Archive for synthetizers

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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Buchla 259 Vintage Oscillator

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Elektron Monomachine Sequencer

The Sequencer is one of the most interesting parts of the Monomachine as it can control anything on the machine.
The sequencer works as a realtime or step (Roland TR-like) mode , and it can be switched record on or off with the sequencer running.
That’s ideal for live performance!

Programming notes is easy, if a midi keyboard is connected it can record from midi in , but it can be programmed standalone using the step sequencer buttons as they act as keys.

After notes programming the most useful things is the PARAMETER LOCKS programming.
A parameter lock is a motion sequence of a parameter.
It can be done on a single step (using step programming) or it can be recorded realtime turnig the knobs while the sequencer is running in realtime recording.
This function enables to modify extremely every nuance of the sound in a very easy way , and It’an effective strenght of the Elektron philosophy.

Applied to to a digipro machine , for example, it can create programmed wavesequences…

Applied to an envelope can morph the shape of a sound, from percussive to sustained…

Applied to a efx can for example vary the delay time and feedback…

Every thing in the machine can be controlled by the sequencer and the intensive use of parameter locks can create sound sequences really complex and even really difficult to recreate with another instrument.

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Korg MS-20 video introduction

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Korg MS-20 review (Part-1)

Korg MS 20

The Korg MS-20 is one of the most famous vintage synths ever.
It stands up there with the Minimoog, ARP 2600, EMS Synthi, Jupiters, TB-303, etc.
When it was produced , Korg marketed it as a low cost “baby 2600” , it was the semimodular synth for the masses.
The look is somehow  inspired by the big Moog modulars, with the front panel that stads upright the keyboard, that is attached to the body, to be the most compact and portable, all in a typical japanese way.

The synth is divided into two parts : the left side , prepatched with the knobs and the right side , the patchable with the patchbay and external signal processor.

The synth has:

  • 2 VCO (with different waves)
  • VCO MIXER
  • 2 VCF (HPF and LPF 12 dB/oct, both resonant)
  • VCA
  • MODULATION GENERATOR (LFO)
  • 2 ENVELOPES

VCOs
The 2 VCOs have different settings capabilities and different functions.
VCO1 has:

WAVE SELECTOR:

  • TRIANGLE
  • SAW
  • PULSE WAVE (with  manual pw)
  • NOISE

PW KNOB

SCALE (32-16-8-4)

VCO2 has :

WAVE SELECTOR:

  • SAW
  • SQUARE
  • PULSE
  • RINGMOD

PITCH KNOB (fine tuning)

SCALE (16-8-4-2)

The two vcos sounds very warm and fat with a classic japanese sound.
The saw waves are quite “smoothed” and not really ripping (as the classic american saw of moog , sequentials, etc.)
The pulse/square wave is really fat and smooth too.
The smoothness of the oscillators maybe also produced by a particular “cut” of the VCFs and VCA that are not bypassable.

VCFs

The filters are the most carachteristic element of this synth, the trademark of the MS20′ sound is the dual filter with resonance (PEAK).
Both the HPF that the LPF have the same controls, the FREQUENCY CUTOFF and the PEAK (that’s the RESONANCE!).
The slope of the filters is 12dB/oct and though they are resonant they are not self oscillating.
The use of the filters makes this synth anhighly versatile machine, because they are not strightly “multimode”, but can be used in combo to obtain particular combinations mantaining two indipendent peaks of resonance.
A famous use of the HPF is to boost the low frequencies oto saturate the sound.
Thanks to the resonant HPF , turning up the peak  creates a gain of level at the cutoff frequencies  that results in awesome sub basses or highly saturated sounds.
The behaviour of the filter is also particular because when the peaks are up the frequency of the cutoff tends to oscillate producing highly harmonic and saturated timbres.
The MS20 was produced with two different components , the first (older) series has the famous  Korg35 that is considered less “muddy” , while the following series use common components.
Both the HPF that the LPF have a smooth behaviour and a rounded sound with the peaks at minimum, while raising up the peaks leads to the aggressive and distorted side of the synth.

ENVELOPES

Env 1 is a simple Attack -Release with  Delay,useful for modulations and harpached to the VCO pitch modulation.
ENV2 is a HADSR, it works like an ADSR but has a hold for that lovely drones the MS20 is so great at, or to use the synth as a efx/filter processor for external signals.
ENV2 is prepatched to VCA and VCFs modulations.
Both the envs are punchy with fast attack and decay, and work very well for every type of sound, from percussive to ethereal.

MODULATION GENERATOR

MG is how Korg labelled the LFO.
The MG consist of a low frequency oscillator that produces morphable square and saw waves .
The saw can morph from saw to tri to ramp.
The square goes from imp to square to inverted imp.

The two row of knobs under the filter and vcos sections are dedicated to the modulations.
The higher row has the MG as modulation source,and the pitch, and cutoff of the filters as destinations, while the lower row has as source the ENVs, env 1 to pitch and env2 to filters.
Every parameter has its own amount knob.

On the left there are two keyboard controls, PORTAMENTO and tune.

This is a description of the “prepatched” part of the synth, but using the patchbay almost everything can be routed to every target, the flexibility is one of the most important carachteristic of the MS 20, a compact synth , highly versatile and awesome sounding.

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