NAMM 2017: Robin’s Modular round-up
This year’s NAMM show was undoubtedly an overwhelming mass of patch cable chaos. There were dozens of modular makers presenting dozens of new modules to the point where it’s becoming impossible to write a sensible article about them all. I’ve covered the ones that really drew my attention the most, but there was so much good stuff on show that I also didn’t want to leave anything out.
So, here’s a quick round-up of all the modular synthesis from NAMM 2017 including links to videos from various sources of them in action. I’ll go in alphabetical order.
1010 were showing their Bitbox sampler but that’s been out for a while now. But they also had the new Fxbox which looks spookily similar to the Bitbox – in fact Bitbox owners can get the Fxbox software for their units if they wish. Fxbox is a live performance effects unit with up to 16 effects for $599. You can trigger different effects by touching the large screen. It’s a bit like Launchpad on the iPad I suppose. Each effect has a built in step sequencer for added craziness. They were also showing a concept product called Synthbox which is to have all sorts of modules in the one module – not sure what the fun is in that. Website: http://1010music.com/
8 new modules! Which of course will be tiny but useful nonetheless. There’s a CLK, an ADSR, a VCA an EG envelope generator and a dual S+H. BRST, is a burst generator which sends a load of gates out in response to a trigger. The ROUT routes stuff around the place. The TM is inspired by the Turing Machine and kicks out random sequences. All in the 2hp format – amazing what they can get in that space and all from $79-$99. Website: http://www.twohp.com/
4ms released the Stereo Triggered Sampler and the Tapographic delay, both very cool and you can find out about them here.
Masters of straight forward, no-nonsense modular. V-Scale variable buffer (£105) is a very high spec active multi. Dual LFO VCA – two LFO’s where the second one is normalled through a VCA for £200. DH-ADSR (£200) full envelope module based on a model-D. And the CVMIX VCA for £150 for mixing CV voltages together. Website: http://www.ajhsynth.com/
Bastl collaborated with Bitwig this year and produced a remarkable little audio sync called KLIK. I wrote all about it here.
Last year they had the Bateleur VCO. This year they’ve transformed that into a full desktop mono-synth with the same name. It’s very clean looking and nicely laid out. It’s USB powered which means it can be powered by a little USB battery block for awesome portability. They have a lot of other modules on show but very little detail available at the moment. Their focus is on live performance, giving the musician the tools they need to be creative in a live environment. They have a 4 channel sequencer with LCD display which does MIDI as well as CV. They are working on a “Signature” line of modules which they are making in collaboration with various artists and engineers. I’ve watched the video a few times now and, other than the Bateleur I’m not quite getting the hang of what they are selling. Website: http://birdkids.org/
An AUX Expander for the extraordinary Buchla Easel system. It’s an unimpressive looking little box for a classic and costly system, that plugs into the slot on the top. It gives you an additional oscillator, modulation and noise for $799. Always fascinating. Website: https://buchla.com/product/easel-aux-expander/
Introduce a bunch of modules based on Buchla 100 series – full article here.
Delptronics introduced us to two sequencers: the Pitchman and the Wheelman. The Pitchman is a classic 8-step sequencer, the Wheelman is a sequential CV processor so it will amplifier, attenuate or attenuvert and sequence any CV signal whether audio or control. Both are $225. Website: http://delptronics.com/
A couple of new modules from the originators of Eurorack. A performance mixer, the A-135-4A. And a couple of oscillators, the A-110-6 and A-111-3. Loving the naming convention. Website: http://www.doepfer.de/home.htm
Dreadbox were all about the Abyss, their new polyphonic desktop synthesizer. Although not strictly Eurorack it still has modular functionality and it’s cool. I wrote about it here.
Their awesome Fusion Box has been featured in an article already. They also released the Octasource LFO just before the show which I wrote about here.
Probably deserved an article by itself for the Disting Mk4. The new version has a dot matrix display on the front making it much easier to navigate and know what’s going on. Plus they’ve put the SD card slot on the front so you don’t have to dismantle your rack anymore to change it. The Disting is packed full of all sorts of functionality from oscillating, effecting, quantizing and all sorts of stuff. They’d also updated many other modules with light up patch sockets (nice). And also they are releasing Windows drivers for the ES-8 USB audio interface in February. Website: http://www.expert-sleepers.co.uk/
Sapél Tamed Random Source which makes all sorts of interesting signals. One side creates audio noises, the other side creates random clocks and voltages. It’s really nice looking. Website: http://frap.tools/portfolio/sapel/
The Mutant Rimshot is a rimshot and clave generator with built in filter. They also have a voltage controlled noise oscillator or VCNO on the way. Website: http://www.hexinverter.net/
Industrial Music Electronics
3 modules, the alarmingly named Argos Bleak (4 oscillator controller), Bionic Lester Mk2 (switch capacitor filter) and Contempt (stereo compressor). All in a lovely orange. Website: http://www.industrialmusicelectronics.com/
I wrote about the PLONK collaboration with Applied Acoustics Systems here. In addition, they also released a whole raft of new modules. Including the Tetrapad force and position sensor array for $299, a Quad VCA and a new version of the Springray. They had some 1U utility modules like a headphone, noise/sample and hold/slew and mult. Lots of useful stuff from Intellijel although the PLONK was the coolest. Website: https://intellijel.com/
LZX are all about visual synthesis. Incorporating visuals into modular and using CV signals to run displays. Fascinating stuff. It all begins with the Visual Cortex control centre at $799 with companion modules Staircase, Doorway and Curtain at $249. But what looked amazing was the Liquid Crystal with the LCD displays that should be available in March for $250. Website: https://www.lzxindustries.net
Probably the product of the show for me – the Morphagene – fabulous – I wrote about it here.
I already wrote about their desktop synth and drum machines here. They also have a couple of MIDI modules for Eurorack. The first one is called Sync and has USB MIDI and 5 pin MIDI over 3.5mm jacks with clock outs. There’s CV Gate expander and a DIN socket expander for it. Website: https://malekkoheavyindustry.com/
They have some interestingly named modules coming up this year. The Cursus Iteritas oscillator, complex and full featured for $355. Mimetic Sequent is a CV recorder and randomizer for $225. And the Loquelic Iterita Percido drum generator ($555). I confess that I’m not completely following all that. Hopefully more information will appear on the website soon. Website: http://www.noiseengineering.us/
Tom Oberheim was at the show and had unexpectedly converted their SEM synthesizer expander module into a Eurorack version called the SEM-X. Read all about it here.
Pittsburgh Modular update their Lifeforms range with 6 new modules and 2 fabulous complete modular systems for you take away in a 208hp road case. Read my article about them here.
New modules from Qu-Bit always delight, enlighten and entertain. These four are very creative, cleanly finished and fully featured modules you can read about here.
They recently released the very interesting Morpheus Z-plane filter at the end of last year. But new at the show was the Satellite universal CV generator. These are like memory modules for their Control Forge programmable CV generator. The idea being that you can dump the data from the Control Forge into a Satellite and it will operate the same way while you do something new with the Control Forge. The Satellite can do its own thing as well but it’s a neat way of duplicating a useful module without having to buy a whole new one. They will be available in March for $299. Website: http://www.rossum-electro.com/products/satellite/
I wrote an article on the prototype keyboard Atmultitron here. But they were also showing their Oscitron 8-bit wavetable oscillator Eurorack module plus the alternative Odytron software. Website: http://soulsbysynths.com/
They had a bunch of new modules including the Tonestar 8106 which they called a blended offering of filters from Jupiter to Juno. It will retail for $529. They also has a 1U Toolbar for $225, an 8106 filter for $250, the Slim0 for $199 and Breakout Box for $115. Website: http://www.studioelectronics.com/
A fistful of new modules at really good prices. They’ve put their Space Drum synth into a desktop box and made it available as a kit. And they’ve done the same for their Nandamonium Drone for $150 or $100 as a kit. On Eurorack side they have a fabulous Ribbon controller, with a regular 3U brain and the ribbon in a 1U strip for $65 – although I think the ribbon itself is extra and comes in four types. There’s a RND random module shaped like an ADSR for $125. The Roboto module ($150) is a voice changer with an awesome Battlestar Galactica Cylon graphic on the front – gives you an idea as to what it sounds like. The Verb ($125) is a simple reverb. And finally the Quadrangle which is a massive envelope and LFO $225. They are very into the DIY side of things so everything can be bought in kit form or just as the PCB which is very cool for you solder monkeys. Website: http://www.synthrotek.com/
The red knob and slider masters Verbos were showing the Bark filter. Laid out like a graphic EQ it looks very impressive in the rack. It’s a 12 band fixed filter bank with individual outputs and envelope followers. Website: http://www.verboselectronics.com/modules/
Vermona had 4 new modules on show. The Twin VC Filter that was on show as a prototype last year is now ready to go at €400. They also showed a prototype expander for it that gave outputs for all filter types including a notch output, and two modulation knobs.The UniCycle is a single oscillator for €290. The QuadroPol (€270) is a four-fold polariser that can also work as a ring modulator, mixer or just to generate CV values. Finally, the Random Rhythm generates random gate signals and is yet to have a price or release date. Website: http://www.vermona.com/home/
Warm Star Electronics
Two new Euroack modules, Mountain and The Bends. Mountain is a VCF and LFO which has some “Gnarly” FM distortion. The Bends is a 4 channel voltage controlled matrix blender. Both are $195. Website: http://www.warmstarelectronics.com/
A bunch of new modules including a prototype Advanced Trigger Sequencer. There’s an Arpitecht arpeggiator and quantizer, a chord expander called the Triad. The Modbox is a dual LFO with sample and hold. Then there’s two stereo bus modules, the Overseer DJ style filter and the Muscle or MSCL which is a stereo compressor. These are all shipping in a month or two. Website: https://www.wmdevices.com
I think that’s the lot! It’s been a phenomenal show for modular synthesis. Completely overshadowing Pro Audio and Computer Music with the variety, creativity and number of manufacturers sharing small booths. Simply amazing how last year it was all about Moog and Korg, whereas this year it’s all about the independent little companies doing their Eurorack thing. Loved it.
I should also give a shout out to AnalogueZone who surpassed the usually prolific SonicState in terms of video content. They give us the opportunity to see and hear these products in action and they’ve done a fabulous job.