Video: The New Synths of Knobcon 2019

Over this past weekend, the eighth annual Knobcon synth convention was held outside of Chicago. Reverb was on hand to see the latest and greatest instruments at the show, including new wavetable synths, pocket-sized drum machines, and two different instruments from Buchla and Erica Synths that make use of resistor-laden program cards.

In the week leading up to Knobcon, Ashun Sound Machines (ASM) made big waves with its debut synthesizer, the Hydrasynth. Available in both desktop and keyboard versions, the digital wavetable synth has rich sounds, intuitive controls, and a sleek design—all at a level that's truly impressive for a brand-new company. To say it was a hit at Knobcon would be an understatement. Check back on Reverb soon for availability.

Keyboard version of the ASM Hydrasynth.

Another new wavetable synth, the Modal Electronics Argon8, was at the show. Like the Hydrasynth, it also offers 8-voice polyphony, along with 120 wavetable, a complex mod matrix, and plenty of onboard effects in a compact, straight-forward design. While still in a prototype stage, Modal expects the Argon8 to be ready in 12 weeks.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign for its Bitty miniature drum machine and synthesizer, Curious Sound Objects is deep in production mode, preparing for the imminent release of its two models, the standard-colored Bitty and the all-black Bitty Nite Mode Edition. With two knobs, a built-in speaker, and four pads, they're versatile and fun machines. Each Bitty ships with a desktop app that lets you swap out the sounds—from synth tones to trap drums—via USB. And if you want to get super nerdy, you can edit the Bitty's code in the Arduino environment.

Curious Sound Objects Bitty
Bitty Nite Mode Edition

Erica Synths had its latest Black System II at the show, but what caught our eye was a prototype of a new module for an upcoming Pico System III—which includes two analog VCOs, a four-step sequencer, and lots of sonic possibilities packed into the relatively small machine. The synth also has a slot for program cards, which Erica calls Voicecards, that you can use to create, save, and recall preset patches.

Buchla's 208C Easel Command Module, which will be available in late 2019 for $2,999 USD, can also make use of program card presets, like on other versions of Buchla Easels. In addition to the 208C, Buchla announced it would be reissuing the San Francisco Tape Music Center 100 Series modular system—the first-ever synth Buchla first conceived in 1963. A timeline for availability and pricing is still being determined.

And rounding out our time at Knobcon, we visited the Roland booth, which had a collection of the eight new synthesizers the company dropped last week. What we thought was particularly cool was the Jupiter-M, a prototype of what became the brand-new Jupiter-Xm.

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