At last! After far too much mystery and teasing Ampethron is unleashed upon the world. Phasenetic Labs are calling it Ampethron Portable and it’s a hardware synthesizer built into touch screen interface with expandable algorithms and an Xbox controller. This looks like fun!
They’ve been promising a lot with very little information since the summer last year but now the beans have been spilt as they open pre-orders in a Kickstarter-style campaign. Apparently Ampehtron is going to change everything in offering up a playable performance synthesizer that will help you to “stay in touch with your audience and have fun!”
Ampethron Portable is designed with audience interactivity in mind although I’m not entirely sure what that means. It definitely seems to come from what they see as fake live acts in electronic music and their belief that Ampethron is going to change all that.
Playing on synthesizer and midi keyboard live is difficult. Only few producers are accomplished piano players with good rhythmic hearing. Also the path length of the piano key is long so it is difficult to play in the rhythm of fast electronic music. This approach results in a “fake” Live-Act. We call it “Come see my laptop”. The performer just clicks a play button and pretends to play live. That is often ridiculed by party people who call it an embarrassing theater. On top of that, DJ sets do not lack of real-time crowd interaction compared to live music concerts.
So, what is it offering exactly? Well, I’m still trying to work that out and doing my best to interpret the information on the website in light of what we see in the videos. From what I can see it seems to be about the triggering of cool synth effect sounds and noises that you can pepper your live set with. Triggering things from an Xbox controller and then you’ll “kill the dancefloor crowd with FX, Lasers, Bombs, Risers, Soundscapes – show them when the hit is coming, when a riser is ending and follow a heavy drop destroying the whole dancefloor. This will make a true electronic rockstar out of you!” Groovy. The other key elements are the touch-screen interface and the fact that you can upgrade the sounds by adding new synthesizer algorithms via USB. They are saying that it’s not just another virtual analog synth that it has new sound-generating technologies and a unique sound.
The synthesizer engine is formed from 4 oscillators, 1 with your own drawn waves, 1 virtual analog and 2 wavetable oscillators with Re-Synth Remodulation and 65 waveforms. There are detuning, phasing and FM synthesis built in. They then run through 2 filters set in series or parallel, 1 is an analog style low pass filter and the other is a multi-mode with 14 types and there’s a filter envelope. For modulation there are 3 LFOs using the usual shapes although one can be hand-drawn. There’s 1 ADSR envelope. Two modulation matrixes let you route things about the place. One has “1×1 power” and another has “1×1000 power” but I’ve no idea what that means. Finally there’s the FX section with delays, modulation and saturation.
Sounds like a capable sound generating engine. From what I understand this is the primary synthesizer built into Ampethron Portable and it’s called the “FX+” synthesizer and maybe that gives us a clue to style of synth they’re going for. This could all change with other synth expansions like the EFXplode although this seems to add bombs, nukes and explosions so it’s following a similar line.
What’s it all about again?
So it’s a sound effect triggering performance synthesizer that works a lot like an iPad app but is running on a more rugged mini-computer platform. It comes with an Xbox controller for the instant triggering of hits and effects – apparently with much less latency than a MIDI controller because of the shorter travel time – and filter twiddling with those handy joysticks. You can also plug in regular MIDI controllers if you wish. All of the revolutionary sound comes out of a minijack stereo output on the back, although you can add a USB audio interface if you like and use ASIO drivers to connect up to the Ampethron software. Check out the energetic promo video below to see more of all the magic stuff that Phasenetic Labs is promising.
iPads have shown us that touch interfaces can work brilliantly for synthesizers and this looks like a very capable interface. I’m still frustrated that there’s no video of sounds being made or basic waveforms being put together – it’s all hidden in enormous sounds and scenes from clubs. There’s a half-hour video of going through the factory sounds that are all played on an Xbox controller and they are all hits and effects – is it possible to write a tune or play a chord on this thing?
What Kickstarter campaign?
The price is quite stunning at €369 for the “early bird” discount which includes the Ampethron Portable hardware, the Xbox controller and FX+ internal synthesizer engine. That’s cheaper than an iPad and more dedicated to the task of being a synthesizer. But there are a couple of things that trouble me. Firstly those of us who signed up last year were promised a €200 discount and now we discover that the discount is part of the pre-order campaign and everybody gets it. Second, this campaign is not actually on Kickstarter and so there are none of the protections that Kickstarter offers. If they don’t meet their target then you don’t get your money back – although it looks like they will hit it without too much trouble. But they also claim to be ready for production anyway and don’t actually need to hit the target which just makes the whole Kickstarter approach seem a bit confusing.
So I continue to be a bit baffled by Ampethron. Hopefully at some point they’ll give it to someone who can explain it a bit more and demonstrate the basics. I’m not convinced that it’s so different from using an iPad, laptop or Surface or how it revolutionises live performance when Xbox-MIDI controllers already exist and plenty of other controllers give creative ways to interact with your hardware and software. But as a focused live performance tool that’s easily expandable and at a great price then Ampethron Portable could have some legs.