In a move that may appeal to fans of the movie Inception, the 1010music Toolbox takes a modular approach to your modular’s modulation. Its manufacturers say it can “drive a full rack of gear”, a bold claim considering the size of some people’s racks these days...
The Toolbox provides a range of CV and MIDI modules: note sequencers, gate sequencers, CV sequencers, LFOs and CV recorders, all configurable using the 3.5-inch colour LED touchscreen. The basic concept is elegantly simple. On the Home screen is a grid of 5x4 slots. Each slot can contain a modulator, except for the first column which is reserved for CV inputs and a Play button. Underneath the screen is a similar grid of 5x4 input and output jacks, each of which correspond to the similarly positioned slot on screen. So if you select an LFO for row 1, column 5, the CV output jack in the same position will produce an LFO control voltage.
When in the Home screen, the four control knobs, two on either side of the screen, can be used to select a slot. A second press of the Home button will toggle to Mute mode, where any slot can be muted — handy for live performance. With a slot selected you can press the Info button to edit that slot. Repeated presses of the Info button will cycle round as many pages as there are parameters. You can exit back to the Home screen at any time by pressing the Home button.
As well as the grid of input and output jacks, there are a column of four input jacks on the left (for MIDI, Clock and two CV inputs) and a column of four MIDI output jacks on the right. The Toolbox is able to send and receive polyphonic MIDI signals via these MIDI jacks. Whilst this is limited to gate, pitch and velocity information, it’s great to see more Eurorack manufacturers making use of polyphonic MIDI in this way.
Looking more closely at the various modulator types, note sequencing is the most complex and is achieved using a familiar piano roll sequencer. Notes can be entered and deleted by touching the screen. Selecting and editing a note’s pitch and length is done with the control knobs and you can zoom and scroll around the piano roll using familiar pinch and drag gestures. If you are comfortable programming piano roll sequences on your phone, then you’ll get on just fine with the Toolbox. I found it mildly clunky thanks to my sausage fingers. Luckily, if you need something more expressive, you can record sequences from a MIDI keyboard via the MIDI in socket. This has the added advantage of recording and playing back velocity, which isn’t currently programmable using only the screen.
The gate sequencers are simple affairs, as are the CV sequencers, both of which do their job much as one might expect. LFOs offer the usual waveforms and can achieve tempo divisions from 1/64 to eight bars. When free-running, the rate is set in percent, which is still tempo related. I would have liked a way to set LFO speed in Hz.
All the modulators share some common features. If you press the Info button, you’ll be presented with various parameters to edit. These include Step Length, Step Count, Clock Source, MIDI Port and MIDI Channel. Some parameters can be modulated and these are indicated via three small slots underneath the parameter. Click on one of these and you’ll be asked to selected a source (internal LFOs, sequencers or external inputs) and a depth amount. Here lies the path to many cross-modulation possibilities, although not all parameters are capable of modulation in this way.
The last major function is the CV Recorder/Player, a feature which was added mid-review with update v1.1.4. When recording, you can choose a length from 1/4 to 128 bars, a record quantise value (to quantise the start/stop of recording) and whether to monitor the incoming signal. You also choose which of the two CV inputs to record from — using both is possible for stereo recording. Recordings are saved directly to the panel-mounted Micro SD card as WAV files. The CV Recorder can do audio recording too. Playing back recordings can be done in either Always On, Trigger or Gate modes and there are clock source, start, end and loop functions too. There’s even a handy bi-directional loop mode. Really the CV Recorder is more of a sampler, although it does lack any way to playback chromatically.
In order to help manage all this flexibility, the Toolbox uses presets which save the state of the entire module to the Micro SD slot. Presets can be recalled either by pressing the preset name at the top of the Home screen or by pressing the + and - buttons on either side. Because of the placement of the + and - buttons on screen, I found it too easy to accidentally change presets and, without any Undo function, there is a real danger of losing your work, so save often.
The Toolbox could indeed drive a (reasonably sized) rack of gear. In one session, it might provide eight tempo-sync’ed LFOs, all cross-modulating each other. In another session, it might supply piano roll sequences which form the backbone of a live set. In another, it could provide eight stereo samples or backing tracks, each with loop points being modulated by on-board sequencers and LFOs. Considering its depth, it doesn’t feel too menu-driven and navigating the operating system feels intuitive.
The Toolbox is aptly named. I suspect its ability to save and recall entire setups in an instant will make it popular with live performers, and its ability to record and play back stereo WAV files is a real bonus. Granted, it’s not cheap, but the Toolbox is a chameleon, and could easily replace several other modules in your setup.