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UDO Super 6: British FPGA synth wows Superbooth

12-note polyphonic, 'binaural' keyboard draws a crowd in Berlin

The Super 6, the debut product from British company UDO Audio.The Super 6, the debut product from British company UDO Audio.

Berlin's Superbooth show saw the launch of a new British company, UDO Audio, and their first product, a powerful new polysynth called the Super 6 (no relation to Native Instruments’ new soft-synth Super 8). Before the show, a lot of misinformed speculation was circulating about what it might be — so we contacted UDO designer and company co-founder George Hearn to find out the truth.

Hearn has a background in industrial electronic design, but was always interested in music technology outside his day job, and designed his own VCOs, VCFs and VCAs, and eventually polysynths. Following his involvement with the sound engine design for Modal Electronics’ 008, he set up UDO Audio to create a more approachable, affordable instrument that would draw on his experience designing robust tech for use in industrial environments.

The Super 6 seems to combine the best of Hearn’s analogue circuit design experience (in its VCAs and filters) with high-resolution, FPGA-generated digital oscillators and modulation clocked at 40MHz. The synth offers users two oscillators per sound (or DDS, Direct Digital Synthesizers, as UDO call them) and is 12-note polyphonic. It was suggested online that the synth is bitimbral, but Hearn emphasises that the word they prefer is binaural — not in the Alan Blumlein sense, but because their new synth’s so-called ‘Superwave’ architecture produces a true stereo output. This is comprised of one centrally panned sound generator surrounded by so-called ‘sisters’ which are very slightly detuned in a fixed factory-determined pitch and panning relationship, and whose phase relationships are constantly being modulated to create a slight sense of movement, thanks to one side first leading, then lagging.

Basing the Super 6 design on FPGAs affords plenty of power to the oscillators and LFOs. The latter can be used freely as additional sound or FM sources, and even the synth’s envelopes can be looped and run at audio rates to create further audio sources. There’s an easily accessible 8x8 front-panel mod matrix, but according to Hearn, you can actually map any front-panel parameter to be modulated by any other other — simultaneously if required, and all by differing amounts. The built-in effects unit is also FPGA-based and therefore high-spec (running at 24-bit, 192kHz at all times). Hearn admits that despite this power, the Super 6 will never, as he puts it, “win any spec races for polyphony or multitimbrality. But we didn’t set out to build workstations. We wanted to stick to what we’re good at designing, which is really strong, great-sounding, solidly-built polysynths with amazing user interfaces.”

The synth is not expected before the Autumn, and will retail, claims Hearn, for somewhere in the region of £2300$2800. You can learn more about the Super 6 (and hear it in action) in the video below, shot on the opening day of Superbooth 2019.

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