The Vector Wave from RYK Modular is probably not what you think it is. As you dig into the module, you find levels and facets that come as a complete surprise. The design, both inside and out, is mysterious and beautiful. It somehow manages to both stand out and absorb itself subtly into your rack like it was always meant to be there. The layout is ordered and nicely understated. And even when the fascinating 8x32 large‑pixel display bursts into animation, it feels like that’s exactly how it should be. It’s a wonderfully odd module. Let’s see if I can unpack it a little.
The name Vector Wave alludes to the surface function as a four‑waveform crossfading synthesizer that’s mixed with a joystick. Waveforms A to D are placed at compass points, and via a cute little joystick, you can visit each one and mix between them like it’s a Prophet VS.
As you prod the red button to switch between the waveforms, you discover that each one is a bank of four sine‑wave oscillators arranged in a harmonic cluster. The display offers up single‑digit harmonics of your starting sine wave. The top four knobs dial up towards higher harmonic numbers, while the bottom four set the level of each. As you play or sequence, it has an organ‑like quality of tones and pitches, drawing in harmonics that play and push against one another. You can set harmonic combinations in each bank and explore the ever‑changing timbres through the joystick.
That would be plenty for an interesting oscillator, but that’s not the half of it. With a tap of the grey button, we’re in Q mode where four Quick Performance Controls bring lots of satisfying change. One knob detunes the four oscillators and spreads them apart; another warps the sine wave into triangle, sawtooth and pulse shapes; and a third folds the waves into more complex forms. We’ll come back to the fourth in a minute. These changes are delivered to all the oscillators in all the banks, taking the whole sound in a focused direction on the turn of a knob.
There’s more. With a push of a knob, we can access the routing configuration of each oscillator within a bank. Oscillators can be flipped between being modulators and carriers, in serial or parallel, as you build 4‑operator algorithms of FM synthesis. This results in metallic drags, clangs, glassy pings and digital noise that can be shaped through a combination of oscillator level, harmonic ratio and that fourth Quick Performance Control knob that deepens the effect through cross‑modulation. It’s impolite, versatile, brilliant or mysterious depending on how you are with managing FM collisions.
So now, under your joystick, you may have a combination of FM tones, organ harmonics, warped waveforms and wave‑folded timbres. But that’s only one way to play. Add a MIDI keyboard and Vector Wave can be played polyphonically. The four banks get turned into four voice copies of the first, and with a little dash of reverb, it sounds absolutely delicious.
...with the optional expander, you can add a further three CV/gate inputs to address each oscillator bank individually for four‑part multitimbral operation.
Alternatively, with the optional expander, you can add a further three CV/gate inputs to address each oscillator bank individually for four‑part multitimbral operation. So, it’s four independent four‑oscillator FM or additive, harmonic, folded, detuned or warped banks of sound. It just keeps getting better. However, once in multi mode, you do feel the lack of individual bank outputs. The stereo outputs are perfectly adequate for every other mode, but it would be really good to be able to route one bank through a filter, another to a different effect and so on. There’s also no way to mix the levels between the banks, as the vector mixing is turned off in multi mode. You’d have to get into the individual harmonic levels, which is not very efficient.
There’s an internal modulation engine of two ADSR envelopes and two LFOs. This is in addition to the four CV inputs on the front panel for patching in external modulations. Env 1 is hard‑wired to the VCA to control the level of the voices. Env 2 is mapped to the FM cross‑modulation, which pushes and pulls on the FM timbres. The shape of the envelopes is beautifully visualised in the display. The LFOs have multiple shapes with control over rate, depth and offset, and can be directed wherever you like. Modulations can be assigned in one of six slots. You can pull sources from the CV inputs, the joystick, envelopes, LFOs and all the usual MIDI suspects. Destinations include amplitude, oscillator frequency, the Quick Performance Controls, harmonic shifting, panning and also a hidden internal harmonic band‑pass and low‑pass filter.
The final point of interest is the Vector Animation. This is where you can automate the movement of the joystick to mix through the oscillator banks via modulation. You can do this by either recording the movement of the joystick beneath your thumb, or by setting four points through which the vector moves.
Vector Wave is an extraordinarily playful multi‑levelled cluster oscillator with multiple modes, nuances, vector synthesis and FM algorithms. It can evolve from the purest organ pipes to the deepest hole of FM cross‑mod while in constant motion. The pixel display is a lot of fun and manages to convey all the information you need before falling into the very cool animated scope mode. It’s not always easy to find your way around, and it does require a manual. Sometimes the interface will spill you out of your workflow as it tries to do too much with a small combination of knobs and buttons, but some things just need to be learned.