While Superbooth and SchneidersLaden are known for showcasing a wide variety of modular-synth gear, there were many keyboards at Superbooth17, from Roland, Moog, Access, Arturia, Kurzweil, Yamaha and Nord, for starters.
A handful of keyboards and synth modules caught our eye because of some particularly unique quality or other factor. For example...
One of the most talked about instruments at the show was the C15 keyboard from Nonlinear Labs. Designed by Stephan Schmitt, founder of Native Instruments and creator of Reaktor, the C15 is intended to be a performance instrument, not a "controller," per se. As you can see, it provides two horizontal ribbon strips, as well as direct access to parameters from the front panel's button layout for programming sounds, even on the fly. However, there is no MIDI or CV/gate I/O, no arpeggiator or LFO. The USB port is for data exchange and software updates only.
Schmitt thinks of it as a "standalone instrument" in the same way one would approach a Rhodes, Wurly, or Clavinet.
The synthesis engine is digital: a 2-operator phase modulation-style engine (with frequency randomization available) that uses only sine waves, with the audio signals generated, filtered, and modulated in real time. The presets sounded bright and animated, and it was easy to alter them immediately from the front panel. The ribbons controlled things such as feedback or modulation amount, and were overall musically satisfying (even if I had to cross one arm over another when playing the lower keys with the right hand).
The C15 at the show offered 12-voice polyphony (with greater polyphony in the works), but every model has a resonator, a multi-mode state-variable filter (2- and 4-pole and FM), three 6-stage envelopes (ADBDSR), 4 macro controls, 5 stereo effects (reverb, chorus/flanger, echo, amp simulators, and 8-pole "gap/band" filter), feedback mixer and feedback bus. Moreover, it can be edited directly over WiFi using a browser. It's priced at 4,000 Euros and available only through direct order.
We also had a chance to play Waldorf's latest release, Quantum, an 8-voice polyphonic hybrid synth with 3 digital oscillators, dual analog filters, and a touch screen.
Designed by Axel Hartmann, and with an expected prices of 3,500 Euros, Quantum has a particularly interesting user interface: The controls are lighted, and the color is based on the parameters you've chosen, making it easy to keep track of where you are when editing sounds. In this photo, Particle is selected for LFO 1 and is green, Waveform is selected for LFO 2 and is red, and Resonator has been chosen for LFO 3, lighting up blue.
The few presets it had sounded decent, but it's the layout of the control interface that was most promising, because it seems to be straightforward, as well as easy to use and remember where things are located if you're on a dark stage.
Another hit of the show was the Ondomo, a Japanese-built, handmade instrument based on the early-20th century electronic instrument known as the Ondes Martenot. Like the original Ondes, Ondomo has both a keyboard and a ring-controller for creating glissandi, as well as the touche d'intensité trigger button—a familiar interface for Ondes players. The little pull-out drawer on the left has pitch and timbre controls, a mixer, and the touche d'intensité.
However, the Ondomo is portable, has a built-in speaker (on the front, facing the audience), a 1/4" audio output, an expression pedal input, and it folds up into a lightweight, portable case as seen here. (The removable legs go into a separate bag.) The first run is sold out, but orders are being taken for the next run.
4ms showed three new Eurorack modules that are highly sophisticated and musically very rich: From left to right, the Spherical Wavetable Navigator, the Stereo Triggered Sampler, and the Tapographic Delay. The Spherical Wavetable Navigator has 6 oscillators, each with an LFO and deep set of controls that provide a bucketload of ways to traverse and modulate the 3-dimensional array of wavetables. The demo took nearly an hour to go through all the features, and each feature was more exciting than the previous one. Can't wait to get this into our Eurorack system.
The Topographic Delay is also feature-rich and fairly deep in terms of what it can do, such as tapping in delay rhythms from the front panel, and then stacking and modulating them; a really satisfying way to work with a delay.
At the Behringer booth, we had a chance to play a prototype of the D, an analog desktop module based on the Minimoog but aggressively priced at $399. Although we didn't have an original Moog to compare it to, the Behringer model's tone seemed to be in the ballpark and sounded very solid, hitting all the timbre points. The company also showed a 6-voice version of it's Deepmind keyboard, as well as a 12-voice desktop module.
While we're on the topic of desktop synth modules, Dreadbox displayed the analog 4-voice Abyss (1 oscillator and 1 sub-osc per voice). In addition to having analog oscillators and filter, it offers four performance modes (unison, polyphonic, chords, multi-channel), 2 analog LFOs, white noise, a 1024 BBD delay, a 4-stage phaser, drive and effects. It's priced at 1,099 Euros.
Although it resembles an EMS Synthi, the Digitana SX-1 Stand Alone Expander is not an exact clone of the classic British instrument. Co-developed with the band Future Sound of London, the module does, however, take the Synthi interface further in terms of routing and modulation, It has dual analog VCOs, dual 4-pole filters, a pair of 2-stage envelopes, an LFO, and a few other features visible in the photo. It's in the final stages of development but the working prototype sounded great and was timbrally quite flexible.
One particular synth we fell in love with was the the Eowave Quadrantis Swarm, which the company loaned us for a live performance on the Superbooth17's Sea Stage. What particularly knocked us out about this unusual stand-alone instrument was it's wide frequency range...and its bass timbre, in particular: The stage's subwoofers were really moving air when we dialed down the oscillator and filter. Moreover, the unit overdrives easily with a very musical distortion whether you're in the bass registers or the upper frequencies. It has a built-in sequencer that your program with the touch-plate and knob for each step, but you can also play it more conventionally with the sequencer off. It doesn't take many patch cords to get this little guy to wig out in wonderful ways, and it's highly portable and fits easily into a carryon bag.