Buchla synths are weird. That is of course the charm. They are also known for being quite expensive. The LEM systems and h-series modules from Buchla Electronic Music continue to push lower in price, including this self-contained LEM4 system with “Music Easel-style” keyboard.
It contains a Buchla dual complex oscillator, vactrol low-pass filters/gates, and MIDI and CV options. The combination contains what one needs to make distinctive Buchla sounds with the crunchy high-pitched oscillators, and of course the percussing low-pass gates in odd rhythms. At $2499, however, it is still quite pricey for an entry-level unit.
Another way to get started with Buchla modules would be use one of the adapters that allow Eurorack modules to be embedded in an e-Series system.
While billed as “the solution to fit that ‘must have’ Eurorack module in your 200e or LEM system”, it would allow one to combine a Buchla oscillator or gate with an existing Eurorack system. Something that is certainly an intriguing possibility (a delightfully dangerous one).
And for sheer aesthetics, the 252e Polyphonic Rhythm Generator still remains my favorite.
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.
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!
We finally come to the end of our exhaustive visit to the huge analog modular booth at NAMM. We of course had to pay our friends at Synthrotek a visit. They make DIY synthesis kits as well as full modules, often with a delightfully noisy quality. For example there is the aptly named DIRT Filter and the Chaos NAND of which we at CatSynth are quite fond. They had some new offerings for this year’s show.
Among the new modules were a series that came from a collaboration with George Mattson. The MST and Synthrotek modules together form a complete analog synthesizer voice, with MIDI-to-CV, oscillator, filter, mixer, and modulations. There is even a classic Mattson-designed buffered multiple. Another interesting offering was the DS-M, a complete drum synth module with multiple “colors” of noise, built in oscillator, VCO and a voltage-based “velocity sensitivity.” It can create standard analog drum sounds, but can also do some rather unusual sounds as well. Like most products from Synthrotek, these can be ordered as raw kits, module-assembly kits (with panels, etc.), or as completed versions.
Nearby was Synthesis Technology, makers of the E-350 Morphing Terrarium that was among the first modules I bought back in 2012.
Next to the e350 in the photo is an expander module from Manhattan Analog that opens up some additional functionality of the original module. Also pictured above the the E-102 Quad Temporal Shifter, basically a digital implementation of the Serge analog shift register. The E-560 thru-zero frequency shifter and ring modulator is quite interesting as well.
This concludes our reports from this year’s NAMM show. There was so much to see on the synthesizer front we were not able to get to it all, much less write about it. It was definitely one to remember, but we are looking forward to more next year!
Today we continue with the panoply of synth module manufactures that we say at this year’s NAMM show.
One instrument that garnered quite a bit of attention (and deservedly) so was the new Komplex Sequencer from our friends at KOMA Eletronik.
First of all, it is sleek and beautiful. But it is also quite powerful. It features four independent 16-step sequencers supporting both MIDI and CV/Gate. The sequencers can each be set to play in one of five modes (forward, backward, ping-pong, ping-pong reversed, random); and CV can be quantized to various Western scales (for those who need such things in their music). The size of control and combined support for MIDI and CV would be a lot in itself. I am definitely looking forward to seeing this ship in the near future.
Qu-bit Electronix presented some modules that are also going to be our “want” list. The Nubulae may not be new for 2015, but it seems extremely useful compositionally. It reads and renders audio files from a flash drive, but with CV-based control for speed, pitch, and granular synthesis. The NanoRand is a tiny module that packs four different randomization functions along with a bright multi-color LED (it’s that big purple light in the photo above). Switching among the four functions via a sequencer creates some very intriguing musical patterns.
Finally, we at CatSynth were quite interested in the new Spectral Filter from 4ms. It is a spectral multi band resonant filter that can sculpt and amplify sections of a signal to create harmonic (or inharmonic) structures.
A unique feature was the circular control that allows one to “rotate” around the spectrum. I found myself comparing this to the newly released additive synthesis module from Make Noise (you can read about it here. They are both spectral manipulators and can some similar in particular moments, though they approach and instrument architecture is quite different.
In this article we focus on some of the rhythm and percussion modules that were shown at this year’s NAMM show.
Tiptop Audio presented the Circadian Rhythm along with its well-known line of percussion synth modules. It is branded as a “rhythm composer” and a central element to a rhythmic modular system to work alongside the existing Trigger Riot module. They also had several Serge Eurorack modules. You can hear them all together in this video.
Nearby was Delptronics, makers of the popular TriggerMan module for sequencing and patterns. It pairs well with their drum modules, including the ThunderBell available in both Eurorack and cowbell form. The ThunderBell is now part of the system at CatSynth HQ.
Hexinverter.net makes a wide variety of modules, including popular kits for synth percussion such as “Mutant HiHats” and “Mutant Clap.” This year they introduced the Mutant Machine, which is a more generalized percussion synthesizer compared the earlier ones that each do a specialized instrument model. They also introduced Mutant Glue, an all-in-one mixer with compression, distortion, etc.
I have traditionally shied away from drum synths in my analog modular systems until now, as the offerings and demos did show me that there are more esoteric possibilities than traditional electronic beats. Although as that first video suggests, those can be fun, too.
We pick up our post-NAMM coverage where we left off after the show. As stated in earlier articles, this was a great year for synthesizers, including analog modular synthesizers. For the first time, several manufacturers formed a super booth in Hall A in the main show floor.
Holding court in the center was Deiter Doepfer himself with a giant Doepfer modular system.
The new modules from Doepfer this year included an opto FET filter (an alternative to the popular vactrol filters), a quadrature thru-zero VCO, and a large trigger sequencer. The trigger sequencer has a nice appearance and provides a lot of outputs. It plays well with a new clock divider that Doepfer introduced as well. The FET filter has some interesting properties for doing FM filter effects as it can modulate much faster, though it apparently distorts at higher volumes.
JoMoX has been long known for its small tabletop instruments. This year, like several other manufacturers, they introduced Eurorack modular versions, including the T-rackonizer filter matrix along with some of their drum synths.
Black Market Modular collaborated with Foxtone Music to bring the Colour Pallete to the Eurorack modular format. It’s really a “modular inside a modular”, where one can mix and match up to three “colour palettes” (expansion cards) that operate as standalone modules, each with its own VCA. They hope to release more expansion cards over time, which will be compatible with their outboard system.
Another interesting collaboration featured WMD and Steady-State Fate (SSF). There are some basic modulesl, but also some specialized sound and control elements such as the Spectrum and Mini Slew modules. And all of them can put together in this neat little case complete with keyboard that supports MIDI and CV.
This is only the beginning of what was on display in the analog modular superbooth 6990. More will be presented in subsequent articles.
This year, Tom Oberheim joined his fellow giants in the synthesizer world Dave Smith, Don Buchla, and Roger Linn at NAMM. He has rereleased the classic SEM synthesizer and introduced a new Eurorack module based on the SEM.
The EuroModule SEM is a single voice of the standalone synthesizer. It has two VCOs, a VCF, two envelopes, LFO, and VCA. It’s pretty much an entire instrument in one, and it takes up quite a bit of space in a modular system. Where I could see it being of particular use in this environment route external CV into it.
The Tom Oberheim booth (under the name of his company Marion Systems) was a family affair, and indeed the entire Oberheim family was extremely welcoming and friendly.
The SEM module as well as a separate Phaser module are expected to be released later this year.