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AVP Synth ADS-7 Mk2

Drum Machine By Rory Dow
Published July 2020

AVP Synth ADS-7 Mk2

If you like your drum machines old school, analogue and ruggedly individualistic, you're going to love the ADS‑7 Mk2.

AVP Synth is a Moscow-based company who have tinkered with small analogue drum boxes, desktop analogue effects and analogue monosynths in the past. The ADS‑7 Mk2 is their biggest project yet — a seven–voice, discrete, analogue drum machine with onboard sequencer, MIDI, CV and individual outputs. It follows the window-rattling traditions of the greats by putting all the controls you need directly in front of you. The seven drum voices are custom-designed, through-hole analogue circuits: bass drum, clap, closed hat, open hat and three 'generators' which are flexible enough to yield kicks, snares, toms, cymbals, percussion and special effects. There are no menus, digital control or presets (except on the sequencer).

The sequencer occupies the bottom third of the front panel and consists of 16 step buttons, a handful of mode buttons, a three-digit LCD display, a tempo knob and a single transport Start/Stop/Record button. Sixteen banks of 16 patterns can be programmed in classic X0X fashion, or recorded live. As well as sequencing the seven drum voices, you can also sequence up to four external CV triggers or 16 MIDI triggers, which means you can involve external samplers, modulars or synthesizers.

The build quality feels reassuringly solid. All knobs are bolted to the front panel and exhibit no wobble whatsoever. The casing is steel and the back of the unit offers plenty of grown-up connections. MIDI input and output are on 5-pin DIN. There's a pair of stereo mix outputs and seven individual outputs, one for each voice, all on quarter-inch jacks. The four previously mentioned trigger outputs and seven individual trigger inputs are on 3.5mm jacks. The external power supply is 15V AC wall-wart.

The Meat & Potatoes

The cornerstone of every drum machine is of course the bass drum. The ADS‑7 offers six sound-shaping controls for its offering, plus a volume control. There are two main elements, Tone and Click. For the tonal part, you have pitch, decay, sweep and level. For the click part, you can adjust tune and level. Tuning will allow the Click to go into low enough frequencies to make a short kick drum without using the Tone part at all, effectively giving you two kick drums for the price of one. The Tone sweep allows you to add a longer 'body' with some classic 808-style pitch envelope. Six parameters for an analogue kick drum is quite generous and as such, there are plenty of tonal possibilities. The end result is always a kick drum, but by combining Click and Tone, you can achieve anything from short snappy 'pock' sounds to long room-shakers, and believe me these kick drums have plenty of low end.

Moving on to the clap, there are four parameters plus volume and pan controls (every drum voice has a pan parameter except for the kick drum). The clap is again made of two parts, both based on a noise source. The first is an enveloped noise sound where a fast AD envelope repeats two or three times to emulate the sound of people clapping together. The 'Space' parameter lengthens the gap between these envelopes to create a more 'sloppy' clap. The second element is a more dull pinkish noise which decays away over a longer time, giving a reverb type of effect. The two elements are crossfaded using the 'Noise Mix' parameter, which means you can eliminate the clap part altogether and plump for a simple noise snare if you prefer. Finally, the 'Filter' parameter uses a band-pass filter to adjust the overall tone of the clap. This is one of the meatiest claps I've heard on an analogue drum machine.

We'll look at the open and closed hi-hat together as they share circuitry. Each has three identical parameters and one shared parameter, plus the ever-present volume and pan. Again, there are two parts to the sound: a noise element and a tonal metallic element. The two are blended together and fed through a high-pass filter. The pitch of the metallic element is controlled using the shared control which affects both the open and closed sound. The filter, decay and 'Noise/Met' blend controls are independent, however, allowing you to have different tonality for each. Finally, there is a 'Choking' switch, which toggles choking of the open hi-hat by the closed. I like this design — there is enough shared circuitry to make the open and closed hats feel connected when they need to be, but also enough separation that you could use them as two independent drum sounds. For example, with the choking switch off, you could have one programmed as a shaker (using the noise element), and the other emulating a clave sound (using the metallic element).

The back panel continues the theme of rugged construction and boasts a healthy array of inputs and outputs for both audio and triggers as well as offering full-fat MIDI I/O ports.The back panel continues the theme of rugged construction and boasts a healthy array of inputs and outputs for both audio and triggers as well as offering full-fat MIDI I/O ports.

The last circuit is the 'Generator', of which there are three. It is by far the most complex circuit and, as a result, is capable of a much wider palette of sounds, designed to fill the gaps that the kick, clap and hi-hats don't reach. Each generator is made up of three elements: Noise, Tonal and Click. Each element has a dedicated volume control, and there's a master volume and pan control for the overall voice. The Noise element consists of noise going through a switchable low-pass or band-pass filter, with separate cutoff, resonance and sweep controls. The Noise and Tonal elements each have their own separate decay controls which allows you to use one as an initial transient and the other for the body of the sound. As well as the decay, the tonal part consists of pitch and sweep controls. The pitch goes from sub-sonic to around 2kHz and sounds to me like a triangle waveform. The final element is the click, which, in a similar way to the bass drum circuit, adds a transient click which can be tuned, although I found the tuning control changed the tone more than the pitch.

With 11 different parameters to tweak, the Generator circuits can spit out a surprising range of sounds. It's worth pointing out that all the circuits in the ADS‑7 Mk2 rely on fairly simple synthesis. By which I mean simple mixing and filtering of noise, oscillators and clicks. There is no frequency modulation, ring modulation, or anything else that might be considered complex. This is simple analogue synthesis, but don't take that as a criticism. The resulting sound is massive. There isn't a single sound here which I would describe as weak or uninteresting. The kicks and claps can be monstrous, the hi-hats cut though without ever being harsh and the generators will be pushed into a multitude of uses. This is a flexible, solid and pleasing collection of analogue drum sounds.

I like the ADS‑7 Mk2. It has won me over with a bold sound, rock-solid build quality and an unfussy approach.

The Sequencer

The only digital part of the ADS‑7 Mk2 is its sequencer. Up to 256 patterns can be stored, recalled and chained. A pattern is up to 16 steps long and contains 16 tracks. Seven of those trigger the onboard drum voices. A further four tracks send triggers to the 3.5mm trigger outputs on the rear of the unit, and all 16 tracks can output MIDI, although not chromatically, just single-note triggers. There is no parameter automation, or even velocity support — this is simple old-school trigger sequencing.

The tempo knob will adjust the sequencer's tempo between 24 and 279 bpm with the LCD reporting the exact value. Alternatively you can sync to MIDI clock. Curiously, there is no analogue clock sync, which I was surprised about considering the old-school approach of the rest of the machine.

The 16 buttons along the bottom of the front panel perform a variety of tasks depending on what mode you are in. At the top level, they are used to select Banks and Patterns. Switching patterns is done instantly, but the patterns keep their relative playback position, which works quite nicely if you want to quickly switch between two similar patterns during a performance. For example, you might copy your basic rhythm pattern and make another which has a snare fill rolling throughout. By quickly switching between the basic pattern and the fill pattern you can effectively add snippets of snare roll to the pattern on the fly.

In the default 'Tap' mode, the buttons serve as triggers for the drum voices and anything connected to the trigger outputs or MIDI outputs. Finger drummers are likely to be unimpressed. The buttons are small, stiff and click rather loudly, but they serve a purpose and feel sturdy enough to survive long-term. I can't help wishing there were some nice playable drum pads instead, but the focus is clearly on sequencing rather than performance.

In Step mode, the 16 buttons become step on/off triggers for the currently selected track. An LED above each step shows its status. There are no additional parameters to program.

In Mute mode, the track buttons can be used to mute and unmute drum voices from the pattern. This is where some sense of performance can be achieved. By manually selecting or chaining different patterns and muting tracks (track mutes are global, so maintained from one pattern to the next), you can build up a drum track and switch to different song sections. One thoughtful little feature is that, by holding down the Step button whilst in another mode, the sequencer will temporarily enter step mode, allowing you to add or remove steps from the current track. As soon as you release the Step button, it will revert back to the previous mode. This is an excellent, fast way to move between Mute or Pattern select mode and doing extra programming on the fly.

Each pattern can have 16th shuffle, with up to eight levels, a clock divide value, which can slow down or speed up the pattern relative to the master bpm or incoming clock and a 'last step', which allows you make patterns which are less than 16 steps. It's a shame the last step function doesn't work per track, as that would allow polymeters and ever-changing patterns. Perhaps AVP Synth could add this in a firmware upgrade?

Chaining patterns is useful too. You can have up to 16 patterns in a chain and they can be in any order and use a pattern as many times as necessary. One limitation is that you can only use patterns from the current bank. During playback, you can jump about within the chain by entering chain mode and using the step keys to select a position. You can also freeze the chain by holding a pattern button down for longer than one second. This loops the selected chain position until you press the chain button again. You can still move around within the chain whilst the freeze is active. When you're in a chain, the LCD screen will update to tell you which pattern is currently playing.

Pattern chaining and performance wouldn't be any fun if you had to program each pattern from scratch, but thankfully there are copy, paste and clear functions to assist. Both Banks and Patterns can be duplicated to empty slots, which makes developing longer pattern chains a breeze. Overall, I found pattern chaining to be incredibly useful for creating longer sequences and, when combined with live muting of tracks, a lot of fun for building up and breaking down complex patterns.

The ADS-7 Mk2 enjoys an all–metal construction and measures 324 x 246 x 90 mm.The ADS-7 Mk2 enjoys an all–metal construction and measures 324 x 246 x 90 mm.

In Use

Right from the off, it's clear what AVP Synth were going for when designing the ADS‑7 Mk2. It is unapologetically old school. Forget everything you've learnt lately about parameter locks, motion sequencing or conditional triggers. This about as far from an Elektron-style machine as it's possible to be. But that's not a bad thing at all. Everything is laid out in beautiful simplicity. And that follows through to the sound too. The ADS‑7 has its own sonic signature which I think is best described as midway between a Roland TR-909 (the analogue side) and a Vermona DRM1. The simplicity, and good design, of circuits really comes through. You couldn't mistake this for anything other than an analogue drum machine.

The sequencer isn't quite as easy to use as the sound-shaping tools, but it is not prohibitively complicated either. There are a few less-than-obvious button combinations to learn, but a couple of hours spent with the manual (despite its occasional head-scratching Russian translation) and you'll be writing, editing and performing with a grin.

The focus is definitely on programming and not finger drumming, although if that is important to you, it would be simple enough to hook up a MIDI pad controller and record patterns with that. If you already have an analogue or digital sequencer, you might find it better to sequence the ADS‑7 Mk2 externally. The internal sequencer is adequate, but it doesn't have many bells and whistles, and because the internal sequencer is only doing triggers, you won't lose any sound sequencing functions by switching to something external.

Conclusion

I like the ADS‑7 Mk2. It has won me over with a bold sound, rock-solid build quality and an unfussy approach. Sound is subjective of course, but if you're a fan of simple, confident analogue drum sounds, you won't be disappointed. I love that there is a separate output for each drum sound, and both MIDI and CV control. It is a shame that there is no accent or velocity support as I feel this would have greatly opened up the expressiveness, however there's a lot of mileage in gently (or aggressively, if that's your style) tweaking sounds as the sequencer plays. This is a drum machine with a 1970s heart, built to last. It's not trying to compete with Elektron, Akai, Korg or any of the other modern drum machines, and for that I wholeheartedly admire it.

Alternatives

There are not many drum machines still being manufactured which follow the basic pure analogue design of the ADS‑7 Mk2. To my mind, the most similar is the Vermona DRM1 MkIII. It has the same one-knob-per-function approach and separate outputs for each voice, but it has no sequencer, relying instead on MIDI or CV triggers (if you buy the upgraded trigger edition). For a more modern approach, the Arturia DrumBrute (or its smaller sibling, the DrumBrute Impact) is worth a look. It has a whopping 17 analogue voices, plus a more sophisticated sequencer and individual audio outputs but, to me, it doesn't deliver the same 1970s sound as the ADS‑7 Mk2.

MIDI Spec

MIDI is a reasonably simple affair on the ADS‑7 Mk2. Each drum voice can be assigned a MIDI note and channel, which dictates both the input and sequencer output. I was hoping that perhaps assigning a drum voice to its own MIDI channel would allow you to play that voice chromatically, but alas it wasn't to be. The drum voice responds to a single MIDI note only, no velocity either. By default the 16 tracks are mapped to white keys on MIDI channel 1 from C2 upwards so you can access all the sounds (and any extras connect via CV or MIDI) from a single keyboard or pad controller. Incoming MIDI can be forwarded to the output, or not, as you wish.

The MIDI input and output ports can also be used for MIDI sync, with options to respond to MIDI Song Position Pointer (SPP) if your MIDI source supports it. For backup, you can dump single banks, or all, to your DAW via SysEx. Lastly, firmware updates, if and when there are any, can also be performed via MIDI SysEx.

Pros

  • It's built like a Russian tank with a rock-solid analogue sound.
  • One-knob-per-function simplicity.
  • Individual outputs for all voices.
  • Trigger inputs for all voices.

Cons

  • No analogue clock sync for the sequencer.
  • No accent or velocity support, either internally or via MIDI.

Summary

This is a great analogue drum machine with a beefy sound and an unflinching old-school, stripped-back approach. It looks, sounds and behaves like a classic and I can't really see any reason for it not to become one.

information

€940 including VAT.

www.avpsynth.com

Published July 2020