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This little feller came onto the scene at this year's Musik Messe, where as usual Dr Doepfer was at the controls. In the hands of the good Doctor, it the Dark Energy squealed and screamed, making some pretty unearthly noises.
Under the control of my siginificantly less experienced fingers, I still managed to get the Dark Energy to give me plenty of aural pleasure.
A monophonic, fully analogue, semi-modular synthesizer is what we have here. It's born of the Eurorack modules, but slightly larger, with quality knob caps and lovely positive metal switches. It's also really sturdily constructed, with everything bolted to the metal case plate. Modules are normalled, so that you'll be making sound right off the get-go without any additional patching, but you can also get control access to the VCO frequency and pulsewidth, VCF frequency, VCA amplitude and envelope gate and external audio inputs. Outputs are LFO1, and envelope.
Open The Gate
However, there's a twist - also included is a USB/MIDI CV interface with hardwired control over the VCO and Gate - so plug in a USB or MIDI lead, and you are in full control. There are also 3 additional CV outputs that allow you to take Pitch Bend (CV out 1), velocity (CV out 3) and an assignable MIDI controller (CV out 4) and control additional parameters by patching (with the 2 included mini jack leads) wherever the mood takes you.
It is possible to control external synths, but the CV1 output (1V/Oct) and Gate polarity may not suit your external synths. It is also not possible to calibrate the CV scaling for any tired old synths without opening up the unit and screwing with some mini pots internally.
Learning The Dark Arts
To set the interface up, all you need to do is press the 'learn' button on the rear, with either a MIDI cable or USB cable plugged in and a suitably MIDI keyboard attached, play the lowest note on the keyboard, and the DE sets itself up to the incoming MIDI channel, and takes it's scaling from the note value.
There are additional parameters available by sending the relevant program changes while in learn mode, here's a selection:
| Parameter Highlights
|CV3 Velocity on
|CV3 Velocity off
|CV4 velocity on
|CV4 velocity off
|Hi note priority
|Low note priority
|Arp Mode on/off
|Arp Mode Hold
|Arppegiator Sync Intern
|Arppegiator Sync Extern (MIDI Clock)
You may have noticed an Arppegiator function there, which indeed there is, but to be honest, it's not something to get terribly excited about, it being a fairly simple one, but it might just serve a purpose if you're one arppegiator short. I would also suggest that the learn and program change method is not the most intuitive way of configuring a device, although it means Doepfer doesnt have to design a software editor or multi-mode button thingy. While it's nice to have the option to edit, I suspect most folks will be happy just using the default values.
Its All About The Knobs
Sonically, the Dark Energy is capable of a wide range of traditional subtractive synth sounds, with a real penchant for pulse width modulated b-lines. All three waves can have their PW tuned or modulated, giving a wide range of harmonically different basic waves. You aren't just limited to this kind of stuff though, with 2 LFOs (tri and square waves) with a wide frequency range reaching high into the audio spectrum, some complex FM tones are also available to the adventurous synthesist.
The ADSR Envelope generator also has three switchable ranges to give you short snappy envelopes or long evolving ones. The Filter is a 24dB Low Pass, which is provided by the Curtis chip - the same as the SCI Sixtrak by the way. It can really scream if you want it to, but it does suffer a little from bass rolloff when resonance is introduced.
A Dark Business
Overall, I really liked the Dark Energy and was pleasantly surprised by the range of sounds, the VCO waves are decent enough for most things, apart from perhaps true earth shaking bass - I particularly like the Pulse Width Mod and dirty sounds you can make by modulating the VCF with very high frequencies via the patch chords. But the synth is by no means limited to just this kind of stuff, bell-like FM and other crazy sounds are also just a tweak away. Speaking of which, this really brought home to me how much I have been missing actually tweaking real knobs, the fact that this is so small, means you can have it close to hand for when you just need a tweak fix.
The MIDI CV unit will not provide a do-it-all interface to your existing equipment, but at least you do have the option to control it and other external gear. Where this unit really scores, is the ability to get into some modular action at a low cost entry point without the need to buy a case, power supply etc.
I will be thinking long and hard before sending this synthesizer back - I've been wanting to get started on a modular system, and perhaps this should be my first unit.
Pricing and Availability
€398 Euros, $tbc
Eurorack Version (without USB/CV interface) A-111-5 €300/$ tbc
Volca Sample active MIDI cable changes everything