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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MakeProAudio announces MPA-Platform for building scalable pro audio gear

MakeProAudio MPA Wedge Mixer

MakeProAudio has announced the “you make audio gear system” for musicians, synth lovers, producers, performers, DIYers and audio anarchists. The MPA-Platform makes it easy for everyone to design and build audio gear that’s unique to their needs. Discover the freedom in building gear that works for you, in just the way you want it. Gear, […]

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Eurorack ist zu groß – wie wäre es mit 1HE-Modular mit Syinsi EuroTile?

Syinsi EuroTileSyinsi EuroTile

Syinsi ist ausgezogen, um nicht weniger als ein neues Format auszurufen, welches die gleiche Breite wie Eurorack hat, jedoch als Kacheln von 1 HE winzige Module attraktiv machen möchte. Syinsi EuroTile heißt das System.

Kacheln sind eigentlich keine schlechte Idee und klein auch nicht – es geht immer mehr in einem solchen winzigen Modul. Jedoch wird es bestimmte komplexere Elemente wohl nur bis zu einem gewissen Grad geben, denn irgendwie muss so etwas ja auch passen.

Geht sowas denn? Ja! Passt, zumindest möchte uns das Synisi-System zeigen. Ein LFO in einer 1HE Quadrat-Kachel, mit Ausgängen für drei Schwingungsformen und Tempo-Knopf. Man sieht jeweils 2 Schrauben und in der anderen Diagonale kann man die Bohrungen erkennen. Ein Filter mit allem, was man so kennt, und auch ein VCO, allerdings nur mit Sägezahn und ein weiterer mit Rechteck. Ein Sample & Hold Modul gibt es bei Syinsi EuroTileund natürlich ein VCA oder eine AR-Hüllkurve. Die Potis haben natürlich keine riesigen Kappen, sondern sind mehr oder weniger so groß wie die Achsen.

Mehr vom Syinsi EuroTile?

So ein System ist dennoch ausbaubar, sollte man etwas nicht reichen, könnte man noch immer eine Hüllkurve auch auf zwei Module ausbreiten und intern verbinden. Der eigentliche Reiz liegt aber im Kleinen – im Kompakten, denn das ist noch kleiner als das Tangible Waves AE System und kann sogar Anywares Minisizer Angst machen, weil es eben sehr konsequent modular ist.

Weitere Information

Ein komplettes System wird 499,– Dollar kosten und innerhalb dieser Kickstarter-Kampagne soll es sich finanzieren. Die wichtigste Hürde ist bereits erreicht, weshalb die Frage nicht mehr ist, ob es das System geben wird oder nicht, sondern ob man selbst dabei sein möchte. Ein System besteht aus 10 Kacheln, Netzteil und Rahmen/Gehäuse. Es soll schon Juli fertig werden und aus Kanada kommen.


Plankton Electronics launches Kickstarter for SPICE Modular Saturation Unit

Plankton Electronics Spice

Plankton Electronics has announced the launch of a Kickstarter project for its SPICE modular distortion desktop unit. SPICE is a saturator unit capable of a huge variety of sounds of colors. From subtle tube warmness to extreme fuzz distortion. SPICE features Rackable (38HP Eurorack) modular desktop unit. 8 CV inputs with led level indicators. 6 […]

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Syinsi’s EuroTile expandable modular synthesizer coming to Kickstarter

Synisi EuroTile

Syinsi has announced that it will be launching a Kickstarter project for its EuroTile small and affordable modular synthesizer on March 26th. EuroTile is a compact modular instrument built around the popular 1U Tile format. 1U Tiles are small self-contained modules used with the Eurorack modular format to add utilities in rows across a modular […]

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Erica Synths announces availability of Sample Drum and Plasma Drive

Erica Synths Sample Drum & Plasma Drive

Erica Synths has announced that its Sample Drum and Plasma Drive are now shipping and available for order. Sample Drum is 14HP eurorack sample player/sampler module with straight-forward, intuitive interface, functionality and great sound quality, designed with live performance use in mind. Live Performance-Minded: Sample Drum The Sample Drum module is composed of two identical […]

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How to make a multitrack recording in VCV Rack modular, free

In the original modular synth era, your only way to capture ideas was to record to tape. But that same approach can be liberating even in the digital age – and it’s a perfect match for the open VCV Rack software modular platform.

Competing modular environments like Reaktor, Softube Modular, and Cherry Audio Voltage Modular all run well as plug-ins. That functionality is coming soon to a VCV Rack update, too – see my recent write-up on that. In the meanwhile, VCV Rack is already capable of routing audio into a DAW or multitrack recorder – via the existing (though soon-to-be-deprecated) VST Bridge, or via inter-app routing schemes on each OS, including JACK.

Those are all good solutions, so why would you bother with a module inside the rack?

Well, for one, there’s workflow. There’s something nice about being able to just keep this record module handy and grab a weird sound or nice groove at will, without having to shift to another tool.

Two, the big ongoing disadvantage of software modular is that it’s still pretty CPU intensive – sometimes unpredictably so. Running Rack standalone means you don’t have to worry about overhead from the host, or its audio driver settings, or anything like that.

A free recording solution inside VCV Rack

What you’ll need to make this work is the free NYSTHI modules for VCV Rack, available via Rack’s plug-in manager. They’re free, though – get ready, there’s a hell of a lot of them.

Big thanks to chaircrusher for this tip and some other ones that informed this article – do go check his music.

Type “recorder” into the search box for modules, and you’ll see different options options from NYSTHI – current at least as of this writing.

2 Channel MasterRecorder is a simple stereo recorder.
2 Channel MasterReocorder 2 adds various features: monitoring outs, autosave, a compressor, and “stereo massaging.”
Multitrack Recorder is an multitrack recorder with 4- or 8-channel modes.

The multitrack is the one I use the most. It allows you to create stems you can then mix in another host, or turn into samples (or, say, load onto a drum machine or the like), making this a great sound design tool and sound starter.

This is creatively liberating for the same reason it’s actually fun to have a multitrack tape recorder in the same studio as a modular, speaking of vintage gear. You can muck about with knobs, find something magical, and record it – and then not worry about going on to do something else later.

The AS mixer, routed into NYSTHI’s multitrack recorder.

Set up your mix. The free included Fundamental modules in Rack will cover the basics, but I would also go download Alfredo Santamaria’s excellent selection , the AS modules, also in the Plugin Manager, and also free. Alfredo has created friendly, easy-to-use 2-, 4-, and 8-channel mixers that pair perfectly with the NYSTHI recorders.

Add the mixer, route your various parts, set level (maybe with some temporary panning), and route the output of the mixer to the Audio device for monitoring. Then use the ‘O’ row to get a post-fader output with the level.

(Alternatively, if you need extra features like sends, there’s the mscHack mixer, though it’s more complex and less attractive.)

Prep that signal. You might also consider a DC Offset and Compressor between your raw sources and the recording. (Thanks to Jim Aikin for that tip.)

Configure the recorder. Right-click on the recorder for an option to set 24-bit audio if you want more headroom, or to pre-select a destination. Set 4- or 8-track mode with the switch. Set CHOOSE FILE if you want to manually select where to record.

There are trigger ins and outs, too, so apart from just pressing the START and STOP buttons, you can either trigger a sequencer or clock directly from the recorder, or visa versa.

Record away! And go to town… when you’re done, you’ll get a stereo WAV file, or a 4- or 8-track WAV file. Yes, that’s one file with all the tracks. So about that…

Splitting up the multitrack file

This module produces a single, multichannel WAV file. Some software will know what to do with that. Reaper, for instance, has excellent multichannel support throughout, so you can just drag and drop into it. Adobe’s Audition CS also opens these files, but it can’t quickly export all the stems.

Software like Ableton Live, meanwhile, will just throw up an error if you try to open the file. (Bad Ableton! No!)

It’s useful to have individual stems anyway. ffmpeg is an insanely powerful cross-platform tool capable of doing all kinds of things with media. It’s completely free and open source, it runs on every platform, and it’s fast and deep. (It converts! It streams! It records!)

Installing is easier than it used to be, thanks to a cleaned-up site and pre-built binaries for Mac and Windows (plus of course the usual easy Linux installs):


Unfortunately, it’s so deep and powerful, it can also be confusing to figure out how to do something. Case in point – this audio channel manipulation wiki page.

In this case, you can use the map channel “filter” to make this happen. So for eight channels, I do this:

ffmpeg -i input.wav -map_channel 0.0.0 0.wav -map_channel 0.0.1 1.wav -map_channel 0.0.2 2.wav -map_channel 0.0.3 3.wav -map_channel 0.0.4 4.wav -map_channel 0.0.5 5.wav -map_channel 0.0.6 6.wav -map_channel 0.0.7 7.wav

But because this is a command line tool, you could create some powerful automated workflows for your modular outputs now that you know this technique.

Sound Devices, the folks who make excellent multichannel recorders, also have a free Mac and Windows tool called Wave Agent which handles this task if you want a GUI instead of the command line.


That’s worth keeping around, too, since it can also mix and monitor your output. (No Linux version, though.)

Record away!

Bonus tutorial here – the other thing apart from recording you’ll obviously want with VCV Rack is some hands-on control. Here’s a nice tutorial this week on working with BeatStep Pro from Arturia (also a favorite in the hardware modular world):

I really like this way of working, in that it lets you focus on the modular environment instead of juggling tools. I actually hope we’ll see a Fundamental module for the task in the future. Rack’s modular ecosystem changes fast, so if you find other useful recorders, let us know.



Step one: How to start using VCV Rack, the free modular software

How to make the free VCV Rack modular work with Ableton Link

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Get 80% off System 1000M modular synth sample library by Tronsonic

Tronsonic System 1000M

VST Buzz has launched a sale on the System 1000M instrument library for Kontakt by Tronsonic. The instrument takes analog modular synthesizer sounds and samples them through valve tube equipment direct to quarter inch tape. Inspired by a famous Japanese modular, with a few alternative features, “System 1000M” has plenty of modulation possibilities, providing much […]

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Mod Bits II modular synth sample pack released by OhmLab

OhmLab Mod Bits II

OhmLab has announced a new release in its popular modular synth sample library series. Mod Bits II features a diverse collection of interesting percussive sounds. Modular. Layered. Twisted. Punchy. Textured. Original. Funky. Useful. Mod Bits II is a diverse collection of interesting percussive sounds developed here in the lab. Each sample is a combination of […]

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The monster modular MacBeth Elements One, unleashed at last

It’s a module as big as Scotland and as loud as creator Ken MacBeth. But the module, spotted rarely like the folkloric monster it is, seems about to go from legend to product.

Ken MacBeth is a kind of esoteric mad genius of the synth world, so when he does flagship synths, he goes all out. The Elements line has come full circle; the Elements One was actually the first design, but it hasn’t yet seen the light of day. We got an all-in-one synthesizer in 2014 (now costing about five grand; originally listed at US$6499), the “Elements,” with a touch keyboard, and its successor, the EL2.

Ken’s vision: a “real sized” synthesizer (which for him means … very large) without “sonic compromise.” That original launch video:

That evolved into this thing with a keyboard:

But if what you want is the module that ate all the other modules, meet the Elements One.

And it is one module – a whopping 84HP / 3U in size. (I have a feeling the ideal Ken MacBeth skiff would arrive in the form of a tractor trailer. Comically, this was intended to be the first of five modules of this size – hence the number.)

Size of run: 50, planned.

Availability: “June/August.” (Those are … not consecutive months, Ken.)

We can go back to Synthtopia in December 2013 for some more clues. Think “spike” oscillators, noise, an “acidic” ladder filter, and ring modulator.

I poke fun (not poke so much as shove on something this size) – but there’s plenty to admire on these instruments, even if they’re not entirely mobile or cost conscious. They take a design nod from classic UK instruments in place of the fiddly, finger-challenging design of today’s Eurorack. And they afford tons of rich cross modulation and sound design options – fat sounding stuff.

That is, whether you want to adopt this and take it home, you do definitely want to play it. The new module will come to Berlin’s storied retailer Schneidersladen, says the manufacturer, and having played the touch keyboard iteration, I’m sure you’ll want to play this module there.

Even short of that, it’s gorgeous to behold, like seeing the Clo Mor Cliffs — okay, I’ll stop making trite Scotland references, it’s just I really would love a holiday to some natural landscapes and we’re all freaked out by Brexit. Apologies, Ken. Everyone makes 24/7 references to Kentucky Fried Chicken around me, so feel lucky.

Got distracted, cough —

Elements One!

And… presumably four more modules.

We await you.

Thanks Patrick DSP for the tip.

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