“I planned this in combination with the reunion of the German Democratic Republic into the GDR, because we needed this building for such events,” jokes Andreas Schneider. The building in question is the Funkhaus in Berlin, the stunning former headquarters of the East German broadcasting organisation. After several years of planning and negotiation, Andreas had secured this “special building” for Superbooth 16: part trade show, part synth enthusiast’s meet, Superbooth brought together not only a huge number of boutique synth makers, but larger manufacturers including Roland, Yamaha and Korg.
Through his Schneidersbuero and Schneidersladen businesses, Schneider has long been Europe’s leading specialist retailer and distributor of analogue synths and related equipment. For 12 years, his Superbooth stand was a fixture at the Frankfurt Musik Messe, providing small manufacturers with a place to display their wares to the world. The logical next step was to turn Superbooth into its own event, with workshops, talks and performances as well as plenty of space for synth builders to exhibit. “All of them were a bit bored with the idea of the trade show model,” he says. “I knew that I am able to get these small companies together in a bigger scale, because they trust me, and what happens now is that Roland and Yamaha and Waldorf and whatever jump on the train, and they say ‘Their stand is always busy, perhaps we have to make modular synths.’ I built a community with these little manufacturers, and the big players, beginning with Roland, jumped on the train and say ‘We want to be part of your community.’”
The community aspect has always been central to Schneider’s vision: “I said [to the small manufacturers], ‘You have to understand yourselves not as competitors but as colleagues. This is the most important thing.’ And everyone was saying ‘Roland are going into Eurorack, this is the end of it, Mr. Doepfer pack up your stuff and go home.’ I said ‘No, it’s great. If Roland want to put energy into this group, that’s great, because they have much energy, they have a power that we will never reach. Why not welcome them?’ If 10 people buy a Roland synth, maybe nine will end up in a basement somewhere, but one will generate a new customer for pro stuff. If that is working in a market that we never reach, why not?”
Although Superbooth isn’t intended only as a showcase for modular synths, the current strength of the format meant that at least 90 percent of the products on display there were Eurorack modules. Many of the boutique manufacturers used the event to launch new and updated modules, along with a few interesting stand-alone products. Here’s a round-up of the new products that we spotted:
Among the Eurorack modules on display from 4MS was a prototype of an intriguing Dual Triggered Sampler, as well as the new Dual Looping Delay
As well as new modules of their own design, ADDAC were exhibiting the fruits of a partnership with Electro-Harmonix which sees them making several of the latter’s pedals available as Eurorack modules. The addition of extensive patchability promises to greatly extend the range of sounds that can be coaxed from the B9 Organ Machine, Electric Piano and Freeze Machine.
Karplus-Strong synthesis has rarely been implemented in hardware, but forms the basis of Audio Damage’s forthcoming Proton module. Combining an oscillator and an envelope generator in a single module, it looks like forming a self-contained synth in its own right. The company were also showing their new Boomtschak drum synthesizer —their first analogue module — and a prototype of a possible dedicated hi-hat generator.
Bastl Instruments added three new products to their modular range, with more on the horizon. Dynamo is a “dynamics analyser and fake through-zero modulator” which can turn a VCA into a compressor, while Tromsø is described as an “analogue downsampler”, formed from separate VCO, comparator and sample & hold submodules. Hendrikson is designed to allow guitars and stompboxes to be integrated into a modular rig, and features CV-controlled wey/dry mix function.
New horizons in glitch effects were emerging from the Befaco stand, courtesy of their Crush Delay Eurorack module, and the company were also showing off a funky Joystick controller, as well as their Rampage dual function generator.
Din Sync’s Wildcard is a small and highly affordable Eurorack module which, as the name suggests, can be made to perform a number of different roles by plugging in different cards. Also on show was a laborious and faithful recreation of the classic Roland TB303’s circuit board, which will be available to DIY builders. The company have also reintroduced their 303-based OSC303, VCF303 and Modseq Eurorack modules in kit form.
Dreadbox, makers of the neat Erebus synth, were showing a new instrument in the same handy desktop format. The Hades is a single-oscillator bass synth, with sub-oscillators and an interesting filter design that employs a 3-pole, 18dB/octave slope but is not based on the familiar TB303 circuit.
Endorphines’ range of powerful Eurorack modules has grown to include the Grand Terminal, a comprehensive dual envelope generator, filter, VCA and effects unit, which can be integrated into a larger setup or played as a complete instrument in its own right. They also have a new four-channel mixer called the Cockpit, which boasts some neat features including the ability to integrate an iOS device as an insert processor.
Latvian firm Erica Synths showcased a massive range of their own designs, which are mostly Eurorack modules but include a couple of desktop devices too. Of particular note is their new Pico range. As the name suggests, this contains a wide variety of diminutive (3HP) modules, allowing a very powerful modular synth to be built into a tiny case. In the final stages of development, there was also a Graphic VCO module which allows users to ‘draw’ their own waveshapes.
Expert Sleepers’ range of useful Eurorack devices for interfacing computers with modular synths has expanded greatly since it was last covered in SOS. Newer products include interfaces that will convert ADAT and S/PDIF digital audio into control voltages and trigger signals, gizmos which transmit MIDI data as audio, for rock-solid timing and low jitter, and the FH-1 ‘Fader Host’ which is designed to allow USB controllers — including fader surfaces, but also instruments such as the LinnStrument — to work their magic in a CV/gate environment. In the prototype stage is a class compliant USB2 audio interface which can be used both to generate and read CV signals.
Future Artist exhibited one product, and a very small one at that, but the MIDI Looper has the potential to transcend its miniature scale. In essence, it applies some of the ideas behind loop-based samplers to the MIDI domain, packing a surprising amount of functionality into an interface controlled from two buttons and two encoders.
Clock dividers are not usually thought of as the most creative elements of a modular rig, but Gezeiten’s new Ultima Ratio aims to change that. It’s a dual clock divider, generator and AD envelope which, they say, can be played “as a performance-like instrument”.
Jomox were showing a Eurorack version of their popular T-Resonator “experimental filter network synthesizer”. Called the T-Rackonizer, the new module “transforms timely events into an analogue feedbacked filter network”. We don’t know what that means either, but it sounded crazy.
Canadian manufacturers Kilpatrick Audio were showing their fine-looking patchable desktop synth, the Phenol, which combines analogue VCOs and VCFs with complex digital envelopes and LFOs, along with a very neat desktop sequencer that offers both MIDI, CV/gate and USB connections. They also used the show to introduce several new Eurorack modules.
Koma Elektronik, whose appropriately named Komplex four-part sequencer was reviewed in May’s SOS, were also showing their Poltergeist, which is newly available to buy. One of very few Eurorack modules targeting musicians working with quadrophonic sound, it’s a four-channel performance mixer with quad panners and many other neat features.
Another interesting and affordable desktop instrument on show was the Leploop v2 from Laboratorio Elettronico Popolare. Described as “small in nature but aggressive in sound”, it’s a complete groovebox for minimalist music featuring a two-VCO synth, a sequencer and a drum machine.
Lumanoise’s stall stood out for the visual design of their products. Roughly the size of Eurorack modules but housed in ‘distressed’ wooden boxes, the Lumanoise v2 is actually a self-contained synth inspired by the Oskar Sala Trautonium, with controls including a light-dependent resistor; the same company’s v5 actually features an input for a solar panel!
As well as their Black & Gold modular range, Make Noise were also displaying a small desktop module called the 0-Coast, which does a lot of things with a single triangle-wave oscillator. With the aid of an overtone multiplier, overtone generator, clock generator and slope generator, a surprisingly wide range of tones can be generated.
MFB’s Tanzbär analogue drum machine impressed our reviewer a year or two back, and the company have now introduced two more affordable instruments derived from it. The Tanzbär Lite offers nine analogue drum sounds with a powerful built-in sequencer, while the Tanzmaus combines analogue kick, snare, rim, clap and tom modules with two sample-playback units. Both offer five individual audio outputs as well as the main stereo output, and the ability to store up to 64 sequencer patterns.
One of the more legendary synth designers in attendance was Dave Rossum, the man behind most of Emu’s classic instruments. He too is now making Eurorack modules, and very nice they look too! Already available is the Evolution VCF. Based on the design used in the original Emu 2100 modular synthesizer back in the ’70s, it has the unique ability to switch between different filter slopes and characteristics in real time, under CV control. Yet to ship, meanwhile, is the Control Forge. Described as a “programmable CV generator”, it allows an enormous range of CV curves to be assigned to steps and triggered under various logic conditions. Sequences can be stored and chained, making for an endlessly powerful source of everything from musical sequences to semi-random and chaotic signals. A separate Satellite module is also available for those who want to play back the Control Forge’s patches without duplicating its programming facilities. Another nod to Rossum’s past was on view in the shape of his Morpheus, a development of the classic ‘Z-plane’ design used in many Emu digital instruments, and a mock-up of a new sampling module called the Assimil8or was also on view.
Soulsby Synths have followed up their innovative Atmegatron with Odytron Special Edition of the instrument. This, it’s said, “provides the features of a classic analogue synth, but in an 8-bit environment”. Intriguing! They have also launched their first Eurorack module: called the Oscitron, it is a wavetable oscillator with audio input for capturing user waveforms.
Sonic Potions have been busy concocting some heady brews in Eurorack format. Among the forthcoming goodies are the Manifold “time and space machine”, which combines various different styles of delay with granular and ensemble effects. Their Moiré is a dual VCO which promises stable through-zero phase modulation between the two oscillators, while Malaclypse is a random signal generator that billed as generating “fractal noise”, with frequency ranges running from the audio rate down to a cycle time of half an hour. Finally, Mal 2 is another random signal generator, this time available as a kit as well as pre-built.
Studio Electronics’ partnership with French manufacturers EOwave has yielded a couple of interesting new Eurorack modules. The STE 16 is a dual LFO which presents some pretty far-out patching possibilities, and we’re also promised the Tonestar. An all-in-one synth with oscillator, 4075 ARP-style filter, fully voltage-controlled LFO and dual envelopes.
French boutique manufacturers TouellSkouarn used the event to introduce their range of intriguing and stylish Eurorack modules. These include a truly filthy analogue bucket-brigade reverb/flanger called the Heklev; the Skorn de Bask drone and abstract rhythm generator; and the Sonveskan germanium preamp, mixer and feedback generator.
Software companies were in a minority at Superbooth, but alongside the likes of Native Instruments, Ableton, Steinberg and Bitwig, U-he were showing some interesting plug-ins currently under development. One is a physical modelling drum and percussion synthesizer, designed to recreate the nuances of acoustic drums and cymbals; another, currently known only as Re Pro (for ‘research project’), is a painstaking model of Sequential’s classic Pro One monosynth, with the ability to break in and out of the signal chain at various points so that it can be integrated into a modular rig.
Two new Eurorack modules were on display at WMD’s stall. The Aperture is either a ganged high/low-pass filter or a variable-width band-pass filter, depending on how you look at it, with separate control of low and high resonance. A prototype Performance Mixer module, meanwhile, packs a huge amount of functionality into a small space, including faders with switches that can select alternate inputs, a cue bus with aux sends, master inserts and more.
If the idea of an event showcasing all that’s best in today’s synth world floats your boat, meanwhile, you might be interested in SOS’s own SynthFest UK. Taking place in Sheffield on Saturday, October 1st, this one-day event will feature manufacturer showcases, seminars, demos, Q&A sessions and the opportunity to meet other synth enthusiasts and buy or swap gear.