Intellijel pack their considerable Eurorack experience into a single standalone synth.
“We ended up getting four times the orders we were expecting, so we have been scrambling like crazy to get Cascadias built,” Intellijel’s Danjel van Tijn confessed to me before sending over a Cascadia for review. It’s no surprise: the Canadian Eurorack veterans’ debut desktop instrument has been the subject of much anticipation this year, and with a litany of outstanding Eurorack modules and cases behind them it’s safe to say that fans far and wide (or should that be, the Intellijentsia?) have been gleefully awaiting the Cascadia, a sleek and elegant instrument constituting a smorgasbord of Intellijel goodness in one desktop‑friendly unit.
It’s certainly high time for something like the Cascadia to make an appearance: up to now Intellijel haven’t offered a complete pre‑assembled system in the way that fellow Eurorack heavyweights Erica Synths and Make Noise have, nor do they have any systems constructed of existing modules melded together beneath a single faceplate, à la ALM/Busy Circuits’ System Coupe or Endorphin.es’ Shuttle System. The Cascadia has recognisable functions from across Intellijel’s product line (and its layout is redolent of a massively scaled‑up Atlantis), but contains none of their modules per se. So, in case you were wondering, you won’t find any Plonk percussion, Rainmaker delay or Tetrapad touch control here. The Cascadia is demonstratively its own thing, designed from the ground up to incorporate aspects of both East and West Coast synthesis techniques and primed for the purposes of synthesists both new and experienced.
“Cascadia leverages Intellijel’s long commitment to modular synthesis and coalesces it into a single package of sonic possibility,” goes the introduction to the manual. “Whether used standalone or as part of a larger system, we at Intellijel believe this is the synth to bridge the past to the future; the novice to the pro; the desktop to the Eurorack.” That’s probably about right: it does a good job of combining an analogue signal flow with a digital brain, resulting in both punishable circuitry and USB‑C compatibility (not to mention breezy firmware updates and nifty MIDI interfacing); plus the starting point of the Cascadia’s layout is certainly that of a conventional Eurorack system — measuring around 68HP in modular terms, a hair over the width of Intellijel’s diminutive 62HP Palette, it even has two ‘1U’ utility rows, in true Intellijel style (the company are, after all, proprietors of their own widely adopted 1U standard).
It is, however, its semi‑modular‑ness that sets the Cascadia apart from the likes of the System Coupe or Shuttle System, both in terms of ambition and in terms of its accessibility. By this I mean that it has many aspects of compact, plug‑in‑and‑play semi‑modular instruments like Make Noise’s 0‑Coast and Pittsburgh Modular’s Taiga, but at the same time seeks to cram more or less the functionality of a fully furnished 6U system into a form factor not much bigger than your laptop.
All things considered, the Cascadia strikes me as a miniature modular system with some bonus normalling under the bonnet, as opposed to a hardware synthesizer with the capacity to have its connections ‘broken’ or ‘rerouted’ — which is why this review might read more like a rundown of modules in an actual Eurorack system than as one of a single instrument.
From left to right, the Cascadia’s top‑most ‘1U’ row of modules consists of pitch, gate and trigger inputs for VCO 1, a highly flexible effects loop which I’ll come back to anon, and an Output Control section. This offers individual outputs for the wavefolder and primary VCA (aka VCA A), as well as two inputs labelled Main 1 and Main 2 which can send their summed signals to both the quarter‑inch line out on the Cascadia’s rear panel and the 3.5mm Main output on the top right of the panel. There’s a Drive knob that comes with a highly useful switch for soft clipping, which can either tastefully add additional harmonic detail or add a fair bit of dirt to the Cascadia’s main signal, relative to the position of the Drive knob.
The next, larger row down begins with a MIDI‑CV interface offering eight outputs, converting pitch, velocity, clock and many more messages received at the USB or MIDI input into voltage signals for routing around the Cascadia’s panel. Four buttons down the left side of these outputs perform a variety of functions such as MIDI Learn, CC output assignment, LFO division, incoming MIDI Clock division, LFO waveform and also tap tempo, which is very handy.
Next along is a line input with level control and handy two‑colour metering, then the Cascadia’s main mixer section. This has sliders for two patchable inputs, normalled to receive the ring modulator output and a sine wave from VCO A, as well as sliders for pulse and saw waves, a sub oscillator (with useful mode switch) and noise. Outputs for unattenuated triangle, saw and sub waves from VCO A, and noise, lie beneath. There’s also a second soft clip switch, which further endows the Cascadia’s output with additional harmonic resonance.
All these sound as good and characterful as you’d expect, and the relationship between the sub oscillator and soft clipping switch is a particular timbral...