so much yes

Superbooth is over, and the wave of slightly delayed videos from it has crested. (It’s hard to be at a huge awesome event like that, shoot video and also edit and publish it immediately if you’re not relatively big like Sonic State.) The wave of videos about Spectraphon is continuing. Oh and yes, I put in my pre-order.

I’m pretty confident I understand how the module works:

  • Where most additive synthesis uses large numbers of sine waves from separate oscillators, this is using the method from the rare Buchla Touche: Chebyshev polynomial waveshaping. When fed a sine wave with a particular amplitude, these not-too-complex mathematical functions will result in a sine wave at a multiple of that frequency. You can put those formulae in a lookup table and it’s super efficient. With several of these in parallel, you can create a whole harmonic series from one oscillator, then mix them together at the desired levels.
  • That means that unlike some additive synthesis, you don’t have any inharmonic partials. (The equivalent on Odessa would be no Tension knob.) Note though, just because all partials are an integer ratio of the fundamental, they’re not all integer ratios of each other
  • Conjecture: this means you don’t need to do an FFT analysis to get the spectral data, just a series of bandpass filters tuned to harmonic ratios, with envelope followers. Much like the Buchla 296, one of the other major inspirations for the module. The advantage here is lower latency and “clean” data that fits exactly the needs of the oscillator.
  • In SAM mode, Slide tunes the filters, and Focus slews the amplitudes. Pretty simple.
  • In SAO mode, instead both knobs move through the stored array of amplitudes (as coarse and fine controls). I’m curious why they didn’t keep Focus as a slew for changes between array locations, but perhaps it does interpolation, and most likely the design choice will become clear when I start using it in practice.
  • The FM seems most likely to be implemented with phase modulation. This is super efficient in digital modules, and allows the sine output to go unchanged (which is important for how it feeds the FM bus, and also useful in patching).

That said, a solid theoretical understanding is different from the actual sonic consequences and the feel of using it. The module is very chamelonic, and aside from the obvious vocoder stuff, the Sarah Belle Reid video sounded like SBR, the James Cigler video sounded like Cigler, the Cinematic Laboratory video sounded like Cine Lab. I’ve little doubt that, while it will influence and shift my music making, it’ll still sound like Starthief.

I feel like the last couple of years have been big for delay effects, at least personally.

  • Inertia Sound Systems Hinder from September ’22. A BBD-ish plugin, it features a filter, compressor and overdrive in the feedback path
  • The plugin version of Imitor is from October ’22. It’s greatly expanded in features from the Versio firmware, with much more control over the taps and can make a nice psuedo-reverb, wobbly chorus etc. among other things.
  • The Moogerfooger plugin bundle was also from October, and includes a very nice delay.
  • In January ’23, the Humble Bundle let me pick up Objeq Delay super cheap. A modal resonator inside of a delay… neato.
  • Retronaut was from February ’23. It’s not marketed as a delay, but a “lo-fi nostalgia machine” with vibrato and chorus. But it’s implemented with delays, and you can increase the “lag” time to reveal that, and get warbly reverby echoes; it does the same sorts of thing one often wants a “retro” delay for anyway.
  • I picked up Jroo Loop in February as well. It’s designed as a sound-on-sound looper, but keep it recording and feeding back and it’s effectively a delay. (a nicely lo-fi one too if you slow down its sample rate).
  • Dedalus Delay is from March. It’s got optional granular features for modulating delay time, plus filters and overdrive and just generally nice mojo.
  • Yester Versio dropped in April. A lovely 3-tap delay with chorus and folding.
  • So did Phonolyth Cascade. It lives somewhere between delay and reverb, as it has extensive control over diffusion.

There were a couple of other promising delays that I passed over because it just gets to be too much. Keeping in mind that this list joined the power team of Mimeophon, Beads, Stega, Echo Cat, PlexiTape, RatshackReverb, Rift, Stardust 201, Sandman Pro, Valhalla Delay, Wires, and Bitwig’s flexible Delay+.

I hope plugin developers delay development of delays for a while!

I’ll point out though, the plugins were cheap (in some cases with early bird discounts), Yester Versio was a free firmware for a module I originally got as a beta tester (but I bought the front panel), and Jroo Loop was pretty reasonable. Up until I ordered Spectraphon, I had sold a bit more gear than I bought this year, including software. I’m not sure what I might wind up selling as a result of getting Spectraphon, but it’s likely to balance out pretty well.

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