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  Gear news 7/May/06  
Analog Gear News
Issue 5

By Per Wikström

This modular report focus on two new modules: The Metasonix TM-6 and the Livewire Dual Cyclotrone.

Metasonix TM6
The TM-6 Multimode filter bears all the signs of a Metasonix http://metasonix.com/ product: it is yellow; unpredictable; and it can be a wonderful adventure or an audio nightmare, depending on what kind of attitude you have.

It consists of two band pass filters two or three octaves apart (depending on the setting of a switch). A rotary knob fades in and out the two band pass filters. When turned to 12 o’clock, the band pass filters are in series, with the treble filter first in the chain. It is not a true low pass filter, but it sounds like one. In low pass mode, it is possible to get that warm fat resonance at the top of the sound, that is associated with classic analogue filter. In band pass mode, the resonance can go into a nasty peak without warning; headphones are not recommended. The bass only filter is just the bass band pass filter.

Part of the classic Moog sound is due to the filter saturation. But it goes to unexpected levels in this module. The normal operating level for the filter is 2 volts peak to peak. But as the average VCO modular output is 10 volt peak to peak, turning up the input level knob full clockwise turns the filter into a tube fuzzbox. At the same time, the filter effect gradually disappears. With that, the resonance also decreases.

When the unit arrived, I was building a complex 10 voice patch that lacked a powerful lead. So I fed the filter with two sawtooth VCOs tuned a 5th apart. I used the TM-6 in low pass mode with the input at a level where the filter effect was on the way to get lost, and resonance set to just under self oscillation. The result was a fat, creamy classic filter sound, but with more organic fatness and power than any other filter I have used.

The band pass mode is capable of traditional wha wha effects, but at a wider frequency area. With the tube distortion, mimicking guitars of the 70s is quite easy. The sound is thinner than in low pass mode.

The bass only mode is capable of removing most of the audio content in a way that it seems like the sound source was deep under water. It sounds rather odd, more for the experimentalist than the Tangerin Dream wannabe.

Beside being a filter, I think this module can do a great job on being a wave shaper and analogizer for other sounds. The distortion created in it is warm tube square waves, and at full level there are only small traces of the original waveform.

The TM-6 is not so easy to handle, as the different parameters affect each other in an unpredictable ways. You can do a lot of knob fiddling and never be sure to find the sound you expect. It can never be tweaked to sound like something like nothing else; forget “The Moog sound”. It sounds like a Metasonix product, nothing more and nothing less.

It is expensive compared to other filter modules - $399 US from one retailer on the internet. As it is so unique in sound and handling, I think it can never be the first, second, nor even the third filter you buy for your modular system. But it can add things to your sounds that no other filter can. And as the Metasonix TM-1 waveshaper can double as VCA, it is now possible to build a modular with tubes in all steps of the audio chain, with a totally unique sound. But due to the cost, it is for boys and girls with both passion and money.

One thing that the Metasonix and Livewire http://www.ear-group.com/livewire_start.html have in common is the fact that both represent something new in the modular world. I think that is important. If the analogue modular culture is to continue to flourish, soon we all will want to have other things than copies of constructions from the 60s and 70s. There are reasons why the megalith Moog monsters disappeared, and to avoid that once more new tools have to be added.

One of those is the Livewire Dual Cyclotrone. The Livewire Company does not provide a manual or even a circuit description, just some stupid talk about parts from a crashed UFO. Behind this, and the fantasy name, it is an advanced LFO and modulation generator. As far as I have found out, it works like this:

Two knobs, labelled Shape Shifter and Focus form the fundamental shape of the wave from the LFO. It can go from common sine to ramp and pulse, but also other really strange and complex waveforms. The main LFO is affected by two other LFOs that have switches for compress, normal or stretch. But it is hard to draw an exact line between wave shaping and frequency modulating; it depends on the frequency relationship between the main LFO and the modulating LFOs.

As both main and control LFOs have their own tempo controls, you can get extremely complex and irregular LFO waveforms. It can also be switched at audio frequencies for even more odd modulation signals.

Feeding the signals from Dual Cyclotrone to a normal VCO can result in anything from a drunken Theremin player out of tune to rhythmical patterns and odd sci-fi sounds. If you want the sound of a broken, sad and lonely robot lost in Andromeda Galaxy, it is the perfect tool. If you want him to fire his ray gun and start the gamma rocket engine, it will do that for sure.

It is not a question that it is the ultimate modulation generator for the experimental minded modular owner. I like the feel of quality in construction, and the many ways to tweak the sound. (There are more knobs than mentioned in this review). To do something this box can do with other modules would be an extremely complex task - it would require a whole array of VC LFOs, mixers, VCAs, inverters and wave shapers.

Still there are some things on the downside. The price, $275 US, is quite high compared to the average LFO module. But I think it is worth it. The lack of manual is irritating, but tweaking is also a way to learn how things work.

My main objection is the fact that it has only one CV in, affecting the frequency of the main LFO. With so many interesting parameters, half a dozen of them should be voltage controlled. As this is a tool for experimentalists, I really miss that opportunity. And a sync input would have made it more useful for dance music patches. I guess such features would have increased the price, but they would have increased the value of the unit even more.

Finally, some short notices from modular world:

Encore Electronics http://www.encoreelectronics.com/ is releasing their frequency shifter in Frack Rack format.

MOTM http://www.synthtech.com/ has earlier released four modules in Frack Rack format, a diode filter, a transistor ladder/Moog type filter a dual VCA and an envelope generator. They have now announced that the MOTM Ultra VCO, Diode Band Pass VCF and WaveWarper will come in Frack Rack format this year. A four channel MIDI/CV converter in the same format is also on its way.

Metalbox http://www.metalbox.com/ has a series of interesting modules for sale, also in Frack Rack format. They focus on CV/Gate treatment and percussion modules. Among the first is for example a gated comparator with a shift register, and a rather complex logic divider/Boolean processor. It is modules that never has been available in Frack Rack format before.

Curetronic http://www.curetronic.com/content/index.php?id=54 goes the other way, and offer big 5HU modules with ¼ inch jacks. The prices are reasonable, and their catalogue covers the standard modules, from VCOs to S/H. But they seem to aim at the German market only, as their site is only in their native language.

I have just installed two more Doepfer Vactrol low pass gates in my own modular, since I think it is a wonderful piece of gear, that in many situations do a better job than the regular VCAs. And I hope to be back with more gear news soon on this site.

(edited by mosc)
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