I'm a big fan of simple and unpredictable sound-making devices, and the Monotonic Labs Type-U73 ($109) fits the bill. The rugged Type-U73 was designed for the knob-crazy noise enthusiast — the kind of musician that gravitates toward circuit-bent toys and boutique pedals. In fact, the attractive instrument is the size of a stompbox and is spartan in design, offering only two chicken-head knobs (labeled X and Y), a power switch (with a light), and a ¼-inch line-level output. The Type-U73 is available from Monotonic Labs' eBay store, which is accessible from its MySpace page.
The Type-U73's two oscillators interact with each other in interesting ways, depending on how the controls are set. The Y knob controls the frequency of the main pulse-wave oscillator, while the X knob controls a modulator. The directions say the sweet spot — where, incidentally, the unit is at its most unpredictable — is reached when the controls are almost fully clockwise. That's where I found my most intriguing sounds (see Web Clip 1). The output is muted when the knobs are maxed out.
Near the top of the Y knob's range, you get to a point where the sound gets unstable, which is very useful if you're running the Type-U73 through filters and delays. As you sweep the X knob when the Y knob is in its upper range, you get several octaves of discrete pitches in large registral leaps (see Web Clip 2). When Y is in the lower pitch registers, moving X sounds like you're sweeping a sync input on a VCO.
If you turn the controls slowly, you'll occasionally cross a dead spot, such as when X is at 12 o'clock and Y is at 3 o'clock. These regions provide valuable timbral shifts that can be sonically fruitful depending on your processing chain.
On its own, the Type-U73 has a pleasing, full sound. However, without any VC inputs, it's somewhat limited to manually controlled theremin-style sweeps or single-note analog-synth textures. But that's what the designer intended. Consequently, it demands to be processed: run it through an interesting signal path, whether digital or analog, and you'll find the Type-U73 to be a musically useful sound source that provides hours of fun.
Value (1 through 5): 3