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Intellijel Cascadia

Semi-modular Synthesizer By William Stokes
Published September 2023

Intellijel Cascadia

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’ 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.

Mod Cons

“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.

Roll Call

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 highlight. Perhaps most impressive to me here, though, is the noise generator. A majority of the noise generators on hardware synths tend to occupy a supporting role at best, augmenting a voice with some air, perhaps, or existing just to help excite the filter resonance. Here the noise generator announces itself as a key part of the Cascadia’s character, and the Intellijel team have clearly given a good deal of time and attention to it. Its switch offers white and pink modes, but there’s also a middle position, named Alt. This produces a digitally generated noise source, whose mode can then be selected with the four buttons on the aforementioned MIDI interface. There’s Cymbal noise, Crunch noise, Crackle noise and the suavely‑named Velvet noise, all of which can cycle between three different sub‑variations by continuing to tap their respective buttons. That’s a total of 14 different varieties of noise on offer, so it goes without saying that the Cascadia performs brilliantly when it comes to percussion synthesis.

Next along is the Cascadia’s main filter. This offers a generous eight different modes: 1‑, 2‑ or 4‑pole low‑pass, 2‑ or 4‑pole band‑pass, 4‑pole high‑pass, 2‑pole notch and even a phaser (which, at the end of the day, is a simple case of all‑pass filtering and polarity inversion). It has three different FM inputs (one unipolar, two bipolar) and a Level knob, which — you guessed it — can clip the input filter if you want it to. The resonance circuit can seriously scream, yet at the other end of the spectrum there’s a smoothness here that in no way left me wanting. Next along is the wavefolder, a West Coast classic, complete with bipolar modulation attenuator and an input normalled to VCO A’s sine wave. Lastly in the row is VCA A, the first of Cascadia’s two VCAs. This has an additional auxiliary input and its own bipolar modulation attenuator.

By now you might have noticed that there’s a distinct preoccupation with all things noisy here. There’s drive and clipping, noise, growling sub, wavefolding, ring modulation, sample & hold and more. It all comes together to create something rather special, rather fierce, that I’ve not seen in an instrument like this before. Its percussive potential alone could occupy anyone for days. The Cascadia may look like quite a clinical synthesizer, which it certainly can be if you want it to, but it simmers with aggression in equal measure, almost daring you to break its own rules and push its circuitry in a way that, in my opinion, is only really possible with true analogue. Delicious.

The Cascadia front panel measures 348 x 246mm and is 66mm tall from its rubber feet to the tips of its many knobs.The Cascadia front panel measures 348 x 246mm and is 66mm tall from its rubber feet to the tips of its many knobs.

The second ‘1U’ row is essentially the Cascadia’s utility section. I like the way most of the Cascadia’s patch points are almost ‘sucked’ into the middle of the panel, leaving the controls at the top and bottom free for tweaking without getting tangled up in patch cables. There’s the sample & hold circuit, a slew limiter and envelope follower with adjustable curve and response time, a ‘Mixuverter’ with signal boosting, summing and multing possibilities, a triple LFO consisting of a master LFO and two subdivided LFOs with switchable divisions (named X, Y and Z, for some reason), a very healthy buffered mult section with inversion, bipolar‑to‑unipolar conversion, and an intriguing knob for Expression Level, which I’ll return to shortly. Next along is a ring modulator with dual inputs, usefully normalled to VCO A and B’s sine waves. Lastly, on the far right side, there’s a second VCA circuit which has a baked‑in secondary 4‑pole low‑pass filter; in this way it can behave like a Buchla‑esque low‑pass gate, but its signal path is switchable to include either or both of VCA B’s and the secondary filter’s outputs, which is a nice touch.

At the bottom left of the Cascadia’s panel is the primary VCO A, which sonically delivers as well as you’d expect and is replete with editability: there’s soft or hard sync, pulse‑width modulation with a switch to toggle between centre‑triggered or edge‑triggered pulse wave characters, and there’s also a handy switch for through‑zero FM, complete with options for either AC or DC coupling, each of which have different depths and pitch‑tracking responses. To its left is VCO B, a secondary oscillator with sine, triangle, saw and square waveform outputs, which can be set to track the pitch of VCO A and also switch to act as an additional LFO if desired.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

The Cascadia’s two envelopes, A and B, lean more toward East and West Coast designs respectively. Envelope A starts off as a conventional ADSR design (albeit with a couple of additional features, such as dynamic control), but there’s also the option to integrate a Hold stage into the equation, and even to toggle how that stage responds to different gate types. An incredibly useful holistic Envelope Speed control essentially allows the slider control for all five stages to be scaled, considerably expanding the envelope range. This means that, at its extremes, Envelope A’s attack time can range from 0.2 milliseconds to a whopping 60 seconds, and its decay and release times from 0.6 milliseconds to 60 seconds. That, in case it needed pointing out, is very. Slow. Indeed.

Envelope B, on the other hand, works more like a complex function generator, ostensibly reminiscent of Intellijel’s Quadrax module. It has two stages, Rise and Fall, with a Hold stage able to be switched in and a Shape slider for morphing between exponential or logarithmic curves — not unlike Make Noise’s Maths module, or the Slope section on their 0‑Coast semi‑modular. All three of these parameters are CV‑controllable. Switches on the right side of this module offer three clever modes for this section, each yielding further sub‑modes. Given the kind of synthesist I am, Envelope B actually appeals to me much more than Envelope A, and it’s brilliant to have the choice. In Envelope mode it can be set to incorporate a Hold stage and also to cycle. In LFO mode it can be set to run free or be sync’ed to a clock source.

The intriguing LFV, or Low Frequency Vacillator, essentially produces a random voltage with adjustable rate and slew, similar to the Alternate mode on the Quadrax. Alongside the sample & hold circuit it’s more or less level complete when it comes to random voltage, which I was pleased to see. Lastly there’s Burst mode, which accepts triggers to output an LFO that rises or decays in amplitude over time. Once again this is highly editable — it can respond to held gates by holding the LFO amplitude high, and it can cycle that response for repeating patterns of rising or decaying pulses.

Attentive readers may have spotted that, all things considered, while the Cascadia is technically a monosynth, there’s the potential for something more like a duophonic synth here, since there are enough oscillators, filters, VCAs and envelopes for two full synthesizer voices, and then some. Of course, bringing the ring modulator into play and experimenting with filter resonance patching opens up further potential for melodic and timbral dynamism, and that’s all before scraping the surface of the Cascadia’s I/O and effects capabilities.

On the back panel we find quarter‑inch audio I/O, effects send/return, and the Expression output. Joining these are a trio of full‑size MIDI sockets and a USB‑C port.On the back panel we find quarter‑inch audio I/O, effects send/return, and the Expression output. Joining these are a trio of full‑size MIDI sockets and a USB‑C port.

Side FX

I’ve alluded to the Cascadia’s effects loop — this is an aspect of the synth that really shines when paired with its other sound‑sculpting tools. Not only does it have a conventional quarter‑inch effects loop available, this can be placed anywhere you choose in the signal path thanks to the FX input and FX Mix output at the top of the panel — this could be before or after the VCA, the filter, the secondary filter, or all of the above and more. VCA A can snap shut on wild distortion, or VCA B can modulate through a delay pedal and send fluttering envelopes diffusing out into space — I got particularly good results with an EHX Memory Boy analogue delay pedal. It’s things like this that really prime the Cascadia for live performance as well as studio use, and in this respect I couldn’t really ask for more.

If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you might have gathered that I’m rather sceptical of onboard effects in general, so I’m totally behind Intellijel’s decision to put their energy into effects integration and not the effects themselves. The cherry on the cake when it comes to effects is the Expression Level knob and patch input in the utility row, mentioned previously. This links to a quarter‑inch Expression output on the Cascadia’s rear panel, meaning that any outboard effects unit with an expression pedal input can be manipulated from there on the Cascadia’s panel, and also controlled with CV from anywhere. Modulate delay time with an LFO, send bursts from Envelope B to flick between octaves on a pitch‑shifter — best start examining the pedals on your board for those underused expression inputs, because they might just have a new lease on life. There’s a master wet/dry control for the send, and also the option to send your pedals either line or instrument level signals.

Feng Shui

If I have any niggles about the Cascadia at large, it’s probably when it comes to its layout. Certain things did fight against my intuition somewhat, which is a key aspect of finding one’s way around an instrument like this. VCO B lies to the left of VCO A, while Envelope B is to the right of Envelope A and VCA A is dead above VCA B, which altogether feels a tad random. I generally opt to have controller modules like sequencers and mixers at the bottom of my system and sound sources toward the top, so while it made sense to me to have the envelopes at the bottom of the Cascadia’s panel, I found myself wishing the mixer was down there too for quick access, particularly in performance, with the oscillators up nearer the filters, ring modulator and wavefolder. It’s also not immediately clear why there isn’t a dedicated output for VCO A’s sine or square waves while there are outputs for its other waves, as well as for VCO B’s sine and square wave.

That said, I can’t but return to the fact that, given the choice, this amount of functionality is more than worth a few creative workarounds to squeeze everything in, which I’m sure were needed. The Cascadia, like many instruments of its type, needs to be worked at a little — dare I say it, practiced — to yield anything close to its potential; and I’m certain that for me it will continue to yield new territory for a long, long time to come, such a playground is it.

It’s plain to see the Cascadia is an ultra‑reliable, great sounding, highly functional, highly useful miniature modular system.

Border Jump

Perhaps it’s the sleek design influencing me, perhaps it’s the effortless signal routing and integration options, perhaps it’s the excellent build quality, but I can safely say the Cascadia is a synth simply oozing confidence. It’s capable of such raw power and character, yet this isn’t even placed at the forefront of its identity. Before getting anywhere near its wild side, it’s plain to see the Cascadia is an ultra‑reliable, great sounding, highly functional, highly useful miniature modular system — one that I can imagine constituting the very soul of a great deal of setups, both live and in the studio. Up to now I haven’t mentioned the Intellijel Config app for Mac or Windows, which allows for an even deeper dive into the instrument’s controls; particularly when it comes to MIDI, although it can also be used to change the waveform of Envelope B’s Burst mode, adjust the default Alt noise type and more.

Presumably the Cascadia is named after the boundary‑crossing bioregion in Western North America, which stretches from British Columbia, Canada, down to Oregon, USA; the Canadian company reckoning with those American heavyweight coastal schools of synthesis. Perhaps it comes from its many cascading mults, ready to send voltages spidering out across its panel to various destinations. I’ll posit another possible reading of the name, which I find myself returning to time and again: it might start somewhere simple, but it’s never long before more ideas begin to slide, tumble and ultimately cascade forth. At its price, the Cascadia is a premium instrument to be sure, but given what’s on offer here and the price of an equivalent Eurorack arsenal, it’s a steal.


  • Happily capable of anything from the sweet to the downright gnarly.
  • Incredible signal routing, effects incorporation and I/O.
  • Sleek and compact design with great build quality.


  • Occasionally counter‑intuitive layout.


A resounding success for Intellijel’s first desktop instrument. Rich, flexible and powerful, the Cascadia is on the pricey side but it’s every bit worth it.


£2059 including VAT.