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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Roland TR 606 videos

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Roland TR-606 review

Roland TR 606 Drumatix

Roland TR 606 Drumatix

The Roland TR-606 was the cute sister of the great TB-303.
Roland intended to sell this pair of silver boxes to guitar players or organ players as  substitutes to a bassist and a drummer.
But in the early 80s , when the popularity of sample based drum machines was growing up with the Linn drum, Oberheim DMX, Emu Drumulator, the TR-TB combo sounded really poor and unnatural to rock players who were astonished by the fidelity of the sampled sounds.
So the poor silver boxes were sold just for practicing musicians on a budget.

During the 80s many electronic bands with low budget started using both the 606 and the 303 till , in 87/88 DJ Phuture enstablished the sound of the TB-303 as a new mainstay in the dance culture.

The TR606 , often used in early new wave electro-bands became famous as a great techno drum machine, along with its bigger sisters the TR 808, TR909.
So, despite its limitation the TR606 has gained its place in electronic music appearing in many awesome records by Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Autechre, Kid 606, 808 STATE and many more…

The TR606 is a fully analog drumsynth with a digital sequencer.
The machine has seven sounds plus accent.

  • Accent
  • Bass drum
  • Snare drum
  • Lo tom
  • Hi tom
  • Cymbal
  • Open hat
  • Closed hat

The sequencer is really pretty easy to use.
It can be programmed in Step or Realtime, and is the classic 16 step TR sequencer.
You select the instrument and press the step that corrispond to the trig you want.
Really easy and user friendly!
The sequencer can also be used trig synth arpeggiators or other old machines with sync in.
The two toms have two triggers out to do it.
The 606 has a din port to sync (in or out ) with other machines that use the Roland sync 24.

The sounds are typical electronic analog sounds very close to the TR808, but with their own carachter.
The TR606 has a more aggressive and less smooth tone compared to the 808, it could be the 808 on acid!
The bassdrum kicks in a medium range, the snare is hard and snappy the hats and cymbal are really tinny, while the toms are great for that tribal electro rhythm.

This is a great analog drum machinee that’ is growing in price and popularity, I love mine and I think any electro/techno producer should own one!

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Bent Casio SA2 and Boss DR112

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BOSS DR-110 review

Boss DR 110

This little cute box is a fully analog drumachine with a graphic sequencer.
The unit is really tiny and portable and offers six sounds plus accent.
The sounds are:

  • Accent
  • Bass drum
  • Snare drum
  • Open hihat
  • Closed hihat
  • Cymbal
  • Hand clap

There are four knobs :

  • Tempo (fast-slow)
  • Balance
  • Accent
  • Volume

The tempo is controlled by the knob but the machine does not display the value of the BPM.
The balance act as a mix between the drum & snare and hats & cymbal.
Accent controls the “accented”sound , in fact it does not only affect the volume of the percussion accented but also the timbre.
Volume is the Master Volume.

The sounds are the classic analog drum sounds of Roland CR/TR series.

The kick is really similar to the one of the TR808  and of the CR8000 ,  fat and punchy, much deeper and full compared to the TR-606.
The snare is really snappy and can be a cross between a TR808 and a TR606.
Hats and cymbal resembles the TR606, while the clap is a classic tr808 one.

Programming is similar to the CR series with the pause/trig style , but is far easier than on CR78 or CR8000 because here we have a disply with the programming grid!
The display is really similar to the one on the TR707 or  TR727 , all the elements are displayed and is like programming on cubase or any other software sequencer.
The START acts as  TRIG and the STOP as PAUSE.
The Accent acts also as TRIG OUT INST.

The downside of this machine is the absence of a clock in , but many modifications are available to install a sync in or even midify the machine.

All in all an awesome little beast that comes really cheap!

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Roland MC 202 waveforms

The waveforms of the Roland MC202 at the oscilloscope.
The background noise / aliasing is generated by the youtube compression.

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