Among the traditional big manufacturers of electronic instruments, Korg has stood out has having some of the strongest and most interesting offerings. This year, they introduced the minilogue which was perhaps the most discussed and hyped synthesizer in the lead-up to this show. It seems everyone is talking about the minilogue. So here it is.
It’s a four-voice polyphonic analog synthesizer with an estimated street price of $499. That alone would get a huge amount of attention! It is also a completely new instrument rather than a remake or model of an existing one, like Korg did with the MS-20 mini and ARP Odyssey. It’s filters and oscillators have their own sound, though it did remind me a bit of the Arturia Minibrute. It is quite approachable and playable, sleek and light. The little waveform display is a really nice touch as well. A few of the controls were a little tricky to get at first, including the preset selector and some of the controller options. Like many other friends, colleagues, and fellow synth nerds, I may find myself getting one considering the price. Though that $499 could go part way to a Prophet 6 instead.
Another new release, the Volca FM was more a surprise.
It combines the Volca keyboard and sequencer with a 6-operator FM synth, much like the Yamaha DX7 and others. Indeed it supports existing DX7 sounds (presumably that includes TX802 and other instruments from the DX7 series). In addition to being more portable and playable than my 1980s Yamaha FM modules, it has some new real-time features that like, including the ability to change the algorithm while playing via a knob or automation. If one wants to experiment with FM synthesis again in the context of modular synths, as I do, this seems like good choice.
No visit to NAMM is complete without a stop at the booth of Big City Music. There were familiar faces and instruments, but a few new things as well.
The Mellotron micro is the latest in the Mellotron series. It’s small and compact, and with an expected price $800-$1000 USD it’s more affordable than the others in the series (although still quite pricey).
Metasonix is at it again. The big yellow box that Big City Music always brings to the show sported some new modules in silver.
Among them was the RK2 XSVCA. It’s not just a VCA, but has distortion, feedback and out-of-phase outputs among other features. The marketing material is everything we have come to know and love from Metasonix.
There are always some odd and unusual pedals. These pedals from Indu Trielectric were quite visually intriguing.
The maker’s descriptive text – much less colorful than Metasonix’s – suggested that this was a bit of a Swiss Army Knife with lots of features, including “chaotic reverb” but it also came with the admonition to the user to expect weirdness and imprecision, traits that can be quite useful for music. I wasn’t able to hear it at the time, but might get a chance to later.
We at CatSynth have long been fans of E-MU Systems’ synthesizer. The Proteus 2K and Morpheus remain vital parts of my music studio – and some long-time readers may recall that I used to work for E-MU many years ago. So it was excited to see the new Eurorack modules from Rossum Electo-Music, the new project of E-MU founder and synthesizer inventor Dave Rossum.
The main module available is the Evolution, a Moog-style ladder filter with some unique twists. It allows the user to switch among topologies, from 3 to 6 poles, in real time. And of course this function is controllable via CV for some interesting effects. The filter itself sounds great, with signal conditioning to allow resonant sweeps while maintaining strong bass tones from the original signal. The Morpheus module is a Eurorack implementation of the legendary E-MU Z-Plane filter, which allows interpolation on three axis between different 14-pole filter configurations. All of the parameters for the Z-Plane filter are CV controllable. Unfortunately the Morpheus wasn’t ready for me to hear, but I certainly looking forward to it.
Our friends in the modular-synth world are moving up at NAMM, with a collective booth at the front of the show right near giants like Moog and Dave Smith Instruments. It’s a bit much to take in all at once, as modules and module-makers continue to proliferate. This will be the first of a few articles covering just this booth.
One new set of modules, and perhaps the oddest, comes from BASTL Instruments.
In addition to the wood texture, there are modules that can control motors, solenoids and other outboard electronic elements. It does bring to mind some ideas for sound installations and live performances. You can hear a bit of these modules in this video.
Soulby presented Eurorack modular versions of 8-bit processing modules more messing with voice and other input signals.
Delays and looping seem to be a thing this year. 4ms had a new looper and delay module whose novel feature is audio rate control of the functions for unusual flange delays and other continuous effects.
While the 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator is not new for this year, it is still one I am excited about.
QuBit Electronix has a new sequencer module with a circular pattern; and a new polyphonic oscillator with individual controls and VCAs. You can see and hear both of them in this short video.
A video posted by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on
Synthrotek is focusing on full systems, including a MIDI-CV converter that supports bi-directional clocks. One can use heavily modulated CV clocks to control time-based elements on MIDI synthesizers with this feature.
And KOMA Elektronik returned with their massive sequencer, looking more refined. And it has a lot of lights!
More from this both and beyond in coming articles.
Once again, it’s that most glorious time of the new year when we CatSynth trek down to Anaheim, California for the NAMM show. Synthesizers have been quite the thing the last couple of years, and we expect to see more that again this year. Follow us here on the blog for detailed coverage, as well as on Twitter and Instagram for live coverage and photos!