Eurorack Synth Modules to Get Excited About in 2018

January’s NAMM show featured some seriously awesome synthesizers set to come out this year, particularly those of the Eurorack variety.

In addition to new spins on old favorites, epitomized by Catalyst Audio's Buchla 100 Series reissues and Doepfer’s new Quad series, this year featured several preconceived synthesis models implemented into solid-state devices and pushed to new levels of efficiency.

Examples include Elektron's Digitone tabletop synthesizer and Qu-Bit Electronix's Scanned module, which bring new and exciting updates to FM and scanned synthesis.

All in all, we saw some great designs from fledgling companies, as well as some ingenious releases from industry veterans, so we’ve compiled a list below of the hottest highlights to arrive this year.


Catalyst Audio

Newcomer Catalyst Audio recently released the first iterations of its 100 series modules, based on the Buchla 100 series from 1968. Like the previous release, these latest modules were replicated from the original schematics wherever possible. As such, their signal path is entirely discrete analog.

Model 144 is a dual square oscillator. Model 193 is a combination of the Buchla Model 192 (a dual low-pass gate) and Buchla Model 194 (a fixed four band-pass output filter), hence the title “193." Model 191 is a non-vactrol-based 24dB filter, with low-pass, high-pass, and band-pass outputs. Instead of resonance, there's a bandwidth control on the band-pass filter.

Model 123 is the only module that is not a direct Buchla clone; rather, it is a reverb that seamlessly integrates with the entire 100 system.

While many of these modules really make sense outside of their application within this system, they sound delightful in tandem. As a system, this is one of the most rewarding Buchla clones to hit the market. Definitely worth the price of admission.

Catalyst Audio at Winter NAMM 2018

Doepfer

Before 2018, polyphony in Eurorack was always somewhat… expensive. And beyond that, excessive. This year, however, Deiter Doepfer, godfather of the Eurorack format, unveiled a series of quad modules that make polyphony a tangible reality. Obviously, this is a huge deal and a firm step forward into fruitful sonic platitudes.

New releases are the:

Combined, these modules form a formidable polyphonic synth voice that is a great starter system for beginners, a welcome addition for veterans, and a compelling tool for those looking to explore polyphony in a Eurorack context.

Doepfer at Winter NAMM 2018

Intellijel

The news that Intellijel was discontinuing some of its most revered modules certainly portended something grand in the not-too-distant future, and it’s now safe to say that this writer was not disappointed.

The most impressive release was the third iteration of Intellijel’s renowned Korgasmatron module, appropriately dubbed Morgasmatron. Compared to its predecessor, this thing is much beefier, contains even more modulation and switching options, and takes a small step away from potential copyright infringement.

The module was essentially reconstructed from the ground up, with new features like isolated switching (that activates more new features like crossfading and ring modulation), fine-tuned cutoff ranges, improved bass response, and a new distortion circuit.

Intellijel's three new modules

Also being released this year are new versions of the acclaimed Rubicon and Planar modules. Planar II has been granted digital CV processing and recording capabilities in addition to several other welcome implementations.

The joystick inputs are normalled to a master voltage, giving the module quadrature outputs for advanced voltage generation in tandem with maximum fluidity and functionality. In terms of live performance, Planar II ups the ante.

Rubicon II is slightly larger than its predecessor and features a brand new “squish" circuit that behaves like a wavefolder. Coaxing complex oscillator tones is simpler than ever and the through-zero FM sounds incredible.


Erica Synths (Graphic VCO)

Erica Synths released several products this year. While each of them is notable in its own right, the one that seemed to be garnering the most attention was the Graphic VCO.

This little pistol gives users the ability to draw their own custom waveforms, which are displayed on a large OLED screen for convenient editing. However, drawing waveforms is only the beginning. The module quickly ventures into complex territory by allowing users to interpolate between two wavetables, create custom wavetables, and configure wavetable arrangements as desired.

Erica Synths Graphic VCO

Malekko Heavy Industry (Manther and Manther Growl)

Manther, from Malekko Heavy Industry, has been a long time coming. Announced last year, musicians everywhere have been licking their chops in anticipation of a release date. This year brought us all one step closer to that moment with a preview of some of its capabilities and the announced Eurorack version, Manther Growl, that should keep people from every camp content.

Manther Growl is the analog portion of the Manther desktop unit, integrated into a Eurorack-specific chassis. It retains the same sonic imprint as its desktop incarnation, effortlessly affording everything from mellow basslines to frenzied feedback but with the full benefits of CV integration.

Malekko Heavy Industry Manther Growl

Functionally, the module features two ADSRs—one for the VCA and another for the filter—and both positive and negative filter modulation. There's also an onboard LFO (with selectable rates and waveforms) that can handily be applied to the pitch, pulse-width, or cut-off parameters.

While it dispenses with many of the cosmetic features that make the desktop unit so enticing, Manther Growl is just as proficient as its counterpart.


Qu-Bit (Scanned)

In addition to updating its acclaimed Nebulae granular sampler, Qu-Bit revealed a real game changer: Scanned. As its name attests, the module utilizes scanned synthesis—a methodology that has not been meaningfully explored via hardware until now.

Scanned synthesis can be thought of as a fusion between physical modeling and wavetable oscillation, albeit rather than relying on a static waveform, scanned synthesis involves a slow dynamic system whose shape is periodically scanned.

The resulting sound wave is derived from the shape, while the pitch correlates with the scanning rate. Scanned utilizes this method to generate unique timbres and pitches that were previously inconceivable in the world of Eurorack.

Qu-Bit Scanned

Rossum Electro-Music (Assimil8or)

Synthesizer veteran Dave Rossum delivered last year, with the Morpheus Z-Plane filter—a stereo morphing filter based on the architecture of the E-MU Morpheus. This year, Rossum Electro-Music introduced another game changer: the Assimil8or.

The Assimil8or is an impressive multi-timbral sampling engine consisting of eight independent channels, all with CV control. One of the module's most remarkable features is its ability to modulate samples with both external audio signals and samples. Not only is this a first in the world of Eurorack, it’s a first in the realm of electronic sound design.

Rossum Electro-Music Assimil8or

Steady State Fate (Bantam & Zero Point Oscillator)

Two of the most exciting Steady State Fate products released this year are the Zero Point Oscillator and Bantam semi-modular synth voice.

Zero Point is a brand new means of perpetrating analog through zero modulation. It can do linear, exponential, or a simultaneous combination of both. The module takes its name from its variable zero point, which means that the point where the waveform reverses can be changed in accordance with user preferences. Not only is this mind-blowing, it pairs exceptionally well with Steady State Fate’s other new release, Bantam.

Steady State Fate Bantam

Bantam is a self-contained semi modular synthesizer voice. It has two primary VCOs, a modulator VCO that doubles as another VCO, a mixer for combining waveforms, two aux mixer inputs for offsets and external integration, an aggressive Polivoks-style filter, multimode ADSR, VC slope with three speeds, a VCA section with three harmonics modes, VC delay with a dedicated tone control that can be configured before or after the VCA, and an integrated sample and hold.

Sonically, Bantam sounds as rich and gritty as one would expect, making it a great addition to any modular synthesizer rig or an easy point of entry for beginners.


Verbos (Multi-Tap Delay)

The Verbos Multi-Tap Delay was one of the most exciting modules unveiled at the show and, more broadly, a welcome addition to the world of modular synthesis. It is a clever rethinking of the Buchla 288 Time Domain Processor—a vintage design that was never taken into production and is renowned today for its antiquated converter design and wretched signal-to-noise ratio.

However, it is precisely where its predecessor failed that the Multi-Tap Delay succeeds.

At its core, the module is an 8-tap digital delay with voltage control over the delay amount. Each of its eight delays operate under the same time constraints and are governed via a single universal control.

Verbos at Winter NAMM 2018

Better yet, each delay tap has its own output and envelope follower, enabling virtually anything to be routed somewhere else and fed back into the unit. This implementation enables Multi-Tap Delay to function as an inherently organic and meaningfully malleable delay source, with absolutely no digital coloration.

Its flexible control surface proudly obscures its digital innards and lends to its distinct musicality. Despite its DSP integration, all of the module’s features are immediately accessible, with nothing hidden and absolutely zero menu diving—the Verbos way.

The module is a must for sound designers, film composers, and anyone looking to make ambient or drone soundscapes.


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