The new Stylophone GEN X-1 is the latest instrument from Dübreq, makers of the original Stylophone first released in 1968. This was the first mass produced electronic instrument selling (with the 2004 reissue included) in excess of four million units.
The GEN X-1 though is a much more synthy affair and is built around a genuine analogue synth (unlike the digital reissue). It features a single oscillator with two sub oscillators which adds girth to the traditionally weedy Stylophone sound.
A resonant low pass filter, envelope, LFO and switchable analogue delay lend a wider tonal palette to this new machine. As well as the traditional wired stylus there is also a touch strip which can also be operated by finger as well.
The pressure needed to make a continuous sound especially with a finger requires a bit too much push. The built in speaker in the traditional Stylophone way is thin sounding but louder than you may expect. There is an aux input which is routed through the filter and delay is a fun addition although the manual seems to suggest that the LFO and envelope controls work with it too which didn't in my tests as the envelope would require an envelope follower and the LFO is only routed to the oscillator pitch and the side switchable PWM.
On the underside there is an oscillator tuning knob much like the original and an exploration of the range yields some surprises with the diminutive instrument able to play deep and dark through to high and piercing. The main problem here though lies with the tuning scale which needs to be adjusted through a small screw hole located at the rear otherwise the pitches on the foil keyboard don't correctly align.
The GEN X-1 is a battery only affair with no DC inlet and requiring 4 AA batteries to function. Battery life seems reasonable though and you can expect a good few hours based on my limited experience. One annoying omission is the lack of an LED light to indicate power. This leaves the switched on Stylophone eerily devoid on any visible sign of life which in a live situation could be worrying.
The lack of rubber feet on the underside does mean that the unit will slip easily if placed on a typical table top and as the device really does beg for two handed operation, this could prove to be a minor issue. Speaking of the two handed operation, altering the underside oscillator pitch knob whilst simultaneously playing a note is needlessly awkward. Locating the pitch knob to the front panel, whilst not being true to the original design, would have helped tremendously with usability.
All that being said though, the GEN X-1 does remain oodles of fun and through a decent set of speakers has considerable heft. The inclusion of the two sub octaves gives a deep and impressive sound especially in conjunction with the filter and delay. Beware of a large amount of bass drop off once resonance is applied though.
At the £60 price point there isn't much to compare with this Stylophone. The cheaper Korg Monotrons share some similarities in tone but lack a meaningfully playable keyboard whereas the Korg Volca Keys, being the most similar functionally, is double the price but does include the sequencing capabilities the Stylophone lacks.
Available end of Spetember priced at £59.99, €69/$69