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Modal are known as top end synth manufacturers, their 12 voice 002 and 8 Voice true analog 008 are the things that keep synth lovers awake at night wondering if there is a way they can afford one. So to hear that they have just announced a sub £80 mini synth is a surprise to say the least.
The Modal Electronics Craft Synth is a semi DIY type of thing, which comes in a flat pack, snap together circuit board kit . Ours came fully assembled but we're told by third parties that it's a piece of cake to put together (under 10 mins). And here's the thing, once you have it going, it sounds surprisingly large. I hesitate to use the word fat, but it could be used if one was so inclined.
It's a DSP based, 2 oscillator mono synth with variable mode filter (a bit like the 002), single LFO, distortion and delay.
With 8 surface mount knobs, four blue LEDs, a single button and five key pads that double as notes (assignable scale) and mode buttons (octave, scale, glide, env and vol) you can access 16 parameters directly from the front panel.
Power is supplied via the USB Mini (why not micro?) or with a separate kit, batteries (not sure of the power requirements)
The oscillators are gritty, but actually pretty fullsome sounding - Osc 1 has : sine, tri, saw and square with pulse width. Osc 2: sine, tri, square and noise.
OSC 2 can be tuned across a fairly wide range, you just turn the mix control fully right to affect OSC 2, ditto for selecting waves - full left for osc 1, full right for osc 2.
There's and additional mode which combines the 2 oscillators to create fairly large detune ranges - think super saw, and then into chord voices. It's quite an interesting bit of design.
With an additional FM depth you can modulate Osc 1 with the frequency of Osc 2 - a nice touch.
FILTER is similarly crunchy - with resonance - though not self oscillation, and sounds a bit like a dirty 2-pole to me, though apparently it's not - you can also with the help of an iOS/OSX editor access the filter mode- which takes you through band pass to high pass.
LFO has a pretty wide range too, with some really tasty audio rate mode - linked to the root note played, or clockable to incoming MIDI (via class compliant USB) destinations: AMP, FREQ, CUTOFF, FM, MIX (between the 2 osc) and PWM.
FX - distortion just has a depth control and can add lots of woof to the sound especially with higher resonance, where without the bass drops off a little - really adds a lot of nastiness (in a good way) to the sound. Lastly there's a delay - mix, time and feedback controls - not an epic time division but can add a lot to a dry sound.
Editor - once you have the Craft Synth hooked up to your iOS device or OS X editor (we hear there will be Android and Windows somewhere in the future), you get full access to all the synths parameters - which means you get to tweak two ADSR envelopes VCA and filter, and also the filter mode which takes it from Low pass, through band pass and into high pass.
You also get to name your patches - yes there are 16 on board memories!
MIDI implementation is thus: note and velocity, plus controller values in and out over USB so you can control this via external hardware - though the inclusion of a MIDI in on minijack would be the icing on the cake. No pitch or modwheel on the version we have.
That said, it's a cracking little instrument, don't let the funky appearance trick you into thinking it can't make some pretty impressive sounds, it's great fun and has a surprising amount of low end. Seems to excel at aggressive growly sounds, though it can do sweet too.
At £79.99 in the UK (preorders arriving Dec 13th UPDATE: Dec 6th) it's a very tempting Christmas purchase - we also hear there may be more coming in the Craft range. I think this will do very well for them. I've already seen people talking about getting one for the holidays.
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The tiniest modular company's range is expanding rapidly...