Welcome to Part 9 of 9 of Modular NAMM 2017. I’m going to wrap up this year’s marathon reports with a series of quick takes about what a number of other companies were showing this year. In alphabetical order:
1010Music (pronounced “ten ten” – not “one zero one zero”) – the bitbox 24-bit sampler folks http://1010music.com/product/bitbox-eurorack-module-with-touchscreen – previewed a couple of alternate firmware ideas for their audio-computer-in-a-module: fxbox and synthbox.
Fxbox ($599; free firmware change for bitbox owners; hardware with new firmware pre-installed shipping in March) – which is currently in public beta – offers a set of 16 “clock aware” effects including chorus, phaser, flanger, ring modulator, filter, bit crusher, distortion, freeze, loop, reverse, vinyl, pitch shift, gating, panning, delay, and reverb. They can be enabled in any combination including all at once. There are control voltage inputs as well as a built in step sequencer to modulate some of the parameter of these effects; the touchscreen interface makes it easy to change effects and play with their settings.
Synthbox is still a “concept product” they’re looking at releasing later this year. It emulates a polyphonic three-VCO synth with some effects built in such as chorus and delay. The number of voices that can be played at once has not been determined yet; they need to get deeper into the programming of it.
Detachment 3 – the Archangel sequencer folks (well, folk – Joe Grisso, who also creates hardware for other manufacturers including Five12 and STG Soundlabs) – thinks keyboard players deserve effects boxes designed for them, rather than just stealing the guitar player’s effects. In that vein, Joe was previewing the Spinner stereo ring modulator (~$300; mid-2017). It contains an internal carrier oscillator that can be continuously adjusted from sine through triangle, pulse, and square waveshapes; the pitch of this oscillator can be set by a front panel control and also modulated by an built in loopable AD envelope. That envelope can be triggered by an external gate from your modular, a MIDI note on message, or an internal envelope follower that can be triggered by sources such as electric piano.
I only got a chance for a brief introduction at Delptronics, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention they introduced their new PitchMan 8-step Sequencer/Arpeggiator and WheelMan Sequential CV Processor to complement V2 of their cool Trigger Man semi-algorithmic 8 pattern x 8 step trigger sequencer.
The PitchMan ($225; April) has the expected one knob per stage (8 in all), but has some additional tricks up its sleeve such as arpeggiation and programmable outputs. The WheelMan ($225; also April) can amplify and attenuvert a signal going through it, but what’s unusual is that it contains sixteen combinations of settings that can be sequenced through. You can process 8 steps of two signals in parallel, or set up one 16-step sequence.
Last year, Division 6 introduced their DIY Business Card Sequencer (board + parts = $35): a step sequencer with a mini pushbutton keyboard included. An enterprising user put two of them behind a hand-drilled Eurorack panel; it looks like Division 6 will be offering this as an official product with their own front panel.
The Greek pedal and synth manufacturer Dreadbox – distributed in the US by Black Market Modular – has taken a left turn from their full-featured “Classy” line of modules and introduced a new, set of 14 economical “White Line” Eurorack format modules. For example, the White Line Oscillator is based on the oscillator found in their other synths, but has minimal controls (fine and coarse tune, but no input CV attenuators) and costs only 109 Euro. Balancing this, their new White Line cases contain a set of shorter row of utilities, including a MIDI to CV converter, mixers, mults, attenuators, and an extra LFO. All feature analog circuits with through-hole components; despite this, they are only 15mm deep (plus power connector).
The folks from Erica experienced some serious delays in their flight from Latvia to the NAMM show in California, and unfortunately weren’t even at the show yet when I came by the first day of the show. However, I’ve since caught up on their new offerings, which included:
- New “Black” series modules, including the Octasource LFO, XFade crossfader, Stereo Mixer V2 plus PFL (pre-fader listen) expander, and MIDI to clock to MIDI converter. The Octasource (280 Euro, available now) in particular has been getting a lot of attention as it can output eight different waveforms simultaneously, or the same waveform in 45-degree increments across its eight outputs. The waveform mix, phase shift, and speed are all voltage controllable, and the rate can be synced to an external clock or be frozen at its current state. Erica did a thorough introductory video on the Octasource here; my mate “DivKid” Ben Wilson did a great tutorial on the Stereo Mixer and PFL here.
- An updated Polivoks DIY system, that is now skiff-friendly. This selection of modules includes a MIDI to CV interface, LFO, two VCOs, mixer, two ADSR envelope generators, VCA, output module, and of course that famously crazy Polivoks VCF, and fits in an 84 hp row (which means it can be rack mounted as well). Rather than just close the original Russian Polivoks circuits, they added many of their own improvements. It’s due this March; prices vary depending on how complete of a kit you want.
- A Fusion Drone System, based on their tube-based Fusion line of modules. This includes a Fusion VCO, Delay/Flanger/Vintage Ensemble, Mixer, and Ring Modulator as well as an Erica Pico Output and Erica Black Octasource LFO. Although they use tubes, all of the modules can now be powered by a standard Eurorack power supply without the need for the 6 volt AC Erica Tube Heater (although they still have significant power requirements). Again, the system should be ready this March.
Yes, it’s true: Eventide is getting into the Eurorack world. But if you were hoping for a harmonizer or a reverb, instead you’ll have to settle (at least initially) for a delay: the E500 ($4-500; spring 2017), based on their DDL-500 digital delay line. Like the 500 format module, the E500 should support 10 seconds of 192 kHz sampling, but with some nice added features such as tap tempo and voltage and gate control over most of its functions (including a low pass filter in the feedback loop).
Additional buzz was created off the NAMM show flow by Ninstrument showing a potential DIY conversion of Eventide’s Space reverb pedal into a Eurorack modules (click here for the discussion thread on Muff Wigglers). Do you think it would be cool if someone decided to crank out some assembled versions of these?
A lot of people at the show were having fun with the Koma Field Kit, which they had set up with a little “garden of delights” for you to play with – including a spring it could thwack with an external solenoid, some contact microphones, and other toys like a music box mechanism and marbles. Koma was thrilled with the response to their initial, now-closed Kickstarter campaign, and were quite proud they were pretty much on schedule to meet their promised ship dates. If you missed out on the campaign, you can order a kit (179 Euro) or finished (229 Euro) unit direct from Koma.
If you missed out on the initial wave of publicity, Field Kit is a portable unit sound processing system. At the core of it is a four-channel mixer with tone controls and auxiliary send and a lot of gain for use with external devices such as contact microphones. It also has a built-in AM/FM/shortwave radio receiver with voltage-controlled tuning, an envelope follower, LFO, and DC outputs to control devices such as small fans and motors, solenoids (to strike percussive objects et cetera), buzzers and vibrators, lights, and more. The optional Field Expansion Kit (59 Euro) contains some of these goodies. It comes in a small wooden box, but can be mounted in a Eurorack case (36 hp).
Moon Modular was one of the few companies showing 5U format (also known as MU or Moog Units or Moog Format) modular gear on the show floor. Despite that, the undercurrent I heard is that more users as well as DIY companies are moving from the 3U Eurorack format to 5U. Although many like the compact size of 3U gear – especially for playing live – the cramped layouts plus small controls and graphics seen on many modules can be a turn off for some musicians.
When I asked Moon what was new, they kind of laughed and said that rather than keep showing unavailable modules with uncertain ship dates, this time they decided to focus on showing shipping modules in a few different pre-configured arrangements (pre-configured modular “systems” being another overall trend of this NAMM show). The newest module they have is the Quad Lag Expander for their M 569 Quad Sequential Voltage Source. It gives each row its own slew, which can be independently set to kick in on rising voltages, falling voltages, or both. You can also patch in gates to turn the slew on and off per channel. It is otherwise wired behind the scenes to the main sequencer unit, rather than requiring front panel patching.
Also mentioned as “new” in their brochure and on their web site but not at the show and apparently not shipping yet were their 517 Coupled Dual Voltage Controlled High Pass/Low Pass Filters and 517S Single Voltage Controlled High Pass/Low Pass Filter.
Roland was rather stealthy about their modular offerings at NAMM: there was a System 500 Complete Set on display, with no indication that this particular set of modules had been built in Japan (they were previously built by Malekko Heavy Industry in Portland, Oregon). This would seem to be a prelude to ramping up of production, indicating Roland is in the Eurorack market for the long haul. The “500J” modules are supposed to be very similar graphically with no changes to their circuits; I’m planning on getting at least one module to compare to my original System 500 US-made set.
This merry band of kit-makers and module-builders had a lot of new toys at NAMM, including:
- a group of ribbon controllers designed in conjunction with George Mattson of MST, including a short vertical one in a normal 3U Eurorack module, and longer ones in 1U “tiles” connected to a 3U control module (shown at right).
- A new RND module ($125 assembled or $79.99 kit; available now), with four sliders inside a narrow 4 hp form factor (akin to their ADSR module) that control rate and range as well as the external control voltage amounts for these parameters. The output appears to be stepped, akin to a normal sample & hold. It can be used with an internal or external clock; the internal clock has three speed ranges that cover from 0.5Hz to 320Hz.
- New Verb and Roboto effects modules. Verb ($125; available March) is a vintage-style reverb based on a trio of PT2399 delay chips, with voltage control over the wet/dry mix as well as time – which leads to pitch bending when the voltage changes, akin to changing the time of a delay unit on the fly. Roboto ($150; release date not set) is an audio mutilator based on the HOLTEK voice changer chip. Of course, you can feed signals other than voice through it, with some cool lo-fi results.
- A prototype of the Quadrangle ($225) quad two-stage (AD or AR) envelope generator with voltage control over the times per stage. It also features End of Attack and End of Cycle trigger outputs that can be cross-patched to create looping or more complex envelope shapes when the outputs are mixed together.
As usual, all of the above are available in kits with various configurations, so users can source some of their own parts, place the circuit boards behind 4U or 5U panels instead of Synthrotek’s 3U Eurorack panels, et cetera.
Last year, when Waldorf announced their KB37 keyboard controller and modules beyond the original nw1 oscillator, they did not include a filter, saying their nw1 created varied enough timbres that a filter was not needed (although there is a low pass filter lurking inside their VCA module). This year, they announced a vcf1 filter module (no price yet, although it should be close the dvca1’s $300; due in 3-4 months). It’s a multimode 2-pole filter with low pass, high pass, and bandpass outputs, as well an input drive stage and an output distortion stage. When I played it, it subjectively had a very “wet”, acid-y sound with resonance that was eager to go into self-oscillation.
I was curious to hear them say they felt a 2-pole filter was the best match for their wavetable oscillator, as their previous wavetable instruments – back to the PPG Waves – had 4-pole filters. Analog waveforms have limited spectral shapes that tend to be weaker in the upper harmonics; digital wavetables can have higher harmonics that are stronger than the lower harmonics – so I assumed the steeper 4-pole filter would be better suited, as it could make a stronger impression on a digital waveform’s spectra. On the other hand, if they already feel that their oscillator gives you most of the timbral variation you need, perhaps the lighter touch of a 2-pole filter would be a better match.
And that was my adventures at this year’s NAMM show. I hope you enjoyed the stories, background information, and opinions I’ve been mixing in along the way. If you made it this far, let me know in the comments if you prefer “quick shots” like in this final installment, or the longer explanations in the previous installments – I like to share and educate, but I also know I can get a bit wordy at times.
If you prefer to see videos of manufacturers demonstrating their wares, Sonic State out of the UK is one of the best at covering the show; here is the is the link to their dedicated NAMM 2017 pages. Analogue Zone out of Budapest also did a good job; their YouTube playlist for NAMM 2017 is here.
Next up: Re-arranging my personal modular system to accommodate some new modules that have just arrived, and then getting started recording my next course: Eurorack Expansion. That means I might be quiet again for a little while, but expect an explosion of videos later this year.