Powerful hybrid polysynth marries analog goodness with digital reliability
By Paul Ridden
July 21, 2014
Though still in demand, classic analog synthesizers from decades past can be a bit of a nightmare to keep in good working order. Many modern digital emulators do a decent enough job of recreating the epic sounds of artists like Jean Michelle Jarre, Kraftwerk and Soft Cell, but some believe that they just don't have the same iconic sound qualities. Such is the thinking of a team of designers and engineers led by Philip Taysom and Paul Maddox, which has created a next gen music synth named Modulus.002. The boutique polyphonic sound machine mixes classic analog sound creation techniques with some digital magic to give musicians access to the kind of sounds made famous by vintage instruments of yesteryear.
"Most modern designs of polyphonic synthesizers are pure digital and just don't have the same iconic sound qualities, in our opinion," says Taysom, co-founder of the Bristol, UK-based startup behind the Modulus.002. "What we have created in the Modulus.002 is a fusion of these iconic analog and hybrid sounds of the 70s and 80s synthesizers with the reliability of the latest electronics plus Internet connectivity to share sounds, settings and work collaboratively on music without relying on painfully slow serial/MIDI connections to do so. This is the first synthesizer designed for the interconnected 21st Century."
Designed to be the flagship of a new family of Modulus products, and less than 12 months in the making, the hybrid synth boasts 12 polyphonic voices and more than 50 different waveforms. There are two numerically controlled oscillators for each voice for high resolution and stability, and two sub oscillators which can be individually switched from a square wave to the same waveform as the main oscillators, making four oscillators per voice. You'll also find a Fatar semi-weighted, five octave key mechanism with aftertouch (pressure sensitivity), and an ergonomic panel layout that follows a traditional synthesizer work flow to make all voice control parameters available to the player.
Front and center is an integrated 4.3-inch LCD screen with wide viewing angle that displays the control parameters of any control knobs touched by the user, with all modulation options accessed directly from the front panel. An in-house 24 dB-per-octave four pole analog transistor ladder filter is said to provide "classic warm sounds" and some unusual morphing effects. Players can access 12 "quick recall banks" from the front panel for speedy preset recall, and choose between polyphonic (up to 12 notes, with each note using one voice), monophonic (one note, one voice), unison (up to 12 voices per note) and stack (user-selectable multi-note, multi-voice) modes.
There's global and per voice low filter oscillation, VCF and VCA envelope filters, an XY joystick, a step sequencer, arpeggiator (a cool feature where the synth will create a pattern from played notes) and an animator (which allows for sequencing of any control parameter).
To the rear are combined XLR/TRS ports for balanced or unbalanced analog signal output, two audio inputs which enable internal audio processing from the VCF onwards, a dedicated D-Sub connection that makes all 12 voices individually available for external processing, and a USB audio/MIDI port.
Bringing matters right up to date is a built-in Ethernet port to connect the Modulus.002 to a home or studio network for online collaboration or access to the company's open cloud-based server platform for storage and sharing of sound patches, sequences and profile settings.
The Modulus.002 is available in August for US$5,200, and you can hear a few tasty samples on the company's SoundCloud page.