Moog Matriarch puts all your analog sound shaping in one keyboard

Moog has taken the elements of their semi-modular line and given it a flagship – a patchable, calico-colored keyboard with sequencer, 4-voice paraphonic synth, and effects in one keyboard.

The pitch: even before you plug in cables to the copious patch points here, you can quickly get evolving strings of dreamy chords (or rich melodies), complete with delay and modulation. Those extra (analog, they want you to remember) specs aren’t just about more features. They’re about dialing in imaginative sounds. And so the Matriarch is an all-in-one keyboard that draws from Moog’s modular legacy, but in an integrated design you can use both with and without patching.

We’re definitely living in a weird timestream. When I started writing about music tech and joined Keyboard in the early 2000s, “workstation” keyboards were digital affairs, with functionality hidden deep in menus and screens. The key was to put as many instruments as possible – analog synthesis being seen as something retro and niche. Moog for their part had the Voyager, which took the Minimooog line in the direction of new analog exploration. But even Moog’s offering was primarily connected with MIDI cables, and had a touch panel right on the front.

Now, CV and gate – analog interconnects – are standard equipment alongside MIDI. People are happy to twist knobs rather than just dial up presets. (We, uh, could have told manufacturers that all along. Here’s a hint: if it’s fun, we’ll like it. Hence the term “play” music.)

And even if Moog are still (happily) outside the mainstream, there’s nothing saying their Matriarch has anything but broad appeal.

So here’s a keyboard proudly with wires popping out the top. And while Moog prominently tout “all-analog signal path” and “retro” design, we’re really seeing ourselves back in the parallel universe where analog synthesis never went away. On one hand, we’ve come full circle to some of the features first introduced in analog synthesis, but now it’s clearer what they’re for and how to make them more accessible. So for all its 1970s-derived features (Moog name included), the Matriarch is inventive in a way that makes sense in 2019.

Moog are pulling from the modular world, too, more aggressively than ever. Not only is this patchable, but the design does imagine a series of modules. So you get Minimoog oscillators, a mixer, classic Moog filters, envelopes and sound shapers. They’ve also built in a sequencer/arpeggiator.

The voice configuration allows mono, duo, and paraphonic playing modes, plus you have four notes per step in the sequencer.

My sense is what will make this interesting is the multiple modes on the filters combined with a Moogerfooger-like analog delay and tons of modulation. So you have dual ADSR envelopes and dual analog amplifiers, and two filters you can use in parallel or stereo or series. The delay is stereo (and ping/pong if you want) up to 700 ms – still waiting on Moog to tell me how short that delay can go.

Oh yeah, and ring mod possibilities also sound interesting. Plus they’ve got mults in there for making patching deeper onboard.

Specs:

Mono, duo, and 4-note paraphonic playability
Stereo analog delay with up to 700ms of stereo or ping/pong style repeats
256-step sequencer with up to four notes per step and 12 stored patterns
Arpeggiator with selectable modes (Order, Forward/Backward, Random)
Semi-modular analog synthesizer—no patching required
90 modular patch points for endless exploration
Expressive 49-note Fatar keyboard with patchable velocity and aftertouch
Four analog oscillators with selectable waveshape and hard sync per-oscillator
Full-range analog LFO with six selectable waveshapes
Dual analog filters with parallel (HP/LP), stereo (LP/LP), and series (HP/LP) modes available
Dual analog ADSR envelopes
Dual analog VCAs
Three bipolar voltage controlled attenuators with ring mod capability
2×4 parallel wired unbuffered mults
Additional simple analog LFO useful for adding modulation to delay, filters and VCAs
1/4″ external audio input for processing guitars, drum machines, and more through Matriarch’s analog circuits
Stereo 1/4″ and 3.5mm Eurorack level audio outputs

This is a Moog and a “flagship,” so it doesn’t come cheap – US$1999. That’s not to complain about the price, but it does mean if you’re in that budget, you have a lot of options. (Sitting next to me as I write this is Polyend’s Medusa along with Dreadbox, which has 6 voices instead of four, and some digital oscillators and modulation options that take it in a radically different direction from the Matriarch. Oddly, people complained about its price, and it costs half as much.)

I would personally be pretty tempted by Moog’s own Grandmother, the Matriarch’s baby sibling – with a street price around $800. It’s a monosynth, and the whole architecture is scaled accordingly. (It also has a spring reverb tank in place of the Matriarch’s delay). But you could use the saved money for a little Eurorack skiff.

That said, the Matriarch is a thoughtful, colorful, appealing new top-of-the-line for this family of Moogs. And it gets a Moogfest limited edition at the festival happening now – plus a lot of artists gathered who I’m sure will really want one.

https://www.moogmusic.com/news/introducing-matriarch

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Pioneer Squid is a monster standalone sequencer for your gear

Forget for a second that Pioneer is the CDJ and DJM company. Their latest TORAIZ goes a radical new direction – making what might be the biggest mainstream hardware sequencer since the MPC and Octatrack.

But a deep sequencer with MIDI and CV, for 599€ (awaiting US pricing details) – that sounds like a blockbuster.

The rise of gear for making sound has left a fairly significant hole in the market. You’ve got tons of drum machines, tons of synths, tons of grooveboxes, and then a whole black hole of semi-modular and fully-modular instruments.

But what about making, you know – a song? There aren’t so many choices for actually pulling together rhythms and melodies on all those toys. You’ve got a mishmash of internal sequencing features and devices capable of multiple tracks. But there are limited options beyond that – used Akai MPCs, the Elektron Octatrack, and Arturia BeatStep Pro being most common. The Arturia piece is cheap and cheery – and shows up astride an amazing number of fancy Eurorack rigs, prized for its simplicity. But having just dusted mine off, I find its sequencing really limited.

So here’s the surprise: the company that promises a really deep sequencer, one with elaborate rhythmic features that happily get you off the grid and bending time if you want, is … Pioneer.

The SQUID is certainly in a funny position. On one hand, it’s a natural for real gearheads and synth nerds. On the other, it’s a Pioneer product, so you can bet marketing and DJ press alike will try to say this is about “DJs getting into production” or … something. (No! DJs! Stop while you still can have a social life and, like, money in your bank account! You’ll become broke antisocial hermits like the rest of us!)

But – who cares who this is for? What it does appears to do … is a hell of a lot. And while it might actually have too many features (that will be I think the main element of any test), what’s surprising is that it isn’t a me-too sequencer. Despite the pads and step structure, Pioneer have made an effort to let musicians get off the grid and bend and warp time – so maybe drum machines can have soul again.

First, the predictable bit – it is a pad-based step sequencer, yes:

16 multicolored LED rubber pads with velocity sensitivity
Step record patterns
Live / real-time recording
Scale mode
Per-step automation recording (at least it seems that way – “parameter locks” or p-locks as known to users of other hardware)
Interpolation – this lets you set a beginning, middle, and end on steps and let the machine transition between them, a bit like creating automated envelopes
Harmonizer with up to six chords assigned to buttons
Chord mode with 18 built-in chord sets (I’m curious how customizable this is, as I’d rather the machine not make harmonies for me)
Transpose phrases on the fly
Up to five MIDI CCs on external devices
Randomizer (which covers everything, even CCs)
Pattern Set – this is interesting; it lets you lock in a combination of patterns into an arrangement, a bit like you can do with scenes in Ableton Live

And you can run sequences in different directions (bounce, reverse, whatever), as expected.

Multiple loops. Trigger probability – yeah, Pioneer are ready to take on Elektron here.

Already appealing and powerful, but it’s the real-time manipulation features that go in a new direction.

Speed modulation: look out, locked-bpm techno, because the SQUID can modulate speeds via six waveform shapes (triangle, sawtooth – please tell me there’s a random/S&H mode, too)

Groove bend: yes, there’s Swing, but there’s also “Groove Bend” which lets you use a slider to change timing. (I really hope there’s a way to optionally impact pitch, too, CDJ-style.)

Instant double-, half- speed triggers, too.

You can also shift the Scale and Arpeggiator knobs in real time, meaning… yeah, you can go super free jazz with this if you want.

There’s even an automatic mode that saves your jams even when you don’t hit record. (Ableton Live recently introduced this feature, joining a number of DAWs that have had it over the years.)

And yeah, it works with USB, MIDI, 2 sets of CV/gate, clock and DIN sync. It’s ready for your hardware from the 80s until now.

There’s even software for managing sequence patterns, projects, and MIDI clips – so you can save your work librarian style for live performances, and finish off tracks on the computer with patterns you made on the hardware.

Specs: 64 steps, 8 notes per step, 64 patterns, 128 projects.

I mean – we are sure this is a Pioneer product, right? Did someone get into our brains and make what we want?

I have a lot of questions. Step resolution seems fixed at 32nd notes, without mention of tuplets or other rhythms. I don’t see a listing for ppq resolution (the timing resolution of the sequencer). Performance reliability is something to test. Pioneer talks polyrhythms but I have some questions there.

But – wow. Yes. Let’s test this. Pioneer have so far given us some strange and mostly expensive “producer” devices lately, but this is different. This looks like it has the first shot of being the Pioneer gear every producer wants to buy – not just the Pioneer gear you use when you show up at the club. I can’t wait to get my hands on this so we can share with you what it does and how it might (or might not) fit your needs.

Obligatory promo video. Uh… someone stole Native Instruments’ typography and sci-fi light effects. But no matter – Pioneer made this device before NI did. (Okay, I’m buying the next round of beers in Kreuzberg after that comment, sorry, but it had to be said.)

The competition? It’s boutique, for sure, but the Synthstrom Deluge is the real rival:

It’s more compact than the Pioneer. And this really comes down to whether you want a 4×4 grid with a lot of dedicated triggers, or a whole bunch of pads and the Synthstrom’s nested editing capabilities. What’s really, really nice about the Deluge is, it has an internal synth engine and even sample playback. And ironically, that makes the Deluge better suited than Pioneer’s offering to taking a live project into a DJ booth – because you don’t have to reserve an entire table full of gear just to make sounds. That said, I think making a product dedicated to sequencing does free up the designers to focus on that workflow.

There should be room for both in the market; the workflow is very different, even apart from Synthstrom’s internal sound engine.

I feel bad I haven’t given the Deluge more time on CDM, so – now, no more excuses, I’ll get both these units in for a proper test.

All product details:

https://www.pioneerdj.com/en-us/product/production/toraiz-squid/black/overview/

I’m a child of the 80s, but every time Pioneer writes that this is “the heartbeat of your studio,” I think of old Chevrolet “heartbeat of America” ads. Is that just me? Okay, it’s just me.

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Behringer update: TC-Helicon hardware mimics IK Multimedia products

The Behringer effect: TC-Helicon, once known for its high-end gear for vocalists, is now a badge on a line of products copying the layout and design of existing IK Multimedia products.

Chinese news site Midifan has the news. (Content in Chinese language only, but the pictures tell the story reasonably well.) Midifan is careful to use the term “tribute” in describing these copies/clones or whatever you might call them, after having earned the ire of Music Group over past reporting (links below). Images here are from Midifan.

TC-Helicon and parent TC Electronic had been independent companies until acquired by MUSIC Group (aka MUSIC Tribe Global Brands, more commonly known by the name of their CEO, and their cornerstone music brand, Behringer). That news item from 2015:

MUSIC Group Acquires TC Group

The new TC-Helicon line of mobile audio / mobile guitar products uses form factors, near-identical case designs and control layouts, and in some cases even identical panel labels and symbols to products from Italian manufacturer IK Multimedia.

The products in question, and the existing products they closely resemble:
TC-Helicon GO VOCAL (IK Multimedia iRig PRE)
TC-Helicon GO TWIN (IK Multimedia iRig DUO)
TC-Helicon GO ACOUSTIC (IK Multimedia iRig Acoustic Stage)
TC-Helicon GO GUITAR PRO (IK Multimedia iRig HD 2)

See the original line of iRig products at IK Multimedia

收归 Behringer 的 TC-Helicon 也学会了致敬,IK Multimedia 哭晕在厕所 [Midifan full gallery of images, comparisons]

The products will get IK’s attention, the branding could be taken as a shot at Japan. Roland uses the GO brand for its mobile products: GO:MIXER, GO:PIANO, and GO:KEYS. This line is both intended for use with smartphones and targeted at beginners.

Indicating they intend to try to protect that trademark, Roland filed for protection for its GO line last fall. (There’s one refusal listed, but non-final.)

Do check the Midifan story for a more detailed breakdown.

Unlike some recent Behringer “tributes,” you couldn’t argue the GO Series is bringing back a decades-old analog design or making the category more affordable. Street prices on the TC line look roughly in line with pricing on the IK products that preceded them, and those prices are in turn under a hundred bucks. Major US retailers like Sweetwater, Guitar Center, and MusiciansFriend are already selling the TC products.

In terms of listed specs, the GO Series also appear to correspond exactly to the associated IK products – “clones” would be the most appropriate word. (The iRig Pre and GO Vocal, for instance, share 9V battery, jack and I/O configuration, placement, and control layout. The TC unit is slightly larger.)

This sort of precedent could harm the music products industry. Cloned products from any manufacturer could easily let competitors establish which categories are lucrative, and then save money twice over – spared the expense of designing the product itself, as well as ramping up production and determining what sells in the marketplace. In the past, what has stopped a scenario like this has been brand – a no-name clone could come along, but musicians are more likely to trust a brand they know and can easily find. But now that Music Group owns respected brands like TC-Helicon, and has distribution in the same channels, that barrier could disappear.

There are already implications for IK should this product catch on; more so, if the pattern is repeated. New product designs could be endangered, if another company can clone the design work, avoid all the risk of introducing a new product to the market, and then even slightly undercut price.

This is not to say TC doesn’t continue to represent new design – a new GO-branded mixer for audio use by streamers appears to be original (unless someone wants to dispute that). The other way this could go would be for Music Tribe to dilute the value of their own TC-Helicon brand, much as Behringer has become associated with low-cost copies in the minds of some consumers.

For now, IK’s existing market position means their products will show up first when you search, and have some customer reviews on the US sites I checked.

We’ll watch to see if there’s any legal action taken against Music Tribe over these products.

In other Behringer/Music Tribe legal news

Disputes between Music Group and other players in the industry continue to spill over into the courts.

Family-owned US maker Auratone is locked in trademark litigation with Music Tribe over the Auratone name, following the death of Auratone’s founder Jack Wilson. You can follow that case online, though there’s not yet a decision.

The Superior Court of the State of California in San Francisco County did rule that Music Group was obligated to pay over $100,000 in combined costs and legal fees to Dave Smith Instruments and DSI employee Anthony Karavidas. (California has robust anti-SLAPP protections, which are intended to stop litigation from gagging public speech.)

Previously:

On the DSI case:

Behringer sued Dave Smith Instruments, forum posters, and lost

Behringer’s tangle with leading Chinese music tech news site Midifan (which has since prompted the use of the word “tribute” in favor of copycat):

Behringer threatens legal action against a site that called it a copycat

And Behringer responded to that CDM report (and additionally questioned this site’s neutrality and reporting):

Behringer responds to reports, defends reverse engineering

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AKAI’s cute little MPK mini keyboard now has internal sounds

AKAI’s MPK mini was already something of a sleeper hit – a simple MIDI controller keyboard that was small enough to be irresistible. But the latest revision makes it useful even all by its lonesome.

MPK mini play is what AKAI are calling the latest edition. It’s actually the second major revision of this unassuming little keyboard. The gamepad-style pitch/mod joystick had already packed in a bit more control features, in addition to the handy pads, banks, and a built-in arpeggiator.

But all of that was just for use with a computer, connected via USB. The “play” version will now work standalone. There are 128 built-in instrument sounds and 10 drum kits in the internal sound module, plus a crisp OLED display so you can find the sound you want. AA battery power means this is all at your ready without even power nearby. There’s even a built-in speaker so you can hear what you’re doing.

You can also make Favorites, which compile a Keys patch, a Drums patch, and settings for the knobs.

Heck, it’s even got a sustain pedal input and a headphone jack.

I’ll be totally honest – I tried to look up what sounds are in there, and couldn’t. I know the screenshot already has an 808 kit – sold yet?

It almost doesn’t seem to matter. I can’t think of another keyboard that could work as an iPad or computer accessory on USB power, then also a standalone jamming keyboard. Studio ready, picnic ready, too. Seems a good move in time for summer (Northern Hemisphere, anyway).

I gush only because the MPK mini is one of those things that you buy sort of as a throwaway, then wind up using more than everything else, just because it’s so small and convenient. It also has the advantage of taking up so little space that even when other gear in the studio competes for space, it has a way of staying by your computer keyboard instead of going on the shelf.

(Judge me by my size, do you?)

https://www.akaipro.com/mpk-mini-play-mpkminiplay

Midifan in China have a hands-on with more pictures / unboxing (worth looking even before you reach for Google Translate to try to work out what they’re saying, if you don’t speak Chinese).

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Elektron’s Model:Samples just got more useful: change samples per step

Elektron’s Model:Samples was always appealing – some of the best bits of an Elektron groovebox, but with a smaller size and price tag. But one limitation might hold you back: six tracks, and only six samples? That changes with an update: now you can change samples inside a pattern. Sample locks are here.

1.02 shipped quietly on the 29th of last month; Andreas, our reviewer, got an early build. There’s not much in the way of documentation:

Sample locks functionality has been added. It lets you assign a specific sample on any step of the sequencer. It is possible to sample lock up to 26 different samples in each pattern.

But this is a big deal. Six parts with only one sample per part is pretty restrictive. Now, instead, you could take a sample, slice it into 26 bits, and then play the various slices. Or you could slice up melodies. Or you could add more complex percussion parts. The thing is, this is more or less exactly what you want – restricting to six parts can be genuinely musically useful (as more can get overly dense), but now each of those parts need not be quite so, you know, repetitive.

This release also includes a number of bug fixes. But sample locks might just be the thing that tempts us over to this device.

Keep in mind the 1.01 OS (as we tested) included some other improvements, including separate MIDI channel configuration (ideal for use with other gear) and simplified LFO locks.

I also like that the Model:Samples has a transfer utility for custom samples. Roland. Cough. TR-8S. Like any day now. Thanks! (and let’s not even start in on the volca sample’s awful sample loading mechanism… just no.)

Sure, it’s still not a sampler – no record capability. And yes, there are boxes that do more. And… well, if you’re on a budget, you should also check out used KORG machines. But this is still something unlike anything else at the price, with Elektron workflows and serious polyrhythmic capabilities plus lots of hands-on fun and great sound.

Release notes:

More:
https://www.elektron.se/products/modelsamples/

1.01 release notes

And definitely check our hands-on review. It’d be easy to dismiss this hardware, but I think Andreas really explains why it’s cool. (And yeah, I personally like it more than even the more-capable Digitakt.)

Review: can Elektron’s Model:Samples get everyone into hardware?

Our friends at Synthtopia got a demo of the new feature at Synthplex:

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Oops: April Fools’, at best, gave us stuff we actually want

Well, congratulations – you’ve survived another April Fools’ holiday. At worst, it can be unfunny and confusing. At best, though, it raises a different question – should we actually start dreaming up and making more ridiculous ideas?

Okay, I don’t necessarily want to be the grinch of April Fools’. And maybe now is not the right time to raise this – like, someone might say that it could have something to do with the fact that I attempted a product launch on the holiday, uh, yesterday. (What? That was me? Oh, yeah – it was. MeeBlip geode is not a joke. We are really making it. And um… yeah, that did wind up hitting some confusion, even though there’s nothing particularly April Fools-y about geode.)

While it’s had some glimmers of clever parody, the collision of April Fools’ with an attention-starved Internet has led to a noisy confusion of a bunch of people deciding to write parody press releases and videos, and the ideas can get repetitive. And it can confuse everyone about real news – not just ours. This year, the date came between two of the bigger synth and electronic music events of the year – sandwiched not more than 24 hours apart from Synthplex in the USA and Musikmesse in Frankfurt, Germany. (Yes, Messe is again a thing; even with Superbooth in Berlin stealing away modular makers, there’s a lot of musical instruments business outside modular, a lot of distributors in Germany, an entire industry around lighting tech, the music education business in Germany, and a competitive Messe organization slashing rates on booths, so expect it to stick around.)

But about the fake products we wish were real products … sigh, again.

Biggest culprit: KORG.

Yeah, okay, it’s probably not terribly practical for KORG to make a cassette volca. On the other hand, it’s not just the Rickroll video that’s tonedeaf to 2019 – lots of us have repurposed our cassette decks. I have a Yamaha multitrack sitting next to me in the studio wired up. People are making tape loops with Walkmans. There are tape labels. Bastl Instruments and Teenage Engineering, among others, have made digital decks that reimagine tape loops and tape playback. And having seen weird tape players show up on Amazon, I expect it’s not impossible to make new hardware that includes mechanical tape playback in it.

So the joke’s really on KORG here. Instead of getting pranked or sharing this because it was funny, literally thousands of people jumped on the idea of a KORG volcasette. (Obviously the biggest clue in – using KORG’s volca series nomenclature, it should have been KORG cassette or KORG tape. Just sayin’.)

The proposed features of this thing already exist on multitrack tape recorders, but the mind reels with other possibilities – looping, sampling, strange custom tape echoes…

And yes, of course there was the Ableton’s ReChorder – maybe the one amusing part of the parody there was, the awful music at the end does kind of remind me of some terrible demos of unusual instruments over the years. This one we can at least leave out of the instances of products people would want.

But even silly April Fools’ products can go viral – perhaps because we live in a world where brands are doing such strange things already, it’s not clear how you could make a joke that was any more absurd.

So, a HYPERX CUP MIX-IN pair of headphones shaped like two Cup Noodles containers and a fork had some of us … wanting instant ramen … and others actually wanting to try to buy the product. (Various blogs even picked this up assuming it was real.) I have a pair of Beats by Dre headphones in white that I suddenly want to mod to actually do this.

Useful? No. Possible to DIY? Yes. Tempting? Oh, indeed. (I’m sure some sort of ramen container housing could work.)

CUP NOODLES®
HYPERX CUP MIX-IN

Then there was this USB-C hub covered in legacy ports. Except… yeah, I definitely would buy something like that. (SCSI for old drives? Actual analog video? Tons of extra ports, or card readers?)

Sure, this is … not totally possible. But parts of it are and … you know you want it. Their ridiculous specs, though take any subset of these and you might be happy.

Thick, heavy, substantial styling.
Built-in 100Wh / 27000mAh airline-safe battery pack
2-in-1 speaker and space heater using the same front air vent holes (temperature depending on the number of active connections)
USB-C hub with a total of 40 ports
9 x USB-C
9 x USB-A
2 x microSD
2 x SD
1 x 3.5mm Audio Jack
1 x HDMI
2 x DisplayPort
1 x Mini DVI
1 x VGA
1 x Ethernet
1 x Modem RJ-11
1 x Optical Audio “Toslink”
1 x Firewire 400
1 x Firewire 800
2 x RCA
1 x Parallel Port
1 x Serial Port
1 x PS/2
1 x AT Port
1 x 3.5” Floppy Disk Drive

Hyper Releases The Mother Of All USB-C Hubs

Hey, there is a lot of bandwidth on Thunderbolt 3. I think this particular device might catch fire. But it is possible to have more ports.

Part of the reason this isn’t a joke: a friend urgently needed to pull files off a SCSI drive. I wound up looking back at Apple machines from just around the turn of the century, which in fact had every port you could imagine. The bronze keyboard PowerBook G3 Series, for instance, includes both USB and SCSI – and since it runs used for $200, you can actually buy that entire laptop to transfer data from legacy drives more easily than you can buy a modern SCSI adapter. (The adapters appear to be both more expensive and more scarce than the entire computers.)

Or for a more extreme example, consider the PowerMac G3 Series. This machine was everything Steve Jobs stamped out at Apple – boxy, with a beige slightly curved-out ID design language that mostly evolved under CEO John Sculley. But it sure had ports. Photo (CC-BY-SA) Miguel Durán.

Maybe you’ll rescue the legacy devices, but I do miss analog video – badly. And the notion of professional machines where you might actually connect various hardware, that bit still seems relevant. I love compact and friendly devices, but I also love choice.

And of course the only real joke is trying to figure out how to buy a USB-C device or cable … ahem … (to say nothing of those Apple cable prices).

Maybe the bottom line here, though, is that one person’s joke is another person’s dream. Some of the best, most creative ideas start as jokes. April Fools’ as far as I’m concerned in tech just needs to go away – it’s a day that adds noise and confusion to media that don’t need more of that, ever. But here’s another approach: maybe we should be willing to dream up absurd ideas the other 364 days of the year.

You know.

See any April Fools’ jokes you wish were real – and anybody up for actually making it happen?

Time to pick up a Walkman at the next flea market and start hacking; that’s for sure.

[Side note – unless you think I’m alone in this, The Verge has been pointing out April Fools’ as the (literally) Medieval time waster that needs to die. And Microsoft also banned April Fools’, which might itself seem like a punchline, except that … no, we really want you to be focused on your damned software, actually, so agreed.]

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MeeBlip geode is the monosynth we always wanted to make

What we love most about synths is wild, weird, dirty sounds – and getting our hands on them. Our new MeeBlip geode focuses on what we think is the best of our synth line.

The goal, as always: make a box that’s easy to play, and that adds a unique sound and personality that doesn’t exist elsewhere. And then make sure it’s fun to twist knobs and make sounds. That’s geode – coming soon, with an intro price of US$149.95 (plus tax/shipping as applicable).

geode more than ever delivers raw, grimy digital sounds that cut as leads and rattle floors as bass, coupled with our signature, screaming resonant analog filter. Let’s have a listen to the sounds of this little box.

I constructed a whole track out of layered MeeBlip parts – each percussion hit, each synth noise. It’s all dry, apart from some EQ on the kick drum (just filtering out the very low end and some of the treble). I also made use of the LFO as a kind of impromptu pitch envelope.

For some longer timbres, here’s an ambient track made with just two MeeBlip geode parts, also recorded live and completely dry:

And as always, this is all about getting direct, hands-on control of each element of the sound (or sequencing each parameter via MIDI):

geode is the fourth major generation of the MeeBlip line created by engineer James Grahame (Blipsonic), as a collaboration with CDM. We’ve been humbled by the response – the original/SE, anode, and triode have all seen critical acclaim. And users have gotten creative, from mods and hacks (including using open source code and circuits), to musical uses in clubs and experimental shows alike.

MeeBlip geode is the culmination of all of the best features of all those different generations. It’s got the sound features and extra controls from the original (including bringing noise back), the anode/triode filter that remains unlike what’s on other synths, the most cutting waveforms, and all the subtle improvements James has cooked up over the years. It’s still compact, but expands to a palm-sized rectangle with more controls. It’s got great-feeling new knobs and some new tweaks.

And for the first time, we have USB MIDI support, so you can connect and power geode with any computer or compatible mobile device. (MIDI DIN is still there, so your gear from the 80s works, too.)

We think the result is a unique, boutique synth, whether it’s your first hardware or the latest of many. We hope you enjoy it.

To get James’ production line running again in Calgary – yes, your synths are hand-tested by the engineer – we’re starting geode as a preorder, for those who want to be first in line for our latest instrument. Order now and we’ll ship starting May 15-31. Available direct exclusively from us, shipped from Canada. (Taxes and shipping will apply for your area.)

Come visit us at MeeBlip.com – and let me know if you have any questions.

https://meeblip.com/

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SPICE is a one-stop modular distortion box – and it needs support

Saturation, distortion, warmth, fuzz – it’s what keeps a lot of us coming back to machines. SPICE is a modular distortion on Kickstarter, suitable for Eurorack or desktop use alike – and it’s getting reader attention partly because it isn’t over the funding line quite yet.

The big picture for SPICE from Plankton Electronics is modular distortion in an integrated, multifunctional design, with sounds ranging from digital crushing to tube distortion, ranging from warm saturation to grimy fuzz.

That functionality you can then get however you like. Want the whole thing as a single desktop unit? Go for it – even if you don’t own any other modular. Want to take that same integrated unit and rack it? Done – as a 38HP Eurorack. Prefer individual modules? Want them assembled? Want them as DIY kits you assemble yourselves? Every option is here.

This is all partly the story of a tube from KORG – the Nutube. This new Japanese-made tube, drawing from fluorescent display tech, sounds like conventional tubes but has an atypically long life and dramatically smaller size. And it uses a tiny amount of the power of tubes – think 2%. That’s not the only distortion / saturation on offer here, but it does allow a full complement of distortion types without requiring a bunch of power or space.

So you get to choose which distortion you want:

  • Clean amplification and filter, no distortion (“boost”)
  • Soft clip saturation
  • Hard clip saturation / distortion
  • Nu-tube distortion – one or two at once (for double double your distortion, double double your enjoyment… etc.)
  • Transistor fuzz (strong clipping)
  • Stomp box filtered high gain distortion, guitar pedal style

Distortion? Yes:

And you can combine these in loads of different ways – which is where the modular bit comes in. You can choose digital or analog, mix and prefilter, or apply an envelope follower to shape the sound.

And, of course, there’s feedback – lots of it.

It’s technical semimodular in that it’s prepatched for a lot of functions, but you can modify it from there.

Sliced into three modules, you get a choice [links to Modulagrid]:
NUTONE VCA and distortion based on the Nutube
SPICEVCF including the analog filter (LP, BP, HP) with tons of CV control and XMOD to self-modulate the filter
ENVF envelope follower

The tube module looks excellent on its own, but mostly I think the draw here is the combined distortion toolkit.

So how much does this cost? You’ll get actual hardware starting around 25EUR, and kits for around 55EUR+. Assembled modules start around 85EUR and then the full modular system will cost you around 450-500EUR, all in. (Prices will be more with VAT … and please, no more lecturing me about how the VAT system works, readers, I live in Germany and own a GmbH; most of our readers are outside the VAT system and don’t owe this tax. They’ve explained all the different prices on their site.)

Spice as modules.

I wasn’t so familiar with this Barcelona-based team before, but they’ve done some really nice work – and have gotten input here from a lot of our friends in the modular and synth community, from Endorphine.es to Befaco to Olivier Ozoux.

And even before I heard from them, a couple of readers wrote hoping CDM would cover this project as they want to see it funded. I hear you – I do, too.

I also love this idea – their SPICE Metapatch software is a Web-era take on the patch book. Instead of drawing with a pencil, you store patch ideas in a Web interface. (It’s still just a picture, but it means you’re free from erasures and terrible drawing skills. Hold on… that projecting thing I do, sometimes, that might be happening again.)

There’s 10 days left. They’re past the halfway mark, so let’s see if the CDM bump helps them out.

Plankton Electronics SPICE – Modular Saturation Unit [Kickstarter]

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Moog teases spectral shift invention for Moogfest

Moogfest is inbound, and that means some new, limited quantity creation of the engineers at Moog. This year it’s a fascinating looking spectral shift module.

The packed festival season is inbound, and whereas that once meant bands and crowd pleasers, now there’s a lot of advanced technology and electronic music – from SONAR to Superbooth to MUTEK to GAMMA to Moogfest, among others.

And Moogfest with a renowned synth builder in the name, of course some of the hardware is also “headlining.” Moog this year haven’t even named their creation yet, but it seems there’s some spectral/vocoder (check the carrier knob) processing going on. They describe it thusly:

This year’s design (shown here patched into synthesizers from previous years’ Engineer Workshops) explores how electronic instruments create an analog of the human experience, speaking directly to the way in which physical circuits resonate within one’s self to create a “Spectral Shift”…

Well, watch:

I’m in another country this Moogfest, but if you splurge on an Engineer Pass, you get to make this and take it home with Moog calibration included. The lineup is filling out, too, with the likes of Daniel Miller, nd_baumecker, Jlin, Martin Gore, GAS, Mor Elian, and others (just to name a few favorites).

More:

https://www.moogmusic.com/news/moogfest-announces-initial-2019-lineup

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SSL SiX is a compact version of that legendary console goodness

Few studio consoles are coveted quite like the Solid State Logic. But SSL have had the clever idea of cutting this down to a compact, still pricey, but luxe desktop mixer. And SiX is a good indication the console is back.

Okay, this isn’t by any means going to be a cheap six-channel mixer. Think £999 +VAT, US$1499, €1199+”tax.” (Oh, yeah. I realize I have no idea what “tax” will mean for UK products in… nine days, possibly. Maybe you’ll just ship SSL some dry goods and penicillin in exchange for their mixer. Ack.)

But, you know, at that price we’re still talking something that’s in reach of a lot of independent producers. And it’s also in line with buying premium plug-ins, especially if you figure in the cost of hardware like UAD or a good audio interface. And instead of a picture on a screen of an SSL console, now you get the actual physical goods on your desk – with the actual circuitry, and no need to watch a DSP or CPU meter.

If you’re not tracking a whole lot of stuff at once, this might be perfect. It certainly makes more sense than renting a studio just to use a couple of channels on their desk.

And you get the full works of SSL stuff:

Two mic pres (SSL’s “SuperAnalogue” brand)
A one-knob version of the SSL channel compressor
Listen Mic compressor on the talkback (often used for creative effect)
Two-band channel EQ

I was skeptical at about the two-band EQ, but then SSL go into more detail – you can switch between shelf and bell curves with different center frequencies for each, so this two-band EQ is actually more versatile than a lot of three-band options. And SSL’s approach is basically, we’ll choose the EQ we think works musically for you, rather than you dialing it in.

There are also routing options borrowed from the larger consoles – two stereo cue buses so you can make independent artist mixes, main and alternate monitor outs (with a source matrix), and mono check, dim, and cut. The fader channels also have real PFL (pre-fade listen), and the Mute button routes to Bus B – which can also be a record send for your DAW, or can get routed into the monitor matrix.

And it’s really those routing options and details of the channels that might actually make this thing worthwhile in a project studio. Do I think some rich producers who have no idea how to mix will buy this thing for the brand alone? Of course!

But fitting intelligent routing options into a compact mixer and including SSL’s signature sounds – these are things I could imagine a mix engineer being happy to invest in.

See also the recent SSL Fusion, which costs about two and a half grand, but gives you SSL’s drive, EQ, compressor, stereo image, and Transformer in a handsome rack.

And there’s a message here: people are keen to buy hardware that lasts in place of software plug-ins.

So while this may not be the most sensible budget buy (uh… in case I need to state the obvious), it absolutely is an appealing design. And it’ll have quite a few people saying “mmmm, maybe I can get by with six channels and twelve-channel summing after all.”

https://solidstatelogic.com/studio/SiX

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