As Polyend’s epic hit Tracker gains momentum, their gorgeous Medusa synth continues to mature – even as it reaches the end of its production life. A new FM engine, more playable options, and LFO sync make this a complete refresh – and a tastier companion to Tracker (or whatever your rig includes).

The Medusa Hybrid Synth has always struck me as something special. The result of a collaboration between Polyend and Dreadbox, it launched with a number of dimensions already in place – an expressive grid, an analog-digital hybrid synth, and tons of hands-on editing. But just as Polyend say they’ve matured with this instrument, it has matured along with Polyend, thanks to a slew of updates. These refined the operation of the synth, and added the ability to use Medusa with MPE. It’s an ideal device in many ways, both a standalone synth and an excellent controller – or both at once.

Medusa 4.0 firmware update adds a grimy, retro-flavored FM synth (3 operators, 12-bit) that can be chippy-feeling with Tracker or just another play and sound design tool. And it includes more musical performance features, making it play nicely with other control sources or as part of a larger rig.

All Medusa owners now get the 4.0 firmware, and it comes just in time for the last production batch of hardware. So if you haven’t gotten a Medusa yet and want one without braving the used market, there’s still a shot. (That’s the “Medusa Black” Limited Edition, to be specific.)

It’s all so good, in fact, that you have to wonder what may be coming from Polyend next. This is a heck of a swan song for an instrument they’ve just announced they’re taking out of production. (Maintenance and tech support continue, they say – it’s just about manufacturing more.)

It certainly has me excited to play it again. Here’s what’s new:

FM mode. “DFM” for Digital FM. 6 digital voices of polyphony – that’s right, all six voices. DOSC1 + 2 + 3 are each FM operators, with per-Operator envelopes (1-3), though those are still envelope sources for other stuff if you like – this really is like a modular rig. And 3 operators, with a choice of algorithms (Chain, Double Mod, Symmetry, Subtle, and SURGE – see pic.)

But there’s still an analog voice. Oh yeah, so where did the analog oscillators go? Simple, they’re now in a mono synth in the same mode which you can sequence via MIDI channel 9.

That’s huge – it seems at first like there’s just this new FM mode out of nowhere, but then you realize the entire synth transforms into a poly-timbral, polyphonic studio with that 3-op FM and an analog monosynth. It’s a different flavor combination than the normal Medusa mode, which opens a new direction in composition or performance.

Arguably, that FM + 3-osc analog combo makes this a more versatile performance instrument. The Medusa before always had this lovely oddball quality, but now it feels like you can more comfortably get through an extended full-length performance with it. Or at the very least, you have a different way of bringing the digital and analog hybrid sides into harmony.

The videos are nice, but the written walkthrough in the manual is really the best place to begin for sound designers, as it clearly holds your hand through the process of building your first patch from scratch.

More MIDI features. Being stablemates to Tracker seems to be having a good influence on Medusa’s MIDI behavior – and that’s great news whether you’re a Tracker owner or not.

New in this release:

Pitch bend now stays in tune between analog and digital oscillators and maintains an octave range up and down across all modes and oscillators.

Glide is more consistent across ranges and oscillators.

Channel per Voice mode now assigns channels per voice, not per oscillator as previously.

MIDI Program Change (finally!)

Full LFO sync with MIDI clock and “increased stability” – I always free-clocked this, but yeah, it’s consistent now.

And they’ve got videos ready to walk you through this…

A lovely tutorial on the FM synthesis side:

A bunch of great, music presets:

And a walkthrough of the MIDI Program Change implementation in the new firmware:

Tracker and Medusa really do fit neatly together. (Of course, that shouldn’t stop other computer software trackers, though – curious which others you might try out there.)