Cre8audio’s NiftyKEYZ case might just change your whole approach to modular.
One common way of explaining modular synthesis is to see it as the building of a custom synthesizer. The analogy can only take you so far because the result doesn’t look anything like what most people would recognise as a synthesizer. I mean, where’s the keyboard? NiftyKEYZ from Cre8audio aims to fill in the gaps between the modular and synthesizer keyboard worlds. It gives you an entire row of Eurorack modular built into a recognisably synthy keyboard form. It could be the bridge you need between your more traditional electronic music gear and modular.
While keyboards have been part of the East Coast modular journey since Moog and ARP, the West coast musings of Serge and Buchla have looked for music outside the keyboard paradigm. Eurorack has tended to play in both East and West theme parks, mixing ideas and concepts, and has subsequently de‑emphasised the role of the keyboard. So when I put the keyboard back at the centre in the shape of the NiftyKEYZ it felt a little disorientating. It made me realise that my collection of modules, in terms of synthesizer building, is entirely incoherent.
The NiftyKEYZ puts forward the idea of building a polyphonic synthesizer out of modules. But that idea assumes that you have multiples of the same module, which I don’t. And so, as I worked towards filling the four voices that the NiftyKEYZ could address, I found that I was building something very weird. I was mixing analogue and wavetable oscillators, different filter types, and I never seemed to have enough envelopes. The result was a polyphonic synthesizer the likes of which I had never heard, and that was tremendous.
The NiftyKEYZ is a chunky metal case and wooden‑ended 49‑note keyboard with a 112HP void for Eurorack modules. It has threaded rails and a decent power supply on flying bus cables. The keyboard is wired into various bits of CV functionality scattered across the front panel. There are four sets of CV and gate for running four voices of synthesizer magic if that’s what you want to do. CV is also generated from the keyboard’s velocity and channel aftertouch. There’s a mod wheel that can double as an LFO, and you can attach an expression pedal to get your feet involved in the action. With clocks, resets and multiples, the NiftyKEYZ is packed full of modular functionality.
There are two outputs with two summing inputs each. You can route out as a single mono, or dual mono, or a single stereo if you come from a stereo module. That works fine but the headphone output is exactly the same, which means if you have a single output you only hear it on one side of the headphones, or two mono outputs get panned hard left and right. That’s just a bit strange.
The Eurorack case with keyboard concept is not a new one. We reviewed the strikingly similar Waldorf KB‑37 in 2017. Now discontinued, the KB‑37 was a premium device with a Fatar keyboard that elegantly put forward the same idea of building a synthesizer out of modular. However, it was expensive and designed around a single channel of MIDI‑to‑CV, which made it both limited and out of reach of more budget‑conscious people wanting to dabble in modular from the safety of the synth format. NiftyKEYZ addresses all that straight on by having more keys, more HP, and more MIDI‑to‑CV voices in a more...