Elektron Analog Four, Analog Keys Get Polyphony and More in Firmware Update, Available Now

A funny thing happened on the way to the resurgence of analog gear… The digital bits are still mighty cool to have. Yes, the next time someone asks you about whether the return to analog is some sort of regression to the past, you might point out that what we’re seeing is a fusion of the best features of both. And so it is that owners of Elektron’s Analog gear (the Analog Four and new Analog Keys) get a “1.1” upgrade via firmware that’s almost a generational improvement on their devices, for free. For a “point one,” this is a …

READ MORE →

littleBits Open Source Synth Kit on GitHub; KORG Filter Secrets Revealed, Music Projects

Open source music hardware has gone from promising concept to practical reality. It incorporates not just hacker-friendly kits, but end user products, from synths to controllers to effects. And now, for the first time, you can find one of the biggest names in the musical instrument industry on GitHub. KORG and littleBits promised they’d release their collaboration under the same open source license as the other magnetic, snap-together modules from littleBits. This week, they’ve delivered. It’s a little tricky to find, so let’s walk you through it. The good stuff is in the EAGLE files – the circuit diagrams, here …

READ MORE →

Patchblocks: Modular Synth Units, Programmed Visually [Sounds, Gallery]

Patchblocks’ creator says he wanted this hardware sound construction set to be like a combination of Max, Arduino, Moog, and LEGO. And in a novel, crowd-funded project, you get a set of units that seem very much like that. “Modular” is the angle, like a variety of hardware we’ve seen lately. And the Patchblocks satisfyingly snap together via puzzle piece-shaped interlocks in acrylic. But perhaps the real story here is that each of these “blocks” can be programmed to do what you want, not in code, but using a Max/Pd-style visual patching interface. With just one block, in fact, Patchblocks …

READ MORE →

I Dream of Wireless: Two Crowd-funded Accessories Make Music Without Cables

There are still many situations in which cables have some advantages for control, as we saw in this week’s tutorial on iPad connections. But two separate crowd-funded projects are working on high-performance wireless solutions for music controllers. That could open up the chance for performers to move around, take advantage of tilt sensors and other location tools inside controllers, and work with gear in studio situations more flexibly. Keith McMillen already has a track record using crowd funding to support projects – and they’ve been getting better at it. After the “3D” grid-and-ribbon QuNeo suffered production delays, the keyboard-style QuNexus …

READ MORE →

KORG volca keys Hands-on: Probably the volca You Most Want [Sounds]

KORG’s volca line of affordable analog instruments isn’t yet available everywhere, but they’re slowly, slowly trickling into the world. KORG hasn’t yet sent any to CDM, and we’re generally hearing “September” from most retailers, but Japan has got a few. One of those was store-bought and brought back to Berlin, and I got to play with it with music collaborator and fellow journalist-at-large Benjamin Weiss of De:Bug. It’s worth revisiting CDM’s detailed hands-on from some weeks ago, as we got to talk to the creator, and hear what he does with his own instrument (a real highlight of 2013 so …

READ MORE →

Wacky, Wooden Shnth Makes Eerie Sounds, Colors Outside the Lines [Documentary]

Shnth is a digital synth in a wooden box with a surprisingly open-ended programming language. It’s like a lo-fi sonic computer, touched with your fingers via a handmade interface, and with sonic capabilities that can be re-programmed over USB. And there’s a coloring book to go with it, too, with pictures of Max Mathews and microsound for you to sketch in. The drawings there, like the sounds that come out of its outputs, full of rough, digital edges and unexpected swoops and swirls of timbre, seem to encourage coloring outside the lines. Peter Blasser of Baltimore is the synth’s creator …

READ MORE →

Nord Reveals New Keyboard: Four-Part Polyphonic Nord Lead 4 [Pics, Sound Samples]

The good news: there’s a new Nord, it looks nice enough, and it’s likely to make Clavia fans very happy. The bad news: some of us will have to go on dreaming of a follow-up to the innovative Nord Modular. Instead of that, this is a Nord Lead 4. Despite sharing a name with previous Nords, Clavia says this is an all-new synth. The focus appears to be “performance features” – making layering and sync easier – and focusing on providing more choices in effects and filters. First, the specs: 4-part multi-timbral – not so interesting in itself, but there …

READ MORE →

Tested: MS-20 Mini versus Original MS-20, in the Studio [Discussion, Audio, Photos]

MS-20 mini, on the left, next to the original, on the right. Photos: Peter Kirn and Benjamin Weiss for CDM and DE:BUG. It’s the news collectors of vintage synths on eBay probably didn’t want to hear. For $599, Korg has made a new MS-20 that the company says has “perfectly reproduced its circuitry” for an “authentic” sound. You can read our full review of the MS-20 mini, and watch a video, whether or not you’ve ever used the original. But if you are curious how a new MS-20 mini stacks up against the vintage MS-20, we hauled both into the …

READ MORE →

Korg MS-20 Mini, Up Close: Gallery, By Candlelight

Korgs by candlelight… If you’ve been up close and personal with an original Korg MS-20 (or own one yourself), this gallery may actually be redundant. But we have some stills from our upcoming video short on the MS-20 Mini to prove what Korg’s reissue of the 1978 original looks like. There is something unreal about seeing the same instrument, shrunken. And yes, because it’s Berlin in winter, and we were in the basement of Mindpirates, we broke out some candles. It’s a great way to unwind on a January night. Stay tuned for our upcoming series, The Phantom of the …

READ MORE →

Korg MS-20 Mini: Analog Classic Reissued, $599; First Hands-on Impressions, Sounds, 1978 Manual Pics

It’s 1978 all over again. Only 35 years have made it lighter and more compact – not a bad way to age. And the result: a $599 analog synth with its original manual and circuitry that’s a pleasure to own. Speaking as a product of 1978 myself (yes, I share the same birthday as the MS-20), I’d say ’78 is holding up just fine in 2013. The Korg MS-20 synth needs little introduction. Combining a versatile set of sound sources with accessible front-panel controls and patch cable options, it is even today one of the loveliest ways to create sounds …

READ MORE →