German maker Mode Machines has been busy in the cloning laboratory. The latest hardware melds the classic chip sounds of the SID chip with an x0x sequencer a la the Roland TB-303. That surely qualifies as the synth nerd equivalent of combining chocolate and peanut butter.

We saw a unit blipping away at Frankfurt’s Messe trade show earlier this year, but now Mode Machines have posted a new preview and promise units soon. The preview also reveals more of how this unit works, including per-note modulation and sequencing features. Earlier this year, we saw a Mac/Windows/Linux editor; now, it seems they’re adding an iPad editor to that. It’s an intriguing concept, though details are scant on how it works – for now, it appears to just have a simple MIDI keyboard and ribbon controller, so you might be better off with your favorite MIDI sequencer or controller app and the onboard knobs. And no, I don’t know what’s with the creepy segment at the beginning.

But let’s get back to the original idea: it’s a SID and a 303-style sequencer. It looks like a hell of a lot of fun. And in a feature touted earlier this year, there’s a “NERD-PANEL” mode that lets you hack sounds on a pin-by-pin basis.


  • Built around the original MOS SID chip, as heard in the Commodore 64, at least in the first 300 units. (Initially, I wondered if this was emulation; it’s not. Now, it seems the 8580 would make more sense than the scarcer 6581, but these are apparently 6581s. After the initial run, they’re planning to switch to a Polish clone of the chip.)
  • x0x control layout
  • Step sequencing
  • 3 expression knobs for macro controls of each patch
  • Bundled editor software (see the video below, from earlier this year)
  • NERD-PANEL, “a powerful interactive blueprint which enables you to address the chip one pin at a time – also a great educational tool.”
  • 100+ Patches.
  • 50+ Wavetables drum sounds/effects.
  • Audio in, out; MIDI in, out. USB connectivity for MIDI control, too.
  • Onboard display.
  • German and English documentation.

Street expected around 600 – Euros and USD, I believe.

I’m hoping for a lot more details. Also, you’ll notice a “junior” groovebox that appears to be just the display and three expression knobs, minus the x0x step sequencer. Stay tuned.

Mode Machines has not been without controversy, as the designs apparently upset members of the MIDIbox community. It seems the new hardware here, though, is an entirely new, AVR-based design. (Skip to the end of that thread, and the issue is debunked. I think the only question is whether you like the hardware, and for that, you just have to test it. Some people don’t like the way it looks, but — well, some people have opinions.)

Here’s a rough, not-terribly-enlightening video (released along with the preview) showing the iPad app. It’s connected via MIDI and the USB port of Apple’s Camera Connection Kit. Let’s hope we see more editing features, as that would certainly justify a dedicated app. (That red waveform suggests something’s coming.)

iPad connectivity is cool theoretically, but the wavetable editor for Mac/Windows/Linux looks really powerful. Here’s a more detailed walkthrough of how that editor works:

And from MusoTalk, an all-German-language interview and walkthrough of the video. (You can easily follow much of this video if you speak English, thanks to the use of English technical terminology in German.)


Thanks to Benjamin Weiss at DE:BUG for the tip. For superb German-language technology coverage, don’t miss: [actually one of my favorite tech reads, and with entirely different content than what you see on the English-language Engadget]

  • Cooptrol HG

    Count me in this one. Any info about street price?

    • Peter Kirn

      Checking in on final pricing; previous reports from MM said 600 (both € and USD, I believe) street.

    • Cooptrol HG

      That would be very accesible!

  • Peter

    Btw here is the thread where it seems the midibox rip thing was debunked:

    • Peter Kirn

      Yes, I link to that – I clarified the text there; I didn’t want to fan the flames. I think it’s worth mentioning, in that some people don’t *like* these designs – but that suggests we just need to test them.

  • Theta_Frost

    Pretty neat. Now I’m just waiting for some one to start producing NOS SID’s! The schematics, VLSI, whatever have to be available.

    • Peter Kirn

      Yes, I’m curious about this “Polish clone” mentioned…

  • kid versus chemical

    I want this bad. To my ears the SID chip is one of the best sounding synths of all time, it covers my two favorite sound sets: raw subtractive synthesis with analog filters, and 8bit lofi chip sound digital grunge.

    I’m very intrigued by this polish SID clone, I want details. That sort of thing interests me, I think it would be cool if it nailed the SID sound but had its own quirks like original SID’s. With all the SID synths offered in the last decade or so, both commercial and DIY, I wonder how they even found 300. I hope at some point someone will start making SID’s again (and Curtis and SSM chips too, as long as we are dreaming). Or maybe an open source project to make SID’s discretely, I’ve seen it done with SSM chips etc. something with analog components and some kind of microcontroller. A clone, not an emulation, unlike the FPGA and AVR diy SID emulators out there.

  • KID

    It looks really nice. But I want to remind all you people that you can do awesome SID-madness with this little cart (if you own a original C64) and for 49 Euros it´s a real steal:

  • papernoise

    Over at the Mutable Instruments forums people suggested the Polish SID chip replacement was this one:
    and I think It’s quite likely. Apparently the guy(s) behing this project also worked together with Thorsten Klose (the man behind MidiBox) to make it work with the MidiBox Sid range of synths. So far I’ve listened to the demos and the SwinSID sounds quite good to me!
    Regarding this SID groovebox, I’ve never been into TB style sequencers so I don’t know about that, but I like the design and it looks like a nice synth if you’re into that kind of gear

  • cooptrol

    Aint this one the original?