Mod Squad: Future Retro Transient

You've never heard vintage drum machines sound like this
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One of the attractions of using a modular system is the ability to modulate a signal in multiple ways while having direct control over the process. But with DSP-based modules, the interface often takes a back seat to the feature set, resulting in menu structures that are difficult to navigate.

Transient can transform drum sounds in very sophisticated ways, yet is simple to use, even in a performance setting.

Transient can transform drum sounds in very sophisticated ways, yet is simple to use, even in a performance setting.

Remarkably, this is not the case of the Future Retro Transient, a percussion-oriented module that feels more like a synth than a sample player, thanks in part to its sophisticated modulation capabilities.

At the heart of Transient is a collection of more than 400 samples from classic drum machines—the Linn LM1, the Future Retro Universal Drum Synth (UDS) and XS instruments, and a wide range of vintage Roland products (from the DR-55 and CR-78 to the TR-808 and -909). The samples are 16-bit, but a 12-bit DAC is used during playback to add an old-school vibe to the sounds.

Internally, you can select two voices to play and set the balance between them—either manually or with a modulator (which, itself, can be modulated). In fact, the ability to modulate nearly every parameter is what makes the Transient such an inspiring module to use.

For example, you can use a modulation source to select the sample for each voice, and then modulate the level of the modulator. From there, you can amplitude modulate the sample in one voice with the sample of another, or amplitude modulate a voice sample with itself. Or, you might want to ring modulate a sample with itself, with another sample, or with either of Transient’s multiwave oscillators. Sound fun? It is, but the party’s just begun.

In addition to a pair of (0 to +5V) CV inputs with attenuators, the module includes two programmable knobs—K1 and K2. Each of these can simultaneously control several modulation parameters of your choice. The knob at the bottom of the panel also acts as a push-button and is used for assigning the parameters (in addition to its other functionality). The modulation sources for K1/K2 include the level of the knobs themselves, the external CV inputs, random values created with each trigger or set by K1 or K2, and various summing configurations of the K and CV controls and the random signal.

Interestingly, only the amplitude and phase of Transient’s samples are being modulated; none of it changes the playback speed or pitch of the samples. I didn’t miss having the ability to change sample speed, one bit. (However, Future Retro plans to include that feature in an expanded version of the module, as well as the ability to add factory packs and user samples, which can be stored on a micro SD card.)

Transient also includes a multimode filter that you can put under voltage control, as well as some useful digital effects—bit depth and sample rate reduction, a compander, distortion and a bit crusher.

That seems like a lot to keep track of, and it is. Thankfully, the module is easy to use right away, giving you time to wrap your head around how the different parameters can interact with each other to alter the samples. As you figure things out and come up with your patches, it’s easy to save them; 40 storage slots are provided.

Considering its rich sample set and deep level of control, Transient may be the only drum module you need.