The weekend saw the return of the Synthfest show in Sheffield. It was filled with synths and modular to the delight of a sold-out crowd. Here are my highlights.
It was the first time Synthfest was an in-person event since Covid pushed it online in 2020. There was a palatable sense of joy about the place; lots of smiling and many people meeting each other for the first time in a few years. There’s definitely something about coming together to share an interest in synthesizers and music-making. You feel it at Superbooth in Berlin, and you feel it at the Octagon in a bright and breezy Sheffield in October.
I would say that overall it felt more balanced between synths and modular. At the last couple of real-life Synthfest events, it leaned heavily into Eurorack, whereas this year, there was more regular synth-action on show. However, there was still plenty of modular to be seen and poked at, and despite supply issues and chip shortages, the market seems as buoyant as ever.
So here are my modular highlights from Synthfest 2022. And also my thanks to SonicState who cover the show so diligently so we can catch up on the things we missed or relive those we didn’t. And Sound On Sound magazine for hosting the whole thing.
Dreadbox – the return of Hades and Erebus
We originally saw these at Superbooth, but this time around, I was able to get properly into the remodelled Hades and Erebus semi-modular synths. Dreadbox says that these are the synths that they are always getting asked to bring back into production.
This time around, they will be available as simple, snap-together type kits – think Moog Mavis more than Dreadbox Dysmetria. Powered by USB, and as everything is on the front panel, they can be dropped into Eurorack.
The Erebus is based on the most popular version 2, and has a more stable oscillator design. The Hades bass synth stays as awesome as it’s always been. Dreadbox only ever made 500 of them the first time around.
Many of the other products have run into chip shortage issues so this looks like a great diversion for Dreadbox. Both should be available soon and the price is to be announced.
Knobula were there showing off the Kickain and Poly Cinematic in both the original and new dark mode black front panel. There was also a brand-new prototype that I got a sneak preview of, but I’m not allowed to tell you about it.
But heck, Jason mentions it in the video (below), so I can happily reveal that it’s a chord generator that fits in brilliantly with the other two modules. Perfect for pumping chords into the Poly Cinematic. You can just spot it to the left in the video. There’s also mention of a new Poly Cinematic on the way.
RYK Vector Wave
It was great to see Jake from RYK Modular out in the wild along with his deeply interesting new module, the Vector Wave. It features FM and vector wave synthesis, where you can patch 4 banks of 4 oscillator waveforms together as carriers and operators. Then a joystick lets you morph between the four banks. Something like that, anyway. Jake says it’s like a weird combination of 80s classic digital synthesis.
It’s the sort of module that requires a bit of investigation, but it’s looking and sounding amazing.
Obelisque Design AMS Modular System
The AMS Modular System is a good-looking frame-based system for Eurorack and other synthesizers. They currently have 3U and 6U frames that can be set at very jaunty angles. You can set them up how you want, and are very adjustable. Prices start at a very reasonable £56 for the 3U and £76 for the 6U frame and stand.
My only doubt is about where you mount the power supply and the fact you’ll going to have a load of ribbon power cables hanging out the back. Look great though, and the modular nature of how you can build up a larger system for other synths is pretty nice.
- AMS Stands website.
I spoke to Nina and Zoe from Transistor Labs about an exciting new module which I also spoke to them about at the last Synthfest. Unfortunately, because of the chip shortage, they’ve not been able to build any even though it’s been ready for a year. The module is called the Stepper Drum, the perfect companion to their legendary Stepper Acid sequencer.
It’s an example of how supply chain issues are having a major impact on modular makers. They are hoping to do a small run of the Stepper Acid soon, but chips for the Stepper Drum are still 6 months away. The combination of the two modules is superb and I hope they can find the chips they need.
- Transistor Sound Labs website.
It was great to see Rory from Allen Synthesis running a table. He’s the designer of the EuroPi, an open-source modular platform that can run all sorts of firmware for different functionality. I’ve got one running the Consequencer firmware that turns it into something along the lines of the Mutable Instrument Grids. Essentially it pumps out drum patterns like a boss.
Rory has a new project to show, which is the first in what may be some more intentional modules. Kompari is a signal comparator. You plug in two signals, and if signal A is greater than signal B, then you get an output; if not, then you don’t. That can be very useful in generating patterns from comparing a couple of sources.
I hope this brings in a whole range of interesting modules from Allen Synthesis.
- Allen Synthesis website.
It was a great show. I came away feeling that the industry is alive and well with people sucking the electronic marrow out of life. A couple of non-modular highlights for me were being able to play on the Rhodes MK8 and the Oberheim OB-X8, which is something you can’t appreciate in a video or live stream.
Looking forward to the next one.
- Synthfest website.
- AMS Stands: AMS Stands
- Allen Synthesis Europi and Kompari: Allen Synthesis