Lots of fascinating stuff to talk about this month. People go polysynth crazy over the Moog One, Akai fire up a controller for FL Studio, M-audio and Fluid Audio release audio interfaces with nice big knobs, Soundbrenner come up with the ultimate musicians utility watch, TouchAble Pro makes the leap to Windows, Riffer makes your DAW sequencing feel more analog, and Novation put analog style sequencing into a controller keyboard, MINI-MU lets you sew your own chiptune controller gloves, Pipes brings massive sample instruments to hardware, we have a super bunch of synths from AtomoSynth, GS Apollo, Analog Fusion and Future Sound Systems and 4MS come up with some very cool little pods to put the odd module in.
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But first – Synthfest!
Yes, we just had another SynthFest. It was the place only 2 years ago that i first grasped the concept of Eurorack and fell headfirst down the modular rabbit hole. So it’s become a bit of a pilgrimage for me. It’s a synth show held up in Sheffield and hosted by Sound On Sound magzine. Everyone was there – the big names like Korg, Yamaha, Roland, Arturia and Moog but also the little names and individuals like Future Sound Systems, Soulsby, Expert Sleepers, Erica Synths and loads more. I wasn’t bowled over by anything new and exciting this year but I did get the opportunity to have a fiddle with a number of things. Tried the Modal Sculpt – it was a bit weird – made a fabulous drone on the Studio Electronics Boom Star – had a go on the Grandmother which was pretty sweet and the Erica Synths Techno system which does exactly what it says on the tin. Nina from Transistor Sound Labs gave me a demo of their cool new Stepper drums prototype, and i got a run through with the analogue solutions Generator. Turns out that when i said they were going to lend me one for review i completely imagined it. But it was a super day – it has such a great vibe, cool, relaxed, fun nothing like any other trade or gear show i’ve been to. Lots of lovely people came and said hello which was fabulous – thanks! The crowd is still overwhelmingly white male but there was a bit more diversity and a larger proportion of women running stands. I didn’t get to any of the seminars – i was just there for the gear and the people.
Moog have finally revealed the successor to the MemoryMoog – the hugely polyphonic Moog One. The Moog One is a beautiful chunk of an instrument. All analogue in 8 or 16 voice versions and 3 part multitimbral. Each voice has 3 oscillators and then there’s filters and envelopes and modulation and all the usual stuff arranged across 200 knobs. They say there’s more power in a single voice of the Moog One than there is in the whole Moog Voyager – which will probably piss off a lot of Voyager owners. It’s capable of handling thousands of presets but loads them up in banks of 64 with each one being instantly selectable. It also has some digital effects at the end of the chain from Eventide. It’s an immense and expensive synthesizer that’s elegantly traditional and solid. The 8-voice will cost you £6000, the 16 voice £7799.
Moog has produced a wonderfully trippy promotional video with all these possibly stoned out synth players being enraptured by the sound – it’s awesomely other-worldly and demonstrates just how far away they are from the budget end of the market – and so they should be. This synth is not for the likes of you or me.
Akai Fire FL Studio
An unexpected controller from Akai designed for use with FL Studio. It’s laid out as a 16×4 matrix of control mirroring the infamous FL Studio channel rack step sequencer. You can wire 4 of these together for a massive 8×32 grid. The integration extends to the browser letting you load up samples, plugins and projects. You can select patterns, mute and solo tracks and move into other modes like Note mode, drum mode and performance mode making use of the pads velocity sensitivity. It’s a very natty thing and even comes with a pretty fully fledged version of FL Studio in the box. You kind of think it could so easily be a fabulous standalone MIDI step sequencer – but no it’s just for FL Studio and for that it’s awesome.
M-Audio M-Track 8x4m
Following their flavour of desktop audio interfaces M-Audio has released the M-Track 8x4m. 8 inputs with 4 mic/line, 2 instrument and 2 line inputs and 4 outputs. There’s 2 independent headphone outputs, metering LEDs and a nice big knob in the middle. It’s a bit chunky but capable of 24bit and 192khz over USB. Seems all right – but what’s slightly interesting is that it’s on USB-C – is that interesting? Who knows. I confess to being a bit nervous of M-Audio since they were bought by InMusic- i mean i used to love M-Audio products but i cant help feeling that it’s not quite the same anymore. These do look quite good though, come with a huge bundle of software, low latency, probably worth a go.
Fluid Audio SRI-2
Probably just as interesting is the SRI-2 2in 4out interface from Fluid Audio – not come across them before. Apparently they have been mostly making speakers and suffer from a slightly cheesy logo. But otherwise this is a good looking interface with another one of those knobs and a nice bit of metering. There’s not a whole lot to say about audio interfaces these days other than to point it out. But i thought it was pretty.
A while ago Sounbrenner decided that we all needed to wear a metronome on our wrist. I wasn’t completely convinced by that and so they’re having another go and this time it does a few more things. It’s still a vibrating metronome which i guess can be a useful alternative to a click track when performing or recording – but it’s now also a loudness meter and if you snap the face off it becomes a magnetic guitar tuner and the last feature which i cant believe they missed off the first one is that it’s also a watch – it’ll even beep to tell you things. It also looks something resembling coolness. So perhaps it has enough features to make it a thumping, tuning, loudness indicating, time telling smart-ish watch. It also bluetooths to your DAW, syncs up with other Cores and gives you a much better experience than juggling apps and phones. At 200 dollars for the one with the nice strap it’s not cheap but it’s not iWatch prices either. Hmm… I’d quite like to try one out.
This is high on my list of things to do a review of at the moment. TouchAble Pro is or was an iPad app for controlling Ableton Live. Well now they’ve ported it to PC which means you can run it on a Surface or desktop touch screen alongside Live and have it all on one device. That’s supercool. I really liked Yeco who did something similar a while back but don’t seem to have moved forward since. TouchAble Pro might just have an edge in terms of looks, design and functionality and so that’s piqued my interest.
You get all the controls you’d imagine, clip launching, scene selection, mixing and so on, but you also get to play instruments with a virtual piano or grid layout. You can drag and drop samples and edit sequences directly in TouchAble which is where (i think) it starts to depart from Yeco. You can draw and edit automation and they have templates for all the Live modules for instant tweaking and you can build controllers for any other plug-ins. Zerodebug have sent me a copy to review and i hope to get onto this very soon.
This is a beautiful little plug-in. It’s a cool little MIDI sequencer that runs inside your DAW and offers a whole slew of randomisation and creativity. Sequencers in DAWs are all a bit boring these days, especially in light of the way hardware has been working with probability and step sequencing. Riffer brings randomisation right into the centre of your recording platform. It can generate patterns and melodies, rhythms and modulations all from a familiar piano-roll interface. You can add an easy bit of chaos to your sequences or engage infinity mode and it will generate and variate forever. You can work in scales, chose levels of predictability and you’ll wonder why on earth your DAW doesnt have all this already.
Novation SL MK3
Novation has released a new version of their SL controller keyboard. The previous versions have all been a bit sort of funny looking but the Mk3 brings them bang up to date, gives them a bit of a Native Instruments flavour but more importantly they contain a new step sequencing super power. Basically they’ve pulled in an 8-track version of the sequencer from the Circuit and built 2 channels of CV/gate into the back. So now you create step-sequence patterns for your analog hardware as well as you MIDI or virtual instruments and run it all from the keyboard. Novation sent them out to all the cool hardware kids so there are loads of great demo videos out there.
Inspired by the Imogen Heap Mi-Mu super-high-tech performance controller gloves marvellously mad technologist Helen Leigh thought she could do something similar for kids at a fraction of the price but with all the same hand waving levels of embarrassment. And so she did. The Mini-Mu is a DIY project that uses the BBC designed Micro:Bit ARM-based microcontroller. It has motion sensors and an 8-bit sound engine and only costs a few quid. So with a scratch style programming app you can code in what you want it to do, then you cut out and sew together the gloves and off you go. It’s bloody marvellous this thing. There’s potential for MIDI and controlling other things but at about 40 quid it’s an awesome little project for you or your kids – put it on the xmas list.
Recently funded on Kickstarter is Pipes – it’s a hardware sample instrument player. The idea is to give instantly accessible access to massively sampled instruments in a box. All the instruments are always there, always loaded, always working. No juggling disk space or CPU or latency – it all just works like hardware does (usually). Synesthesia have developed their own compression format and audio engine to cope with the huge number of samples while keeping the latency tiny. It all runs on a touch screen interface with a slightly clunky looking interface. Along with the usual bunch of audio effects there are also MIDI effects run in Pure Data so you can tweak and add your own midi processing which is cool. It will run 64 voices with any combination or layering of instruments. Originally the box only had a stereo output so you had to mix everything through the little screen but one of the stretch goals now offers multiple outputs – although it’s a quite ambitious figure to reach. I like that this is still in development rather than being a completed project that is just after preorders – kickstarter should be about investing in the creation of something rather than just a preorder shop. For $399 for the 32gb version it’s not expensive and they hit their goal very quickly so they’ve definitely found a market but it’s not the sort of thing i’m into.
New synth time
Out of Peru we have the Atomosynth Asterion. It’s a surprisingly chunky analogue modular monosynth with a huge patch bay that looks compact and Eurorack until you realise those are full sized jacks. This is a Moog format synthesizer – there’s no background wiring so it’s all modular and requires patching to make any noise. There are 3 oscillators, 2 filters 2LFOs and envelopes and the ability to patch everything into everything. It’s all metal and bakelite – What a monster.
From Argentina comes the Apollo 1 analogue monosynth. It struck me as funny because of how normal, straight forward and traditional it is. It’s like if someone asked you to draw a keyboardless monosynth then this would probably be it. 2 oscillators, a filter, VCA, all the usual bits and pieces all cleanly laid out and instantly usable. One quirk is that this is a MIDI only device – there’s no CV in any direction and in fact there are a lot of additional controls that are only accessible via MIDI. So i guess ideally it sits next to your DAW as a decent MIDI addressable, hands-on monosynth. It’s just a bit square.
From Italy we have Analog Fusion from Fingersonic which blends together two independent analog and digital synthesis engines. So it’s not a hybrid of mixed technologies it’s two things in one box. You can run them side by side – virtual analog and FM on the digital blended with 6 voice analog on the other. Sounds impressive, looks a bit weird and complex and could find itself called the Analog Confusion – hah! It’s a year away so anything could happen between here and then, but it could be interesting.
Out of the UK comes Brunswick, a cool, naked little DIY noise machine from Future Sound Systems. Named after the Brunswick club in Bristol it’s a 100 quid kit with a single oscillator with all that phase comparator and phase locked loop stuff Future likes. It has a dangerous filter and a load of other craziness – it’s like the exact opposite of the Apollo 1 and you build it yourself. Awesome.
And Behringer have approved the build of their Pro 1 Sequential clone and we should see it by Christmas – that’s pretty cool.
Surface Pro 6
And finally the Surface Pro 6 has arrived and I’ve already pumped out a couple of videos. The most important one showing how it can indeed handle real-time low latency audio and USB interfaces. I will be moving onto some performance testing soon and along with the Surface Go get into demonstrating different bits of software and plugins. Lots more to come on that.
I am in the middle of a huge storm of stuff that I’m trying to bring to the channel for you good people.
I’ve been lent a Joué controller to review, I’ve got the Tenderfoot Lattice sequencer to review. I’ve got a low pass gate and a sampleslicer to build. More Surface videos to make. And there’s an open mic electronic night in Norwich that i want to try to perform at in a couple of weeks. I’m sort of daring myself to do it and so i want to make a video about how i go about preparing for that. I’d love your input and so this Sunday’s live stream will start a discussion on what things i need to think about when performing with modular – that’ll be fun.
So yeah, live stream this Sunday – later than usual at 9pm GMT (summer time is over) as i have a fireworks thing to be at before it. But come along and we can discuss this months gear and help me work out how to perform with my modular. That would be awesome.
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