cheapskate), you get an additional Stutter rack.

Basically, you get loads of controls for manipulating downsampling, tape effects, saturation, distortion, modulation of various kinds, echo, vocoder, and more. It’s a sort of retro Vaporwave starter kit if you’d like to think of it that way – or an easy, dial-up greatest hits of everything Ableton Live can now do to make your sound worse. And by worse, I mean better, naturally.

Ableton have been gradually adding all these digital downsampling features (early on) and simulated analog tape and saturation effects and nonlinear modulation (more recently). Tom has neatly packed them into one very useful set of Racks.

Notice I say “Racks,” not Max for Live devices. That means these will mostly run on different editions of Live, and they’re a bit easier to pick apart and adjust/modify – without requiring Max knowledge.

Go download them:

https://gumroad.com/l/wmIbJ

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Bastl’s Dark Matter module unleashes the joys of feedback

What would a module behave like if it were built entirely around feedback – say, like one of those “zero-input” all-feedback mixer performances? Bastl Instruments teams up again with Peter Edwards to answer that question. The result: Dark Matter.

Dark Matter lets you add feedback to any signal, whether you want to use that as a bit of color, create rhythmic effects, or go completely wild. And since it is designed with the inspiration of zero-input mixer technique in mind, you can also use it as a signal source – a kind of feedback oscillator. Feedback by definition is about signal routing; Dark Matter runs with that idea and create an instrument around patching and shaping feedback in a modular environment.

It’s a new collaboration between Bastl and Peter Edwards, following their softPop instrument (and Peter’s own long-running Casper Electronics).

There are different kinds of overdrive. You can add sub-octave tones and other colors. There’s a built-in 2-band EQ (so highs and lows get separate control) – and that has overdrive, too.

On the rhythmic side, there’s a built-in envelope follower for ducking and gating and the like.

And there’s tons and tons of I/O and CV control, so this really was designed with a modular environment in mind. (That’s important – there are a number of Eurorack modules that seem like desktop tools that sort of got plunked into a modular case without much forethought; this isn’t that.)

But before we talk specs, creator Peter Edwards – himself an experimental musician as well as inventor – has some philosophical and spiritual things to say about feedback. Those are in the manual too, but let me highlight this passage. We’re “going deeper and deeper into the void” – gotta love those Czech winters, right? (Now turn in your hymnals now to “We Sing Praises of the Dark Shadows of Feedback.”)

So here’s what it all comes down to, the resonating soul of the amplifier and the recklessly over amplified external audio signal battling it out in the feedback thunderdome…

This is why I like to think of audio feedback as sort of the negative space around a sound, like a sonic shadow. A dark counterpart.

Feedback is wonderful. It’s the living, breathing, unpredictable, organic side of electrical sound. That’s not even just to say in the analog domain; as long as you steer clear of digital clipping, feedback has powerful potential in digital, too. It’s one of the reasons to use a modular environment in the first place, whether hardware or software. So I hope in addition to looking at Dark Matter, we dig into this topic generally. (I was just playing with feedback loops in VCV Rack, thanks to some tips from Kent Williams aka Chaircrusher.)

Embrace the darkness, and dive into the void of feedback.

Uh… oh yeah, tech specs.

FEATURES:
-Input VCA with gain and soft clipping
-2 band equaliser with voltage controlled bass and treble boost/overdrive
-Voltage controlled feedback
-External feedback section for making and fine tuning loops through other modules
-Voltage controlled crossfade between input and feedback signals
-Input tracking envelope follower for adding ducking and gating effects
-10 I/O jacks for adding CV and making crazy loops

TECHNICAL DETAILS:
– 13 HP
– PTC fuse and diode protected 10-pin power connector
– 24 mm deep
– power consumption +12V: < 75mA; -12V: <75 mA

More details and online ordering available on Bastl’s Website:

https://www.bastl-instruments.com/modular/dark-matter/

265 EUR excl. TAX from Bastl’s own noise.kitchen and select retailers, available now.

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Here’s an Electro-Harmonix pedal in concrete, for some reason

So many questions. Someone decided to encase their Electro-harmonix Big Muff Pi Distortion / Sustainer in concrete, and now wants to/is forced to get rid of it.

I could make snarky comments here, but of course there’s already a forum thread with that going on.

So, I’ll stick to the facts. Yes, it includes a power adapter.

The seller also bundles two 56″-long (1.4m) cables. It feels to me like this should really have a 20 meter TS cable without explanation.

It weighs … 15 pounds / 6.8 kg. If there’s a heavier guitar pedal out there, I definitely don’t know about it. Challengers?

The three knobs and footswitch are still accessible, so it should still function normally, once you lug it to wherever you want to play.

And it costs an even $500.

No word on whether three of Jimmy Hoffa’s toes are also located inside.

Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi In Concrete Block [Reverb.com]

I am definitely not collecting affiliate revenue on this if you buy it, but I wouldn’t really have the heart. If you buy it, and I meet you, I will buy you a couple of rounds. Just try not to drop it on my foot.

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A haunting ambient sci-fi album about a message from Neptune

Latlaus Sky’s Pythian Drift is a gorgeous ambient concept album, the kind that’s easy to get lost in. The set-up: a probe discovered on Neptune in the 26th Century will communicate with just one woman back on Earth.

The Portland, Oregon-based artists write CDM to share the project, which is accompanied by this ghostly video (still at top). It’s the work of Ukrainian-born filmmaker Viktoria Haiboniuk (now also based in Portland), who composed it from three years’ worth of 120mm film images.

Taking in the album even before checking the artists’ perspective, I was struck by the sense of post-rocket age music about the cosmos. In this week when images of Mars’ surface spread as soon as they were received, a generation that grew up as the first native space-faring humans, space is no longer alien and unreachable, but present.

In slow-motion harmonies and long, aching textures, this seems to be cosmic music that sings of longing. It calls out past the Earth in hope of some answer.

The music is the work of duo Brett and Abby Larson. Brett explains his thinking behind this album:

This album has roots in my early years of visiting the observatory in Sunriver, Oregon with my Dad. Seeing the moons of Jupiter with my own eyes had a profound effect on my understanding of who and where I was. It slowly came to me that it would actually be possible to stand on those moons. The ice is real, it would hold you up. And looking out your black sky would be filled with the swirling storms of Jupiter’s upper clouds. From the ice of Europa, the red planet would be 24 times the size of the full moon.

Though these thoughts inspire awe, they begin to chill your bones as you move farther away from the sun. Temperatures plunge. There is no air to breathe. Radiation is immense. Standing upon Neptune’s moon Triton, the sun would begin to resemble the rest of the stars as you faded into the nothing.

Voyager two took one of the only clear images we have of Neptune. I don’t believe we were meant to see that kind of image. Unaided our eyes are only prepared to see the sun, the moon, and the stars. Looking into the blue clouds of the last planet you cannot help but think of the black halo of space that surrounds the planet and extends forever.

I cannot un-see those images. They have become a part of human consciousness. They are the dawn of an unnamed religion. They are more powerful and more fearsome than the old God. In a sense, they are the very face of God. And perhaps we were not meant to see such things.

This album was my feeble attempt to make peace with the blackness. The immense cold that surrounds and beckons us all. Our past and our future.

The album closes with an image of standing amidst Pluto’s Norgay mountains. Peaks of 20,000 feet of solid ice. Evening comes early in the mountains. On this final planet we face the decision of looking back toward Earth or moving onward into the darkness.

Abby with pedals. BOSS RC-50 LoopStation (predecessor to today’s RC-300), Strymon BlueSky, Electro Harmonix Soul Food stand out.

Plus more on the story:

Pythia was the actual name of the Oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece. She was a real person who, reportedly, could see the future. This album, “Pythian Drift” is only the first of three parts. In this part, the craft is discovered and Dr. Amala Chandra begins a dialogue with the craft. Dr Chandra then begins publishing papers that rock the scientific world and reformulate our understanding of mathematics and physics. There is also a phenomenon called Pythian Drift that begins to spread from the craft. People begin to see images and hear voices, prophecies. Some prepare for an interstellar pilgrimage to the craft’s home galaxy in Andromeda.

Part two will be called Black Sea. Part three will be Andromeda.

And some personal images connected to that back story:

Brett as a kid, with ski.

Abby aside a faux fire.

More on the duo and their music at the Látlaus Ský site:

http://www.latlaussky.com/

Check out Viktoria’s work, too:

https://www.jmiid.com/

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Roland’s little VT-4 vocal wonder box just got new reverbs

Roland’s VT-4 is more than a vocal processor. It’s best thought of as a multi-effects box that happens to be vocal friendly. And it’s getting deeper, with new reverb models, downloadable now.

Roland tried this once before with an AIRA vocoder/vocal processor, the VT-1. But that model proved a bit shallow: limited presets and pitch control only through the vocal input meant that it works great in some situations, but doesn’t fit others.

The VT-4 is really about retaining a simple interface, but adding a lot more versatility (and better sound).

As some of you noted in comments when I wrote it up last time, it’s not a looper. (Roland or someone else will gladly sell you one of those.) But what you do get are dead simple controls, including intuitive access to pitch, formant, balance, and reverb on faders. And you can control pitch through either a dial on the front panel or MIDI input. I’ll have a full hands-on review soon, as I’m particularly interested in this as a live processor for vocalists and other live situations.

If your use case is sometimes you want a vocoder, and sometimes you want some extra effects, and sometimes you’re playing with gear or sometimes with a laptop, the VT-4 is all those things. It’s got USB audio support, so you can pack this as your only interface if you just need mic in and stereo output.

And it has a bunch of effects now: re-pitch, harmonize, feedback, chorus, vocoder, echo, tempo-synced delay, dub delay … and some oddities like robot and megaphone and radio. More on that next time.

This update brings new reverb effects. They’re thick, lush, digital-style reverbs:

DEEP REVERB
LARGE REVERB
DARK REVERB
… and the VT-1’s rather nice retro-ish reverb is back as VT-1 REVERB

Deep dark say what? So the VT-1 reverb already was deeper (more reflections) and had a longer tail than the new VT-4 default; that preset restores those possibilities. “Deep” is deeper (more reflections). “Large” has longer duration reflections or simulates a larger room. And “DARK” is like the default, but with more high frequency filtering. You’ll flash the new settings via USB.

Roland is pushing more toward adding features to their gear over time, now via the AIRA minisite, so you can grab this pack there:
https://aira.roland.com/soundlibrary/reverb-pack-1/

And this being Japan, they introduce the pack by saying “It will set you in a magnificent space.” Yes, indeed, it will. That’s lovely.

The VT-4 got a firmware update, too.

1. PITCH AND FORMANT can be active now irrespective of input signal level and length, via a new settings. (Basically, this lets you disable a tracking threshold, I think. I have to play with this a bit.)
2. ROBOT VOICE now won’t hang notes; it disables with note off events.
3. There’s a new MUTE function setting.

VT-4 page:
http://www.roland.co.in/products/vt-4/

I mean, a really easy-to-use pitch + vocoder + delay + reverb for just over $200, and sometimes you can swap it for an audio interface? Seems a no brainer to me. So if you have some questions or things you’d like me to try with this unit I just got in, let me know.

http://www.roland.co.in/products/vt-4/

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