“Hi, we’re here at NAMM 2018, and –” No. Here’s the actual sound of the new Korg, Pittsburgh Modular, and Radikal gear, minus trade show noise or voiceover.

First, the KORG Prologue, the fascinating new polysynth from KORG with open programmable bits. (We’ve got a separate QA and more details from KORG coming soon!)

The Pittsburgh Modular Microvolt 3900 rides the wave of new desktop semi-modulars – standalone instruments that still provide tons of patching options, just without needing a rack of different modules to set up. And it looks like a fine instrument – though you may opt for the Lifeforms SV-1 if you prefer the flexibility of bolting into a Eurorack later. Price: US$629.

What sets this one apart from semi-modular rivals: performance-friendly and intuitive design, and a really flexible patch bay.

And lastly, there’s the Radikal Technologies Delta CEP A. Like the Pittsburgh piece and Arturia, it pitches itself as an entry point to modular – use it on its own, or as the first steps toward building a modular system. What you get is a paraphonic synth voice. There’s onboard MIDI to CV, so it can interface nicely with your computer or existing MIDI gear. You can choose between onboard digital and analog filters. And effects are built in – plus envelope, and LFO.

If all that sounds a little dull, here’s the juicy bit: you get a “swarm oscillator,” with eight tunable oscillators you can use for “chords, clusters or fat detuned multi-oscillator sounds.”

Mmmmm, swarms!

For good measure, here’s Waldorf’s flagship Quantum, which we first saw last year in Frankfurt.

Thanks to Bonedo for the great videos! More are coming, our friends there tell us!

  • chaircrusher

    Here’s something else entirely, an audio walkthrough of NAMM. I predict it will show up in the background of someone’s dub techno track.

  • Polite Society

    Here’s one for the digitone as well, which is just someone stepping through the preset patterns.

  • Polite Society

    Also did anyone else see the picture of the Radikal Technologies Delta CEP A and think it was a semi-modular novation peak or bass station?

  • Foosnark

    I’m thinking of replacing my 0-Coast; it was a fantastic stepping stone, but as my modular has grown it’s gotten a bit redundant, and I don’t really like the character of its wavefolder compared to others. I considered the Microvolt to replace it, because I *do* like the Pittsburgh wavefolder and LPG quite a lot — but since I’ve got those already in the Double Helix, it’d be redundant.

    So I think it’s going to be Behringer Neutron vs. Dreadbox Erebus for me. The Behringer seems more feature-packed and potentially cheaper too, and I like what we’ve heard in videos so far. But it’s a question of what will fit into the space I have.

  • praveensharma

    The Waldorf Quantum and Elektron Digitone were my favorite sounding bits this year!

  • Start Rant

    Ok, this may be a bit unfair, but is the current state of modern hardware synths in a sorry state? While I understand that market constraints dictate much of what I’m hearing here, I can’t help feeling rather sadly underwhelmed by these preset tours.

    Remember first hearing FM via a DX7? (I’m old.)
    Or those smooth M1 or D-50 sounds?
    What about that joystick on the VS!
    Fairlight (fine, it’s a sampler, but still)
    The bang for buck of The Groovebox (Peaches!)

    Of course there have been some notible marks in the contempoary landscape (I’m still infatuated with the OP-1) but I was always in love with the promise of the future with synths, but now, it feels we are celebrating a past that maybe never even existed? Weren’t we promised jetpacks?

    What’s blowing minds these days? I ask sincerly.

    End Rant.

    • Simon

      I had a similar feeling, that if I closed my eyes I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between these synths. I’m actually excited by the Korg, I think it could offer something new. I guess there is the ‘Stranger Things’ effect which currently means ’80s pads and arps sell synths and all the demos sound the same.

    • Foosnark

      I think there are many answers to that.

      1. One of my favorites: instead of expecting instrument makers to innovate for us, it’s our duty as musicians to push the envelope. I think that’s happening, but at the same time there will always be people complaining that everyone sounds the same and nobody’s doing anything new… it’s a matter of what one pays attention to. There will always be a mainstream and it will always seem like it’s not going anywhere very fast, but it’s outside that where the cool stuff lies.

      2. Historically we had a digital synth revolution brought on by cheaper microprocessors, which allowed a bunch of techniques that weren’t feasible or possible in analog. Then came MIDI, computer-based sequencing, then DAWs and plugins. With plugins, there seemed to be a drive to make hardware synths obselete. It didn’t quite work, partly because we like putting our hands on actual things, and partly because really great models of analog synths turned out to be a harder problem than expected. There was a bit of backlash against DAWs and plugins, and a resurgence of analog, first in a frenzy to buy up cheap old gear, and then in manufacturing making it cheaper than before. And there was also a frenzy to get all this stuff working on mobile and in tiny formats, which meant a bit of repeating history again. So we’ve been looking backwards quite a bit over the last 20 years or so…

      3. …while also looking forward. I’d argue there’s a lot of innovation going on all the time, but it’s not sweeping through and grabbing people in quite the way the DX7 did. When something new appears it’s not news because we’re used to new things appearing. That makes it easy to miss something on an individual level.

      4. The doors have already been blown wide open. We are unlikely, anymore, to invent extremely radically different techniques that create never-before-heard sounds in categories that defy all previous expectation. New sounds we make in the future are mostly going to be sounds we could make in the present or the recent past. The job of instrument makers now is to give us many different angles to approach from.

      5. Modular. Yeah, its popularity was partially caused by a backlash against DAWs and plugins and MIDI and samey keyboards. But there is a lot of non-mainstream stuff going on there. It is almost a parallel universe, where West Coast synthesis isn’t a weird historical dead-end (as many plugin-heads seem to believe, if they’ve even heard of it) but continues to evolve and accrue new techniques. There are new synthesis techniques being invented for modules such as Noise Engineering Cursus Iteritas, which you won’t find in plugins and fixed-architecture synths. There are previously invented but largely unexplored synthesis techniques, like Max Matthew’s scanned synthesis (Qu-Bit Scanned, announced at NAMM). People use PLLs as a synthesis tool (and patch them from phase comparators and slew limiters); they use filters for non-subtractive synthesis methods; they build VOSIM patches to create vocal formants without filters; they explore many different alternate composition methods. There’s a hell of a lot going on, and it often gets dismissed as people making fart noises with expensive walls of gear.

      • All very good and considered points.

        Maybe it’s naive, or just not possible, to think a new piece of hardware can still excite on the levels I’m considering ( in the ways the DX7 or Moog did)? And I freely admit that futurism is a bit of a intellectual/perceptual trap.

        Shit, maybe I just hate NAMM?

        • Peter Dowsett

          I wonder if some of the problem is our perspective on it all. When the products you listed were introduced, there wasn’t anything quite like them because synthesizers were still in an early state of being. It had only been a relatively few years since they became portable tools, and were affordable to mortal men (and women). Synthesizers had only just moved from being modular behemoths found primarily in universities to being a tool of touring musicians. We’ve become so spoiled by the incredible instruments we already have, that instead of learning how to adapt them to create new and amazing sounds from our embarrassment of riches, we want to press a key and have a preset create that for us.

          I’m going back to basics, sampling some noises from around me, and processing them in a hardware sampler, then running the samples through some modules and effects. I’m going to make something new.

    • chlorinemist

      Several exciting new developments in synthesis come to mind. Here’s a few:

      • Compact fully-multitimbral 8-voice analog synths with *polyphonic aftertouch* plus full midi implementation for ≤$1000. (Before the release of the Futuresonus Parva a year or two ago, no such synth had ever existed. The CS80 is the only analog with poly aftertouch from history that comes to mind, and that cost over $20,000 new and weighed over 200 lbs)

      • The official adoption of MPE (Multidimension Polyphonic Expression) by the MIDI Manufacturer’s Association and release of controllers like the Seaboard and Linnstrument have introduced a vast ocean of new possibilities for interacting with synthesizers

      • Polyphonic audio processing-based synthesis, as well as acoustic synthesis techniques that utilize electromagnets to stimulate strings and manipulate timbre, are being developed for multichannel stringed instruments by entities like Cycfi Research, Paul Vo and Spicetone. This amounts to a completely new field of synthesis, replacing electronic oscillators altogether in favor of physically oscillating guitar strings.

      • Xfer Reocrds Serum has ushered in a new era of extremely powerful wavetable synthesizers with innovative software-based approaches that result in unheard of levels of flexibility

      • Software developer Tone2 has introduced several software synthesizers utilizing brand new forms of synthesis, such as Gladiator’s Harmonic Content Morphing, and RayBlaster, which uses an impulse-response based synthesis method

  • freqn

    More cowbell.