KICK ASS!!! for January 2019
What the hell?...you'd think some sort of huge synth trade show had been going on. Oh...wait, it WAS!
As promised, NAMM month brought a bumper crop of Eurorack tastiness. Winter NAMM is the largest music retailer trade show in N. America, and as Eurorack moves on further into the mainstream consciousness of synthesists, it was bound to happen that this was going to be pretty brain-exploding!So, here's an ultra-long rundown of the best MG Eurorack picks for just the past month of listings here on everyone's fave synth reference.
Nonlinearcircuits Signum Hyperchaos, Spasm, Digital Filter Simulator, GENiE: Not just one new chaotic toy, but four from Nonlinearcircuits. The Signum Hyperchaos is an expansion of their previous Hyperchaos line, adding CV-controlled switching and further bits of randomness arcana. Spasm is a new take on jerk-type chaotic circuitry, using vactrols as control elements. Want chaos? It's got plenty of that! Then there's the Digital Filter Simulator...which is and isn't a filter as we're used to it. In this case, it's more of a complex bit-crushing chopping-type sample-and-hold, with other extremely wrong ideas, and capable of being used on either audio or CV! And the GENiE is a three-neuron logic (or, in this case, more like ILlogic) -based signal processing mayhem for CVs, although you could also use it with audio for interestingly problematic results. There's a lot here for a lot of different schools of synthesis...generative types will likely go bonkers on these, plus there's possibilities for the industrial/noise crowd, possibilities for intricate alteration of sequencing/clocking behavior, and on and on! Check the listings for each for hp and $$$, as well as more detailed descriptions of each plus video of these modules causing all sorts of trouble.
ADDAC System ADDAC306: Have you ever found yourself wishing you had five hands to make CV and/or modulation changes? ADDAC has your fix, without the painful and messy surgery: their VC Transitions module. This little wonder puts five different CV signals under the control of a single crossfader-type slider, allowing you to set up big global shifts under a single gesture. Not only that, but you have total control over the degree of change as well as direction, plus this can be expanded to four more channels of control with a second ADDAC306. And as if that wasn't enough, this thing also can function as something of an “envelope relay”...patch an ADSR to the CV IN, and then define five totally different voltage contours that follow your original envelope. Definitely one of the smartest controllers I've seen in a hot minute. 8 hp, approx $135.
Takaab SMIX: Too simple, you say? Nothing's too simple. Take this 2 hp widget from Siam Modular, for instance. Basically, it's a passive mixer; you get either two 3->1 circuits or one big 6->1 one. No current draw, stoopid-tiny (14mm) depth, $20. Why concentrate on something this simple? Well, I think loads of us have found ourselves in a situation where we just need to merge some modulation signals, but we didn't have a mixer with knobs handy, or maybe even space for another one of those, or just couldn't justify adding that cost-wise. If you've found yourself in that quandry, this is your fix. Granted, with it being a passive device there's a bit of signal loss, but if you're dealing with modulation signals that's not going to be majorly consequential.
And now, two different takes on stompbox integration altogether...
AI Synthesis AI006 Stomp Box Adapter: This is the simple approach. Send and return level adjustments to set your gain structure properly, and that's it. Oh...that's not it, though, because this useful little thing fits in 2 hp, making it the smallest stompbox I/O to date! For those wishing you could find a way to cram in a send/return module for an external FX chain, well, here's an easier way. $70.
Adventure Audio Merge: And now, the utterly bonkers approach! This is FX send/return taken to the point of utter madness...incorporating an envelope follower, logic aspects, a level comparator, rectification for additional distortion, all sorts of internal routing voodoo, in addition to the usual gain-staging controls and I/O connections. Amazingly, this is so complex that you really need a look at its listing for yourself, something I find pretty astonishing for a send/return. And you don't just have to use it for that, as it also makes for a useful line-level input module with a lot of bells and whistles. 16 hp, $249.
Erica Synths Plasma Drive: Gamechanger Audio came out with this pedal last year, a somewhat-frightening device with a little tube of actual lightning zapping around inside a plasma tube, which allowed for lots of distortion and waveshaping tricks of a unique nature, given that the main element functions as a tube rectifier. Erica's working with these maniacs, apparently...because here's that same thing as a Eurorack module with the addition of CV over the distortion level and mix, plus trigger-switchable octave-up and down tracking oscillators for more harmonic craziness. And the real shocking part (ahahaha!!! shocking! get it? uh...anyway...) is that even with the plasma discharge thingy, this only draws 150 mA, so not only can you use your regular old Eurorack supply, the draw isn't too hideous for a no-foolin' tube device. This drops later this month so no pricing for this 16 hp Frankenstein module yet, but given that the original stompbox retails for $299, expectations seem to call for a price somewhere not too far above that.
Ladik M-053: Ahhh, Ladik...purveyors of useful small objects for not a helluva lot of money! In this case, they've come up with an AUX mixer. Three thru-busses get tapped twice, then sent to two three-channel mixers. The idea, of course, it that you'd insert this into a signal path and use them as FX sends where needed, but I see these as having more possibilities than that. You could create different mixes of three VCOs, for example, and send those to separate VCFs. Or you can use use this to split signal chains up from any sources and apply different processing, envelopes, etc, making it a boon for transitions in longer pieces or live performance. Nicely done! 8 hp, approx $62.
Tesseract Modular TEX MIX System: Speaking of mixers, there's this. Or rather, these. The TEX MIX system consists of three different modules, which can be combined as you like. The main module, the Master Section, is where the power connection to your bus board takes place and is essential. It has two stereo AUX returns, two mono AUX sends, stereo master and cue outputs, and a headphone amp. From this, you can mix and match as you like with the 4 Mono Channels or 4 Stereo Channels modules. The former has vactrol VCAs, AUX 1 and 2 send controls (including a pre/post-fader switch for AUX 1), panning per channel, level, and a switch to either mute or send a channel to the cue bus. Similarly, the 4 Stereo Channels has controls as above, but no VCAs. So, between these three modules, you can cobble together a bespoke performance mixer that fits your specific needs. And not for a load of cash, either; the Master is $67, 8 hp, and the Channels are 12 hp modules for $78.
Happy Nerding 4xMUTE: ...and if you want true mutes, why not toss a few of these in? 4 channels of electronically-switched clickless muting in a measly 4 hp. Each channel has a status LED in its control button, and comes in either silver or black panels. The 4xMUTE also works on CVs as well, so that makes it even more useful as a live performance controller for dropping in or taking out modulation signals, killing CV sends to switch VCOs to drones, and loads more. $100, 4 hp.
Tokyo Tape Music Center Sequential Voltage Source Model 123, Timing Pulse Generator Model 140, Bandpass Filter Model 194: As of NAMM, it appears that Buchla has taken back their Series 100 mantle, taking over production of Catalyst Audio's Series 100 reduxes as their “Red Panel” line. And add that fact to these fun toys from Tokyo, and we're getting damn close to having real Buchla 100 happiness again, but in Eurorack (although Buchla's also making the 100 modules they have in 4U as well)! Tokyo Tape Music Center's got their version of the Model 123 8x3 sequencer ready to go, along with the corresponding Model 140, basically the system's clock generator. Plus, they've also tossed out the first of the bandpass filters, offering four audio passbands from a single input, as the Model 194. This is pretty cool, as it means that much of the bread-n-butter of the Series 100 is now off-the-shelf available for Eurorack. The 140 and 194 are 14 hp, and $390 and $240 respectively, and the 123 comes in at a double-width of 28 hp for $590.
Rossum Electro-Music Trident: OK, we all know what a complex oscillator is (speaking of Buchla). Two oscillators played off of each other to create complex spectra, of course. But Dave Rossum could leave well enough alone, so this would be...an insanely-complex oscillator? Not two, but three VCOs are in this thing, with one acting as the 'carrier' and two more in various sorts of modulation guises. And they have Zing! What's Zing, you ask? Well, check the listing...because this one needs to be seen to be believed. Way too much complexity to explain here, plus so many uses I'd be going on for a whole page running them down! Could this be the ultimate West Coast VCO? It's possible... 30 hp, $599.
Make Noise QPAS: And yet more West Coast-tinged craziness! Tony Rolando's been popping up on YouTube and such with this module, a stereo state-variable multi-peak, brain-meltingly complex VCF. This is another one of those “I'm not explaining it here; go see it for yourself” ones, as the potential for use/abuse of this is off the charts. This is so versatile that if your small build has room for only one VCF, you must consider this one. All this craziness fits in 18 hp for $379.
Qu-Bit Electronix Prism, Bloom: ...and the hits just keep coming! Qu-bit dropped a pair of new toys. The Prism is described as a “multi-dimensional signal processor”, offering several useful manglers behind a 12 hp panel. It's got a state-variable VCF, bit-crusher, a “freeze” buffer and a comb filter-based reverb/resonator all in one for $249. But perhaps crazier still is the Bloom...a 32-step “fractal sequencer”that generates patterns based on fractal algorithms. Two channels, too, with 32 memories for sequences per channel, per step slewing and ratcheting and onboard clocking. This is definitely another “must-see” for the generative crowd, or anyone who wants to add some spice to their sequencing arsenal. 16 hp, $329.
2hp Grain, Bell: And don't leave the tiny module guys at 2hp out, no! They dropped a few new toys, but notable among them are an insanely-small granulator for a stoopid-cheap $149, and a physical modeler based on struck metallics for $149 as well. These go a bit beyond the 'space-filler' category many people put 2hp's modules in, being very simple and cost-effective devices with which to add some interesting and CVable digital textures.
Verbos Electronics Mini Horse, CV Processor: Mark Verbos has got a few new West Coasty toys for us. The first is a compact 12-plate touch controller, with individual and bussed outputs for gate, pressure, and position. This has a bit more going on than your typical keyboard, as pressure and plate-position are used here as extra modulation aspects, in addition to a fixed 0-10 V CV and a per-step variable CV on each plate. Also, the position outputs are latched, so not only could this be used as a pitch controller, but as a set of twelve touchplate faders for any sort of use. (42 hp, approx $675) Then there's the CV Processor...which combines Serge-like VCS fun up top with two lower CV processing sections not unlike the long-discontinued Buchla Model 257, offering loads of voltage math and mixing functionality. Plus, this has a very interesting “Bounce” circuit that adds the fun of “voltage overshoot”. More or less a Swiss Army Knife for CV manipulation that most anyone would find a use for. Pricey at approx $505, true, but for the Cadillac of CV alteration, I could see dropping that much, especially for that much function in 18 hp.
Plankton NUTONE: You know you want this. No pricing as of yet...but what we have here is a module that makes use of Korg's Nutube triode, a vacuum tube based on a fluorescent display, giving two VCAs with lots of overdrive potential for warm, fuzzy hollow-state distortion. Each channel also has a “feedback” control, which can increase gain to the point of internal feedback, allowing a lot of sonic mayhem. Plus, unlike normal tube circuits, this thing is very current friendly, drawing only 55 mA on the +12 and 17 mA on the -12 rails. Switchable between individual and parallel processing, making it very stereo-friendly. When we gonna know the price, Plankton!?
ph Multiple dual channel: Back to the simpler things. One of the annoying things about switched mults is that it can be difficult to see which way the switches are pointing. Enter ph's Multiple dual channel, a dual switched mult...with the added benefit of bicolor LEDs to show which channel is switched to the two mult busses. Smart! Plus, they give you a third middle position for 'off', so you can quickly drop something off a bus. There's three LED color combos available, but for the best contrast I'd recommend the BR (blue/red), as blue LEDs are glaringly (literally!) obvious, making for easy on-a-glance checks of the routings. A great live performance tool, to say the least! 6 hp, and dirt-cheap at $52!
Nozoid NOZORI: And now, we blow your mind. These two modules are based on an ARM Cortex M3. The 68 is dedicated to analog-style synth functions, while the 84 handles the digital-style ones. And each module has the ability to pose as 20 or so different virtual modules! With the addition of the 2 hp Expander, which has the behind-the-panel function jumpers of each Nozori brought out to a DIP switch pack, you can change the Nozori modules in your rig at will, potentially giving you a wholly-different modular in the process! Nozoid is working on additional module models, also. And these are quite skiff-friendly things, with 27 mm depths and only 150 mA draw on the +12V rail. Can't make up your mind about what you want in your skiff? Fine...use these, and you don't have to! Switch 'em, drop on a new function overlay, and you're golden! 12 hp, $280 each.
Konstant Lab FleXi: Blind panels are a pain. As your build progresses, you find yourself swapping and swapping them, filling the new gaps with combinations of these. There's got to be a better way! New, from K-Tel...uhm...Konstant Labs, the FleXi! These blind panels are actually sliding panels, allowing you to cover a variety of widths simply by unmounting the FleXi, adjusting the width, and remounting it. The S covers 6-12 hp, $13, the M deals with 12-24 hp widths for $17, and the L covers 24-48 for $20. Brilliant! How did you live without these!
Reverse Landfill Creep Cluster: Noise. Lots of it. Droning, hideous, jarring. Like that idea? You'll want this, then. The Creep Cluster contains two oscillators that pass through a switch that's also clocked at audio rates, fed into a filter...and the result is TROUBLE. Doubt me? Follow the link on the listing to Reverse Landfill's Etsy, and check the audio clips. It's sort of like a poor man's complex oscillator that woke up on the wrong side of the bed! One of the most noiserrific things I've seen since Schlappi's Interstellar Radio, the harsh noise crowd is going to go batshit crazy over 'em! 8 hp, $62-ish.
SSSR Labs Wobla: Another interesting controller, this...in two flavors (jack-up, jack-down), you get a CV offset source under the control of a single fader, with switchable behavior characteristics. At 3 hp, they take up very little space, making them idea for slapping together in a bundle of several to create remote fader controls for other synth functions elsewhere in your rig. Or you can connect 'em to multiple mixed VCAs to create a VCA mixer with fader controls. Or probably a lot of other stuff. $40...which is stoopid-cheap!
Paratek: Now, we all know that synthesizers contain only two essential parts: twistenknobs und blinkenlichts. Do YOU have a blinkenlicht deficiency? The Russians at Paratek have you covered! In under the wire on 31 January, they dropped eighteen new modules, all of which are useful in various indicator-type ways. LED bargraph meters, analog meters, “magic eye” tube meters, signal visualizers, and nixie-tube gate counters are all part of this line, which also provides passive mults in each module. So now, you have no excuse...make that modular BLINK!!!
And now, a little dive into the 1U zone...
Plum Audio 1u Tiles: This sort of blew my mind. Plum Audio, which also does normal 3U versions of some of the Mutable and other microprocessor designs, has four of these in 1U tiles as well! In 20 hp for $150, you can have the Apex (Peaks clone) or the Wavelet (Ripples clone). And in 30 hp for $300, you can get 1U tile versions of the super-useful Temps Utile or Ornament & Crimes! These are super-useful modules in their own right, but being able to mash them into this tiny form-factor is truly amazing, and for those using standard tiles, super-beneficial. 1U has been simmering for a while, and really started to open up with Intellijel's adoption of their take on the format. Now Plum Audio's got some high-end function for the rest of the 1U user base.
PulpLogic Selecter: And from one of the originators of the whole tile thing, here's a very nifty adder device: three inputs get added in different combinations with a five-position switch. Three positions add the A, B, or C with the addition of some internal +/1 1V offsets. And note...I said “add”, because this does some CV math, allowing you to also use this as an octave switch with no A or C inputs in addition to adding the sum of inputs A+B or B+C. A very smart device, with loads of possibilities for live performance or just all-around convenience.
And that...is...IT for January 2019. Took me an extra day to sort and collate all of this, but these are the sorts of inconveniences I like to run into, because it means that modular is alive, well, and thriving! Until next month...