This month, the New Gear column focuses on a small slice of the hundreds of products shown at Superbooth18 in Berlin, Germany last May, with an emphasis on interesting and innovative gear that has flown under the radar in other show coverage.
Although the Eurorack format continues to dominate, it was refreshing to find an even lower-cost and more compact alternative. The Abused Electronics Modular line from Tangible Waves (tangiblewaves.com) is a fully modular system that uses single-pin cables for patching. Complete systems (including case, power supply and MIDI breakout cable) are available for 328 euros (single row) and 416 euros (double row): Yes, you read that correctly!
Individual Abused Electronics modules, priced between 20 and 75 euros, include VCOs, EGs, VCAs, sequencers, logic, spring reverb, USB bus power, and a Wasp-style filter. You can even buy a Eurorack panel to house a rack of these mini-modules and integrate them into your larger setup. Tangible Waves notes that, in order to keep the price down, they kept things as simple as possible, such as using rubberstamped wood-based front-panels that are not as robust as Eurorack modules. But in terms of sound quality, I was very impressed considering the price point. And if you already have a synth that uses single-pin cables, such as the Moog Werkstatt-01, this is a relatively low-cost way to expand its sonic potential.
What do you get when you have 12 VCOs, each subtly modulated by its own LFO? The Wave Swarm from AJH Synth (ajhsynth.com). Wave Swarm divides the oscillators into two channels of six VCOs, with a separate input and output for each channel. The knobs on the front panel control the LFO rate for each of the VCOs. A wet/dry control and soft-clipping is available for both channels, as well as an A+B output for summing the module’s 12 animated VCOs—that’s a buzz you’ll want to get!
Three new modules were being shown at the Befaco (befaco.org) booth. The Muxlicer can be used as a step-sequencer, an analog switch, a 1:8 mult, or a signal slicer. Patch a signal into any step to frequency modulate it. Other features include tap tempo, time division/multiplication of the clock, and the ability to multiply/divide the number of gates per step.
Befaco’s Burst module creates bursts of up to 64 triggers, with CV control over the quantity. In addition to a loop function, the module has controls changing the probability and distribution of the triggers within a burst. The company also showed its KickAll, a kick-drum generator with individual envelopes for pitch and amplitude, a fader for the decay time, manual and CV triggering, and a waveshaper.
Among the many new products shown by Doepfer (doepfer.com) was a series of modules designed for 4-voice polyphonic use within a Eurorack system. The A-190-5 Polyphonic CV/Gate Interface (300 euros) has DIN and USB connectors and four sets of analog outs, each with 3 CV and 1 gate. Polyphonic, duophonic, paraphonic, and monophonic modes will be available.
The A-111-4 Quad VCO (400 euros) provides four oscillators in one module, each offering three waveforms, a sync input, octave and tuning controls, and an FM input. With four identical SSM2044-based 4-pole lowpass filters, the Doepfer A-105-4 Quad SSM VCF (200 euros) uses a set of common controls (cutoff, FM intensity, resonance, input level) while providing four VCAs, and individual audio I/O and FM CV inputs. Other polyphonic-related modules in the series include the A-132-8 Octal VCA (160 euros) and the A-141-4 Quad VCADSR (160 euros) envelope generator.
Frap Tools (fraptools.com) unveiled Falistri, which they refer to as a “multipurpose movement manager.” This fully analog module combines two function generators with cascaded frequency dividers, a ring modulator, and a slew limiter. The function generators have three modes—Loop, Transient, Sustained—and a gate input to switch from Loop to Transient. The rise and fall times of the envelopes are independent, as is the shape of each stage—Logarithmic, Linear, Exponential. The frequency dividers can be used as a clock divider or suboctave generator, with outputs that are switchable to unipolar or bipolar (±5V). The Falistri is a powerful module on its own, but really excels when paired with the company’s Sapèl (Tamed Random Source) module.
The unusual user interface of Alak (147 Euros) by Gibbon Digital (gibbondigital.com) immediately grabbed my attention. This 4-track “polygonal pattern sequencer” is designed for real-time performance and offers step resolution up to 128. Each of the four tracks can have its own shape (saved on power-down), and each output has an independent mute button. The signal from the Trig input is sent to the Copy output for daisy-chaining other modules. A reset input is included and the phase of each track can be shifted.
Visiting the Modor (modormusic.com) booth to check out its 2-channel, vowel-morphing Formant Filter, I was introduced to the 2-voice Noisy Oscillator, which is intended to provide a combination of waveforms and “tonal noises.” The prototype gave me quite a bit of latitude between noisy timbres and more normal waveforms, and each of the voices includes CV control over pitch, FM, modulation, and level: Keep your ears peeled when this one gets released.
In the meantime, Modor’s digital 2-channel Comb Filter module, which will be available shortly, is capable of a nice array of effects, from standard chorus and flanging to interesting metallic tones. The module has an onboard triangle-wave LFO to control delay time, as well as a CV input, and controls for Speed, Depth, Feedback, and Mix. The CV2 input can be used to create enhanced stereo effects.
On the other side of the digital spectrum, Mordax (mordax.net) was demoing a prototype of the GXN (subtitled the Granular Synthesis System/Audio Sampler/Processor). The GXN is designed for real-time granular control over stereo audio—a very exciting combo for any Eurorack system. The color display shows the waveform you’re working with, as well as the various parameters as you scan through it. The prototype also included CV inputs for recording, clocking, triggering, and otherwise modulating the parameters.
If you’re a modular user interested in integrating a Haken Audio Continuum into your setup, Evaton Technologies (evatontechnologies.com) is developing the module for you! The μCVC translates the Continuum’s signal into individual control voltages that correspond to the five controller dimensions—x, y, z, f, and w—which you can appropriately use in a synth patch. Moreover, the module can be daisy-chained for duophonic use. Evaton also showed a concept module called Sonar that tracks motion in 3D space using sonar-style sensors, and translates the result into Eurorack-compatible voltages—neat!
Instruo (instruo.media) modules not only look great but sound fantastic. I especially dug into the Cs-L (£510), a dual VCO that includes an array of self-modulation capabilities—even before you add a patch cable—that is reminiscent of the original Buchla 259. Each of the two oscillators is built around a different core (one has a triangle core, the other a sawtooth core), and you can internally route them to create amplitude modulation, ring modulation, and PWM, as well as use the individual wave folders. You should also check out the Scion (£280), a module that combines a quad random-voltage generator with a bio-feedback sensor.
The Stockholm-based company DPW Design (dpw.se) showed a Eurorack version its of its popular Mög 4-Band Distortion bass pedal, as well as Limit, Switch, and Wavefolder. Despite their common names, each is multifunction utility module that is well-built and combines a well-organized set of features.
RandomSource (randomsource.net) displayed its Serge-approved Touch Activated Keyboard Sequencer in both 4U and Eurorack formats. The design, known colloquially as the TKB controller, provides 16 columns of four knobs, with a touch-plate sensor for activating each column. The 4U model resembles the original Serge TKB, while the Eurorack version has the same feature set as the original 4U model, but smaller and outfitted with black touch-plates rather than copper-colored ones. Random- Source also had its new 8-stage Sequencer Programmer for Eurorack on display, which is an especially exciting addition to that format.
Presenting its first hardware product, u-he (u-he.com) came to Superbooth18 with a prototype of a Eurorack utility module that packs a ton of features in 10 hp (and for less than 300 euros). In addition to acting as a 4x4 matrix router, Cvilization can be used to process audio and CVs. The module is DC-coupled, has a range of ±10V, and has several modes that allow it to be used as a sample-and-hold, a sequential switch, a quantizer (providing a different scale on each output), a double 4-stage EG, and as pairs of LFO/EGs. By the time it ships, it will also be able to store eight presets. Special multicolored knobs were sourced for Cvilization so that the different colors can indicate the performance/programming mode.
One of the Eurorack standouts this year was an additive-synthesis oscillator from Xaoc Devices (xaocdevices.com) called Odessa (subtitled 1974 Variable Spectrum Harmonic Cluster Oscillator). This digitally based module provides a whopping 512 partials and control over course- and fine-tuning, spread, peaking, and density. It also has individual outputs for the odd and even partials. And with the linear and exponential FM, Spectral Tilt, and Warp parameters, you can further animate the sound to a degree that no other Eurorack module offers.
A fine complement to the Odessa is the Xaoc Devices Zadar (1973 Quadruple Envelope Generator), which offers a surprising amount of detailed control over Shape, Time, Level and Warp parameters for each of the four channels (as well as a screen for visualizing the results as you program it).
The Berliner line of cases from Sector Sieben (sectorsieben.com) are not only sturdy but look fantastic. What really caught my eye was the DIY case, which ships flat (cost efficiently), ready for assembly. With high-pressure laminate, aluminum rails and plastic connectors, the single-row case is available in an 84-hp width, with parts available for connecting additional rows. The company also sells a convenient stand for their cases called the Docking Station.
MDLR Cases (mdlrcase.com) not only makes custom products but has a line of portable and powered models. The portable case that caught my attention has four 94-hp rows but is designed for use as a carry-on and to fit in the overhead bin on an airplane. Better yet, there is enough room inside the case to leave your system patched. A hinged panel on the bottom places the lid in a vertical position, ready to play when you open the case. MDLR also showed a new 4-row model from its Square series, as well as a new 4-ampere bus-board.
The Nono Modular Solutions (nonomodular.com) line of Italian-made cases include 1-, 2- and 3-row models—the Rover 1.60, Orbiter 2.84, and Lander 3.84, respectively. These are strong, portable and allow you to close the lid without removing your patch cords. The Rover (200 euros without PSU) is particularly interesting because it has a pair of piezo pads built into the lid, providing two trigger sources that can be played with hands, sticks, or mallets. At the show, Nono also showed aluminum-based versions of its cases that were strong and remarkably lighter than the normal models, which are made using Valchromat.
SYNTHS, EFFECTS, OTHER HARDWARE
Doepfer has made significant changes in the third iteration of its Dark Energy analog mono-synth. To begin with, the VCO in the Dark Energy III ($640) has been improved—it no longer needs time to warm up! It now has a greater frequency range (10 octaves), includes a triangle wave, has resettable LFOs (with external inputs for resetting each one individually), an upgraded 4-stage envelope, and more user-customizable features inside for DIYers (such as the ability to add separate waveform outputs and ADSR CV inputs). The filter and built-in MIDI/USB interface remain unchanged.
Fresh from its premiere at ContinuuCon in Paris, the Haken Audio ContinuuMini (hakenaudio.com) made an appearance at Superbooth18. Smaller the other Continuum fingerboards, this 2-voice version will be priced well below a grand, but will include the deep-featured EaganMatrix software. (Watch for the Kickstarter campaign if you’re interested in getting in early on a ContinuuMini.)
On display with the ContinuuMini were the Onde and Pyramid from La Voix du Luthier (la-voix-du-luthier.com). Designed in collaboration with Haken Audio, both products utilize wooden soundboards activated by transducer drivers—one on each of the soundboards—with a pair of 30W amplifiers to provide acoustic-style amplification. The Onde (pictured) has stereo line-level inputs and Bluetooth support (and the input signals can also be mixed), Class D amps, and a battery-powering option. The Pyramid has a wider frequency response and Class A amplifiers. A Kickstarter campaign for both products is planned for the fall.
At the NIIO Analog ($1,495; niioanalog.com) booth, I had a chance to hear the Iotine Core in action. Although referred to as a “3-layer analog saturator,” this 2-channel processor can be used as a compressor/expander, a stereo filter, a 3-band boost EQ, a distortion effect, and much more. It has three 2-pole (12dB/octave) voltage-controlled filters, configurable in parallel or in series, that have very musical saturation characteristics when driven hard. The Modulation inputs can control the VCF or VCAs, though one input can trigger the envelope and the other acts as an envelope follower. In addition to individual channel 1 and 2 outs, there is a Post output for creating a differently processed audio layer, as well as a Mix output.
Panda MIDI (pandamidi.com) demonstrated the midiBeam (149 euros) wireless MIDI transmission system, which has an effective range of around 600 feet. The battery-powered TX02 transmitter has a standard 5-pin MIDI connector that plugs into your controller, and the RX02 receiver has standard MIDI and USB MIDI connectors for use with your computer or hardware instrument. The RX02 can also be used as a MIDI interface when the transmitter is not in use.
I also had a chance to play Panda MIDI’s Future Impact I (399 euros), a digital synthesizer pedal for bass guitar that provides two filters (2-pole and 4 pole), four oscillators with waveshaping capabilities and LFOs, harmonizer, effects, and MIDI I/O. You edit the patches on your computer then load them into the pedal for stage use: It holds 90 user programs.
I’ve been wanting to wrap my ears around the semi-modular analog synth Ants! ($599) for a long time, and I finally got my chance at the Plankton Electronics (planktonelectronics.com) booth. The desktop module has four oscillators (two of which can be used as LFOs), two dedicated LFOs, noise generator, sample-and-hold, two VCAs, a resonant filter (highpass/lowpass), a logic gate, a mixer and MIDI-to-CV converter. Ants! is capable of rich and dense sounds, particularly when you utilize the range of modulation capabilities, and its sound palette, size, and MIDI implementation allow it to be used in a wide range of musical styles and setups.
Polyend (polyend.com) made a bold statement last year with its Perc Pro percussion controller and Seq step-sequencer (visit emusician.com for reviews of both). They certainly didn’t disappoint us this year when they revealed a working prototype of Medusa, a hybrid synth designed in collaboration Dreadbox (dreadbox-fx.com). In addition to having three analog and three digital oscillators (as well as noise), the synth includes a resonant analog filter (highpass and 2- and 4-pole lowpass), an assignable 6-stage EG, multiple LFOs, and FM capabilities among many other features. Medusa also includes a step-sequencer (with three input modes) and 64 pads with 3-dimentional sensitivity for performance control and sequencing.
The number of virtual instruments and software products was larger at Superbooth18 than in previous years, with several companies using the occasion for major announcements. One of the biggest was at the Spectrasonics (spectrasonics.net) booth where they demonstrated the hardware-synth integration capabilities of Omnisphere 2.5. This new feature lets you use a variety of well-known keyboard instruments to control the virtual instrument right from the front panel. Additionally, the update increased the voice architecture of Omnisphere to four layers per patch and added 13,000 new sounds, among other new features.
With Reason 10.1, Propellerhead (propellerheads.se) opened up its rack extensions format to products from other soundware developers. The update also adds the ability to load samples into the Europa synth so you can use it as a spectral multiplier.
Bitwig (bitwig.com), in collaboration with Expert Sleepers (expert-sleepers.co.uk), announced the ES-8 Bitwig Edition, which bundles the ES-8 Eurorack module (featuring a built-in USB class-compliant USB 2.0 audio interface) and a free license for the Bitwig 8-Track. Bitwig was designed with modular synth users in mind, and this bundle is made for Eurorack/DAW integration.
And if you’re a fan of Tracktion’s Waverazor (tracktion.com), you’re going to flip for Waverazor 2.0 Editor Version ($159; free upgrade for Waverazor 1.0 users). The Contextual Editor lets you easily work with the thousands of parameters you now have access to, and the update opens up Wave-Slicing, Multi-Sync and Mutant FM for patch creation. If you haven’t tried Waverazor, visit the website and check out the unique ways it sculpts sound.