It’s nice to see sound source ideas beyond our beloved sawtooth and square waves become more common in the modular world. In the next two installments I’m going to focus on a pair of these trends: plucked sounds and granular synthesis. Other mini-trends include the Eurorack world going Goth (in other words, more and more manufacturers are offering black panels), and further proliferation of CEM3340-based VCOs.
Qu-Bit Electronix is updating their well-known Nebulae sample player & granular synthesis engine. The new version keeps the same price ($429, available in March), now supports stereo in addition to mono, and also allows sampling directly into the module in addition to the old method of loading files via a USB stick. It also provides users an easier way to load their own algorithms, written in a number of different development environments including cSound, Puredata, SuperCollider, and bare bone C programs. The granular engine in Nebulae has also been improved with a smoother sound and a wider parameter range, a nicer user interface with push-encoders that quickly return you to your previous settings, other touches such as an “end of loop” trigger out.
A welcome addition to the recent trend of plucked, vibrating-object sound generators (including Intellijel’s excellent Plonk and the 2hp Pluck module mentioned below) is Scanned ($349, available in May), based on the “scanned synthesis” vibrating string simulation originally written by computer music pioneer Max Matthews. With scanned synthesis, you get control over parameters defining the string (stiffness etc.) and the hammer that excites it. QuBit refers to Scanned as an “organic wavetable oscillator” because a parameter change can set off a reaction that might take from seconds to minutes to settle into its new steady state. You can also patch in an external sounds to excite the virtual string. This new algorithm will take some study to master, but I think it holds a lot of promise for creating more “alive” sounds.
Finally, Synapse ($349; June) is QuBit’s new crossfading switch, featuring eight inputs and seven outputs. Each pair of inputs is connected to its own crossfading channel using SSM2164 VCAs, with the crossfade per channel under both knob and voltage control and then being sent to a direct output (in addition to additional 1+2, 3+4, and mix outputs). The results from the four channels are then fed into a switch that can rotate them between outputs, randomly select them, and perform other general madness.
By the way, you might have noticed the black panels in the images above, compared to QuBit’s usual satin silver. You can now purchase both current and new QuBit modules with either a silver or black panel at the same price; black will the new default from now going forward.
I think everyone’s surprised at how fast 2hp continues to create new modules. They introduced six new ones plus two updates at NAMM, bringing their total count to over 30.
Getting most of the buzz were their new drum modules: Hat, Kick, and Snare ($129 each). Although digital inside, they lean heavily toward a TR-808 flavor of sounds, with all featuring 1v/octave tracking as well as both knob and voltage control of a small selection of very useful macro parameters.
By choosing to limit his offerings to 2hp-wide modules, Stephen Hensley of 2hp is obviously limiting the number of controls he can put on each module. To make up for it, Stephen has been developing ways to place multiple parameter changes under one knob (a feature I pleaded for from digital synths in one of my first NAMM reports, back in 1986). For example, on the Kick module the Tone parameter adds in “snap” if rotated clockwise (CW) beyond 12:00, and alternately adds in saturation if rotated counter-clockwise (CCW) from 12:00. The Snare module has a dedicated Snap parameter, but in its case CW from 12:00 yields “snares on” sounds while CCW yields “snares off.” And the Hat module’s Blend control literally blends between six oscillators, noise, filtering, and additional processing such as ring modulation. It also has separate trigger inputs for closed and open sounds.
Other sound generators include VCO ($129), based on the analog Curtis 3340 VCO chip and replacing their original Osc module; Play ($129), a “high fidelity” sample player with an SD card to swap sounds; and Pluck ($129), a very nice, snappy implementation of the Karplus-Strong algorithm. They also updated LFO ($99) to have two outputs with independent rate controls, and updated Rnd ($99) as well with a second output and more voltage control.
And finally, all 2hp modules – both new and old – may now be ordered with either black or silver faceplates, with no difference in price.
An alternative to having a large number of single-function modules is to have small number of deep modules – and that’s definitely 1010’s approach. Their new toolbox module ($599.95) is a step & realtime sequencer with a touch display that supports up to 32-step tracks: four “rhythm” (trigger) and four polyphonic (notes). The touch screen allows you to draw note pitches and durations, including piano-roll style editing. It also includes four “function generators”: three traditional LFOs, and one “bar” sequencer for modulation. It supports both MIDI and CV/gates, with a microSD card for loading and saving sequences.
1010 did not offer black panels at NAMM, but they did introduce firmware updates that allow you to flip their displays 180 degrees (as seen in the image above – no, your eyes were not playing tricks), as some users preferred having the patch points along the top rather than the bottom of the module.
Toolbox wasn’t the only sequencer at NAMM that supported both MIDI and CV/Gate (a useful trend for those who mix normal MIDI keyboards with modulars in their studio); I’ll look at another important entry before we’re done. But tomorrow, we’re going to take a look at what’s new in the land of 5U-format modules.