The MOD system from Brazil's Portalmod was born of a desire to break free from the confines of carefully considered manufacturer-supplied digital effects for guitar and bass, and sail into the vast uncharted territory of independent developer-generated plug-ins. The hardware features its own mini computing system capable of wirelessly receiving user-customized virtual pedalboards configured via a browser-based interface. Having sold out of its original Quadra model, the company is currently making plans to release its next product, the MOD Duo, in the US.
The Musical Operating Devices (MOD) system is the brainchild of Gianfranco Ceccolini who, after spending four years developing a concept to have digital effects adapt to the needs of a user, rather than forcing a player to settle on pre-determined tones, partnered with Angoera Sistemas Eletrônicos to work on the prototypes. The project blossomed from a system designed to run on a digital sound processor, to a Linux-based, music-optimized computer in a stomp. Software development company Hacklab joined the party in 2012, and the interface, social aspects and MOD cloud sprang to life.
The first MOD pedal out of the Portalmod stable was last year's Quadra, so named because of its four footswitches, four LCD screens, and four control knobs. It doesn't have a signature sound of its own, but belts out tones shaped by user-generated virtual pedalboards made up of high quality digital effects plug-ins in the LV2 open standard. "Each knob controls dozens of parameters on your pedalboard and each footswitch acts as a button that can switch an effect on or off, or navigate within the pedalboards," Portalmod explains.
Inside is a 24-bit/48 kHz analog-to-digital/digital-to-analog converters, true bypass circuitry, a 1.8 GHz Atom processor, 2 GB of RAM and 8 GB of solid state storage. The rear of the unit features two instrument/line inputs, two outputs with gain control, a headphone jack, 5-pin MIDI in connector, USB port for a Bluetooth dongle and an RJ45 Control Chain port (to connect to additional controllers or peripherals), as well as the power switch and 100-240 V power input.
Pedalboards are setup in a browser-based interface called the Constructor that's resident on the MOD istelf and can be accessed by pairing a tablet, computer or smartphone over Bluetooth. Effects and amp simulations line the bottom of the UI and can be dragged and dropped into position, "cabled up" to create a chain, and then saved to the unit's onboard memory.
Since the MOD itself doen't connect to the internet, a paired device running the UI will need to head online from time to time to download and install system updates and get hold of newly-released plug-ins.
Interestingly, the developers say that "the MOD will allow any sensor to change a parameter on your pedalboard, this could be a light, humidity, altitude, pressure or temperature sensor, or indeed any sensor you could imagine."
An expression pedal has been developed which can control any parameter on the virtual pedalboard, or be used as a wah, and a community aspect has been introduced, where users can share board designs or short recorded samples with fellow MODers. There are also plans to give LV2 audio developers the opportunity to sell their creations via the company's online store.
The MOD Quadra has now sold out of its production run, but Portalmod will be crowdfunding the launch of a new pedal called the MOD Duo in the coming weeks. It promises much of the same functionality and feature set as the Quadra, but with half the number of footswitches and screens. The Duo will be the first of the company's units to be produced in the US, and will be pitched at about US$390 each.
Update: The Portalmod team has now launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, where early bird pledges for a MOD Duo are $299. You can watch the pitch video below.