Modal goes from craft and boutique to sub-$300 SKULPT power synth

Modal Electronics have done ultra high-end boutique, and they’ve done cute, cheap craft synths. But now they’re gunning for a sub-$300 instrument that looks consumer-friendly – and packs some 32 oscillators and more.

If it’s successful, it looks like the first portable power polysynth that has an entry-level price tag – no exposed circuit boards, no cutesy features, no stripped-down sound sources. And it also has some parallels to IK Multimedia’s UNO, introduced at Superbooth Berlin in May. It even has a membrane keyboard like the IK piece. But whereas IK chose to go analog – and thus have just two VCOs – Modal have beefed up the architecture with by opting instead for virtual analog guts.

What you get, then, is a monosynth, paraphonic, or polyphonic instrument. You can route modulation into elaborate combinations. You get FM, PWM, tuning, and ring mod. And it has a built-in sequencer plus arpeggiator, which seems to be fast becoming a standard feature these days – but a lot of extras for each that definitely are anything but standard.

And with all that complexity, of course you’ll also be glad for the included patch storage and recall.

But it’s the pricing – projected under US$300 – that make this so aggressive. You can buy an iPad and load it with a powerful polysynth for that price, but there’s not anything I can think of that does this.

Full specs:

4 voice – 32 oscillator virtual analogue synthesiser
8 oscillators per voice with 2 selectable morphable waveforms
Mixer stage for osc levels along with FM, PWM, tuning and Ring Modulation options
Monophonic, Duophonic and Polyphonic modes available
Multi option Unison / spread to detune the 32 oscillators for a huge sound
8 slot modulation matrix with 8 sources and 37 destinations
3 x envelope generators for Filter, Amplitude and Modulation
2 x audio rate LFOs, one global and one polyphonic
Realtime sequencer that will record up to 128 notes and up to 4 parameters.
Fully featured arpeggiator with division, direction, octave, swing and sustain controls.
Resonant filter that can be morphed from low pass, through band pass, to high pass
Delay and distortion (wavehsaping overdrive, not bitcrushing) effects
Optional MIDI clock sync for LFOs and Delay
128 patch and 64 sequence storage locations
16 key touch MIDI keyboard
MIDI DIN In and Out – Analogue clock sync In and Out connections
Class compliant MIDI provided over USB connection to host computer or tablet
Headphone and line output
Power by USB or 6 x AA batteries
Optional software editor available for MacOS, Windows, IOS and Android
Portable and compact design

The design looks contemporary and stylish, too, if perhaps recalling 80s Frogdesign for Apple. And you might expect some compromises on I/O or something like that, but … there aren’t.

Sounds:

I’ll be curious to see how it’s received – while slick looking, the membrane keyboard and that diagonally oriented control panel may not be for everyone. But it’s hard to argue with the price and all that power underneath.

It certainly means Modal Electronics are game for any market segment. I can’t think of another maker that’s gone quite this quickly from “sell your compact car to buy our high-end synth” to “actually, maybe just fold it together yourself” to “let’s crowd-fund a slick, inexpensive design object.” (Okay, maybe Moog Music counts – but it took them some years to span from theremin kits to rockstar-priced modular reissues.)

The Kickstarter launches next week.

http://www.modalelectronics.com/skulpt/

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Erica Synths made a modular techno system called Techno System

What if you had all the modules you need to make techno and industrial in one rack? Meet Erica’s line of drum and synth modules. They seem to know their market.

Now, it’s meaningful this is coming from Erica. The Latvian-based company with some ex-Soviet Polivoks lineage has a knack for making simply mental boxes that bring that grimy, dirty industrial sound straight out of the actual post-Communist industrial landscape of Riga. If I had to sum up that user experience, it’d run something like this: turn knob, machine screams.

But that’s saying something. Making wild sounds intuitive is a feat. And Erica have earned their reputation by putting those sounds into boxes that are reliable, easy to understand, and deliver a punch without hitting the high end of the cost spectrum.

Running down these modules, you just have to keep nodding – yes, that’s what I want out of this module, and yes, that’s the sensible way to lay out these controls. I can’t really judge sound quality at a trade show, but the sound was good enough that it actually blew me away over the din of Superbooth, out of some small monitors – and that’s saying a lot. We’ll get to check out Erica’s crew at a club tonight here in Berlin, and this is one I think we’ll need to give a full review.

(Bonus: they’re also coming with the effects collaboration they built with Ninja Tune. I’m keen to see that, as well.)

I also think it’s totally reasonable to build systems around musical applications like techno. Plenty of modular instruments have morphed into particular configurations to make them musically accessible. And then since this is still patchable, you don’t have to make this sound like techno you’ve heard before – you can push that flexible sequencer and patch things together to bend something into your own genre and voice. Or, this being modular, you also have now a big line of components that could fill gaps in whatever setup you choose.

Here’s a look at those modules.

Drum

Sample slicing and triggering, WAV file (even imports CUE points), with assignable CV inputs. Actually, there’s nothing to say this has to be a drum module – it’s also a general-purpose sample slicer/module.

microSD for loading sounds.

Dual drive

Well, here’s your distortion. Three dedicated modes for each side, cascaded in series for extreme distortion. This is really the heart and soul of the Erica Techno System sound, and even if you didn’t get the rest of the line here, this one could be a must.

Dual FX

Built on the Spin FV-1 chip – a custom reverb platform – the dual FX has a set of custom mono and stereo effects from Erica’s in-house musician-madman KODEK.

Bassline

It’s all about the bass – and here, those basslines will be more than a little acidic. Erica’s Acidbox proved how crazy their filters can be. It apparently inspired the filter here – so expect really aggressive, terror-inducing acid.

Specs:

Full analogue circuit
Accent
Suboscillator
BBD-based VCO detune emulation
Built in VCF and VCA decay envelope
LP/BP VCF
External VCO FM and VCF cutoff CV inputs

Of course, what keeps this compact is, the sequencing all falls to the dedicated sequencer unit (or a sequencer module of your choice – Superbooth has had a lot of them).

Toms

Toms can easily be a throwaway, but here there was a lot of attention to detail. Toms has dedicated controls for low, mid, and high, and promises 909-inspired tom sounds. Erica says they built this in collaboration with e-licktronic – that’s the boutique/DIY maker who’s perhaps best known for their Roland clones and custom kits.

Hats

Erica are actually introducing three different hat/cymbal models. There’s an analog module (“A”) with accent and individual CV controls of everything, also made with e-licktronic. There’s a digital sample-based “D.” And there are sample-based cymbals (“Cymbals”).

Mixers

It’s easy to overlook this one. But when you’re actually in the heat of the moment playing live, you need that ability to just reach over, twist a knob, and add in a particular part.

And the Drum Mixer looks just about perfect. It boasts vactrol-based compression to keep everything properly loud and intense without losing clarity, plus a stupidly easy setup for controlling compression and the various parts, with seven inputs and both main and aux outs.

Erica also plan a more compact 6-input “Lite” version of the same, and a 4-channel Stereo Mixer.

Oh yeah, and if you’re not into the black craze, they plan to release everything again in white.

Lastly, the sequencing here comes from the Erica Drum Sequencer. Announced in January, it debuted in March – but now it has some modules to sequence:

Features of that are numerous:
12x Accent outputs

1x CV/GATE track
2xLFO with independent or synced to the BPM frequency
Time signature per track
Pattern length per track
Shuffle per track
Probability per step
Retrigger per step
Instant pattern switching
Solo/Mute tracks
Step/Tap record modes
16 Banks of 16 Patterns
Instant pattern switching
Pattern linking
Midi sync in with start/stop
Track mode
Firmware upgrade via MIDI SySex

More:
http://www.ericasynths.lv/en/home/

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MFB have a killer live drum machine + synth in the hybrid Tanzbär-2

It’s an analog drum machine plus bassline synth. It’s a digital drum machine with sample loading. It’s packed with live features and modulation. The coming MFB box could be … The One.

While big brands have focused on digital machines (or even software/hardware combos), MFB out of Berlin are the little boutique brand who have come out with a steady stream of analog boxes that are nonetheless compact and accessibly priced. And it’s not so much the fact that they have analog circuitry inside them as the fact that they’re different. Those drum timbres will hammer through your music when called upon, just like the Roland classics and whatnot, but they also sound distinctive. And with so much music already made on the well-known machines, different is good.

That said, for all the lovely sounds packed into any of these boxes, they all fell a little short of “must-have” – great-sounding but a bit fiddly and more focused on sound than performance features and sequencing. Then there was the confusing availability of two similar compact boxes, the Tanzmaus and Tanzbär Lite, alongside the Tanzbär flagship which was also … a bit similar to the other two.

Well, forget all that: because even in prototype form, the Tanzbär-2 is a whole new beast. If Roland’s TR-8S and Elektron Digitakt look poised to be the live drum machines for the mainstream, then the MFB might be the best boutique rival.

Or to put it another way – plug this thing in, and you can jam like a crazy person, with bassline and drums all ready to go.

Highlights (there’s no press release so … I’m doing this from memory):

A built-in bass synth that sounds totally brilliant, with internal melodic programming
Analog drum parts, plus digital drum parts (hey, it worked for the 909)
Sample loading, via MIDI dump or over USB, so you can load your own samples
Tons of front panel parameters for hands-on control of both the analog and digital sections’ parts
Dedicated faders for all the parts’ volumes
Two additional parameters for each part (accessed by the screen)
An LFO you can route to absolutely anything
Step sequencer, with per-step parameter automation
Separate outs for each part

And it’s really compact, too – not exactly lightweight (though that’s okay when you’re jamming hard on it), but easily slipped into a bag with a small footprint.

Really the only missing feature is, there aren’t internal effects … but that would complicate the design, and it does have separate outs.

The TB2 is really three instruments in one. There’s a simple analog bassline synth. The analog percussion section houses kicks, toms, congas, and snares. And then a digital section handles hats and additional percussion – or load your own digital samples for more choices. Sounds about perfect.

Faders! Dedicated outs! And it’s all really compact. Those knobs feel great, too, if you had a more fiddly experience with older MFB gear.

There are already a lot of parameters on the front panel, but parts also have additional parameters accessed by the two data knobs, with feedback on this display. (You’ll see some hints as to those features on the silkscreen, too.)

I’m sold. I think the fact that it includes a bassline synth internally is already great. I’ve got lots of questions, but they’re working on finishing this up this summer, so it’ll be better to make a separate trip to MFB after Superbooth. Then we can get some real sound samples without a convention going on behind us, and learn more about the details.

Cost isn’t confirmed, but they’re planning for under a grand (USD/EUR). Given you could pretty much do all your live dance sets on this box alone, that sounds good.

But wait — there’s more! MFB also new modules coming, too. Here’s a sneak peak of that:

More on this soon.

http://mfberlin.de/

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Valkyrie is a 1200-oscillator synth you’ll want to play with your forearm

With some 128 voices, the Valkyrie packs dense sound and effects that never let up. The all new UK-built synth was available to try in prototype form at Musikmesse – and it’s seriously impressive.

When I say “play with your forearm,” I’m not kidding. I got my hands on the prototype. Glancing around, I noticed people were cautiously plucking a note or two there and noodling some melodic lines.

No.

With that much polyphony, I wanted to hear a cloud – a doomsday-sized swarm – of oscillations. And this literally involved cranking up various parameters, dialing up portamento, and then playing the keys with… my fist… my arm… I decided sticking a leg up there might upset someone, but we’re talking a serious amount of sound.

The heart of this machine is an FPGA. You don’t need to care about that if you’re not an engineer, but suffice to say the idea of the thing is hardware that can be “re-wired” on the fly. So you get the power of dedicated hardware, without the enormous investment of time and money to create something so inflexible. That means the Valkyrie has horsepower DSP chips – or your high-end laptop – can’t reliably deliver.

And it’s not just about having a bunch of voices, though that’s already formidable. The Valkyrie drives 10 oscillators for each voice

It probably really is the synth Richard Wagner would have bought, were he alive today, so… nice brand name. Now, ride:

Multiple synthesis methods: FM, dual wavetable, hard sync
4096 different waveshapes, ring mod, hypersaw
Dual 2- and 4-pole ladder filters
128 voices
10 oscillators per voice (double to 20 by combining voices)
8-part polytimbral
Dedicated outs: four balanced outputs, 32-bit/96kHz each, or separate parts streamed over USB2 at 24/96
32x oversampling
9-unit dedicated effects, with shelving EQ on each part

The interface for all of this is a lovely high-res OLED. There are quick, slick animations to help you navigate. With that many parts/voices, of course, some menu dialing is a necessity – otherwise, the thing would take up a city block. But that navigation is quick and effortless, so you feel like you can dial up hands-on control easily. The menus were pretty logical, too, once you understand the structure of parts navigation. And everything is kept reasonably flat, which is stunning for an instrument of this complexity.

And the key is that you turn on this firehouse of sound and it never skips or steps – including with all the effects running. It’s a bit like having a Vangelis/Hans Zimmer-sized electronic studio, in a compact unit. It sounds utterly epic.

Pricing: expected under two grand (Exodus said that was their main purpose at Messe, to talk to dealers and figure that out)
Availability: Expected at volume early Q3 2018

And do have a listen:

I have to say, if you’re going to spend nearly two-grand on some hardware and want it to sound futuristic, this could be the one. It seems to be just the right kind of crazy for the job. Hope we get to try one more.

No Website yet …

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At Superbooth, expect new synth news, and grand instrumentalism

From a crowded stand in Frankfurt to a sprawling show in East Berlin, Superbooth has become a modular mecca and the premiere synthesizer summit on the world calendar.

And if you think about it, that’s pretty astonishing. NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) in California remains the destination for the musical instrument industry at large, and it and a number of other events draw big crowds of synth lovers. But Superbooth has become a kind of extension of synthesizer inventor history, of modular subculture, and of the best parts of the Internet today – the bits that just nerd out about cool toys. One- and two-person shops stand literally shoulder to shoulder with major manufacturers.

In short, it’s the triumph of the weird.

“Normal” trade shows these days are what can seem anachronistic. The “trade-only” moniker at NAMM (or Germany’s Musikmesse) has always been confusing, with tire kickers tangled with industry, and a collision of instrumental segments that seem increasingly distant from one another.

Like the quiet, sprawling metropolis of Berlin itself, Superbooth never feels crowded. People amble and linger and chat and chill – all the verbs you never associate with trade shows. But it doesn’t feel like a local synth meet, either. There are 250 exhibitors this year, with stands from names like Ableton, Akai, Avid, Bitwig, Elektron, Eventide, IK Multimedia, KORG, Mackie, Magix, Moog, MOTU, Native Instruments, Nord, Novation, Propellerhead, RME, Roland, ROLI, Softube, Steinberg, Studio Electronics, Waldorf, and … yes, even mighty Yamaha.

Those join a who’s who of modular makers, with an increasing number of American brands alongside what appear to be all the major European names (including Russia).

So, it’s significant that the morning hours are dedicated to trade and professionals, while the afternoons open to the public. “Will you be at Superbooth?” has become the stock question for the synth and electronic end of the waters. And since this is not just a corner of a show with drums and guitars and trombones, you do actually talk to one another and connect.

So what will actually happen this year?

Last year saw a raft of cool stuff:

Go gear crazy with the best synth gear unveiled at Superbooth

Novation hit it out of the park with both Peak and Circuit Mono Station. Bastl Instruments fed us THYME, DUDE, Kong … and their own line of custom-brewed coffee. Behringer had their infamous Minimooog Model D clone to try. Elektron revealed the Digitakt, as Jomox and MFB unveiled boutique drum machines. And of course there were loads of new modules and other toys … not to mention Yamaha with a robot that plays keys.

Last year, this happened – two new Novation synths.

(Compare the inaugural 2016, when Superbooth was more limited to niche modular and analog creations, and many brands still made waves at Frankfurt Messe. By last year, Messe was mostly silence.)

This year, I think you can expect even more big announcements. Given the attention Novation got, I wouldn’t be surprised if a big manufacturer made a splash – even from Japan’s big three, all of whom are in attendance.

Of course, the charm of Superbooth is, those big manufacturers won’t really have any particular advantage over tiny shops. (Well, apart from if you have deeper pockets, you get the cool room with the Soyuz module …)

And I think you can expect … oh, wait, I can’t tell you. I don’t know anything. Expect nothing.

(Oh, one note – I think we’ll continue to see a cottage industry in 5U modules – that’s the larger format – especially as Moog’s own recreation of its vintage modulars is out of reach of most budgets.)

Superbooth 2016 videos

https://vimeo.com/schneidersbuero

On the music side…

As Superbooth gets deeper in the gear territory – not just for modular geeks, but synths fans in general – it’s also building out its roster of musicians. Those reflect some of the Berlin in-crowd’s refined tastes, but this year they also suggest another line.

Superbooth wants you to think of synths and modular as an instrument, in the classic sense of the word.

So you get Caterina Barbieri, a classical guitarist-turned-modular artist, and Leon Michener on a prepared grand piano. There’s Berlin electronic legend Bernd Kistenmacher on synths, and composer Udo Hanten on 5U modulars.

Stephan Schmitt, founder of Native Instruments and father of Generator/Reaktor, will play on his own unique C 15 keyboard, made by his new hardware venture Nonlinear Labs. Carolina Eyck will play Theremin; famed producer Tobi Neumann will play ambient with Fadi.

The night program is also packed with some big names: think #instantboner, T.Raumschmiere & FucketYbUcKetY, Ströme and Tikiman, Boys Noiz with 2244, ATEQ, and GusGus.

It’s not entirely “underground” in character – these are established, premiere artists, and perhaps associated then with established, premiere modular gear, which while increasingly affordable isn’t exactly cheap. But then I think you can also expect lots of unofficial off events and afterparties to spring up, postcards to spread around – and it’s still Berlin. So be sure manufacturers will organize spontaneous jam sessions, visiting nerds will promote gigs, and lots of sound geekery will be had in the days during and immediately around the event. You might want to clear your calendar, plus some, like, recovery time.

On the workshop/talk side, there are various DIY offerings, as well as a female/non-binary program meant to counter-balance an event that has tended to skew fairly heavily male. Daniel Miller, Uwe Schmidt, and Mark Ernestus are in discussion, plus you can catch Lady Starlight, Andrew Huang, Lady Blacktronika, and Mylar Melodies.

The biggest rival to Superbooth I imagine will be Moogfest back in the U.S. of A. – unlikely to have, say, boutique Russian makers at it, but likely to attract some modular purveyors who won’t make the Transatlantic flight. And Moog of course will figure big at their own event. Moogfest also dwarfs Superbooth as far as festival lineup and talks. I’d also keep an eye on SONAR Festival, whose extended tech program often focuses on the European tech scene, plus Music Tech Fest in September.

But as far as synth makers in one place and synth news, Superbooth is the big bet for new tech. I’ll see you there.

Full event schedule

Exhibitor list for this year

superbooth.com

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Upcoming Dreadbox Medusa combines analog synth, grid sequencer

The boutique maker of synths, effects, and modular are teasing something new for May. And it looks like this compact analog synth is getting a grid sequencer, too.

The result looks a bit like someone crossbred the Novation Launchpad and Circuit range with the hands-on, analog approach of Dreadbox synths like (most recently) the Hades monosynth we saw in the fall. This time, the Athens-based maker Dreadbox has enlisted the help of Poland’s Polyend, who make the SEQ sequencer.

And what that means is, you get the sequencing (and arp, etc.) powers of the grid on one side, with lots of faders and knobs to tweak to shape the sound on the other side. (Novation’s own Circuit Bass Station did that, but now you get a new boutique instrument to join, too.)

Behold:

To be perfectly honest, I’d totally forgotten about the Medusa. (CDM never forgets – so I found myself writing about it in the fall.) But what’s striking is how Dreadbox have redesigned the front panel, after incorporating that svelte grid sequencer from Polyend – apparent even in these steeply angled photos. The filter and envelope controls appear like they might be the same, but it seems some pots have possibly replaced faders, and there are whatever those buttons are. See our earlier photo:

Medusa is a Dreadbox analog synth with Polyend arp, sequencer

Big disclaimer here – Dreadbox have not repeated the specs they shared in the fall, but for review, here they are again – and we’ll see if anything was tweaked along with the change in appearance:

All Analog Circuit developed by Dreadbox
Midi to CV, Sequencer and Arpeggiator developed by Polyend
64 step Sequencer that can store the Filter’s Cut off, Modulation Wheel and Velocity values, with a memory of 7 sequences
Arpeggiator with Up, Up-Down, 2 Octave Up, 2 Octave Down, 2 Octave Up-Down or Played Order
3 Classic Dreadbox VCOs:
2x osc with saw, pulse or triangle wave
1x osc with advanced wave forming (7 different waveforms)
A brand new 12dB/oct Filter design with variable thickness (active for frequencies 110Hz and below)
A dedicated Attack, Decay/Release, Sustain Envelope Generator to the Filter and the Amp
A Simple and Easy to use Modulation section
You can Polychain multiple units and achieve Polyphony
8 patch points for eurorack experience

Medusa will be available in May 2018, according to the banner on the front of Dreadbox’s site. (That coincides neatly with Berlin’s Superbooth event, too, which has fast become the premiere event of the year for synth lovers – eclipsing even America’s NAMM show.)

They also have a slogan: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

We’ll see – looks like one of the more interesting product launches this year.

Tip of the hat to our friends at Synth Anatomy on this one!

Dreadbox Tease New Compact Analog Synthesizer With An Built-In Polyend Sequencer

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It’s 303 day, and Roland are teasing new AIRA gear

Happy 303 day, everyone! Roland are up to something – if you head to the AIRA site, you’ll see a teaser for an announcement coming on Monday.

The image just shows some vertical-throw faders floating in fog, with colored LED backlighting. Yep, that’s what some of us dream of after too much time in the studio.

I’m going to guess that you’ll be able to make some educated guesses as to what this might be. 303 and 808 day – the dates marked by March 3 and August 8 – have brought some other AIRA and Roland Boutique launches. They haven’t aligned exactly with the gear associated with those dates, either. (That is, you aren’t just getting TB-303 gear in March and TR-808 gear in August, but stuff related to those products obviously feature heavily.) The rest, you’ll have to figure out.

The product launch is scheduled for Monday 5 PM Tokyo time, so 9 AM Berlin, 8 AM London, and… very early in the morning Monday in the USA.

Hope you’ll join us on CDM on Monday to find out more.

In the meantime, go ahead and guess… I always enjoy reading those.

http://www.roland.com/global/aira/

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Polivoks gets a $500 post-Soviet sibling, realizing a dream from 1990

The original creators of the legendary Soviet Polivoks synthesizer are back with an edition that’s small and affordable – completing an idea they had in 1990.

It’s again a collaboration of two generations. As with the ultra-limited run Polivoks reissue, Russian engineers Alexey Taber and Alex Pleninge team up with original Polivoks creator Vladimir Kuzmin and the woman who evidently conceptualized that original design, Olympiada Kuzmina.

The first Polivoks was an artefact of the last years of the Soviet Union, as produced by the Formanta Radio Factory. (Go ahead – look up Kachkanar. This is definitely into the huge swaths of the Russian Federation I’ve never seen!)

And so its reissue reimagined that model, minus the keyboard, as original creator Vladimir Kuzmin worked with engineers Alexey Taber and Alex Pleninge.

http://polivoks.pro/

Now, again, we get a meeting of two generations. Vladimir Kuzmin and Olympiada Kuzmina, the woman who evidently conceptualized that original design, now work with the talented young Moscow-based engineer Arseny Tokarev of Elta Music Devices.

But this is no reissue. The mini was conceptualized in 1990 – but now sees the light of day as a 2018 product. And it’s a perfect way of making the mysterious sound world of the Polivoks more accessible and affordable today.

In case you can’t read the Cyrillic alphabet, there’s a Latin version of the panel:

The basic workflow of the original Polivoks is maintained, down to the distinctive use of the modulation (LFO) on the upper left corner and the signature knobs and labels. It’s just nicely simplified – one oscillator (“generator”) instead of two and streamlined controls.

They were clever enough not to just stop there, though. So there’s USB and MIDI. The oscillators are now self-calibrating – sure to disappoint fans of the unpredictability of the original oscillators but please everyone else. So no more waiting for the synth to warm up in winter.

But you still get that wild-sounding Polivoks filter, which screams out as you turn it, and the particular sound of the Polivoks multimode filter. That is, don’t look at a control and assume it sounds like a Moog – it most surely doesn’t.

Here’s the somewhat poetic narrative they’ve made with more details:

The idea of the Polivoks Mini analog synthesizer came into mind in 1990, as the junior version of its older brother well known Polivoks full synth. The aim was to develop a way simpler and lighter device that has less components, offers the same broad capabilities, and removes possible flows of the Polivoks full synth. As the result of this research a new minimalistic schematic appeared. It has fewer controls that are compensated by greater functionality.

For example, in the Modulator section the Form switch has been replaced by the controller with triangular oscillation in the middle position and sawtooth shape oscillation smoothly falling in the extreme positions. The controller for the envelope filter input set to zero in the middle position and smoothly increasing its value by turning the knob clockwise while turning the knob counterclockwise increases inverse voltage of the envelope generator. The main synthesizer sections, such as generator, famous Polivoks filter, multimode envelope generator are essentially the same as Polivoks’s ones and have their unique sound. In addition to that, the main generator of the Polivoks Mini doesn’t require any thermal stabilization or adjustment.

In general, the simplified schematic delivers the sound appreciated by wide range of musicians by minimal means but with new capabilities. The Polivoks Mini will be released as the keyboardless version with integrated USB and MIDI interfaces. The overall design of the Polivoks Mini is made in collaboration with Ms. Olympiada Kuzmina, Polivoks full synth concept designer.

Availability: Expected to ship April/May
Pricing: “Around” US$500

https://www.eltamusic.com/polivoks-mini

Vladimir Kuzmin walks through the design in a video (Russian only, but… everyone speaks synthesizer):

You know, at some point this was all about post-Soviet chic or the exoticism of instruments from behind the Iron Curtain. But I think a funny thing has happened – the synth world has actually re-calibrated to the point that musicians want to make these left-of-center sounds. And that makes this thing totally delightful.

Just as I’m excited for this year’s Superbooth in Berlin, I’m equally eager for Synthposium in Russia. I’m lucky to have my visa and get to meet people who love the same unruly sounds I do.

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Erica are set to bring the 909 into the modular age with their latest gear

Erica may be known for their tube-powered, retro-Polyvoks post-Soviet chic – but now they’re taking on the TR-909, in modules and a powerful drum computer.

This isn’t just another 909 remake, though. Take Roland’s legendary drum machine not just as a selection of well-known sounds, but as a way of thinking about synthesizing and sequencing percussion. Then, make those eminently patchable, so you can wire them into other gear and create some new, original ideas. Erica founder Girts Ozolins told me early on in starting the company that he thought the real appeal of modular was in customization – that it was something that allowed musicians to make something their own. And that seems to be the essence of the idea here. It’s a deconstructed, rather than reconstructed, 909.

On the sound side, then, you’ve got two friendly-looking, handsome, patchable modules. You can bolt these in and grab the knobs and it looks like you’ll be pretty happy. But there’s also plenty of CV when you want to get more modular.

On the sequencing side – and I’ll be the first to say this is what has me excited – comes a 909-style sequencer with accents, multiple tracks and banks, and extras like probability, track length (for polyrhythms), live and step modes, and more. You can sync it with MIDI, but there’s also an absurd amount of patchability.

And there’s modulation, too (here’s where we get way out of 909 territory) – two LFOs for modulating drums.

Just as promising, the whole thing comes from a collaboration with French DIY drum machine maker e-licktronic, who have made a name for themselves as a kind of cult-following underground drum machine maker for DIYers. The problem with e-licktronic was their projects required way too much assembly for all but the most dedicated soldering iron gurus. This brings some of their expertise to a wider market – niche, to be sure, but at least allowing you some time to, like, finish tracks and not just finish hardware assembly.

Full specs:

12x Accent outputs
1x CV/GATE track
2xLFO with independent or synced to the BPM frequency
Time signature per track
Pattern length per track
Shuffle per track
Probability per step
Retrigger per step
Instant pattern switching
Solo/Mute tracks
Step/Tap record modes
16 Banks of 16 Patterns
Instant pattern switching
Pattern linking
Midi sync in with start/stop
Track mode
Firmware upgrade via MIDI SySex

It also seems this is just the beginning – Erica have a whole drum module system in store: “Toms, Clap, Rimshot, HiHats, Cymbals, sample-based drum module and, to pull all system together – dedicated a drum Mixer with extended headroom and a limiter of unique design”

But you don’t have to wait long to get started. The kick and snare modules ship early March, alongside that sequencer.

Hey, Santa Claus! Yeah, I…. oh, wait, $#(*&, it’s March.

Hey, St. Patrick!

NAMM news: Drum Sequencer

NAMM news: Bass Drum & Snare Drum

The post Erica are set to bring the 909 into the modular age with their latest gear appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Here’s how Elektron’s new Digitone makes FM synthesis easier

Elektron have applied their cute-and-friendly formula from the Digitakt drum machine to a new synth called Digitone – and it’s FM.

Now, the phrase Elektron uses is “accessible” – the press release writes “powerful yet user-friendly take on FM synthesis.” But this isn’t just marketing speak; it seems they really have made an effort to make frequency modulation more playable.

Good electronic music instruments give users lots of stuff to touch, and the feeling that the full range of each knob, for instance, sounds good or at least plausible. That’s where the wonders of FM sort of break down when they hit making hardware. Frequency Modulation synthesis is based on a simple principle: modulating a waveform with another waveform in the same audio range. And the whole joy of this is suddenly breaking open surprising tones – covering ranges edgy, metallic, unstable, futuristic.

Or – with a tiny change in parameter – something totally unrelated. Or awful. Or silent. So, to avoid unpleasant surprises, hardware builders have tended to hide away that complexity. So, the mighty Yamaha DX7 has basically no controls – and as it popularized FM, also gave people the (mistaken) impression that it always had to sound like Yamaha’s presets.

Plus, while those sounds are great, sometimes they need softening. (Think of the difference between hearing a reed instrument, and hearing just the reed.)

For fans of FM synthesis, just as exciting as the Elektron news this week is the extensive interview with John Chowning (who’s a natural teacher, always a pleasure to listen to):

Elektronauts Talk: John Chowning

Don’t miss his bit about how he explains FM synthesis to a child – it’s really elegant. And Dr. Chowning picks up on the two things Elektron has done:

1. Set some limits so you get hands-on control over sound without getting lost – exploring space, but not throwing yourself out an airlock.

2. Putting the FM synthesis engine inside a more conventional subtractive synthesis architecture. (Basically – adding filters!)

As John describes those:

I noticed, in your instrument, that you put some boundaries on the possibilities so that one doesn’t end up in a daze without understanding how you got there, or end up in silence.

And regarding the architecture:

[Digitone] lets the user intuitively explore this re-formable, shapeable ball of stuff, then put that through the normal processes of synthesis.

So the thing to watch with the Digitone will be how well its presets and sound design work in practice. You’ve got a four-operator FM synth. That’s the architecture used by Robert Henke for Ableton’s Operator, precisely because it’s more manageable (and covers most of the sounds you want to create); adding operators adds a lot of complexity.

Then each voice (there’s 8-voice polyphony) adds filters: one multimode, one “base-width.” (Think they mean bandpass? I’ll ask.) And each voice comes with two assignable LFOs and overdrive to make things dirtier.

They’ve also added quite a lot in the effects section – sends for chorus, reverb, and delay, plus a master overdrive.

This being an Elektron box, integration of instrument and sequencer are key. And like the Digitakt, even this smaller box can be used to drive external gear. There are four synth tracks and four MIDI tracks, both, so the Digitakt is a bit like a mini Octatrack – it can be a hub for a live performance or synth rig.

With trig conditions (interactive events that can occur on each step) and track lengths and micro timings, you can make some fairly complex patterns. And whereas the DX7 and its ilk let you punch in a preset and then play it as-is forever until everyone got annoyed of the sound, Elektron bring parameter locks to make per-step transformations of your creations. So imagine all that sonic possibility of FM synthesis, changing as the sequence runs. We saw a peek of how much fun that is with KORG’s humble volca fm – now you get it on a deeper FM synth.

Worth investigating in a review – how much work is it to modify or program your own presets, how it works having parameters change with different presets, and how playable the whole thing is. But even though FM synthesis is a creation of the 1960s, having a playable, sequenced FM synth definitely stands out from the crowd of noisemakers at the moment. The new Elektron is available now, though currently listed as sold out. (Someone obviously likes the idea.)

$759 USD/779 EUR/£699 GBP.

https://www.elektron.se/products/digitone/

Specs:

Synth voice features:
8 voice polyphony (multitimbral)
Multiple FM algorithms
1 × multimode filter per voice
1 × base-width filter per voice
1 × overdrive per voice
2 × assignable LFO per voice

Sequencer:
4 synth tracks
4 MIDI tracks
1 arpeggiator per track
Polyphonic sequencing
Individual track lengths
Parameter locks
Micro timing
Trig conditions
Sound per step change

Send & master effects
Panoramic Chorus send effect
Saturator Delay send effect
Supervoid Reverb send effect
Overdrive master effect

Hardware
128 × 64 pixel OLED screen
2 × 1/4” impedance balanced audio out jacks
2 × 1/4” audio in jacks
1 × 1/4” stereo headphone jack
48 kHz, 24-bit D/A and A/D converters
Hi-Speed USB 2.0 port
MIDI In/Out/Thru with DIN Sync out

Physical specification
Sturdy steel casing
Dimensions: W 215 × D 176 × H 63 mm (8.5” × 6.9” × 2.5”) (including knobs and feet)
Weight: approximately 1.49 kg (3.3 lbs)
100 × 100 mm VESA mounting holes. Use M4 screws with a max length of 7 mm.

And of course, yes, Overbridge (Elektron’s tech for helping integrate their external hardware with your software rig).

The post Here’s how Elektron’s new Digitone makes FM synthesis easier appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.