Plinky is a playfully melancholic polyphonic synthesizer in Eurorack or desktop form that wears its fragility in a touchable interface.
It’s immediately mysterious and compelling. A panel of symbols that appear musical and synthy surrounded on two sides by patch points. It was designed as a hobby project by Alex Evans but has captured the imagination of the synth community and it is now available as a DIY kit from Thonk.co.uk.
Inside is a multi-sample and granular synthesizer, wavetable and virtual analog synthesis and a totally captivating sound. You play it via the pressure-sensitive front panel – don’t be fooled by all the icons, they have a purpose but when you’re playing you can ignore them completely and simply interact with the surface.
The surface is like a note grid and you can scale it to whatever takes your musical fancy. Tiny LEDs in the corner of each grid circle indicate root notes and connected notes as you play. There’s another mode for the granular engine where your finger becomes something like a tape head moving through slices of the loaded sample.
The icons seem initially overwhelming and many of them control two parameters shown with tiny labels, but they are obvious enough on closer examination giving you all the usual synth controls we’ve come to expect. They are on the small side but the lovely little screen at the top helps with letting you know what you’re doing. The row of buttons along the bottom enable access to the parameters in edit mode.
For the sound engine, you get 4 oscillators per voice that are pushed around the stereo output with virtual analog or crossfading wavetables on offer and you can mix in some noise. There are two envelopes per voice and a lowpass gate tied to the pressure input so the sound gets brighter the harder you play. There are then 4 global LFOs and a bunch of effects to keep things interesting.
The sound seems lovely. They say it lends itself to a fragile and melancholy sound and the expressiveness is surprisingly good. It has the vibe of an acoustic instrument that responds to your playing.
The first two editions of the Plinky synth sold out really quickly and there’s currently a waiting list for the DIY kit being maintained on the Thonk website. It will cost you your patience and £180.