The System 10 is a complete analog synthesizer voice in a lightweight case. It integrates easily into your studio and live rig using MIDI or control voltages, and it’s fun to use on its own. ASSEMBLING YOURfirst modular can be a little confusing: Even if you’re already familiar with subtractive synthesis, the variety of modules on the market is staggering, and it can be difficult to know where to start.
One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to begin is with a preconfigured system, particularly one that is semimodular. In a semi-modular synthesizer, the modules are internally connected, which allows to you make music without using patch cables, yet patch points are provided so you can override the normaled connections and make sounds of greater complexity. However, this kind of system is not just for newbies: A semi-modular synth is perfect for any musician interested in a portable and affordable instrument that can be set up quickly.
In addition to a full line of Eurorack modules, Pittsburgh Modular offers semimodular synths in desktop-friendly sizes. This year, the company is refreshing its line with the System 10 ($599), a MIDIcontrollable monosynth that retains the diminutive size (48HP) and price of its predecessor while adding significant new features. (HP, which stands for horizontal pitch, is the standard measurement used for panel width in a Eurorack system: 1 HP equals 5.08mm.) Built into a steel case with hardwood sides made of Pennsylvania cherry, the System 10 complements any stage or studio setup where space is a limiting factor.
The instrument begins with the Synthesizer Box, a new voice module that provides the basic tools needed for subtractive synthesis—a multi-waveform oscillator, LFO, filter, envelope generator (EG), and voltage controlled amplifier (VCA). Patch points let you access these features individually for cross modulation as well as external CV and audio input. Discrete outputs are available for the triangle and square waves, as well as the new sawtooth-like blade waveform, which can be modulated.
One of the significant changes to the synth-voice module is the addition of a Lopass Gate, a classic processor that combines the behavior of a lowpass filter and a VCA to alter frequency and amplitude at the same time. The circuit is based on a concept originally developed by Don Buchla for his 200 Series system to simulate the high-frequency rolloff of a sound heard at a distance through atmospheric humidity. As with Buchla’s design, the Pittsburgh Modular Lopass Gate has three operational modes (lowpass filter, VCA, and a combo mode) and uses a series of vactrols in the circuit, the nonlinearities of which help create the characteristically woody, percussive timbres this type of filter is known for.
The System 10 also features the Mix Mult, a utility module that combines a 3-channel mixer with attenuators and a pair of passive mults for splitting signals that you want to send to several destinations.
The MIDI2 module accepts MIDI input and provides pairs of CV and gate outputs that can be configured in one of three ways: Monophonic mode, in which the same CV/ gate signals come from both sets of outputs; Duophonic mode, in which a second MIDI note sends CV and gate signals through the second set of outputs; and Dual Monophonic mode, which provides independent CV and gate output derived from the data of two MIDI channels.
The final stage in the System 10 gives you two 1/4-inch outputs and a 1/4-inch stereo headphone jack—very handy. Five included patch cables will start you on your way to creating complex timbres.
Pittsburgh Modular instruments are well built and capable of rich, beefy sounds. The System 10 is a solid platform on which to build a larger voltage-controlled system and, if taken care of, it will provide years of fun and inspiration, easily outlasting the computers and soft synths you currently use.