You… might not want to watch this if you’re prone to motion sickness.

The array of press releases and new gear at a show can be dizzying. But this is literally dizzying – though not boring. This is a fly-through of the bigger-than-ever 2015 Musikmesse Schneidersb├╝ro Superbooth, hosted by our friend Wouter of KOMA Elektronik and shot with an iPhone and Instagram’s Hyperlapse.

There is just a whole lot of modular here. (Schneiders’ has a lot, but not even all the boutique makers here at the show.)

And… it’s just plain cool. It’s blinky. It has lights. It has knobs. It’s not hard to understand the appeal here to non-specialists as well as specialists, after years of bland gray gear entombed in look-alike plastic cases that resembled nothing if not a collaboration between a toy manufacturer and an office supply company. (Okay, that’s harsh, but – you know what I mean.) This is spaceship stuff.

It’s going to be an interesting year in gear.


It’s deja vu all over again. This time last year, the big announcement from Sweden’s drum machine mavens at Elektron was Overbridge – technology for integrating their hardware with your computer setup.

Overbridge is the topic again this year. And it’s still not quite shipping – though at least there’s a new date of “summer 2015.” (And in Sweden, “summer” is a pretty specific time, marked by the sun never going away. A public beta is due next month, which we’re keen to try.)

But it seems that what’s happened is that Elektron has expanded the scope of the technology. The pitch: make an “analog” plug-in.

The original idea of Overbridge is the same. At its simplest, you plug in a USB cable and get all your ins and outs from the hardware. And they’re still planning editor/librarian features, so you can recall settings and automation with projects easily.

The new angle is what they’re calling “real analog VSTi’s,” with the dramatic promise that “for the first time in history, seamless computer integration of analog synthesizers and drum machines is a reality.” Continue reading »

This is how much the world has changed: we aren’t just talking the resurgent, enduring synthesizer. Nor are we talking about retro reissues. We aren’t even talking the return of analog control voltage.

We’re uttering “Roland” and “Eurorack” in the same breath.

Roland has taken the wraps off their AIRA modular plans, and they’re extensive. Make no mistake, this is still AIRA, and it’s still Roland – these are devices that look and sound like the AIRA series. That is an obvious point of differentiation for the boutique makers, the sometimes one-person manufacturers, and the uniqueness of what they produce. But we’ll have to see what the impact of Roland is on that market. What we know right now is that a big player is acknowledging the world those small makers have forged over the past couple of decades.

You can use the AIRA modulars on a tabletop – you don’t even need to rack mount them. But if you do care about Eurorack, everything they’re unveiling today can be mounted in a Eurorack setup. One mass-produced product can sit next to something that was part of a run of 50 built by hand by one guy in his kitchen.

Let’s look at the lineup.

airamodular Continue reading »


Akai’s new US$99.99 Midimix is built on a simple idea – so much so that you could easily miss it. But one button makes it much more useful than its nearest rivals.

First, the obvious: yes, it’s a MIDI controller with a mixer layout. So, there are eight line faders and a master fader, 3 knobs per channel (for EQ), and dedicated mute (switchable to solo) and record arm buttons, plus bank controls. That’s it – no extra functions, no confusing mappings.

And then there’s one very obvious but clever button: SEND ALL. Hit SEND ALL, and you fire off everything to the DAW in one button.

Some of you are slapping your foreheads already. If not, the basic notion is this: MIDI controllers with this sort of design by and large don’t send all their current knob and fader positions at once. So unless you have a motorized controller, that means you have to wiggle or move everything until the DAW works out where the physical controls are before the two are in sync.

Ah. SEND ALL. Continue reading »


The Marshall “Plexi” Super Lead plug-in is the first amp to bear the name Marshall that isn’t actually an amp – the first authorized plug-in. It’s been built by Softube for the Universal Audio plug-in of DSP, arriving in May.

This is a reference 1959 Super Lead borrowed from Marshall themselves. The model number is 1959, built in the year 1967.

Now, it’s nice to have in UAD format, because you can mix and “reamp” and track and add effects and the lot in real-time on UA’s Apollo hardware. It’s also nice to see Softube doing the development; to my ear, they’ve done some of the best modeling work out there. (I got to meet with them most recently when visiting Sweden – they’re basically a boutique shop of modeling wizards.) Continue reading »


UK maker Modal Electronics last year surprised the synth scene with a move into premium analog. This is luxury synthesis – the Aston Martin of synthesizers.

Well, it turns out they were only getting started. The product line for 2015 today gets a full range of models. And the 008 is the new headline instrument – an 8-voice analog synth that’s worthy of pinning up to your ceiling and staring at at night, boys and girls (or, um, “grown-up” boys and girls, perhaps).

Yes, we’re keen to test this and see if it sounds and functions as well as it looks.

On paper, to be sure, it looks great. Where to begin?


The 008 has two analog oscillators (VCOs) per voice. You can blend waveforms for new waveshapes.

There’s a 16-multi-mode filter, with notch and phase and combination modes in addition to the usual business. Two LFOs, each audio rate, each with multiple wave shapes, each with MIDI sync.

And there’s stuff that reminds you why you have a polysynth – like oscillator and frequency filter modulation.

Without a single patch cable or any deep menu diving, there’s also quite a lot of modulation. Choose from eleven sources, and route everywhere, with each destination with its own depth. Continue reading »


We’ve seen boxes that claim to sync everything you have to everything else you have. But the E-RM multiclock claims to do it even with a computer as the clock source – without jittering.

Just announced, the multiclock is the follow-up to the midiclock+, the clever MIDI sync box introduced by Berlin’s boutique E-RM Erfindungsb├╝ro back in 2012.

The most important thing to know about the multiclock is that it takes this obsession with getting sync right directly to your computer’s audio card. Whereas MIDI and MIDI over USB from a computer are inherently susceptible to jitter, E-RM claims that the audio synchronization gives them sample-to-sample accuracy. That allows you to use a computer as a clock source without some of the nastiness that can often ensue.

Rewind. Plain explanation. Remember when you could use a phone to tell what time it was? A lady’s voice would intone from the other end, “the time is now… 7:45 and 33 seconds pm.” Think of a MIDI stream as giving you those time indications a little irregularly – not quite on the right tick – and an audio stream giving times that are always exactly correct, many times per second (44,100 times per second for a regular CD audio setting, for instance). That’s my explanation, not E-RM’s, so I hope they approve.

You still retain the versatility to use what you want. So you can use MIDI or DIN (from more reliable MIDI gear that isn’t a computer, that is). You can use clock signals from analog modular gear. If you really must use a USB MIDI connection, fine – that works.

Or, of course, the multiclock – like the midiclock+ before it – can simply be your stable clock source for everything else.

This is all fine and well, but I think it’s the adjustment that makes this interesting. You can tweak timing on everything – each channel has two knobs for shifting and shuffling. That can allow you to fine-tune sync or even create your own grooves. I can really imagine dialing in something more life-like and human with this. Continue reading »