Archive for synthetizers

Random Analog Melody (Roland System100 & TipTopAudio system)

An experiment making the Roland System 100 (MOD102) and the TipTop Audio minisystem interact in a random access melodic theme. The “S & H out” of the Roland drive the direction of the sequencer and the clock. The TipTop programmer/sequencer controls the vcos for the melody and modulations. The TipTop Z3000 vco is used as an audio source together with the Roland vco, and as a modulator for the filter and for the Roland vco. The Z3000 is used as source for the sample and hold too.

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Waldorf Microwave 1 vs Microwave 2

Waldorf  Microwaves are top wavetable synthetizers, they are the direct descendents of the awesome PPG WAVE.

Analizing the two models (assuming that the XT is an enhanced version of the 2, but it sounds the same) the most important difference is the fact that the Microwave 1 is a hybrid synth with digital oscillators with VCF and VCA (so an analog 24dB lowpass filter for each voice and a vca) while the Microwave 2 is a fully digital DSP synth.

The differences are evident, the microwave 1 has a more organic and warm sound, sound heavier in the mix and is darker, the microwave 2 is more versatile as the synth has multimode filters, a cleaner sound and a lot more functions, but it sounds colder.
One thing to notice is the envelope clicking.
Both the 1 & 2 have env clicking, but while the 2 can be prevented from clicking with a well programmed env curve, on the mw1 the attack clicks, so this noisy attack cannot be avoided.
here is a demo comparison from Retrosound youtube channel:

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Yamaha PSS 390 mini synth demo


The Yamaha PSS 390 is the “toy keyboard” claimed to have the better and best sounding FM synth engine in the toy range.
It has 100 tones that can be widely modified with the tone controls, instead of button +/- it features sliders to edit the synth parameters.
The only lack is the midi control that however can be added by retrofit.
It can be seen in action in the videos of the band “the Apparat Organ Quartet”.

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Studio Electronics SE1 vs ATC1

Usually people look at the ATC-1 as a stripped down SE-1 , in fact looking at the specs the SE1 seems a top featured synth with 3 VCO, 2 filters , 4 envelopes, 3 lfo, ringmod, noise etc… while ATC-1 with its 2 VCO, 3 ENV , 2 LFO and a coloured push-membrane panel with one only knob does not look handy and full featured as its brother.

Comparing the two Studio Electronics side by side let’s get a totally different opinion.

Studio Electronics SE-1

The first thing to notice is the different “sound”, while the SE1 has a kind of boomin’ majesty the ATC1 sounds really snappy and more aggressive with a more “vintage” feel.

The VCOs have different carachters, in the SE1 are regular and full of harmonics on the bass range, the ATC1 VCOs are more angular and grittier on the high frequencies.

Talking about the filters, testing both the SE1 and ATC1 with the MOOG FILTER, the SE-1 has a boomin’rounder sound, very powerful in the sub range, the ATC-1 has a more punchy percussive behaviour and a slightly bigger response in the frequency cut off min-max gap, like if the filter could reach higher frequencies/ get more open.

studio_electronics_atc1_a

The ENVELOPE section is the part that more influences the sound together with the VCA.

The SE-1 has booming env , not really fast but really effective to get the presence and power on the bass frequencies range for basses and percussions and to get the smooth leads that are a part of the carachter of this synth.

The VCA on the SE1 is really warm and smooth, resulting in a really dinamic but always warm and clean sound.

On the ATC-1 the ENVELOPEs are really snappy and fast, and make the synth really percussive sounding, with an awesome power on punchy basses, not as deep as the SE1, but really kicking.

The ATC1 VCA is more raw and vintage sounding, it’s less smooth than the SE-1 but it results in some way more organic and alive.

studio_electronics_se1_filter

The big difference in the synthetizing capabilities is the CROSS-MOD present on the ATC-1 and absent on the SE-1.

This particular function that let the vco2 modulate the vco1 and/or the filter cutoff frequency let shine the ATC-1 in modular-type sounds, and is the main reason that make us understand that the ATC-1 is not the little brother of the SE1 but a totally weird machine with a target towards classic analog sounds but also for experimental stuff, while the SE1 is more on the classic and “safe” side of monophonic type of sounds.

studio_electronics_atc1_c

I don’t mean that the SE1 is a machine good only for simple sounds like basses or leads, it can get on experimental sounds too, but the cross mod on the ATC1 is far more effective and open to experimental sound creation.

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Yamaha CS 01

Yamaha CS01

The CS-01 is a funky little synth!
It may seem a toy but is a real analog synth in a small case.
The structure is quite simple, justa simple LFO, a “VCO”, VCF and ADSR.
I wrote “VCO” because even if the yamaha labeled it VCO but it is in fact a DCO.
The sound of the oscillator is however real analog, and “phat sounding” in a typical japanese way, and it reminds the classic analog sounds of the early 80’s.
The oscillator offers a good selection of waves (TRI, SAW, SQUARE, PULSE, PWM) and feets(4′ 8′ 16′ 32′ and noise).
The most powerful is the sound of PWM, which is really fat and “wide” sounding.
PWM has its own speed control too (indipendent from lfo).
The LFO is only a tri wave useful for vibratos and wah effects, its not extremely fast, but works well for all the classic sounds.
VCO also have a “glissando” instead of portamento/glide, which means that it can jump from a note to another passing through the notes in the middle.
The VCF is a 12dB lowpass with resonance and EG depth.
The resonance is controlled by a switch that turns it on or off, but it’s possible to modify the control to have a real resonance control adding a knob.
On the MK2 model the filter use a different structure (it has a 24 dB slope instead of 12) and has the resonance controlled by a slider.
The filter is, as other old yamaha monosynth, very smooth and “bubbling”, even with resonance tutned on the filter never eat the low frequency range, offering a wide variety of colour even as a bass machine.
The CS01 is mainly a bass and lead machine, the bass is always rounded, and punchy, for the classic 80’s arpeggio or for techno bass sounds.
On the lead side it can sound quite minimal and smooth or rich using the pwm, it can also reproduce easily the classic retrocomputer sounds !
Despite the toys look with the built in speaker this a lightweight classic 80s monosynth that can do most of the analog mono-sound without any problem of space in the studio and being very reliable.

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Clavia Nord Micromodular

clavia micromodular

The little red metal box is really the pandora’s box…
Basically the micromodular is a dsp programmable virtual modular synth with 24bit 96KHz audio conversion.
The box is little but solidly well built, there are a stereo output, stereo input, a couple of midi ports for midi control , a couple of midi ports to “pc control”, dedicated to the editor.
On the front we have four knobs (volume+3 assignable controllers) and 3 buttons.
The interface is quite minimalistic because the instrument is thought as a small/lighter version of the Nordmodular and the aim is to control it by sw and midi controllers.

It’s quite difficult to start a description of a so open-ended and complex instrument, I’ll try to keep things simple…
When you open your editor on the pc/mac it will show the current patch (the micromodular is a monotimbral instrument).
The modules are grouped in categories and it offers from the classic oscillators, envs, lfos, and all the classic “analog-modular modules” to the newest digital effects like bit reducing, warp, digitizer…
This thing is like a little reaktor in a box with an awesome sound.
It can do classic synth sounds with a little of modular twist as well as complex rhythmic morphing and glithching.
The original editor from clavia is compatible till windows XP, but now a free java editor is available , NOMAD .
Nomad let you edit the nordmodular serie with every system that supports java.
The nordmodular serie is not dead, clavia will not add new modules, but the instrument is alive with nomad!

clavia_micromodular

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Hartmann Neuron – demo

A video from the taylor12k youtube channel.
I’ve used the little vst version Neuron Nuke and I can say it’s an amazing synth…

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Plan B Model 10 – Polyphonic Envelope

Plan B Model 10

The PlanB model 10 is a multifunctional module, not only a simple envelope.
The name “polyphonic envelope” does not describe the functions of this great module, the reason why they called it “polyphonic” is because it can output 4 different type of voltage “envelope” at the same time.
In fact the M10 is way more versatile than an envelope, this is really similar to the Bananalogue VCS module, a multitask voltage controlled cv generator .

The main task is the ENVELOPE.
The envelope consist of an AD env with RISE (0.5 ms-5 min attack)and FALL (0.5 ms – 5 min decay/release) controlled not by gate signals but by Triggers.
The attack and decay time can stretched x8 times their duration with the TIMEBASE control knob (so the complete envelope can last from 0.5 milliseconds to 20 minutes).
You can stretch the time manually just turning the knob or controlling it with the VC TB (voltage control timebase).
The VC TB can act in positive or negative, so it can add or subtract.
Than there is the level of the env, which is bipolar too , so it can act as a positive or inverted envelope.
On the left there are the 5 connectors for the 4 different envelopes generated:

  • EOC
  • EOA
  • RAMP
  • 2x AD (with ad contour switch)

The AD acts as the classic “trig” envelope, with 3 different contour (log, lin, exp).
The RAMP is a ramp with rise time 2x the RISE control time.
The EOA is a sustained square which falls when receive a trig and performs the AD cycle  at the “End Of Attack”.
The EOC acts as the EOA but the AD starts at the End Of Contour.

LFO MODE

The rise-fall cycle can be looped and can also work as an lfo.
Using the rise and fall it can produce various waveform between the tri, square, saw, ramp…
The interesting thing is that the timebase knob can control the time of the lfo, so it a vc lfo, the other thing that can lead to creative results is the fact that the rate of the lfo is not controlled by the timebase only, but it ’s a mix of the rise and fall time.
So the shorter is the R&F the faster will be the lfo rate.

VCO MODE

The third interesting mode is the vco function.
The module has a  triangle-core , so it can sound useful even as a vco.
To get the vco mode  you have to switch into LFO and use fast R&F time and “tune” the oscillator with the timebase function and VC TB to control it with a keyboard cv.
It does not reach very high frequencies but can be used on the low and mid range as an audio modulator or a audio source.

TIPS:
I noticed two useful tips:

  • As the core is a TRI-core the envelope create a sort of clip when, reached the max value,start the fall.
    To avoid the clip it’s useful to use a lowpass filter post the VCA.
  • In LFO mode don’t connect any source to the trig in because the summing of the two sources can damage the module , too high voltage!

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Casio SK-5 review

Casio SK5

Casio SK5

The Casio SK serie started with the SK-1 (one of the best selling toy keyboard of the period) and the target was a the consumer market.
The little sampler was technically far from the professional counterpart like Emu or Akai, it was just a toy with a tiny memory of few seconds and no memory retain.
Soon after the SK1 the SK5 followed.
The sK5 was an upgraded version of the SK1 with more sampling time, the capability to sample 4 sounds and to retain the sound in memory even with the power swithed off (if the keyboard run on batteries).
The sampling specifics were the same as the SK1 (8bit- 9,38KHz) quite low even for the time, and apart from didattic use by children, the sk seemed at that time just a toy.

The cheap prices of second hads SK and the “Anti Theory” of Reed Ghazala made the fame of the little sk grow.
The interesting circuit bending capabilities of this instruments made them popular between the circuit bending community as a “must have” together with the  “Speak & Spell”.

The Antitheory statement , by Reed Ghazala, is that you don’t have to know anything about electronics to do circuitbending.
A circuitbend is like an energy flow thru shortcircuits…
A circuit is not designed to have shortcircuits , so you have to “think different” !

The SK5 is now a well known and is now considered  a “real instrument” , not just a toy, after many more or less inportant, famous or trendy artists used it.
Just to name a few…Autechre, Bjork, Portished, Nine Inch Nails , Blur, Aphex Twin, but the list is long…

The heart of the instrument is a 8 bit sampler with a very lo-fi sound and 4 voice poly.
It can samples 4 sounds and play them together with the rubber pads or with the keyboard.
The performance can be registered with the onboard sequencer, with no quantization (you cannot correct the timing).
Every sample can be edited with the “envelope shapes” that adds crescendo, sustain, vibratos etc., can be looped or reversed .
The sample memory can retain the samples if the keyboard has batteries.
There is also the possibility to choose a “long sample” time (it occupies 2 samples slots) to sample a loop for example.

The strenght of this keyboard is without any doubt the sound, because the samples are totally mangled and they sound really different , like pixelated…
This is really great for lo-fi sounds.
The second point is that the SK 5 is an easy instrument to circuit bend and the mods add a great variety of  “tools” to shape new sounds with the twist of a knob or a simple switch, a variation not known, an aleatoric change, that’s why Ghazala called his mods projects “aleatrons”.

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Doepfer MS-404 review

Doepfer  MS 404

The Doepfer MS404 was designed as a TB emulator with a lot of added features in a period  full of cheap and expensive tb clones.
The 404 in fact is not a clone but has a clear personality and can be considered more a single VCO monosynth.

First I want to describe the structure of the synth: a single VCO , with saw/pulse/PWM or noise with a 24dB ladder filter, a VCA with accent and a adsr Envelope generator and two indipendent LFO that can go up to audio frequency!

The VCO seems to be the A110 “standard vco” available as a module for the A100 modular system, but opening the case , I read on the board “HI END VCO”,and that sounds strange because I did not see any CEM3340 as on the A111 “hi end VCO”.
The VCO section has 5 knobs and 3 swithches.
Knobs are: GLIDE, TUNE (fine tune) , LEVEL (LFO1 amount) FREQ (LFO1 rate).
the switches select:

  • saw/pulse/none
  • vco/noise/none
  • pwm/fm/none
  • rate (hi-mid-low)

The VCF section has 5 knobs :

  • Frequency
  • Envelope
  • Modulation level(LFO2)
  • Modulation Frequency (LFO2)
  • Emphasis (Resonance)

and 2 switches : one for the filter tracking and omne for the LFO2 range (hi-mid-low).
The VCF is the same as the A120 MOOG ladder filter eurorack module for the A100.

The VCA has a knob control for the accent amount and the envelope is the classic adsr.

speaking about the sound the 404 has a distinct doepfer carachter, it sounds exactly as the A100 modular system, no audible differences.
The synth behaves as a tb clone if the added features are not used, and with the emphasis quite low.
When you rise the emphasis it takes squelching in a more hard way and at self oscillation it can produce a sine wave , musically playable switching the filter tracking ON.
the PWM sounds awesome, I like it very much, because it does not intend to clone but has a “new minimal sound” very interesting for those involved in minimal techno like Ritchie Hawtin…
It does not sound nor similar to a Roland SH-101, this is more acid and hard, the SH is fuller on low frequencies and smoother.
The interesting feature that makes the doepfer  ms 404 a distinct machine is the use of fast lfo to modulate VCO and VCF.

The LFOs are derived from the A145 (doepfer A100 system) and have a range switch that allows very low oscillation to fast audio range FM.
That’s interesting because the filter is a 24dB Moog Ladder type, a filter that has a fast reaction to modulations and can create incredibles sounds if modulated in self oscillation or nearby…
Using the other LFO on the VCO can create some interesting noise or FM sounds useful for percussions, drones etc.
One thing to say…
The waveform orf the LFOs are fixed, triangle or square and you can choose the one you want to use only using a jumper on the board, there are no external switches.

The impression I had playng the MS 404 is really good.
This is a interesting bassline synth , not so good at emulating the classic TB sound, but this is a good point!
Other than that can be used as a classic monosynth with a great modulation capability, and many sounds with a small amount of functions and knobs.

There is also an audio in (with gain) to process external audio signals  and a cv-gate interface (in/out) so the 404 can be played trhu cv by an analog system/sequencer or can be used to control other cv-gate synth.

I prefer the 404 to a Basstation , for example ,  it sounds more interesting and “analog” and is not the “wannabe everything” emulator.

ms404 schematics

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