It’s not enough to just release sound hardware. You want something different, something with character. French builder OTO Machines did that with their Biscuit, a gorgeous combination of 8-bit crunch and analog filtering, then later turned it into a synth and step sequencer with nothing but firmware. But now it’s time for a follow-up, and instead of one sequel, we get three.

There’s a 12-bit delay unit, a digital reverb inspired by some 80s classics that never get old, and an analog compressor/”warmer”. That neatly covers three bases of things many people want, and seem to target a nice space where there’s room both to reproduce and invent anew. And these arrive just in time, as the Biscuit fades into the sunset.

The three boxes, cutely dubbed BIM, BAM, and BOUM. I will quote directly here as they’ve been nicely clear with their description: Continue reading »



Symbols in on paper can be realized as music, so why not turn a tattoo on your arm into a musical score?

That’s what artist Dmitry Morozov (“vtol”), Moscow-based media artist and musician, has done with “reading my body.” It does more than transform his body markings into sounds. He mounts a machine on his arm, as sensors scan the image from a stepper-motor driven path along rails. The strange robotic machine makes him a kind of cyborg photo scanner optical synth.

And the results sound like a delicate solo on a violin, playing a lullaby to baby puppies. Kidding. They sound more like some harsh cyborg Russian sound art. As we’d expect (and hope). Continue reading »


The beautiful thing about modular synths is making connections physically – each link with an actual cable between them. It is, really, the whole point.

Of course, you need somewhere to put all those cables and keep them organized. There are various cable racks available, but they’re generally mounted to walls and such. Synthtopia this week covered a nice option that can mount to a mic stand, from

But for sheer utility, it’s hard to beat what KOMA Elektronik this week was showing at Musikmesse. The Kabelhänger goes the obvious, “why didn’t anyone do this before?” route: it makes that cable organizer into a “module.”

Screw the Kabelhänger into your Eurorack rig, and it extends from your modular setup to keep cables nearby. Made of strong but lightweight aluminum, it’s 2HP in size (with an arm of 21 cm or 26 cm). Continue reading »


A dedicated hardware synth just for vintage string sounds is about the last thing you’d expect to make headlines at Europe’s biggest music trade show. But an even bigger surprise: Waldorf’s new Streichfett is pretty delicious.

The pun isn’t directly translatable. German speakers use the same word for “bowing” as spreading (as with a knife), and are passionate enough about putting fat on bread that they have idiomatic ways of talking about it that makes sense only to them. (At least, this is what my research into the Waldorf name and, um, eating have suggested.) But after a first hands-on with the new Waldorf Streichfett, I can say this: it’s thick, buttery goodness.

The Streichfett isn’t quite done, so you can expect they may smooth out some rough edges here and there. But the instrument is already fun to play, thanks to some rather clever controls for mixing different sounds. Hopefully some of those sounds come across in our CDM sound demo, but part of the fun is easily dialing in different layered sounds with the onboard controls.

I recorded some improvs as I fiddled with the different synth sections, effects, and ensemble settings. It’s recorded un-processed on an iPhone with a dedicated Guitar Rig audio interface from Sonoma WireWorks, my current favorite mobile device (with some fairly pristine A/D conversion):

Continue reading »

The boys of Elektron, jamming out. The analog lineup at the booth was a big hit at Messe, but the news story was making that analog play nicely with your lappy.

The boys of Elektron, jamming out. The analog lineup at the booth was a big hit at Messe, but the news story was making that analog play nicely with your lappy.

It’s a funny thing about this latest hardware resurgence: everyone kind of expects to use that gear with their PC and Mac. Elektron isn’t the first ever to attempt to make their gear integrate smoothly with computers; some of the techniques they use in Overbridge we’ve even seen before. (Roland and Virus spring to mind.) But with complete features for making their hottest, latest equipment behave well with software, they’re firmly in the territory of “why wasn’t everyone doing that before?”

Elektron unveiled their approach this week at Musikmesse. It’s called “Overbridge,” and it applies to their latest analog equipment (Analog Four, Analog Keys, and Analog Rytm). When firmware updates for those machines arrive later this year, here’s what you’ll get:

1. Multichannel audio drivers. Now, when you connect a USB cable, you won’t only get one stereo audio output. You’ll get both input and output, up to 24-bit. You can route audio from your computer into the Elektron machine for processing. You’ll be able to record separate tracks in your DAW for different voices (so, say, you can process a bass drum separately from a snare). And you’ll be able to use the Elektron as an audio interface. Basically, you save the extra cables and interface you’d normally have to use.
2. Plug-ins. With VST and AU plug-ins, you can use your Elektron machine as if it were a soft synth – but with the sound of an analog piece of equipment. That’s handy when it comes to controlling and automating parameters.
3. Save settings with projects. The other advantage of using plug-ins is that you can save and recall parameters with projects, rather than having to load them separately on hardware. You can easily open a different project and your hardware picks up where you left off. Continue reading »

AIRA, the lineup that now includes a bassline/sequencer, drum machine, synth, and vocal processor, has in just a few months changed the way a lot of people think about Roland. At Musikmesse in Frankfurt, it was clear that it represents a new direction for Roland, too. The AIRA lineup was displayed separately from the usual Roland booth on the main floor of hall 5 (devoted to pianos), upstairs in hall 5.1 alongside electronic and DJ products (“remix”). And there, crowds gathered to watch pounding dance performances.

Those first four AIRA units are just the beginning. Roland has created an entirely new team called the Roland Professional Group (RPG), and it’s these folks who have built AIRA. They’re not just thinking outside the usual Roland box; they’re physically in a different place. The rest of Roland is located in Hamamatsu, Japan; RPG has their own, hip office near Tokyo’s legendary Akihabara electronics district.

But if Roland is thinking of the future, they also seem to think re-connecting to the past is part of that future – literally. In the neighboring booth for ALEX4, the Berlin-based distributor run by Andreas Schneider (of Schneidersladen fame), Roland execs could be seen squeezing in to catch the latest analog gear.

And Roland was making little secret of showing a new sync box to as many people as they could. The hardware, with various labels blacked out, spent some time synchronizing gear in the AIRA demos, and also made the rounds to interested parties. (In fact, I almost couldn’t talk to anyone at Messe without them telling me Roland had been showing it to them – probably in part because I was hanging around analog builders.)

It’s too soon to know whether the Sync Box will ever see the light of day. It’s an early prototype, sporting some trademark AIRA green paint on the panel, but otherwise far from a finished product. But in another break from Roland tradition, here Roland seemed eager to collect feedback, and see what was necessary to make this box compatible with other gear. Continue reading »


The vinyl comeback couldn’t hit much more of a high note than this: it seems Pioneer, the company that popularized digital DJing and CDJs, is building phonographs.

Pioneer isn’t saying anything about the hardware that’s under plexiglass at Musikmesse, only that it’s a concept prototype. But they hardly need to. The hardware looks like someone took the most popular DJ turntable of all time, the legendary Technics SL-1200, painted it black, and re-lettered it with Pioneer markings. I don’t think they literally did that, though it almost doesn’t matter; the effect is unreal, like entering a bizarro universe where Pioneer invented the 1200.

The most tantalizing sign that Pioneer intends to make this a product is that the lettering is blacked out where the product identifier would be. It’s simply labeled “professional turntable.”

Technics walked away from the 1200 in 2010, just as vinyl records were making a niche resurgence. Vinyl still isn’t a mass market product, but then Pioneer is king of its main audience, DJs and clubs. And in a way, whatever Pioneer is cooking, it might make more sense to just make a turntable than bother people with thinking of it as part of a digital vinyl system.

Now, of course, Pioneer being digital, that may be exactly what they’re doing. But even so, the challenge of finding SL-1200s means that record lovers might pick it up anyway. This one should be interesting to watch.

I’ll say this: if Pioneer is going this route, it’s fantastic news for anyone pressing dance music on vinyl. It could create an entirely new market, just at the time that iPad apps start to stream digital downloads from Spotify. I can’t imagine anyone isn’t rooting for this.

Beatport Wax? Think about it.