The kit list continues to evolve but it is based around Doepfer and Analogue Systems modular synths with other odd Korgs coming and going. Jules has a particularly tasty mixture of Doepfer, Analogue Systems, Cwejman, Plan B, Banalogue and Analogue Solutions modules, and Lauren has just got hold of a Jen SX-1000.
- Analogue Systems RS-100 modular website
- Analogue Systems TH-48 sequencer
- Doepfer A-100 modular website
- ARP Solus
- Korg MS-01
- Korg MS-10
- Korg MS-20
- Korg MS-50 : Check out these beauties!
- Korg SQ-10
- Dave Smith Evolver website
- Roland RE-201 Space Echo
Analogue Systems RS-100 modular
Pictured above is a racked selection of modules with the TH-48 sequencer above. This is a rather good contemporary British modular synth designed by Bob Williams, erstwhile collector of large modular synths, and Steve Gay, ex EMS engineer.
The modules are built to very high standards and are also wide enough to allow the controls to be tweaked comfortably without getting your hands snagged on cables and neighbouring pots.
Although there are far fewer modules available and prices are higher than Doepfer, A/B comparison to the equivalent Doepfer modules shows some critical differences. It seems to be a speed thing - the Sample And Hold module can be clocked really fast, into audio frequencies - and the VCA really is an amplifier where the Doepfer VCA doesn't really kick out as much gain and acts more like an attenuator.
Another benefit of the Analogue Systems modules is the EMS heritage and the Trapezoid Generator and EMS filter modules, which are faithful reproductions, allow access to VCS3 and Synthi-AKS sounds that bring those classic machines into a more affordable realm.
I've replaced the RS-220 Joystick module with an RS-95e VCO, and added an RS-40 Noise/S&H to bring much more flexibility to the setup.
Analogue Systems TH-48 sequencer
This is one of the best analogue sequencers around, and why it's not still manufactured, I have no idea! It has all the functions you would expect including 3 rows of 16 steps, a randomised switch, external clock, voltage quantisers etc., but one of its strongest features is the shape control - in effect, a variable gate hold. This allows a wonderful amount of manual expressive control and can also be voltage controlled.
The fact that you can clock the sequencer externally means that you can drive it with an audio oscillator, turning the TH-48 into a user definable stepped waveform generator. There's so much that you can do that goes way beyond the standard MIDI version of this sort of analogue sequencer! I have used this on almost every record I have made since I bought it 11 years ago.
Also, it's got ARP 2500 coloured knobs. Cool!
Doepfer A-100 modular
The great thing about the Doepfer stuff is that it's not too expensive, there are loads and loads of modules including things like logic gates, comparators, light controllers etc. and they're small enough so that you can fit loads into a rack. That said, for certain critical jobs (VCAs) including high speed audio rate clocking/module abusing tasks you may be better off looking at alternatives. However, the ADSR Envelope Generator is brilliant! You have a huge range of time controls from incredibly spikey and fast, to very very slow and "ambient".
With the enormous range of weird modules, a fully equipped Doepfer system is rather like a big analogue MAX/MSP patch!
If you have a Mark 1 case it's only a matter of time before you'll face a funny farty sound and then see tons of stinky smoke bellowing out of the case as the smoothing capcitor in the power supply melts down. See above. This happened to both of my Doepfer cases recently and it is not pleasant. Happily, you can just open it up, dig away the nasty melted ooze and dead plastic from the mains input, resolder everything directly, clean up the gunk and Bob (or Dieter) is your uncle.
ARP made some of the coolest synths in history including the ARP 2500 as used to communicate with the Aliens in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Yann's (The Amazing Rolo) uncle designed some of these machines and played the 2500 in the film. The Solus is a small 2 oscillator keyboard but has a bit of patchability and since it uses the same filter as the ARP 2600 and many of the same circuits it sounds awesome.
Korg MS series
The Korg MS (Modular Synth) series is usually represented by the MS-10 and MS-20, respectively the single oscillator and dual oscillator models. The MS-10 was my first synth and I love it. The filter overdrives really creamily and the simple layout: 1 VCO, 1 AHDSR, 1 LFO, 1 VCF, 1 VCA and access to a lot of parameters via the inbuilt patchbay, make this the ideal synth to learn on. The MS-20 - the one with the keyboard in the photo - is capabel of a vast array of sounds given the extra oscillator, filter, envelope generator etc. but some cool features from the MS-10 like PWM are not included.
The MS-50 is a rare beast indeed and commands high prices. However, it's not really worth it as it doesn't have many extra features and the envelopes are not quick enough to be terribly useful. The SQ-10 is a 12 step sequencer - presumably 12 steps being derived from serialist music - so if you want some tone row action this is for you. Also rare and with somewhat limited capabilities when set alongside current analogue sequencers, it is still groovy to have access to all the Korgs at once. The best features are the separation of controls from patch sockets, as well as the angled control panel. Cool details such as the VCF cutoff knob being large and therefore more precise have been well thought through on these machines.
For some reason Korg decided to use Hertz/voltage rather than the far more common volts/octave so interfacing Korgs with other synths can be a pain. Kenton do a very very good MIDI-CV converter range with Hertz/voltage option.
Dave Smith Evolver
I don't know much about this, but here's one with a Roland RE-201 Space Echo, an MS20 and an MS50 (above).