NAMM 2017: Erica Synths, LZX, Sputnik, Roland, And More

There are multiple superbooths of modular synth makers this year. We visited the first (and smaller) of the two this afternoon.

The folks at Erica Synths have a new DIY kit inspired by the legendary Soviet synth Polyvoks.

It’s a raw but sonically rich instrument and we at CatSynth could see using it. They have also updated their flagship black series.

We would be remiss if we didn’t also show their adorable logo 😺.

One thing we have observed this year is that many module makers have upped their game when it comes to visual design. We saw that with the Erica Synths offerings, but with others as well. Consider this Euclidean Circles from vpme.de:

The Charcot Circles is a collaboration of Studio Electronics and eowave. It is a rather complex and enigmatic module providing sequencing and CV with non-linear processing.

The round designs are reminiscent of Buchla synthesizers, which of course brings us to Sputnik Modular which produces Buchla-inspired “west coast synthesis” modules.

LZX Modular is all about the visuals, as their modules process video rather than audio. They have several new offerings, including an LCD display module and an all-in-one starter. You can see a little bit in this video.

New video modules from LZX. #namm #namm2017

A video posted by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on

The both also featured Roland’s AIRA series, including the System-8. The setup featured remakes of some classic Roland modules that we reported about last year in addition to the “plug-out” system.

It is interesting that Roland has moved its display of these instruments from their main area at NAMM to the modular-synth booths. It would seem they know their audience.

Finally, we have new offerings from Industrial Music Electronics, formerly known as The Harvestman. They still have the same characteristic orange knob style.

Among there new modules are the Argos Bleak, a CV processer, the Bionic Lester mk II, a capacitor filter; and our favorite name-wise, the Contempt, a dyamics processor.

Modular manufacturers haven’t lost their edge even as the industry matures.

CatSynth pic: Bluto and Monorocket

Bluto and Monorocket

From cskonopka on Instagram.

“Bluto is upset he can’t fit in the box #catsynth #cats #catsynthesis #monorocket #LZX #lzxindustries”

NAMM: Analogue Haven

The visit the Analogue Haven booth is another of the annual pilgrimages at the NAMM show. The highlight of my visit this year was a performance by Richard Devine on a system consisting exclusively of Make Noise modules.

This virtuosic performance showed what these modules are truly capable of with practice. The music moved between rhythmic staccato textures and longer resonant tones in multiple layers. It was also a showcase for the DPO, Make Noise’s oscillator, which was the only tone generator in this system. I have a Make Noise Maths and an Ecophon, and the performance inspired me to practice these along with the other modules to get more complex musical results.

Analog video is looking like a potential area of creative expansion, and LZX Industries was prominently demonstrating their video modules. Here we see our mascot being processed live.

One thing I would like to see more in video synthesis is interaction between analog audio, video and control signals.

On the opposite end from the modules was the massive Schmidt Eightvoice Polyphonic Synthesizer. A beautiful looking instrument with an interesting set of filters inspired be Moog and Oberheim:

This synthesizer is truly a labor of love by its creator Stefan Schmidt, who spent many years on this project. It remains to be seen if it will sell.

Other quick views from around the Analogue Haven booth included this demo of modules from Snazzy FX:

Percussion modules and a novel sequencer from Delptronics:

And the distinctive orange controls of the Harvestman modules.

There were three new releases from Harvestman, including a new Hertz Donut.

And the distinctive clean white design of Koma Elektronik, including the SVF-201 Vactrol Filter module and their infrared controller.

It is great to see the popularity of the analog instruments and new designs coming each year. If there are any drawbacks, it is that the field of available modules and effects boxes has become quite bewildering, and that the Analogue Haven booth is always quite crowded.

Analog Haven at NAMM

I often find myself spending quite a bit of time at the booth of Analog Haven at NAMM. It is an opportunity to see quite a variety of analog instruments (and a few not-quite-analog), and meet several of the small independent makers. The visit took on added significance as I cautiously wade into adding analog modular to my own arsenal of musical instruments.

We big with KOMA Elektronic, who showed off a prototype of their new Kommander, an infrared motion controller with multiple axes of control. It joins their existing effects boxes in their product line:

We also had fun with the fact the industrial design, particularly the geometric black-and-white pattern, match my own aesthetics in terms of dress and decor.

Make Noise is known for their unique and complex modules for audio processing and control. They had several new offerings, including the Echophon whose sound I quite liked.


[Click to enlarge.]

The Echophon is a collaboration with Tom Erbe of SoundHack, and is a reverse of the usual trend in that digital character is re-imagined in the analog domain. Make Noise also presented their first oscillator, the DPO.

Another module that particularly caught my fancy was the Morphing Terrarium from Synthesis Technology. It is a wavetable VCO that contains numerous waveforms, but more significantly it has parameters for “morphing” or moving among the different wavetables. With the right self modulation, this can lead to very surprising and complex waveforms:

Another interesting new find was an analog modular video synthesizer from LZX Industries.

Like analog audio counterparts, the LZX modules generate, process and modulate analog video signals. Think of it as being the boxes that each do all the little pieces of an old TV studio but with creative routing and control. You can see a little bit of video below:

I did specifically ask about mixing audio modules with the video modules (LZX uses the standard Eurorack format), and was informed that yes, this can be done, though one would need to match the voltages between the two domains, and keep in mind that the frequency ranges of video are much higher.

Visual interest and catchy names are a big part of the inspiration in many of the small boutique offerings. These pedals from Audible Disease were quite creative.

Among the visual designs, this simple switcher caught my attention. It reminded me a bit of my visit to the Communist Propaganda Museum in Shanghai.

Other offerings included the ARCHANGEL, an analog sequencer with touch plate controllers, from Detachment 3.

And these pedals from Lightfoot Labs:

The Goatkeeper 3 is a tremolo pedal with analog signal path, but with a variety of waveforms (including the ability to record your own), and a sequencer for even more complex modulation.

There was a lot more at the booth, more than I can do in one article. I hope to see more of these instrument makers as I personally explore analog synthesis in greater depth.

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