Sonic LAB: Doepfer Dark Energy Analog Synthesizer

Desktop monosynth with USB/MIDI interface      17/07/09

No flash plug

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8:15 mins

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.

Dark Place
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
Program Number
CV3 Velocity on
prg #1
CV3 Velocity off
prg #2
CV4 velocity on
prg #3
CV4 velocity off
prg #4
Hi note priority
prg #15
Low note priority
prg #16
Arp Mode on/off
prg #19
Arp Mode Hold
prg #20
Arppegiator Sync Intern
prg #22
Arppegiator Sync Extern (MIDI Clock)
prg #23

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



Nick Batt


More From: DOEPFER
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22 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
s r dhain    Said...

i was fortunate enough to get all my analog gear at a pretty reasonable price - its all ridiculous now- so i can wholeheartedly recommend something like this. You can buy TWO of these, and you have something that is more powerful, versatile and midi/usb interface-able (ahem) than a system 100 with expander, for about A THIRD of the price.

Great review, Nick, and i hope doepfer does come out with mroe stuff. of these AND a tom oberheim SEM, or two with a SEM, or a TELEMARK and..

17-Jul-09 06:14 AM

Marc JX8P    Said...

Already ordered mine, getting it today! :-)

17-Jul-09 06:42 AM

Marc JX8P    Said...

Well, I just got it, played around with it for an hour (or two hours, time flies...) and it's indeed a fun little synth with an amazing amount of possibilities in such a little box. Even cooler is how direct it is, everything is just there to tweak and patch and have fun with. Also, a big compliment on the video Nick which is really well produced and shows the Dark Energy really well. Love that section with the Korg btw.!

17-Jul-09 11:48 AM

I Love Analogue Robbie Ryan    Said...

Very thorough and honest review. It looks like a lot of fun. And the dance moves were hype-tastic. Can you get it to do an M1 House Piano sound? LOL.

17-Jul-09 05:14 PM

Oliver Chesler    Said...

Great review NIck.. it makes me want one of these.

17-Jul-09 10:05 PM

The Guvnor    Said...

Excellent review!!! The thing is a lot more feature-packed than it appears to be. Thanks for going in-depth for us tech-heads

I wish the thing had 2 oscillators, although that would have ratcheted up the price.

We want more of Nick throwing those crazy shapes!!! Awesome!

18-Jul-09 05:17 PM

Derek    Said...

Thanks for the detailed review. :) Bravo!

19-Jul-09 04:59 PM

Nick Bq    Said...

Thanks folks, glad you enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to work on as it was so immediate.

20-Jul-09 05:58 AM

Benedict Johnson    Said...

This just proves that I don't know ANYTHING about analogue synthesizers. However, I'd like to own something as delicious as the Dark Energy, but fitted with an imbecile-proof Koassillator-style interface!

20-Jul-09 06:48 AM

d/a man    Said...

well, you COULD try to team it up with the KP3...?

20-Jul-09 02:39 PM

L56    Said...

Great display of shirt continuity.

(hey, you gave it away in the podcast ;)

Great review. Great little synth: want one!

23-Jul-09 02:06 PM

CV!    Said...

Great review, great facial hair continuity as well ;)

The MIDI CV interface still looks pretty complete, most dedicated converters do less than that.

It should work with the majority of synths since it uses the most standard scaling.

Sadly us poor Ms-20 users will have look else where ;)

I suggest the Encore Expressionist, works great for me.

25-Jul-09 07:22 PM

Nick B    Said...

I think the MIDI CV part is really best for driving itself, I wouldnt say that it was complete if one wanted it to drive some older analog gear.

The Kenton ProSOLO now available as USB device, does better, scaling (for out of tune osc's) different format outputs for hz/volt and Oct/Volt make it more suitable. But the MIDI CV is not the real USP anyhow, the synth is great.

29-Jul-09 08:21 AM

Trabant    Said...

Dark energy is nothing more then a Sixtrak voice, CEM3394 modularized.

I remember the glory days of early mid 1980ies, and how every music mag on the planet racketed down on the Sixtrak, Multitrak, Spliteight etc for its cheesy sound, wimpy filters, rubbery buttons well back in those days the CEM3394 was a piece of shit frankly, nowadays its hype! Cheers! :)

18-Aug-09 01:04 AM

Barakuia    Said...

it's too simple and too expensive . Don't pay more than 300 bucks for it.

23-Aug-09 12:50 PM

sensien    Said...

great synth ! I posted a short multitracked demo toady at

I was sold on one since your messe coverage :)

09-Sep-09 09:25 AM

CV!    Said...

@ Trabant

This unit doesn't have the summing issues of the Six-trak, which conntributed to the dull sound. It also has radically different envelopes for a much punchier sound. Nowadays it's not hype, just a proper use of a great chip.

09-Sep-09 10:27 AM

Dr.Detroit    Said...

Only 1 VCO and 1 ADSR ! It's made only for acid-lines or FX-sounds.It's a very boring machine because of the lack of a second VCO and ADSR. The high speed of the LFO's don't help much. So 400 Euro is too much.

13-Sep-09 09:41 AM

Dark Tube    Said...

Why sells Doepfer such a little synth now ? Maybe they have problems to sell their modularsystems. It can be a very fat combination with a MS 404.

13-Sep-09 09:54 AM

Modular Maniac    Said...

The MS-20 uses a totally different HZ/CV scaling so it is not correct to say that the Dark Energy does not properly give out 1v/Oct CV scaling. It's the KORG at issue. The Dark Energy will work with pretty much every other modular on the planet that takes 1V/Oct.

You can buy an adapter (which is as old as the Ms-20) which converts the Hz to Volts signal.

22-Nov-09 01:43 AM

German Bohlen    Said...

i bought it and after only 3 days i tunrned it back to the was very disappointing and sounds very boring and Crap. there is no earth shaking bass.the only good thing is the fast attack. this toy is a joke and overhyped.

22-Dec-09 06:38 AM

Jimmy    Said...

When I play my dark energy through USB the note holds until I trigger the next one unlike the video. Does anyone know why this might be? I do not have any patch cables plugged in.

12-Jan-11 11:01 PM

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