Set the video playing and then add the following as narration in a very deep voice:
It is a time of war. The armies of modular have combined with the forces of analog to confront the endless advance of the computerised matrix. This time it’s personal, this time it’s for ultimate synthesis, this time it’s full digital recall.
I have never seen such an over-dramatic Kickstarter campaign video! I’m assuming it’s deliberately hilarious. Apparently, this is a revolution, the creation of the ultimate synthesizer where you can have it all in one box. Haven’t we had this before? From every workstation synthesizer through to the Apple or Windows PC they all offer the universe of synthesis in one box. So what makes this different, and how does it become the Ultimate Synthesizer?
The basic idea is analog sound with digital control. Can we build a modular analog synthesizer that can be completely controlled with chips and software rather than cables? All the analog settings, patching and routings saved and restored instantly. They compare it to building a properly analog Nord Modular, or an Arturia Matrix Brute with extendable polyphony or a modular Omega Infinity with a 256×256 modulation matrix. Or you could see it as the sort of thing Hans Zimmer would buy a dozen of in order to simplify his assistant’s workflow.
The X-Bay works by being a digital control matrix with up to unlimited channels of analog audio. It’s essentially a digital patch bay which is not particularly extraordinary. Where the cleverness comes in is with “X-Mods”. X-Mods are synthesizers or modular modules built onto cards that slot into the X-Bay. The X-Bay is built like a drawer so you slide it out, pop in a “Jupiter 8” card and you have that analog synthesizer available within the X-Bay matrix. Currently, they are using reissued CEM, IR and SSM chips to recreate circuits from original synthesizers. So a Jupiter filter, an SH-101 VCO, Korg Polysix ADSR etc. They hope to eventually provide X-Mods covering all useful designs ever made.
Once inside the X-Bay all the in/out and controls are handled by the digital matrix. You can then patch together your ultimate synthesizer from your phone or with any device that can run a browser.
You can also plumb in all your external gear as well.
I think the ability to build up immense patches combining internal and external gear is very promising. I can see how it could save a lot of time and produce some very deep possibilities. I also wonder whether too much is lost for the sake of convenience. They call it “cableless modular” – where’s the fun in that? I don’t think people who are interested in modular find the patch cables annoying or a hindrance – it’s actually part of the attraction. It has the same disenfranchising effect as software does. It seems to take control away from the senses in your fingers. That’s why we love hardware, isn’t it? To get our fingers on knobs, our hands in there, the visual and aural feedback, the playing of an instrument. There can, of course, be hardware controllers involved, but it’s just not quite the same thing as a instrument interface.
You’re going to have to go and check out the campaign and see for yourself if this is the future. They are trying to raise €49,000. In terms of pricing and rewards €499 will get you the unexpandable entry level X-Bay 32×32 PCB but you have to add €699 for the enclosure and power supply. The X-Bay 64 is €999 which doubles for the 128 and again for the 256 model, plus the case. Individual X-Mods based on circuits from some very cool vintage synthesizers range from €89 for an Oberheim filter to €149 for a dual VCO from the Jupiter 6. So the X-Mod pricing is pretty decent once you’ve invested in the hardware.
How do you feel about this project? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
- The X-Bay Kickstarter page.