Semi-modular is the new modular. Intellijel is still in the business of making modules, but they now also offer the Cascadia desktop synthesizer. It’s one box, but packs loads of controls and 101 patch points.

Okay make that 101 patch points, 34 sliders, 16 knobs, 28 switches, 5 push buttons, and 36 LED lights (for full blink-iness). You’ve still got Eurorack-level signal, so you could easily combine this with a modular. But apart from the convenience and cost efficiency of having this in one box, it is genuinely semi-modular. That is, you have normalled connections so you can make sound without patching anything.

They describe this as mixing East Coast and West Coast synthesis but at some point we’re just describing synthesizers. Whatever you want to call it, there is a lot of synth here:

  • Two analog VCOs (thru-zero FM-ready VCO A with sub oscillator, PWM, and soft/hard sync … VCO B double as an LFO with four outs)
  • Six-channel waveform mixer
  • Noise generator
  • 4-pole multimode filter with drive and FM input and a ton of modes – LP1, LP2, LP4, BP2, BP4, HP4, NT2, Phazor, plus dedicated LP4 and HP4 outs
  • Parallel wavefolder
  • Dual digital envelopes, with ADSR / AHDSR (ENV A) and complex multimode function generator (ENV B – okay, that counts as West Coast)
  • Tons of utilities: S&H, slew/envelope follower, mixer, mult, various operations, ring mod
  • Low Pass Gate
  • Pedal send and return FX loop
  • Overdrive
  • MIDI, pedal, audio I/O
  • MIDI – CV interface
  • USB

That’s a pretty great deal versus building your own system. And looking at this, you do get a very different approach to sound than you would from your typical digital polysynth. Those offer a lot of bang-for-buck, but this is really a different animal – monophonic, but with a bunch of patchable sound design goodies.

There’s a lot to like in monophonic sound design like that – your value is not really per-note, basically.

It was obviously inevitable that we would see more integrated synths like this growing out of the modular world. And while some makers offer systems, it’s just a whole lot more affordable for the manufacturer (and customer) to build a single board. The full modular systems can be nice, and can serve as a model of how to combine the modules, but it does still have the overhead of individual module cost.

What impresses me about Intellijel’s offering is that while there are a lot of tools honed elsewhere – like MIDI functionality and clever slew and noise – this really is something distinct from what the company offers as individual modules.

Lots of nice details:

And multiple videos: