by Rob Puricelli | 4,5 / 5,0 | Approximate reading time: 7 Minutes | Our Rating: 4,5 / 5,0

Kodamo MASK1 Banner  ·  Source: Kodamo

MASK1 Front View  ·  Source: Kodamo

MASK1 Rear  ·  Source: Kodamo

MASK1 Front Angle  ·  Source: Kodamo

MASK1 Rear Connectivity  ·  Source: Kodamo

Kodamo MASK1's Minimal Interface  ·  Source: Kodamo

MASK1 Buttons  ·  Source: Kodamo

MASK1 Wheels  ·  Source: Kodamo

MASK1 Connections  ·  Source: Kodamo

MASK1 in profile...  ·  Source: Kodamo

MASK1 In Use  ·  Source: Kodamo

Bitmasking Synthesis  ·  Source: Kodamo

Bitmask Synthesis  ·  Source: Kodamo

MASK1 Voice Organizer  ·  Source: Kodamo


Kodamo serve up a new twist on digital synthesis with their bitmask synthesizer, the MASK1, a performance synth with interesting sonic abilities.


It was way back in 2019, in the ‘before times‘, that new synthesizer manufacturer Kodamo popped their head above the parapet . Their first effort was an audacious and groundbreaking approach to FM synthesis, the EssenceFM. It took a while for it to surface as a manufactured product. Units began shipping a year later and a year or so after that, the EssenceFM Mk.II emerged. This update was cosmetic with a new paint job and removable rack ears. This amazingly powerful synth took on FM and made it more accessible. Using a large, colour touchscreen and a massively powerful engine, it made light of this otherwise complex synthesis form.

MASK1 in profile...

MASK1 in profile…

Moving on, 2022 saw Kodamo demonstrate their Infini prototype at Synthfest France. This keyboard built on their FM engine with formant and bitmasking synthesis. However, the Infini has yet to emerge and it may well be some way off as Kodamo now focus on bitmasking alone. The MASK1 debuted at SoundMIT 2022, late last year in Torino. This sleek, white unit revealed a cleaner, simpler interface with no touch screen. Instead, a small 4 character LED display was on show, alongside Kodamo’s now trademark white buttons.

Today, the Kodamo MASK1 is available for all to buy and we were lucky enough to get our hands on one of the first units out of the factory a few weeks ago. So let’s dive in and find out what bitmasking is all about!

MASK1 In Use

The Bitmask Concept

Bitmasking is a term most often encountered in the world of computer programming. In that realm, bitmasking involves applying a mask over a value to keep, change or modify a piece of given information. When it comes to synthesis, bitmasking splits a waveform into many parts and then decides which parts will be flipped, repeated, scaled or silenced. By doing this, a huge range of waveforms can be created from an oscillator emitting a simple sine wave.

The result is a range of tones that can be rich in harmonics, but also capable of emulating classic waveforms such as saw, square, triangle and so on. To help you get started, a dozen familiar waveforms are printed on the top panel with their corresponding masks so you can easily get started.

Bitmasking Synthesis

The MASK1 has two oscillators and one noise generator per voice. Each of these have their own ADSR envelopes, as does the filter. The MASK1 makes use of two different types of envelope; ADSR and Delta. Delta envelopes are used on the pitch and masks respectively. The output of the oscillators is routed through a 12db/octave state-variable filter (Low, High & Band pass plus Notch) with cutoff able to track the pitch of oscillator one. MASK1 comes with two free-running LFOs and a pair of FX processors that feature numerous options, including Delay, Chorus, Reverb, Distortion, Bit Crush and Ring Modulation.


Kodamo MASK1 Performance

Kodamo make it quite clear that the MASK1 is very much an instantly gratifying performance instrument. The UI is very much a case of “less is more”. You might be put off by the distinct lack of controls on the MASK1. There are just two rotary encoders and only 23 direct access buttons. The display is incredibly limited being just four characters but this is, Kodamo say, very deliberate. The intention is to get results fast. No need for menu diving. Just quick and meaningful fun. Once you have understood what everything does, you will be tweaking presets and creating your own sounds in no time at all.

The MASK1 sports a pretty comprehensive arpeggiator. It also features a fun, but simple sequencer. It’s actually more of a looper than anything and you will be creating patterns to play over very quickly. Aside from the LFOs, modulations can be assigned to velocity, aftertouch (channel, not poly) and the modulation wheel. The aftertouch is particularly nice, requiring deliberate pressure to activate it yet sensitive enough for nuance. But the MASK1 has some other, rather special performance tricks up its sleeve.

MASK1 Wheels

MASK1 Wheels

MASK1 Play Modes

The MASK1 stands apart from many other synths, not least for its synthesis method but for its Play Modes. These modes deliver playability beyond the standard monophonic, paraphonic or polyphonic. In fact, it happily blends all three and tosses in slurring and intelligent portamento to boot. It’s a bit difficult to explain in words, but let me have a go. Imagine playing an octave bass part with the left hand and the right hand is playing a lead or maybe a chord pattern.

This requires a polyphonic mode and therefore slurring between notes is commonly not possible. Not so with the MASK1. Play any note and then move one or two semitones in either direction and the note gracefully slurs. Beyond that, the envelopes re-trigger just as they would on a regular poly synth.

Portamento can be monophonic or polyphonic and even paraphony is an option. Hybrid modes are possible, such as ‘Moly’, a combination of mono and poly that allows releases to overlap unless played legato. Para Slur is a combination of paraphonic and slurred notes. And you can opt for mono or poly re-triggering modes where envelopes are always re-triggered. Instead of being a distraction, it’s actually a really welcome addition, even for fat fingered klutzes like me!

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Behind The Mask

Yay for a Yellow Magic Orchestra reference! The rear panel of the MASK1 is similarly sparse. Power, MIDI, USB, Sustain, Headphones and Stereo Out are all you get. All this minimalism allows the MASK1’s overall size to be kept down too. With its wheels mounted above the Fatar keybed, and with such a barren UI, the instrument has a very small footprint. Ideal as a gigging instrument, maybe? It is solidly made, with metal casing and ABS end cheeks. Kodamo even supply a template for you to make your own replacement cheeks should you wish!

MASK1 Rear Connectivity

MASK1 Rear Connectivity

The buttons are similar to those used on the EssenceFM and feel like they can take repeated pummelling. The package is completed with an A4 glossy printed manual (PDF also available here) which not only covers all the functionality, but provides tuitions on basic synthesis and some patch design tutorials to get you started. It also comes with stunning artwork on the front and rear.

When it comes to patch management, you might think the tiny LED screen would be next to useless. You’d be correct! However, Kodamo have come up with a very useful way of managing the contents of the MASK1. The MASK1 Voice Organizer is an HTML based tool that allows you to manage patches back and forth between a connected computer and the synth. You can either do it online or just download the HTML file to your desktop for easy offline use.

MASK1 Voice Organizer

MASK1 Voice Organizer

Halloween Mask or Glamorous Masked Ball?

I’m a sucker for a synth that is both simple to use and with excellent performance credentials. What I wasn’t expecting was how easy it was to get into programming with bitmasks. Kodamo have made it both simple to understand and implement. The presets really show off the capabilities and you will soon be concocting your own. But the real treats here are the Play Modes. These add a new dimension to playing that works really well with all the other modulation possibilities.

But does it do anything sonically unique enough to justify its price tag? Your mileage may vary, as the kids say these days. I’ve yet to hear anything so earth-shatteringly new that can’t be done elsewhere. The difference is that MASK1 gets you where you want to go quickly. There’s enough different about it to warrant a deeper dive. The build quality is superb and it’s a great choice of key bed. I think that in time we might look back on this as an understated classic.

I’d love to see a firmware update that adds overdubbing to the looping sequencer and maybe the addition of last note aftertouch for even more expression. If their EssenceFM is anything to go by, updates will be both frequent and useful. Bitmasking might not be as paradigm-shifting as other synthesis methods, but it is an extremely welcome addition to the toolkit.

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More Information

The Kodamo MASK1 bitmask synthesizer is available now for an RRP of €1908 ex. VAT (€2290 inc. 20% VAT)/$2058 USD ex. Sales Tax from Kodamo directly. Units will become available at partner retailers soon. The MASK1 comes with a 2-year warranty.

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More Information

Image Sources:
  • MASK1 in profile...: Kodamo
  • MASK1 In Use: Kodamo
  • Bitmasking Synthesis: Kodamo
  • MASK1 Wheels: Kodamo
  • MASK1 Rear Connectivity: Kodamo
  • MASK1 Voice Organizer: Kodamo
Kodamo MASK1 Title

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One response to “Review: Kodamo MASK1 Bitmask Synthesizer”

    Diki Ross says:

    That intelligent slur feature needs to be on far more keyboards.

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