Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Modular Synth Course from Synth Industry Veteran Chris Meyer

A couple weeks back I received an email from Chris Meyer telling me about a new modular synth course he's put together on Lynda, a video teaching site.  Chris has a pretty serious synth-creation resume, going all the way back to Sequential where he invented vector synthesis, most famously used on the Prophet VS.  He's also worked for Roland, Digidesign (the company behind Pro Tools and Sibelius), and Marion Systems.

If you're looking for a good way to get into modular synthesis and synthesizers, this is a great way to start.  There's years of experience behind these videos, and the videos cover building a modular system and different formats of modules, in addition to just teaching about the basics of synthesis.

If you're strapped for cash and want to sample the lessons, it looks like you can get 10 days free before they start billing you (be sure to use this link), which should be plenty of time to check out the course, which looks to be about four hours long in total.

Here's Chris's official press release.

"Learn Modular Synthesis

If you’re new to modular synthesis and are wondering just how you’re supposed to use all those cables and knobs to create the sounds you hear in your head, synth industry veteran Chris Meyer – the creator of Vector Synthesis, and long-time modular enthusiast – has created the online course “Learn Modular Synthesis” (http://bit.ly/LearnModular) for LinkedIn/Lynda.com that will help take you from ground zero to patching your own sounds. It starts with a pair of “fundamentals” movies teaching the principles of harmonics and voltage control, then spends a chapter helping you weigh what to consider when configuring your own system – it even covers correctly plugging in the power jumpers to avoid costly disasters.

The meat of the course is the chapters on “Learning Subtractive Synthesis” and “Exploring Alternate Techniques” that slowly build up your knowledge module-by-module and technique-by-technique. The first starts with oscillators and waveforms (analog and digital), and then adds in filters demonstrating the effect of using different modes, slopes, and adding resonance. After that it moves onto modulation, including comparing different envelope shapes plus demonstrating typical LFO (low frequency oscillator) applications. The latter chapter gets into oscillator sync, FM, AM, waveshaping, low pass gates, and even effects, including processing externals sounds through your modular synth. Throughout the course he uses a small 2-row rack mount system based on the Roland System 500, expanded with modules from a wide variety of manufacturers. He even color-codes his cables based on function, making it easier to follow a patch. By the end, you’ll be familiar with a wide range of both “East Coast” and “West Coast” techniques.

A few movies – such as those on control voltage, patching a typical subtractive synthesizer voice, and exponential frequency modulation – are free to all. The rest of the course requires a Lynda.com subscription. However, if you sign up with the URL http://lynda.com/trial/chrismeyer, you get full access to the entire site – including over 200 other audio and music courses – for 10 days before they start to bill your credit card. It only costs $25/month if you decide to stay a member. For more information including an introductory movie, visit the Training page on Chris’ “Learning Modular” web site:http://learningmodular.com/training/."

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Buying Your First Synthesizer: The 2016 Guide

We're deep into 2016 and it's once again time share with you the latest and greatest in (mostly) analog synthesizers.  This year we have perhaps the greatest starting analog synthesizer ever, the Korg Monologue, a $500 4-voice polysynth.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Dave Smith Tom Oberheim OB-6 ranks as one of the biggest sounding polysynths of recent memory.  In between, we have some new additions as well.  Here's a breakdown of what's available.

I'm going to mark the synths that were not announced or released at the time of last year's guide with NEW, so you will be able to easily distinguish what's new.  I've also added some digital or not fully analog gear, so I'll be marking that accordingly to.

In addition what you see below, I plan on expanding this guide as new gear comes out and as new questions come in from readers.  If you're looking for something else, or have a question, shoot me an email and check back to this page soon.

As with previous iterations of this guide, it will be focused on new synthesizers, so don't expect anything that's not currently or very recently in production.  I've also mainly chosen to focus on analog synthesizers, although there will be a few recommendations that are either partly or fully digital.

Special note:  I've included Amazon links on the names of all the synths, so if you're interested in buying from Amazon, use that link!  Not only will it help support the blog, but you will also find Amazon has sales at times, so you'll find $10~$50 off on some synths.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

New Volca FM from NAMM

If you were hoping for a classy new Volca from NAMM, Korg has decided to hit on the last classic piece of synth heritage-- FM synthesis.  No sounds are out yet, but it looks like the Volca FM will be 3 voices and have 6 operators.  The Volca FM features familiar sliders to the left, a standard Volca keyboard, and some basic function knobs.  Perhaps Korg is planning an app like the Sampler's to program as well.  There also appears to be a retro seven segment display at the top left of the unit.  I'll update this post with sounds as they become available.

Update: Interview with the Volca FM creator below.


Dave Smith introduces new OB-6 collaboration with Tom Oberheim in classy short

"Dave Smith Instruments is excited to announce the OB-6, a new 6-voice synthesizer with an all-analog signal path and discrete VCOs and filters developed in collaboration with Tom Oberheim. Boasting a sound engine inspired by Oberheim’s original SEM (the core of his acclaimed 4-voice and 8-voice synthesizers), the new instrument is designed to provide true, vintage SEM tone with the stability and flexibility of modern technology.

Said Dave Smith: “Tom and I have been friends and friendly competitors since the late 1970’s. Back in the day, people were typically in either the Prophet or the Oberheim camp. Now, with the Prophet-6 out and doing so well, we thought it would be fun to combine our strengths and bring back Tom’s classic polyphonic sound, too — in a modern format.” Added Tom Oberheim: “A lot of people, myself included, have always felt that the SEMs had a certain uniquely big, organic sound unlike anything else. Working with Dave to make that sound widely available again with some modern touches and full programmability has been real a pleasure.”

The OB-6 features two discrete voltage-controlled oscillators (plus sub-oscillator) per voice, with continuously variable waveshapes (sawtooth and variable-width pulse, with triangle on oscillator 2). There is a classic SEM-inspired state-variable filter (low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, and notch) per voice. Voltage-controlled amplifiers complete the all-analog signal path. “The classic, bold SEM sound is all there,” said Oberheim.

The OB-6 features two discrete voltage-controlled oscillators (plus sub-oscillator) per voice, with continuously variable waveshapes (sawtooth and variable-width pulse, with triangle on oscillator 2). There is a classic SEM-inspired state-variable filter (low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, and notch) per voice. Voltage-controlled amplifiers complete the all-analog signal path. “The classic, bold SEM sound is all there,” said Oberheim.

Present also is X-Mod, with filter envelope and oscillator 2 as modulation sources (with bi-polar control). Destinations include oscillator 1 frequency, oscillator 1 shape, oscillator 1 pulse width, filter cutoff, and filter mode. The knob-per-function front panel puts virtually all parameters at a user’s fingertips. Toggling on the Manual switch enables live panel mode, in which the OB-6 switches to the current settings of its knobs and switches.

A dual effects section provides studio-quality reverbs, delays (including standard and BBD), chorus, and faithful recreations of Tom Oberheim’s acclaimed phase shifter and ring modulator. The effects are digital, with 24-bit, 48 kHz resolution, but a true bypass maintains a full analog signal path. Additionally, the OB-6 features a multimode arpeggiator and a polyphonic step sequencer with up to 64 steps (and up to 6 notes per step) plus rests. It allows polyphonic keyboard input and can sync to external MIDI clock.

The full-size, four-octave, semi-weighted keyboard is velocity and aftertouch sensitive. Said Dave Smith, “As with the Prophet-6, we made size a primary concern on the OB-6. It’s the right mix of power and portability and it fits right in on-stage or in the studio.” Added Oberheim, “And of course, it’s got that unmistakable SEM sound that’s going to turn a lot of heads. ”

The OB-6 is manufactured and sold by Dave Smith Instruments. It will be available in March, with a US MAP of $2,999."

"Two Legends. One Instrument
The OB-6 is a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration between the two most influential designers in poly synth history, Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim. The OB-6 takes the classic bold Tom Oberheim sound — with its true voltage-controlled oscillators, 2-pole filter, and amplifiers — and adds modern enhancements such as studio-quality effects, a polyphonic step sequencer, an arpeggiator, and more. No other modern analog poly synth can boast such a pedigree or such a massive, in-your-face sonic signature.

Vintage SEM Tone
The OB-6 sound engine is inspired by Tom’s original SEM, the core of his acclaimed 4-voice and 8- voice synthesizers. It features two discrete voltage-controlled oscillators (plus sub-oscillator) per voice with continuously variable waveshapes (sawtooth and variable-width pulse, plus a triangle wave on oscillator 2). The classic Oberheim-inspired 2-pole, state-variable, resonant filter provides low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, and notch functionality. Voltage-controlled amplifiers complete the all-analog signal path.

Dual Effects
The dual effects section provides studio-quality reverbs, delays (standard and BBD), chorus, flangers, and faithful recreations of Tom’s original phase shifter and ring modulator. While the effects themselves are digital, with 24-bit, 48 kHz resolution, a true bypass maintains a full analog signal path.

X-Mod and Poly Step Sequencing
Also present is X-Mod, which expands the tonal palette and makes it easy to create dramatic and unconventional sounds. Modulation sources are filter envelope and oscillator 2, both with bi-polar control. Destinations include oscillator 1 frequency, oscillator 1 shape, oscillator 1 pulse width, filter cutoff, and filter mode. The polyphonic step sequencer allows up to 64 steps and up to 6 notes per step. You can create sequences polyphonically, with rests, and sync to an external MIDI clock. The full-featured arpeggiator can be synced to external MIDI clock as well. Unison mode features configurable voice count (1-6 voices), chord memory, and key modes.

Easy to Program
The knob-per-function front panel puts virtually all OB-6 functions at your fingertips. Included are 500 permanent factory programs and 500 rewritable user programs. Turning on the Manual button enables live panel mode, in which the sound of the OB-6 switches to its current front panel settings. In this state, what you see is what you hear.
Easy to Play

This analog powerhouse is packed into a four-octave, semi-weighted keyboard with velocity and channel aftertouch, making it perfect for stage or studio."

Arturia Unveils the Matrixbrute, first pics inside! (updated with video!)

Check out Arturia's new synth, the Matrixbrute!  Thoughts to follow...

"GRENOBLE, FRANCE: music software and hardware developer Arturia is proud to introduce its innovative MatrixBrute Analog Synthesizer — set to reset the benchmark by going down in history as arguably the most powerful analogue synthesizer ever created — at The NAMM Show 2016, January 21-24 in Anaheim, California, USA...

When was the last time your heart started racing at the thought of making music? How long has it been since you heard sounds that were entirely new? When did you last find an instrument that truly inspired you? Arturia actively posed such challenging questions to itself when readily rising to the challenge of designing the MatrixBrute Analog Synthesizer. So here’s the answer: an astonishing programmable monophonic/duophonic analogue synthesizer set to start your heart racing and serve up entirely new sounds as a truly inspirational instrument... meet MatrixBrute Analog Synthesizer! As a massive-sounding and highly-specified beast of analogue avant-garde-era synth technology, it is fit for reaching the outer limits of truly 21st Century sonic exploration, thanks to the trademark sound of its three ‘Brute’ oscillators, superb-sounding Steiner-Parker and ladder filters, three ultra-fast envelope generators, amazing analogue effects, and — the pièce de résistance — its incredible modulation matrix. Modular... without the painful patching practice of going modular, in other words!

What makes the massive-sounding MatrixBrute Analog Synthesizer so state-of-the-art, then? Matrix by name, matrix by nature, that namesake modulation matrix is at the heart of MatrixBrute, making the most of each ‘module’ through a matrix that offers thousands of potential modulation routings. Assign any of 16 modulation sources to any of 16 modulation destinations (in MOD mode) and set the amounts of each modulation routing using the dedicated data encoder; four such destinations are user programmable and can clearly be seen in the eye-catching E Ink (Electronic Ink) display. Don’t be afraid to invent a sound palette of your own and make your musical mark!

Monday, January 11, 2016

It's official: New 4 voice analog synthesizer from Korg, called the Minilogue, for $500

If you were hoping this year would bring a new analog mono synth from a major manufacturer, Korg has you covered.  The Minilogue is the latest and greatest of Korg's analog revival.  The Minilogue is a 4 voice polyphonic analog synth with 200 patches, OLED display with oscilloscope, and plenty of knobs.

There had been countless internet posts asking for an affordable analog because of Korg's recent dips into the market, and finally, we have what looks to be the dream entry polysynth for the affordable price of $500 USD.

An official blurb from Korg:

"KORG Minilogue - is a fully programmable, 4-voice polyphonic synthesizer, is also equipped with built-in reverb and delay effects. KORG company offers the best way to get acquainted with a unique, stunning features of the analog synthesizer. Synthesizer has a unique analog engine, quick access to the 100 factory 100 user presets, 8 voice mode to create its configuration of 4 votes - unison, polyphony, and so on. The front panel 41 of the controller to configure and quick change function, the oscilloscope in real time gives a visual check of sound, 16-step sequencer with automation polyphonic up to 4 parameters synthesizer and more."

I'll add more pictures and info as I find it.  We'll be hearing it at NAMM.