Posts Tagged modular synth

Buchla 259 Vintage Oscillator

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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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The Korg MS Serie

Korg MS-20 and MS-50

Korg MS-20 and MS-50

At the end of the 70s the japanese synth market became very busy.
The leading brands were Korg , Yamaha and Roland.
While Yamaha’s target was mainly on low budget prepatched monosynths users, Roland and Korg were on the low budget side but with an interest in producing low cost modulars for the masses.
Roland at the age had the SH serie that targeted prepatched synth users while the system 100 was towards low budget modulars/semimodulars and the System700 was a Pro-Studio product.
Korg had a different approach, the MS and PS series were mainly mono and poly semimodulars that could be used as standalone prepatched instruments as complex systems linked together.
The MS serie was composed by the MS10 (the little 1 vco, 1 vcf, 1env basic synth), the MS20 (the 2 VCO bigger brother with many added features), the MS50 (the modular expander, full of the less common modules on synths of that period) and the SQ10 (3 track sequencer).
Even if the components used on MS synths were mainly the same, due to different electronic construction the three models have slight different sounds.
The MS10 is considered by some the more aggressive as filter behaviour (compared to the MS20) and because of the presence of pulse width modulation (absent on the MS20).
The MS20 is the more versatile of the three as can work as a synth (with lots of features), efx processor, and can be controlled even with audio signals!
The MS50 is the only real modular of the serie, it must be patched to produce sounds, and has a vast array of particular features as 2 ringmodulators, the vc lfo, the vco with multiouts, logic modules, the volt-meter, etc…
While the MS10 is a “straight” synth if used standalone, the MS20 is a good soundesign machine but it is a real awesome modular when used in junction with MS50 and the SQ10.
The MS50 can be used to produce linear or exp FM, or to fatten up the sound, with 3 vco, 3 filters 4 env etc this little modular is really awesome!
Compared to the “high end” modulars/semimodulars of the period , like the ARP 2600, EMS Synthi, Moog Systems, the MS serie has a more “noisy”and less harmonic carachter, but while back in that days were mainly considered  low budget modulars, now are considered great sounding machines because the approach at making music (especially electronic music) is really changed.
Every electronic music producer uses or has used an MS in  his career.
In the late 70s and early 80s MS10 and MS20 were widely used by new wave synth pop bands  as O.M.D. , Human League, Depeche Mode.
During the 90s every techno , electronic , producer used one or more than one.
Just to name a few Aphex Twin uses 4 MS20 , Autechre uses MS20 and MS10, Coldcut used extensively the MS20 , Mr.Oizo (MS20) , Portishead (MS20 & MS50),Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers…

Later I’ll analize deeper the MS20 & MS50 combo, stay tuned!

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Analogue Solutions SY02 – Multimode Filter review

Analogue Solutions SY02 Multimode Filter VCA

Analogue Solutions SY02 Multimode Filter VCA

I’m a great fan of the Korg MS-20, as it’s one of my favourite synths ever, so I decided to expand my modular with an MS-20 filter clone.
There are many emulators/clones in eurorack format for the Korg filter, but I focused on three modules:

  • Doepfer X-treme filter
  • Malekko (Wiard) Borg (Buchla-Korg)
  • Analogue Solutions SY02

I like the Borg but it works only as a multimode filter that can out put only one signal, so it’s quite limited.
The Doepfer is interesting but I found the ASOL the more versatile and at the same time interesting  as carachter.
The first thing to say that  THIS IS NOT THE MS-20 FILTER!
In its way it can have common caracteristics and sounds very similar but it’s not the same.

The module has a vertical row of connections for CVand audio INs on the left and the knobs on the right.
There is a an INPUT LEVEL to adjust the gain for the incoming sounds, that useful to saturate or lead the filters to overdrive.
On the left there are 2 AUDIO IN .
Than there is the HIGHPASS Filter section with

  • Cutoff
  • Resonance
  • HPF CV

The HPF CV has 2 CV in the first is attenuated by the knob while the second has no attenuation control.

The LOWPASS Filter section has the same controls:

  • Cutoff
  • Resonance
  • LPF CV

As for the HPF even the LPF filter has 2 cv in and only the first is attenuated by the LPF CV.

There is aslso a VCA section with :

  • Initial Level
  • Volume
  • Audio out (minijack)

The VCA has its 2 CV IN not attenuated.

This module is the FILTER/VCA section usedon the Analogue Solutions VOSTOK too, the construction is solid and the VCA it’s a really good add o this filter.
The filters have a really particular response , tryng to emulate the Korg MS-20 filters/VCA, and the input gain is the key to get smooth sounds  or enter in noise territory.
I’ve patched the synth in a very simple way to understand clearly the behaviour of this module.
I’ve patched only the first vco (from my MFB OSC02) directly into the first audio in of the sy02, used the MFB Dual ADSR to control the vca ancd the LPF.
With a low input level the sound is really mellow and “japanese”, smooth and deep.
As I turn the input level clockwise, the waveform gain in volume and in saturation until “distortion”.
Distorion is like a good overdriven sound , not a clear distortion.
As the filter , with a low input level flows into the filters they react quite smoothly and the resonance has a pleasant harmonic sound but reaches only little aggressive tones.
As the input level grows the filters start to saturate and overdrive the sound, and using ring mod with saw sources it creates a particular clipping , like if it would cut and drive the peaks of the saw waves.
A really interesting trick that every MS-20 user knows is using the HPF as a frequency booster.
In fact the resonance of the HPF can produce a really big amount of sub frequencies  usable to fatten up the sound.
If the HPF is controlled with the tracking of the keyboard  it can create very powerful SUB basses.

Behond the FILTERS  there’s a good (in my opinion) VCA that concurs to give a strong carachter to the module.
The VCA does not ave a superfast response or a extra dynamic behaviour, but it’s very warm and full, really musical!
For me it’s very important for a module to be “musical” because too often a modular synth can do amazing noises but cannot play a bass sound , and that’s quite absurd.
Doepfer modules  (like the A-132-3 DVCA I own) have a cleaner sound and more volume but are less musical (in my opinion but maybe you will like it), and I find this useful for percussive sounds or effects and less pleasant for melodic sounds.

Back to the SY02 , I’m really happy with this module, it has a certain retrò/MS-20 touch, but it also has a carachter of its own.
I really recommend it to everyone looking for a japanese touch in his modular sounds!

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Eurorack vs Roland System-100 audio demos (part2)

MFB OSC 02

MFB OSC 02

Yesterday I tested the MFB VCO and the MFB Dual ADSR with my Roland System100 mod 102, during the test I did some demo recordings.
The demos are quite long and in every demo I used the same “sequence” and tweaked the knobs to let you hear the behaviour of the system.
As the melody is quite redundant  I hope you don’t get annoyed and focalize your attenction on the sounds.

  • VCO MFB with Roland filter
    The MFB VCO (only one vco) passes trhu the Roland System100  filter.
    First I use a saw wave then a square without any modulation and play with the filter to show as the the two modules interact.
  • VCO MFB with System100 and MFB Dual ADSR
    The MFB VCO pass thru the Roland filter and the MFB env modulates the Roland filter cutoff.
    It starsts with a saw wave , than at 1’30 I switch to the PWM and continue playing with the filter and with the MFB env.
    At 4’50 I turn the Roland VCO volume up…
  • VCO PWM (Roland System100 vs MFB)
    Here’s a comparison between the two vco passing thru the Roland System100.
    They both produce the PWM with a similar rate, the MFB sounds a bit harder, it may need an attenuator for PW mod…
    The first is the Roland and the second is the MFB

PAY ATTENCTION!!
When you listen to the sound keep the volume at a fixed level, don’t turn up the volume when some sounds seem more quiet because there are some resonance peaks that can DAMAGE your speakers and your EARS!

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Eurorack modular vs Roland System100 Mod-102 (Part 1)

Roland System100 Mod-102

Roland System100 Mod-102

As I described some days ago , I’m building a little modular in eurorack format to have a little versatile synth to make modular sounds easy, and to expand my system of vintage semimodular synths:

  • Roland System100 MOD-102
  • Korg MS-20
  • Korg MS-50
  • Korg PS-3100

The Korgs work well altogether as they use the same korg “standars” as 1/4″ plugs, hz/volt , etc.
The system is well balanced and is very versatile , there are no tuning problems and connections between one module and the other has no need of attenuators and result open to every use.

Eurorack and Roland System 100 patched togheter

Eurorack and Roland System 100 patched togheter

The Roland System 100 is quite different, it uses 3,5mm plugs, 1volt/oct and is quite difficult to make it interact with the Korgs even because the sound of the Roland is “stronger”.
After analizing different solutions (the first was to buy the other parts : mod 101 the keyboard, the sequencer and the mixer, while the second was to buy a System100m…) I decided to buy an eurorack to have a synth easier to control with computers and midi devices , more stability and however the freedom to build a synth choosing every part.
The result is, as I described, a synth with basic elements that are quite different from the “new analog” I own (DSI Evolver desktop and Studio Electronics ATC1 and SE1), but quite versaatile for a wide range of sound including FM modulations.

The first thing I tried is the interfacing between the Eurorack and the Roland and I was surprised they interact very well .
The Midi-CV interface works very well with the System100 too (I use a Kenton Pro 2000 for it, usually..).

MFB VCO (OSC-02)

MFB VCO (OSC-02)

The first thing I tried was to compare the Roland VCO with the MFB VCOs and I was quite surprised.
The Roland is really thick on the lower frequencies, and the square waves are awesome , but the MFB is really good too and they have a similar sound in many ways.
The MFB is less deep , especially when you hear in A->B comparison , and a little darker on the highest frequencies, but does a really a well job fattening the System100 sound without sounding different.

Roland System100 filter section

Roland System100 filter section

What makes the BIG difference is the Roland Filter.
Using only the MFB VCO in the roland path , with the roland VCO with zero volume, the result is amazing.
The VCO sound smooth and rich, really fat on the lower range and really harmonic and “creamy” in the higher register.
The big difference is evident in the lead sounds, they sound smooth with big carachter and warm sound without being harsh or disturbing but always rich of mid and high harmonics.
As the resonance grows the sound became quite acid (the typical roland filter carachter) but with growing harmonics, and a massive warm sound.

Then I tried to use the MFB dual ADSR to compare the behaviour of the two type of env and even here the different is evident.The Roland one is FAST and SNAPPY but always “rounded”, more musical, and gives the synth the classic Roland touch.
The MFB ENV is really fast, maybe faster than the Roland, but also more angular, with the attacks at zero makes a “ping” sound at the trig of the note.
Maybe the voltage that this env produce is higher and should be attenuated to get more musical results, even if  the different behaviour is really interesting to get different result.
The first thing done was a sequenced upright bass that sounded really awesome.

Eurorack and Roland System100 patched togheter

Eurorack and Roland System100 patched togheter

I did the same sound using only the eurorack and the sound was similar but more enarmonic, the reason is without any doubt the different between the two filters.

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MFB Dual ADSR review

MFB Berlin started with simples and cheap drum machines and the Synth-lite, a DCO based Moog Prodigy clone.
With the Eurorack explosion MFB started producing modules derived from their synths and drums.

The latest creations are the semimodular synth Kraftzwerkg and his brother Schlagzwerg, a semimodular drumcomputer.
MFB built this two semimodular using the modules they produce in eurorack.

The DUAL ADSR

First this module is not a classic ADSR but an AHDSR, in fact after the attack there is a HOLD!
The HOLD is really useful for “sequencer sounds”, you can turn every knob to 1 and just use the hold to control the duration of the sound.

MFB Dual ADSR

MFB Dual ADSR

It can be useful also for a smoother change between the attack and the decay curves to get a rounded tones.
The Dual Env is an EXPONENTIAL ENVELOPE, but has a switch wich let you decide if one of the two can act in LINEAR mode.
When the env act in linear mode even the hold changes its behaviour shaping the sound in a more “angular” way.

An interesting add tipical of MFB modules is the buss control, so you don’t have to connect the midi-to-cv interface to send the gate signals to the gate in socket in the envelope module, it uses the buss connection, and I find it really useful.
An other useful thing is that every env has 2 cv out, so if the patch is not too complex you don’t need a multiply module.

There’s no switch to choose a fast or slow behaviour as in the Doepfer Envelope, but the Dual env is really snappy and has a really fast attack time.

For synthetizing percussions and especially Kick drums this env is top!
It can get rounded kicks but also hard edge sounds.
Using the HOLD can lead to interesting results programming drum sounds.
With the hold we can create a “slightly compressed” kick with a fast decay, so the sound get fatter and the peak is less accentuated.

Programming bass sound it can result both smooth or percussive.
Using the linear mode for the filter env the result is a percussive “angular” bass , while using both exp the sound plays smoother.

All in all this module is quite cheap (98 euros in EU) , works really well and has its own carachter.
For me is  a really good buy!

MFB Synth Berlin

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