Analogue Systems Synthesis Modules

RS420 Octave Controller • RS100 MkII Low-pass Filter • RS370 Poly Harmonic Generator

Published in SOS May 2007
Bookmark and Share

Reviews : Synthesizer

Analogue Systems' modules continue to develop and evolve. We take a look at a selection of the latest designs.

Paul Nagle

ASheader.s
Photos: Mark Ewing

UK modular-synth manufacturers Analogue Systems certainly haven't amassed their impressive range of Integrator modules through inertia. Even when their output justifiably slows down, they take the opportunity to polish and refine existing gear, and having already revised their primary sound source (the VCO), they recently overhauled another synthesis stalwart, the low-pass Moog-style filter. But the most significant update involves the RS370 Polyphonic Harmonic Generator — which was already a module with surprising depth and power. Before we launch into an evaluation of these improvements, let's begin today's round-up with a look at the only module supplied for review this month that's not covered by an earlier SOS review.

RS420 Octave Controller

As a single point of contact for master tuning and octave selection of up to three VCOs, the RS240 recalls the famous Moog Oscillator Controller of yore. The RS420 has two merged CV inputs and provides up to three simultaneous CV outputs, the idea being that if your oscillators don't have octave switches of their own (as Analogue Systems' VCOs don't), you can conveniently perform octave selection from this one location.

ASRS420.s

Typically, your main keyboard or sequencer control voltage would be connected to the primary input. One use for the second CV input could be to connect an LFO and thus add global vibrato to the pitch of all your oscillators. Alternatively, you could connect a keyboard and sequencer to these inputs to obtain sequences that you could manually transpose.

Despite the presence of an arrow on the panel pointing from the octave switch to the CV1 output, this switch actually affects all three outputs simultaneously, for global transposition of plus or minus one octave. The two remaining CV outputs, CV2 and CV3, offer independent shifts of a further plus or minus two octaves. A master tuning control is a vital addition, necessary to globally tune all attached oscillators; its range is approximately one octave. Naturally, this assumes that the VCOs are in tune with each other to begin with! If you require global portamento, a slew control provides up to five seconds of lag to all output CVs.

As with all components of a modular system, there are a variety of ways to use even such an obvious module as this. Further examples might involve connection of an LFO (or two) to the input CVs. With some creative octave selection, you could obtain simultaneous modulation outputs that are exactly double speed, half speed, and so on.

Really, that's all I need to say about the RS420, other than to observe how refreshing it is to encounter such a straightforward module that works exactly as you'd expect.

RS100 MkII Low-pass Filter
ASRS100.s

This is version two of the RS100 module, although there is no clue visually to its extensive internal reworking. In this version, the filter response has been significantly improved. The old RS100 had a response of approximately 30Hz up to 20kHz and, to my ears, sounded muffled and muddy when compared to another, splendid, AS filter, the RS110. The revised model now boasts a range of between 20Hz and 35kHz — and even higher with external CVs applied. It therefore has a markedly deeper bottom end and the whole filter sounds bolder, fatter and cleaner.

Apparently, the transistors and capacitors of the ladder filter are now fully matched and paired, which contributes greatly to the frequency response. There is also far less noise and less coloration of input signal than before, meaning that with resonance down and the filter fully open, the signal suffers no noticeable gain loss — something the original RS100 couldn't boast.

Thanks to heater circuits, Analogue Systems have eliminated many of the stability problems of the earlier module. This means that it is now possible to tune the resonance and play the resulting sine wave reliably as if it were an extra oscillator. That all this has been achieved without sacrificing the essential 'Moogy' character is laudable, although (as with all topics analogue) I am sure there will be those who steadfastly believe that the original, flawed design had to be better because it had more soul, or something.

RS370 Polyphonic Harmonic Generator

A quick recap should suffice here, before we move on to the 3.9 firmware update. For the full story on the RS370, check out my previous review in SOS June 2005.

ASRS370.s

The RS370 is a six-voice polyphonic digital synthesizer with four oscillators per voice, two LFOs and six envelopes — all software-generated. It also features a six-voice polyphonic MIDI-CV converter that receives its data on a single MIDI channel. Extensive MIDI and CV control is implemented, ready to modulate your patches into life. Sonically, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the RS370 is its additive synthesis facilities, giving the user control of 32 harmonics. Two monophonic modes go even further, providing a unique form of real-time harmonic content modification. The monophonic mode really requires the RS375 expander (also covered in the June 2005 issue), which was not supplied for review this time. Previously, when in polyphonic mode, Harmonic Wave Morphing offered a means of dynamically sweeping through conventional synth waveforms (sine, square, sawtooth) in the form of a simple wavetable. This feature has now blossomed into full-blown wavetable synthesis.

The latest version of the firmware is 3.9 and existing RS370 owners will be delighted to know that it's available as a free download from the Analogue Systems web site. Once installed, you'll notice that a new menu has appeared: Morph Table. This is where you'll find those original synth waveforms, along with 15 new wavetables based on the PPG 2.0. With names such as 'Digitana', 'Disharmonix' and 'Vocaloid', each of these wavetables feature 256 waveforms through which you can sweep forwards or backwards with an LFO, envelope, external CV or a chosen MIDI controller. This provides the RS370 with a wide range of PPG-like timbres, plus formant-type vocal tones and timbres that are harsh, digital, bright and buzzy. In this, its final incarnation (the operating system is now packed to the gills) the RS370 provides the kind of metallic and bell-like raw material that you simply don't expect to find lurking inside your modular synth! It's not all hard and digital either; start to layer and detune the oscillators and take advantage of the 'analogue drift' parameter, and you'll find it is possible to transform those crisp, icy tones into something warm and lush.

As I navigated the menu system, I must admit I found it just as cumbersome as I did in 2005, especially when it came to editing the multi-stage envelopes — one stage per page. However, there is a lot crammed in here, and with plenty of opportunities for external MIDI or CV control you should be able to devise some personal methods for minimising the menu-hopping.

Slight Revamp: RS95E VCO
ASRS95
This is a minor redesign of Analogue Systems' voltage controlled oscillator. The enhancement this time is the inclusion of a 10-turn Vernier dial for precise numerical pitch adjustment. It's certainly a jolly nice dial. Other than that, the module is as it was when it was reviewed in the June 2002 issue of SOS.

Next I turned to the new factory sounds and noted that the new software didn't open up any additional memory locations. There are still only 46 of these, most of which now contain example patches, including a selection of organs, several analogue-type sounds, fizzing, shimmering pads, weird sound effects and so on. Favourites amongst the new factory sounds include 'Harmonic Choir', in which the mod wheel is used to move through the wavetable, altering the vocal timbre. The 'Glass Gallery' patch is another gorgeous wavetable morph with manual control of both the speed of morphing and the tuning of one of the oscillators. Many of the factory sounds benefit from patching the CV inputs or use either the mod wheel or other MIDI controllers to warp and bend the patch during performance. As starting points from which to explore the RS3790, all of them are useful, but as you grow in confidence you will surely yearn for more memories. Fortunately you can export your patches as MIDI system exclusive data. If you recall from the original review, the misleadingly-labelled MIDI Thru port is actually a soft Thru; it functions as a MIDI output for saving your data on a per-patch basis. When you load a patch in again, it drops into a buffer from which you can then save it to any location.

Incidentally, the MIDI port can now be used as a note overflow, courtesy of the new 'MIDI chain' parameter. So you could buy a second RS370 and create a 12-voice polyphonic synthesizer, if your budget stretches to it!

Analogue Systems have also made some text updates to the panel. The six trigger outputs have been augmented with alternate clock-related labels underneath. Thus, when you are processing MIDI clock, perhaps to generate an analogue clock with which to drive your sequencer or envelopes, you no longer have to remember which port carries the clock, as it's labelled for you.

Finally, there is a wider range of modulation destinations than before. I previously felt the LFOs needed more possibilities and they've now got nine destinations, including full access to the pitch of each of the four oscillators, as well as wavetable position or pulse width. There are 32 destinations for the analogue voltage inputs too, including all the envelope stages, LFO speeds, oscillator levels and tuning plus pulse width or harmonic wave-morphing. Also, up to 16 MIDI controls (or aftertouch or pitch-bend) can be routed to the same range of destinations, which is very flexible indeed.

Module Pricing
RS15 MkIII Case, £245.
RS95E Voltage Controlled Oscillator, £95.
RS100 MkII Low-pass Filter, £85.
RS370 Polyphonic Harmonic Generator, £595.
RS420 Octave Controller, £245.
All prices include VAT.
RS15 MkIII Case

Last up, Analogue Systems have improved the RS15 6U case supplied for this review. This version includes three rear-mounted LEDs, one for each power rail (+12v, -12v and +5v). These LEDs should all go out after power-up if everything is working correctly, which is rather a neat idea for diagnosing problems, unless you happen to tuck your RS15 away in a flightcase! The MkIII case has the capacity to handle up to 1.5 amps of module draw and comes with 14 AS power sockets and eight Doepfer sockets. It also has internal fuses to protect the modules.

Conclusion

Analogue Systems should be applauded for taking every opportunity to improve their existing range. In the case of the RS100 filter, the redesign is a significant improvement over the original version of the module. So if you wrote it off as indistinct, lacking in bass, or just requiring greater stability, the new version will be a breath of fresh air.

ASrack.s

The RS420 is a useful addition to the AS range, especially given the lack of octave selection on the AS VCOs. Speaking of which, I did like the Vernier dials of the RS95E very much (see the 'Slight Revamp' box), but my opinion from the 2002 review stands: it's time to go back to the drawing board and redo this oscillator from scratch. Keep the great sound but create a less cluttered panel — with octave selectors.

Most interesting of all, the RS370 has been boosted by the addition of 15 digital wavetables and other refinements such as additional modulation destinations. The wavetables open up a world of retro digital tones with highly complex timbral movement — way beyond the previous capabilities of this already versatile module. With so much on offer, it's a shame the menu system remains so laborious, and those 46 memory patches are going to fill up pretty darn quickly. The great news for existing owners of the RS370 is that the firmware upgrade is free — and anyone previously tempted might feel the inclusion of wavetable synthesis tips the balance. If you want a polyphonic synth inside your analogue modular, this remains a uniquely powerful way to get one.

These modules are proof of Analogue Systems' ongoing commitment to the quality of their products. It's exactly the sort of attitude that means anyone looking to build or extend a Eurorack modular system should always consider AS when it comes to sourcing the components. 

Analogue Systems Modules
pros
RS370: Free update for existing owners; version 3.9 adds 15 new wavetables and implements PPG-style wavetable synthesis.
RS370: MIDI control and modulation routings extended in this version.
RS100: Lovely, clean-sounding low-pass ladder filter with a solid low end and top-end clarity.
RS420: Octave Controller does exactly what it says on the tin.
cons
RS370: Still has only 46 patch locations.
RS370: Menu system remains laborious.
RS420: Octave Controller probably wouldn't be needed if AS oscillators had octave switches.
summary
Although an expensive module, the RS370 has new wavetables that add spicy, unique polyphonic timbres to your modular. With its MIDI interface, the only barrier between it and your other analogue gear is the menu system, and even this can be negated (to a certain extent) using external MIDI and voltage control. Of the other modules bundled in this collection, the RS100 stands out as a marked improvement over the earlier version and is now recommended.
information
See 'Module Pricing' box.
Analogue Systems +44 (0)1726 850103.
+44 (0)1726 850103.


SOS Readers Ads
GRAB A BARGAIN

£486,285

of Second-User Gear for sale now — don't miss out!

Roland GR55

Guitar Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Roland GR55

Roland have put elements of their two very different approaches to guitar synthesis in a single box. Could this be the best guitar synth ever?

Moog Minimoog Voyager XL

Analogue Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Moog Minimoog Voyager XL

There’s no more revered name in the history of synthesis than Moog, and the Voyager XL aims to cement their reputation for top‑flight instruments. Is this the Rolls Royce of the synthesizer world?

Dewanatron Swarmatron

Analogue Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Dewanatron Swarmatron

This is a synth like no other, eschewing conventional controls, nomenclature and even an ordinary on/off switch. Is it destined to become a cult classic?

XILS Lab PolyKB II

Software Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: XILS Lab PolyKB II

The original was a diamond in the rough — so is PolyKB II a highly polished gem?

Spectrasonics Omnisphere 1.5

Software Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Spectrasonics Omnisphere 1.5

Spectrasonics bring yet more goodies to the Omnisphere party, aiming to make their highly acclaimed synth even better.

M-Audio Venom

Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: M-Audio Venom

M-Audio's debut synth may have a pristine white exterior, but it hides a sample-based synthesis engine capable of getting down and dirty...

Waldorf PPG Wave 3.V

Software Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Waldorf PPG Wave 3.V

PPG's Wave series were sadly beyond the budget of most of us, but, through the miracle of software, the powers of these innovative synths may now be within our grasp...

Novation Ultranova

Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Novation Ultranova

The Ultranova may be a return to Novation's roots, but it's still a very forward-looking synthesizer...

Yamaha Motif XF7

Workstation Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Yamaha Motif XF7

Yamaha's long-lived Motif range continues to go from strength to strength. Could the latest model be the best Motif yet?

Mode Machines Xoxbox

Analogue Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Mode Machines Xoxbox

Everybody, as Fatboy Slim so wisely notes, needs a 303. However, with originals becoming ever more scarce and expensive, the dream of universal 303 ownership was starting to look unlikely — until now...

Vermona Mono Lancet

Analogue Synthesizer

The peculiarly named Mono Lancet is an analogue synth of the old school, boasting two oscillators, a filter with a debilitating debt to Moog, and knobs galore!

Tom Oberheim SEM

Analogue Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Tom Oberheim SEM

Tom Oberheim has returned to the analogue synth fold with a revised and updated version of his classic 70s monosynth, the celebrated Synthesizer Expander Module.

Korg Monotron

Analogue Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Korg MonotronIt’s their first analogue synth in 25 years, but is Korg’s Monotron a toy or a tool?

Roland Gaia SH01

Analogue Modelling Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Roland Gaia SH01If you don’t like programming synths via obscure two-line displays and arcane menu systems, the Roland Gaia SH01 could be just what you’re looking for...

Moog Taurus 3

Bass Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Moog Taurus 3The resurrection of Moog’s stellar bass synth has caused a considerable stir. Can the Taurus 3 live up to the venerable reputation of its ancestor?

Doepfer Dark Energy

Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Doepfer Dark EnergyThe latest product of Doepfer’s modular know-how is the Dark Energy: a compact, powerful and hands-on desktop analogue synthesizer.

Cwejman Synthesis Modules

Modular Synth

Thumbnail for article: Cwejman Synthesis ModulesWowa Cwejman is already in possession of a fine reputation for esoteric synth modules, but he hasn't run out of ideas yet. Join us as we take a tour of his latest creations...

SMS Planet 7 System

Modular Analogue Synthesizer

Synthetic Music Systems have a unique approach to designing modular synths that are both high in quality and, wait for it, low in price. Let's investigate...

Analogue Systems Synthesis Modules

RS420 Octave Controller • RS100 MkII Low-pass Filter • RS370 Poly Harmonic Generator

Analogue Systems' modules continue to develop and evolve. We take a look at a selection of the latest designs.

Cwejman Synthesis Modules

DLFO Dual LFO • RM2S Stereo Ring Modulator • VCEQ3

We conclude our three-part exploration of Wowa Cwjeman's new range of exclusive analogue synth modules.

Cwejman Synthesis Modules

VCO-2RM • MMF-1 • ADSR-VC2 • VCA-2P

Part 2: We continue our exploration of Wowa Cwjeman's new range of exclusive analogue synth modules.

Cwejman VM1

Analogue Voice Module

Swedish designer Wowa Cwejman has built a reputation for exclusive analogue synths. Now he's going modular, starting with the VM1 Voice module...

Buchla 200e: Part 2

Patchable Analogue & Digital Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Buchla 200e: Part 2PART 2: We conclude our look at synth pioneer Don Buchla's extraordinary new 200e modular synth.

Buchla 200e: Part 1

Patchable Analogue & Digital Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Buchla 200e: Part 1PART 1: Alongside Bob Moog, Don Buchla is one of the founding fathers of synthesis, and yet much less is known of him and his instruments. With this two-part review of Buchla's latest synth, and a history of some of his pioneering work, we hope to redress the balance...

Analogue Systems RS370 & RS375

Polyphonic Harmonic Generator & Expander

Having built their reputation on knob-heavy modular synths, British manufacturer Analogue Systems surprise everyone by bringing out a menu-driven additive synthesis module! But don't worry — the optional expander is covered with things to tweak and turn...

Cwejman Sound S1 MkII

Semi-modular Analogue Synth

Swedish company Cwejman have recognised that there is no way to build a cheap semi-modular analogue synth for mass-market sale these days (if there ever was). Enter the premium, but meticulously crafted S1 MkII...

Doepfer A100 Modular

Synthesis Modules

Since the launch of their A100 modular synth in the mid-'90s, Doepfer have been quietly adding modules to the system, some fairly simple, others splendidly esoteric. We explore some of the latest...

Lassence µVentury II

Patchable Analogue Modular Synth System

Belgian company Lassence are seeking to gain recognition as a small modular synth manufacturer with their new patchable µVentury II system. But there's plenty of competition in the homegrown analogue market these days. Does the µVentury II have what it takes?

Vermona Perfourmer

Four-voice Analogue Rack Synth

Formerly the East German state synth company (a great concept in itself), Vermona re-emerged last year with the MARS monophonic analogue synth. Clearly determined to win back their reputation, they've already returned with the four-voice Perfourmer...

WIN Great Prizes in SOS Competitions!

 

Home | Search | News | Current Issue | Tablet Mag | Articles | Forum | Subscribe | Shop | Readers Ads

Advertise | Information | Digital Editions | Privacy Policy | Support | Login Help

 

Email: Contact SOS

Telephone: +44 (0)1954 789888

Fax: +44 (0)1954 789895

Registered Office: Media House, Trafalgar Way, Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB23 8SQ, United Kingdom.

Sound On Sound Ltd is registered in England and Wales.

Company number: 3015516 VAT number: GB 638 5307 26

         

All contents copyright © SOS Publications Group and/or its licensors, 1985-2014. All rights reserved.
The contents of this article are subject to worldwide copyright protection and reproduction in whole or part, whether mechanical or electronic, is expressly forbidden without the prior written consent of the Publishers. Great care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the preparation of this article but neither Sound On Sound Limited nor the publishers can be held responsible for its contents. The views expressed are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the publishers.

Web site designed & maintained by PB Associates | SOS | Relative Media