Erica Synths has revealed at Knobcon a completely modular (but non-modular) modular analogue synthesizer with a card slot for voicecard preset management. They’ve also gone for waveshaping and LPGs rather than a filter so it’s like an Erica Synths take on the Buchla Music Easel without the enormous cost.
Pico System III
They need to call this something else because it has departed so far from the previous Pico Systems that it needs a proper name. Previously they were built with a selection of individual modules from the Pico range arranged in a nice little box and ready for patching. The modules were individual and could be swapped out or included in a larger setup. With the Pico System III the Pico modules appear to be there but it’s all on a single front plate and there has to be some sort of wizardry going on behind the scenes to enable the Voicecard slot thing to work.
So it’s not a modular system in the sense that the individual synthesizer modules can be removed or changed. The price is also very different. We’ve heard (unconfirmed) that the PSIII will be EUR 450 for the desktop version. The PSII is priced at EUR 1111.11 so that’s a massive difference and puts an awesome Erica Synths modular system into your hands for less than the price of a Mother-32 or 0-Coast.
Here’s a video of it in action:
Which non-module modules?
Before we talk about that card slot let’s see what the PSIII has to offer. You have two VCOs, two 3-channel mixers, a 4-waveform LFO, two loopable ASR envelopes, two low-pass gates, a BBD delay, a 4-step sequencer and a master output section. It’s all analogue which is great although I do feel it’s missing a filter. However, it does have a lot of other features that make for a quirky little system. VCO1 has pulse and triangle outputs with CV controlled PWM. VCO2 has a built-in waveshaper with its own output. There’s a VCO controller section for managing FM inputs and levels to the oscillators.
The LFO has noise and S&H alongside the regular sine and pulse outputs and it has a rather cool random trigger output. The looping on the envelopes means that they can also become LFOs. The inclusion of lowpass gates is very interesting and hooks into the Buchla flavour that Erica Synths are trying to capture with this system.
Right, so what’s this all about then? Well, you’ll find a similar card slot on the Buchla Music Easel called EXT/PROG INTERFACE. The idea was that you could store a complete patch on a card and then simply plug it into the slot to retrieve the patch. Behind the scenes the slot was wired through all of the patchable routings. You could store different patches on different cards and swap them out for instant sound changes – quite a revelation on a modular system.
But it’s not as simple as it sounds. In order to “store” the patch you had to replicate the patching and knob/slider settings physically on the card in miniature. This required the placement of resistors to replicate the correct voltages as shown on the sliders, and the soldering of wires to replicate the patch cables. It’s time consuming, tricky and DIY but it’s a very analogue way of storing a patch.
Erica Synths is having a go at implementing this idea. Most of the inputs and outputs will be normalled to the card slot and so instead of making connections with patch cables you can plug in a card and it will instantly patch all those connections. Apparently it will come with 5 “factory preset” voicecards. These include LPG Techno, Synthesizer- Synthesizer, Space Computer, Drone Master and Droid Breakdance. If you also want to add further patching any physical patch cable will take priority over the voicecard so you can essentially overwrite the preset. Although that’s a bit misleading because the voicecard remains unchanged. However, they are also included a couple of DIY voicecards. These enable you to save your own patches. But you’re going to have to get your soldering iron out in order to build the patch by soldering wires on the card. There’s no mention of resistors so I don’t know how you go about storing the positions of the knobs.
It’s a really interesting route to take with the Pico System. It remains a bit weeny and those knobs can be fiddly but you get a lot of modular in this non-module modular synthesizer. If the price of EUR 450 is correct then that’s quite remarkable and makes the PSIII a contender for everybody’s first modular system. The card slot thing is potentially awesome but probably more work than you’d think and I suspect it will be largely ignored. Although for performance situations it could be a very useful thing. I wonder if it will appear on any larger all-in-one Erica Synths modular non-modular systems.
They are also offering it in Eurorack format for EUR 400. We understand it will be released on the 20 September.
- Erica Synths website.