We resume of coverage of the 2018 NAMM Show after a few days break – and a nasty bout of “NAMMthrax” – with the latest spin on an old favorite: the Nord Electro 6.
Longtime readers know that I have been a user of Nord keyboards since I got my trusty Nord Stage EX back in 2010. It has served me well, but have sometimes been envious of the features in subsequent generations, notably the expandable Piano Library and Sample Library (the original Stage does not support the sample library at all). With the Electro 6, the separation from the Stage line is much more blurred, and it calls into question the need for a Stage at all for those of us who fell in love with Nord keyboards for their electric pianos. The Electro 6 supports up to 3 layers and splits (something previously limited to the Stage). The electric piano (and acoustic piano) section is enhanced with new layering features and its own filter section that allows one to dial in different tones within a particular model. And the piano library is expandable with 1GB of memory. The organ section uses the C2D engine, and a rock organ is quite handy in a variety of situations. The sample library allows for classic Mellotron sounds as well as a variety of others. The one section from the Stage that is missing is the independent A1 synth (similar to the Lead). Personally, it is the section I use the least, so I wouldn’t miss it if I moved over to the Electro. Plus, this model would be a little bit easier to schlep back and forth to gigs.
The Electro 6 comes in three models: 61-key and 73-key semi-weighted with mechanical organ drawbars; and the “HP” version with 73 fully weighted keys and LED drawbars. As a pianist, the latter would be my preference.
If you are already fortunate enough to have an Electro 4 or 5, the 6 probably won’t be a big enough change to warrant an upgrade, especially at the high prices these instruments command. But if one has been waiting eight years, it might be the time…
Our friend Damien Olsen back in Brooklyn presents “Cats in the Studio”, featuring two of his cats and sundry keyboards. I had the pleasure to meet these felines during my most recent trip back to New York 😺
NAMM is full of serendipitous moments. One of those occurred as we passed the WMD booth and saw a live performance unfolding with flute and woodwind virtuoso Pedro Eustache performing on a vintage wind instrument controlling a WMD Synchrodyne module. We featured it on CatSynth TV.
Eustache informed us that his wind instrument was an unusual one from the 1970s, and that he was using it as a CV controller for the Synchrodyne. He found the combination to be quite expressive and complete, and we can certainly hear that in his performance.
The Synchrodyne is intended to be a complete synthesizer voice in a module, and it has the combination of sawtooth VCO, filter, and VCA that are the building blocks of subtractive synthesis. But it also includes a built-in Phase-Locked Loop (PLL) controlling the VCO, which adds a variety of new sound and control dimensions. PLLs can be challenging to use – the concept implies stability but often includes chaotic phases – but controls on the PLL for dampening, speed and input influence provide more musical control. Additionally, the VCO provides support for frequency modulation. Finally, there is a wavefolder on the front end of the filter that provides additional non-linear signal processing and distortion options. WMD puts it succinctly in their description of the module:
Containing several pieces to a traditional synthesizer voice, the Synchrodyne is a powerful addition to any subtractive oriented system. However, it is designed primarily as an experimental sound source/filter, intended to push the limits of modular synthesis…WMD style.
This is not your classic subtractive analog synthesizer voice, as one might find in a Moog synthesizer or the Korg Prologue that we reviewed in an earlier article. It is a beast, but with practice, we see how it can be an expressive musical instrument on its own. We look forward to trying it out ourselves one of these days. And we thank Pedro Eustace for being so gracious after the performance and sharing with us his process making music with the Synchrodyne and his wind controller. From his official website:
“In Pedro’s own words: ‘I simply hope–and I really work hard at this, through ‘active submission’–that someday, whenever I see my Creator I would be able to give Him an answer worthy of the ‘package-of- grace’ he entrusted me with.'”
We would be remiss if we didn’t visit the Korg booth at NAMM, especially as Waldorf was there as well. We took some quick peeks at some of the new offerings, which you can see in this video.
The Korg Prologue synthesizer was among the most hyped instruments leading up to NAMM, so we of course had to check it out.
It is quite pretty, with a sleek black front panel and wooden side panels. The analog synth was not that exciting to us, as we at CatSynth are rather spoiled by the offerings of Dave Smith Instruments such as the Rev2 or Prophet 6. And it doesn’t fill the niche of the Minilogue as an affordable polyphonic analog synthesizer. What intrigues us is the open architecture for the digital oscillators that will allow advanced users to add their own programs. At NAMM, it is difficult to impossible to explore this, but we look forward to learning more about in the future.
By contrast, the Waldorf STVC string synthesizer and vocoder was fun to play and sounded great on our first test. The vocoder played more smoothly with my voice than the Roland VP-03 that I frequently use (including in the opening for CatSynth TV). But it does require dialing in the exact right patch for one’s voice. When we returned to the booth to record our video segment, it took a while to find something that worked, and it wasn’t quite as good as that first time. But we know this is part of the deal with vocoders, and they require practice to play well.
We visited our friends at Rossum Electro-Music at NAMM and were treated to an in-depth demonstration of their Assimil8or module by Marco Alpert.
We are grateful to Marco for his demonstration, not just because it made our video awesome, but because it helped better understand what is a complex module. The Assimil8or is a sample engine with many of the features one found in classic E-MU samplers, and more (Dave Rossum being the mastermind behind E-MU’s popular instruments). One particularly intriguing advance was the timed switching among samples, which allows one to move between different tracks seamlessly while remaining in time (the Cars example in the video demonstrates this quite well). There is also “virtual tape-scrubbing” of audio. Of course, everything is CV controllable.
Combining the Assimil8or with the Morpheus module (which we at CatSynth own and enjoy) and the Control Forge, one can assemble something akin to an E-MU sampler on steroids, with vastly more complex and rich control options, including at audio rate! Even the Morpheus on its own is rather overwhelming, but having seen the modules in action by the folks who made gives us ideas on how to use it better. We look forward to more experiments with these modules from Rossum Electro-Music!
More info can be found at http://www.rossum-electro.com.
(Disclosure: Amanda Chaudhary of CatSynth used to work for E-MU Systems, several of whose principals are now at Rossum Electro-Music.)
One of our first stops at NAMM 2018 was to visit our friends at Qu-Bit Electronix to see what they are up to. They have three new modules, Synapse, Nebulae MK2, and Scanned. We had a chance to try them out for ourselves – you can see a bit of our experience in this video.
We at CatSynth own and enjoy using the original Nebulae module, but the MK2 is a significant improvement, with more versatile and expressive controls for pitch, speed, and granularity (rate, window, etc.). The main speed button traverses quite a range both forward and backward, and features a quick reset to unity by pressing. Similar functionality is available with the pitch button. The granularity features go beyond the original, including the ability to freeze the sound in place to create a steady timbre from any section of a recording.
The Scanned module is perhaps the first hardware implementation of scanned synthesis technique pioneered by Max Matthews and others. The simplest way to describe it is as a system that provides the control of a struck or plucked string, but with a far greater range of sound than a vibrating string, such as any wavetable source. The module has independent controls for pluck, tension, and many more parameters, of course all individually controlled via CV. With pitch and gate input, it becomes the starting block for a rich modular instrument.
Although not included in the video demo, the Synapse is an interesting and handy module for mixing, switching, and otherwise routing a variety of CV sources to various destinations all from a single module. It makes your CV sources more like a mixer with cross-fades and such.
It’s always fun to check in with Qu-Bit, and we look forward to seeing more of these modules.