An Exploration of Selected Effects Plugins

Realizing at the start of 2024 just how many effects plugins I have in my collection, I resolved to go through each one, dig in and explore it deeply, in order to:

  • increase my understanding of how they work and what they can do for me
  • find some cool tricks and techniques
  • drop any of them that don’t compare that well to their siblings
  • build up more resistance to buying more plugins.

Here are some of the notes I’ve taken along the way. This isn’t anything like a comprehensive list of plugins I use or recommend, it’s just the ones where I wanted to get some observations and thoughts written down as part of this process. Maybe you’ll find something useful, or get some ideas or inspiration for using other plugins you may already have.


Aqusmatic Audio Dedalus Delay

  • Feedback has always seemed a bit much on this one, and I haven’t noticed FeedDamp doing much. But turning up the input gain can give the feeling of reducing the feedback repeats.
  • The filter in the upper right corner is inside the feedback loop (and is a great way to affect the feedback tone and feel). Turning up the Prefilter knob makes it also apply to the initial delay, as well as also increasing the overall strength of the filter.
  • The overdrive stage seems to be applied on the initial delay, after any pre-filtering, as well as after the filter within the feedback loop.
  • Bandwidth is applied after overdrive (again, on the initial delay and within the loop).
  • Ducking/gating comes after the feedback loop. “Minimum” controls the level of the ducked/gated material (lower level = stronger ducking).
  • Modulation (VarDel/VarPitcH): the secret sauce here is that delay time changes can either cause doppler shift (“Glide” mode) or use a granular technique to overlap delays at different lengths as the delay time is modulated. Larger numbers of grains are more similar to Glide. Different grain rates will give smooth or rough textures, or steppy changes, depending on modulation speed and delay time. The “Delay Mod” switch seems to affect panning as well as delay time.

Sonic Charge Echobode

  • This plugin combines delay with diffusion (“Smear”) and filters, a frequency shifter, as well as an assignable LFO.
  • Note that frequency shifters are not pitch shifters — the shift in Hz is linear across the whole spectrum, so it bends harmonic sounds into inharmonic ones. Ring modulation happens to be the same as a mix of an equal upward and downward frequency shift, so this plugin provides a knob to control the mix. The “Anti Refl” switch prevents downward frequency shifts from reflecting around 0 Hz (shifting back up again) off is also known as thru zero.
  • Smear can easily turn delays into reverbs, and low-rate ringmod can act as a kind of tremolo. So there’s an awful lot that can be done with this plugin.
  • It’s definitely worth exploring MIDI mode, where the ringmod/frequency shift tracks the pitch of the played note, for even more dramatic and unusual effects. Hold Shift while turning the big knob for fine-tuning. The lowpass filter can help keep the pitch from running away through feedback.

Inertia Sound Systems Hinder

  • This delay provides a few methods to imbue a lo-fi character: bit reduction, noise, a filter, distortion (“heat”), and a “dark mode”. It also adds a compressor in the feedback loop, driving a bit more sustain and raising the stakes for all of the other dirt you add (as well as affecting the reverse mode dramatically).
  • Unfortunately, modulation can be a weak point with this one. Outside of sync mode, it’s not particularly easy to dial in subtle modulation for a really gentle wobble. I prefer to use Bitwig’s LFO modulators instead for finer control.
  • In sync mode, the modulation applies directly to the time knobs, which means it’ll be changing the clock divisions rather than providing that sweet Doppler shift. (And the internal LFO can’t sync to a clock to make that really cool — again, I use a Bitwig LFO instead.) Modulating the Width though provides a smooth delay time offset between the L and R channels, which does give Doppler shift in either mode.

Noise Engineering Imitor

  • Based originally on the Imitor Versio Eurorack module, the plugin version greatly expands on the features and flexibility — it’s basically a whole different animal.
  • The *2 and /2 buttons on Beats and PreDelay affect time, not speed. *2 means twice as much time, not twice as fast. But on synced modulation, it does refer to speed.
  • You can use Taps and Decay to simulate feedback without actually using feedback. Or you can combine it with Regen (and its additional effects).
  • Playing with Predelay, Time Warp and the Tap checkboxes can let you build more complex, swinging echo rhythms.
  • Time Warp helps to break up ringing feedback when you have a short delay time, large number of taps and high Regen, letting the delay ring out in a reverb-like way. Used this way, positive time warp generally calls for shorter delay times than negative time warp. Fewer taps brings more metallic ringing, more taps is smoother.
  • For the Tap Delay LFO on the Tone page, Dance varies the LFO rate differently for each tap, while Stereo varies the LFO phase for left and right channels. These can help make the modulation of more reverb-like effects as lush as it needs to be.
  • The envelope follower is a fantastic addition — assign it to Blend for ducking, to Regen for controlled bursts of feedback or for feedback ducking, to Crunch, Shimmer or Doom for a more subtle touch than just leaving them high, to Tone for a sort of auto-wah in your delays, to Decay or even Tap Total to modify the tap profile dynamically for a kind of swell effect… you can even assign it to delay time or Time Warp for weirder wobbles. (If modulating Tap Total, this causes shifts in how Time Warp as well as the panning parameters and Decay are applied.)
  • Assigning a square wave LFO to Time Warp when you have at least 3 taps and some regen is a neat way to get a blend of octave-shifting and non-shifting into your delays.
  • If you’re using a large number of taps and positive time warp, try a saw or triangle LFO into Angle and Rotate to wobble it around a bit in stereo for a bit of a granular delay kind of feel.

Audiority Plexitape

  • Sound On Sound mode was weird on the original hardware and it’s weird here. Frankly I just use Echo, or even Off for the preamp.
  • The Aux Echo knob (if not turned off) has the same scale as the main time slider; both are dependent on the Varispeed knob or sync setting.
  • Control names are a bit odd on this one. “Echo Sustain” is feedback amount, while “Record Level” is the preamp. (Higher preamp levels increase both the first echo and the feedback.) If you want more drive for tone reasons, you’ll probably need to turn down Sustain to compensate.
  • “Echo Volume” is the wet/dry control.
  • “Early/Late” preamp switch affects the tone.
  • Varispeed, as far as I can tell, does not affect the tone, only the delay time.
  • On the Age knob, lower values mean more degradation (the opposite of Valhalla Delay). Due to lower stability, this has a damping effect on the feedback.
  • Gain staging is important here — In, Out, Noise, Record Level, Echo Volume and Mix all interact and give you a variety of control, but it’s not particularly simple!

Audio Damage Ratshack Reverb

  • Like the hardware, this has no modulation of its own. It can be nice to assign an LFO from your host to the delay times, either with Link on, or modulating in opposite directions on L and R.
  • There’s really not much point to the Input switch — leave it on Mic to use the slider to boost the signal into distortion. (Some people own the hardware mainly to use it for the distortion, not the delay.)

Unfiltered Audio Sandman Pro

  • The diffusion on this one has few taps, so for the most part it’ll give you noticeable bouncy echoes with an interesting muted character. You can use this with extremely short delay times (including “No Echo” which is simply a 5ms delay that works with all the other features). Diffusion also sounds pretty cool with Reverse delay mode!
  • Strong feedback does tend to smooth out the diffusion.
  • In Multi-Tap mode, the displayed delay time is the time for the final tap in the chain. Increasing taps but keeping the same delay time increases the tap rate. Negative spacing accelerates the taps, positive spacing decelerates them.
  • A fun thing to try: capture a buffer in Sleep mode, then switch the delay time to Offset or Independent stereo, so the L and R channels repeat the buffer at different rates. (You can adjust start/end times as needed to keep them coherent.)
  • With “Sleep Filter” enabled, some of the effects from the delay modes (Saturate, Wow, Dirt etc.) as well as Diffuse apply to the sleep buffer in real time. When it’s disabled, they are recorded into the sleep buffer. This means you can record into the buffer with Sleep Filter disabled, enable Sleep and then enable Sleep Filter to double the effect.
  • Multitap and pitch shifting are always recorded into the sleep buffer, and can’t be changed afterward. But you can repitch the buffer using Sample Rate.
  • With Sleep enabled, you can assign an LFO to Reverse for ping-pong buffer playback. (Note you can also move the End to the left of Start for reverse playback.)
  • A square, tempo-synced LFO also can be good into Start and/or End for rhythmic variation on your buffer playback.
  • In Pitch Shifter mode, if you shift one channel up and the other down, using X-Feed instead of Feedback can prevent the “shimmer” effect of cascading pitch shift delays. This can work well with Mid/Side enabled.
  • Glitch Shifter is the same, but you’ll probably want much smaller shift amounts unless you just enjoy total chaos.

Valhalla Delay

  • Honestly I think this one is pretty straightfoward, almost foolproof to dial in, has lots of helpful tooltips and so on. But here are some ideas for unusual uses…
  • Disable all the modulation and set Delay at 0. For each mode, start with mix at 100%, feedback at 0%, diffusion amount at 0% and see what kinds of tones you can get with the other controls. Then experiment with mix, feedback and/or diffusion.
  • (You may find while playing with those that some knobs sound awesome when in motion, so why not assign an LFO or envelope follower from your host to modulate them?)
  • Ghost with 0 delay is a special case, since it’s a frequency shifter — sounds great with the mix at about 50%.
  • RevPitch is another special case; the lower the delay time, the noisier it gets. Times in the 0-20ms range can be nice to layer in behind another sound, with judicious tweaking of EQ and mix.
  • The ducking algorithms can be fun with Drive, Age and EQ.
  • Also try the same thing with non-zero delay times and a moderate mix, but without using feedback or modulation. You can still get multiple echoes by switching Style to Dual, Ratio, PingPong or Multitap.
  • And of course, cranking feedback to 100% or beyond just to “freeze” something imperfectly in the buffer, and then playing with the controls to mess with it, is always fun. I find it helpful to make sure Diffusion Amount is non-zero first, so you can quickly crank it up to smear it out into a drone without losing some of the buffer to a glitch as diffusion switches on. Also, a second instance in series can give you even more to play with.

Modulation/Pitch FX

Aegean Music Pitchproof

  • This is a pretty good pitch shifting “pedal” for free, good for doubling octaves or fifths and so on. It can also act as a kind of chorus if you just detune a little and set blend at about the middle.

Bitwig Pitch Shifter

  • Unlike Pitchproof, I like using this for more experimental purposes than simply changing the pitch of a signal. At fully wet you can get texture changes and rough inharmonic sounds. Small shifts with the mix about halfway and modulating the grain size can give you somewhat unusual chorus-flanger-phaser-like effects.

United Pluigins Retronaut

  • This plugin has a lot of character settings, so I love the Random feature here. A few clicks will very quickly take you through combinations of settings you might not have dialed in yourself, and chances are if none of those have the magic you’re looking for, you don’t need to waste time with endless tweaking.

Audiority Electric Matter

  • Mostly a straightforward effect. But in “Filter Matrix” mode, it’s worth trying modulating the Range with an envelope follower from your host. Modulating it at audio rate can get things really dirty.

Audiority Tube Modulator

  • I’ve found I really like the Link mode to get the two LFOs synchronized. Note that turning it on doesn’t immediately synchronize the controls — it takes effect when you move one of the time or amount knobs. So you can keep the amounts independent but synchronize the rates. Try different LFO shapes on the two sides.
  • Mix seems like a small and unimportant knob, but several of the Amplitude effects really benefit from a less than 100% mix.
  • If your host allows it, try separate instances of Tube Modulator on the left and right channels, with slightly different LFO rates and maybe a little Wow & Flutter. It’s extra lush.

Audiothing Lines

  • This odd plugin has several things going on, and one of them is a frequency shifter. It can sound great with the mix level at about 50%, and/or with some feedback dialed in, and it seems to be well complemented by the distortion.

Arturia EFX Refract

  • I think of this effect as a kind of “super-chorus” — as far as I can tell, each of the “Refraction” voices is effectively something like a chorus, with each voice placed differently in the stereo field.
  • Each of these voices can affect one of the parameters of the right-side effect as well, such as the filter cutoff frequency or sample rate. In some cases the Amount setting increases the spread.
  • This spread makes the Comb Filter with high resonance effectively a reverb. (Comb filters are implemented by mixing a short delay with the dry signal.)


Phonolyth Cascade

  • This is a reverb that offers an unusual amount of control over the diffusion and number of stages/taps, giving you a wide variety of delay and reverb profiles. But it can be fairly complex to work with.
  • The general outline of the effect is:
    Input Stage > Predelay > (feedback return) > Diffusion > Damping > (feedback send with “delay”) > Output Stage.
    This means the “delay” parameter has no effect when feedback is 0. Predelay, the diffusor, and damping all do.
  • Modulation affects only the diffusion times, not the predelay or feedback delay.
  • When Shape is 1.0, the diffusion section stage is bypassed; Stages, Distance, Spread, Stereo and modulation are ineffective.
  • When Shape is 0.0, the diffusion section is active but delay-like rather than reverb-like — there is very little spread in the delay times of each stage, but the modulation of each stage is different. Use Spread rather than Distance for more flanger-like effects.
  • Note that turning down Stages can take some time to “settle” (it doesn’t immediately kill the ongoing tails in later stages).
  • Distance x Stages = the delay time of the first stage. Changing Stages doesn’t cause a Doppler shift, but Distance does (smoothed according to the Inertia setting).
  • Spread is the additional time it takes to reach the final stage. More stages means Spread had a stronger effect. At stages=24, Spread x and Distance 1.0 is the same total time as Spread 1.0 and Distance x.
  • For a “grainier” sound with more distinct delay taps, use a lower Spread and/or fewer stages. For “smoother” sound, use more stages and/or a higher Spread.
  • Shape seems to affect the amplitude profile of the stages individually as well as their envelopes, from what I can tell.
  • Remember that “Delay” is separate from the delays that make up the diffusion network, and not subject to modulation. It can be used to add space to the repeats, whether the diffusion is creating grainy/distinct repeat taps
  • Damping has a huge effect on the character; a grainier sound with a narrower bandwidth gives a more retro sound.
  • The Infinite button on the feedback is a thing of beauty.
  • When the feedback is in Freeze mode, the Damping still affects the result (but isn’t written into the buffer).
  • There’s no gain control on the input stage. Maybe there should be — watch your input levels so that stacked diffusion stages and/or feedback don’t cause clipping.

Noise Engineering Desmodus

  • Another effect based on a Eurorack module, this one is basically Desmodus Versio with the tempo-sync feature of Electus Versio added. Again, multitap delays with diffusion that can create a reverb. It’s not particularly realistic but very good both for industrial and ambient applications (and especially where those two intersect).
  • It does infinite reverb really well.
  • Like with Imitor, the envelope follower is a great addition. Try it on obvious things like Blend, and less obvious like Tone, Dense, Regen… even Time or Input or Output. The same holds true for square LFOs or step sequences.
  • It’s not obvious, but you can also modulate Lerp Mode and Node Mode. Switching modes on a step sequencer, or even using the envelope follower so that peaks get the octave-up treatment, might come in handy for something…
  • Also not obvious, but (as with other NE plugins) you can modulate both Hue and Fire on the Config page. I don’t know why anyone would want to use Fire, but having the interface color react to the envelope follower is fun 🙂 You can also assign modulation to modulation parameters…

Sinevibes Droplet

  • The design of this one intentionally has a low density, so to get smooth-ish reverb requires a synergy of modulation, feedback and damping.
  • Deviation isn’t random — with no modulation and not changing any parameters, you’ll get the same rhythm of taps every time (including stereo positioning.)
  • You can take advantage of the separate Send/Return knobs by automating Send, to decide whether or not to send the current input through the effect without cutting off the existing tails.

u-he Twangström

  • I once did an A/B test comparing Twangström with an actual spring tank (using a Koma Elektronik Field Kit FX) and managed to dial it in so I couldn’t tell which was which.
  • Like a real spring reverb, you can twang the springs (with the GUI or VST automation/modulation).
  • Unlike a real spring reverb, the spring tension can be modulated for a chorusing effect. (Dreadbox Hypnosis has a modulated predelay stage for its spring reverb, but that’s a little different.)
  • The Input/Drive applies to the dry mix too, which you may or may not want. If not, consider putting this in a separate send or chain with a wet/dry control so you can have nicely blown out, filtered spring reverb alongside your clean dry signal. With plenty of drive, modulating the filter can be rewarding too.

Valhalla Room

  • The addition of the Space knob in version 2.0 pushed this reverb into my list of favorites, adding a feedback loop around the predelay and early reflections. My favorite way to use the plugin is to start with Depth at 0, Modulation at 0, Diffusion at max, turn up Space, and play with the Predelay and Early Size — the ratio between those two controls determines the smoothness or “bounciness” of the reverb. I might or might not bring in some depth (and adjust Decay) to let the late reflections play too.

Valhalla Supermassive

  • This isn’t a go-to ambient reverb for me, but try crystal-clear delays as a starting point instead. No modulation, no density, start in Gemini mode and Warp at 0. Each delay repeat will be slightly different due to phase cancellation with the input. Now slowly bring up Warp a bit and notice how the timbre changes. You might find something fantastic here staying entirely in “delay” territory, with a low Warp setting and no Density or Modulation. Note the Mode setting will affect the delay taps (it might multiply the selected time, or give you a predelay or tap patterns).
  • From there you might bring in Density, to see what it does. Or of course, modulation to make it all 80s synthwave lush.
  • Alternately: crank feedback to 100%, fill up the buffer with something, and play with the controls to mangle the resulting drone/noise.
  • For a subtle enhancer, try 0ms delay, 100% warp, about 80% density, no modulation. Pick your mode and dial in feedback, width, mix and EQ (I seem to prefer bringing the low cut way up).

Valhalla Vintage Verb

  • To design spaces with this plugin, I start with Predelay, Size, Attack, Diffusion, and Mod Depth at 0, HighShelf at 0db and BassMult at 1.0x, and Color at 1970s. The different algorithms reveal interesting textures with longer decay times. From there, working with one control at a time makes it clearer what’s happening. Generally, Size opens up more space between “repeats”, Early diffusion smooths the attacks of those repeats, Late diffusion smooths them all into a whole.


Minimal Audio Rift

  • I prefer to work in Advanced View since it doesn’t hide any controls.
  • But to simplify things a little, I usually set the positive and negative distortion to the same type and enable Link. (I’ll separate them only if I want to modulate Blend to move between softer and harsher distortion types rather than changing the gain, or to crossfade between noise types.)
  • The plugin has a built-in envelope follower, but you might still want to assign one from your host if possible, to work with different attack and release times to encourage more movement in the various parameters. There are a lot of potential modulation targets…
  • The Feedback section and Filter section both have MIDI modes which track that last note played. Assigning an envelope follower to the feedback amount works very well.
  • Any overwhelming resonance on the filter can be tamed a bit by enabling Multiband, setting that section to only affect the filter, and adjusting ranges and levels as needed.

Noise Engineering Ruina

  • This can be a tricky one to dial in, with a lot of weird interactions. I don’t think the default from the Reset button makes much sense, so here’s mine: Blend, Filter and Center at 100%, Phase at 50%, everything else at 0%, Mobile/Cancilla/Under modes. From there, trying one or two sliders at a time can give somewhat more controllabel results.
  • Don’t forget about envelope followers (internal or DAW-assigned); dynamic control of parameters can really wake things up.

u-he Runciter

  • This is my favorite part of the Uhbik collection (I also like Uhbik-Q) — a combination of distortion and filter is always more interesting to me than either one alone.
  • Using two instances in series can make a lot of sense, with the second one taming the first or the first preparing the second.
  • It’s got its own envelope follower for cutoff, but I will harp on this again: an envelope follower from your host, assigned to mix, drive, fuzz, resonance, etc. can also be very nice.
  • The MIDI key follow option for filter cutoff can be useful, depending on playing style (not so much with legato polyphonic phrases).


d16 Decimort 2

  • If your DAW can assign MIDI pitch tracking to a VST parameter (as in Bitwig Keytrack+), try assigning that to the resampler frequency, turning on Images Filter and shfiting it up maybe a tiny bit. Set Approx Filter to taste.
  • Of course you can also apply it to the pre/post filter, but that’s not as exciting.
  • Modulating Approx Filter with an LFO can add a bit of vibrato due to the phase shift it induces. You can really get some results that don’t sound like a bitcrusher/sample reducer at all…
  • Aside from the digital distortion, don’t forget there’s a preamp right there, which can lead to badass distortion that works well with the filter(s)… and (say it with me) an envelope follower.
  • If you’re using a DAW that can’t assign modulation sources to VST parameters in this way, and you’re still reading this… sorry, you’re missing out.

Unfiltered Audio Lo-Fi-AF

  • If you have an anti-click plugin (I can recommend Izotope RX De-click), this removes the clicky bits from Skip Chance, for smoother buffer glitches. You can modulate Skip Time for an unusual take on “tape” warble.
  • Envelope follower. Seriously. Works on all kinds of things here, positively or negatively depending on the control and the vibe you’re going for — do you want it to get cleaner and steadier with louder volumes, or worse and messier? Of course you do.

Inphonik PCM2612

  • This is another one that can benefit from De-Click.
  • Also some gain staging experimentation. Cutting the signal going in and then boosting it going out dramatically worsens the signal-to-noise ratio, which might be what you wanted just this once. Of course, boosting the signal level going in and cutting it going out has the opposite effect unless you drive your signal to clipping.
  • A noise gate in front can stop it from constantly spewing DAC noise (or a noise gate after, but you’ll probably need a higher threshold).

AudioThing Speakers

  • I like this plugin a lot, but don’t have any special tricks to suggest other than… you know. On the mic/speaker mix knobs or the filter cutoff in particular.
  • I suppose a regular envelope triggered by MIDI could be fine, I just like envelope followers, okay?


Noise Engineering Librae

  • Yes, it’s a compressor… but I use it more for the drive sections, especially for stereo enhancement. Turning up Soft Drive and Soft Blend, and maybe a bit of the hard version too, on the Side channel can really wake up a stereo image (and you’ve got the goniometer and handy mid/side slider right there, as well as a bevy of other gain controls to make sure the mid is still stronger than the sides).
  • Watch out for hot signals into this one, especially if they were supposed to be “clean” with relatively little in the upper end of the frequency spectrum. Increasing Release can help prevent unwanted… grindiness or scratchiness or whatever you want to call it.

Sound Radix SurferEQ

  • A clever EQ that can track pitch (via MIDI or the audio itself) and move bands around automatically for you, with adjustable detection threshold and glide settings. It also offers not just typical shelving and peak EQs, but harmonic shapes specifically tailored for resonator (or anti-resonator) duties, which you can set in terms of ratio to the detected fundamental. You can really shape timbres in fun ways with this…
  • This pairs well with the free MeldaProduction MAGC, to restore lost (or excessive) volume.
  • It also pairs nicely with distortion, since you’re exercising a lot of control over the harmonics going into it.

five point oh

I’m happy to say that I rearranged my modular case with a relatively simple organizing principle with only a couple of minor fudges to make everything work. This might be a good time for a fresh walkthrough — not of the “what is it?” kind but more how I feel about each module.

Top row: FX, and a little space on either side for further expansion.

Phonogene: its crude lo-fi nature, particularly when slowing parts down, makes it charming. You can grab almost any audio and turn it into some kind of interesting noisy texture with this.

Desmodus Versio: currently shipping to me. Desmodus itself sounds great but I was going to wait for the VST plugin — but the recent addition of Electus and Ruina firmware and the likelihood of even more in the future put this over the “must have” threshold. And I’m pleasantly inclined toward Noise Engineering after interviewing with them and getting a Manis Iteritas again.

Mimeophon: it has great character, works very nicely as a resonator and is very friendly toward modulation. It’s most of what I wanted in the ideal delay module.

FX Aid XL: this is like having a whole bunch more effects plugins, many of which sound great, and with the benefits of no latency and the ability to mess with and modulate the sample rate it runs at.

Beads: an endless abyss of possibilities. I experimented a bit with hardcore granular techniques, but am happiest using it as a way to add space and texture to other voices, or occasionally for its wavetable oscillator.

Rings: yes, I’m counting it as an effect because I use it that way more often than not. It’s a massively parallel set of bandpass filters or tuned delay lines with particular spacing. One of the first modules I owned, and I will use it as long as I use Eurorack at all… unless some other developer picks up the torch and takes modal synthesis to the next level with a true successor to Rings. So far, other developers’ idea of physical modeling is either just a delay, or a “complete” voice with no audio input.

Row 2: the oscillators.

Akemie’s Castle: a serious drone monster, and a ticket to the FM synthesis sounds of the late 80s/early 90s that I love so much.

Manis Iteritas: throbbing sometimes, noisy often, dark at its best, unique. The Smash parameter was the aspect I once liked least, but I’m finding ways to make it work for me. Very glad to have this back in my rack after a 3 year absence.

Odessa: brilliantly different. True additive synthesis, which can be twisted to many purposes. It can sound “very digital” — mostly in a good way! — but if you want to start sonic riots, just detune the partials a bit and feed it through some distortion.

Shapeshifter: it’s not just a complex oscillator, it’s a complex2 oscillator. A huge parameter space to explore, and it can be hard to find your way back to any given point. I suppose that’s why it has a preset system, but I never use that except to let it boot up to a “safe” default setting.

Ensemble Oscillator: I think where people get lost with this one is that the quantizer isn’t for melodic control, but controlling the ratios between its oscillators. It’s sort of a hybrid between additive synthesis and “West Coast” sine-FM-waveshaper territory, and sounds unique and fascinating to me. I often use it for gentler chordal pads at one extreme, or noisy weirdness at the other.

Row 3: mainly modulation.

Mazzatron Mult+PassThru: with a 1HP gap on its left for cables to escape from behind it, this is a super handy way to patch from the modular into my audio interface. Getting it was a good idea.

Maths: you’d have to combine the features of 5 or 6 different function generator modules to get the ideal one for me, but Maths is a pretty solid “close enough.” Usually the first module I turn to for envelopes (looping or not) and sometimes does audio rate duties.

Stages: I probably use it more for basic LFOs than anything else, but occasional simple envelopes or slew, and rarer sequences, S&H, or more complex envelopes and hybrid modulation. I would probably be 95% fine with Zadar instead, but I don’t feel compelled to make that change.

O’Tool+: (with Shades and P-075, I put these utilities on this row instead of the bottom to make them more physically central.) Super useful for learning new modules or figuring out new techniques, checking levels, tuning and calibration, and generally knowing what’s going on. SCIENCE!

Shades: my favorite of the simpler scale/invert/offset modules, it has a good feel and is very precisely 1.000000x gain at max knob level.

Ladik P-075: simple but clever, with both latched and momentary switches for mutes. Or with Shades, sudden transitions from 0V to some other level, which is great for transposing drones.

Clep Diaz: musical and smart. I don’t have a lot of experience with it yet, but I like what it’s done for me so far!

Kermit mk2: easy to use, flexible wavetable LFO which also sounds gorgeous at audio rates.

Marbles: the module that changed my mind about random sources, mostly because it’s so good at taming randomness. And more quantizers should be as musical as the one in this, prioritizing notes by their consonance.

Teletype: anything Pam’s New Workout can do, Teletype can do better. And also a lot of other things that you might want to do with gate or CV processing or generation. As a full-time software developer, I find its simple scripting language to be refreshingly simple — but I recognize a lot of people just won’t want to interact with modules in this way, and that’s okay.

TXb: just a doodad to let Teletype query the Sweet Sixteen’s fader values. If I need to free up exactly 1HP of space in the future I could “hide” it inside the case and leave a gap instead.

Bottom/front row: utilities + misc.

ES-3 (and hidden ES-6, thanks to the Mult+PassThru): channels of communication with the DAW. I use it for audio much more than CV. I can’t imagine going back to only having the analog audio inputs now.

Gozinta: rarely needed, but sometimes I do want to boost a signal a lot.

CVilization: as a basic matrix mixer it’s dead simple to use. Getting into the more advanced possibilities requires looking at a cheat sheet, but it’s not a bad experience. This is a tool I definitely don’t need in every patch, but can do some clever things and once in a while it really justifies itself.

Natural Gate: I don’t use it as much since getting more into drones, but it is gorgeous. Demand vs. supply is so skewed that I could easily resell it for almost 3x what I paid for it new, but I would probably regret it immediately if I did.

MSCL: good for when I want a signal to be hotter, but not too hot — protecting inputs that tend to clip in unpleasant ways for instance, or keeping feedback loops right on the edge without exploding.

Tallin: still a favorite VCA thanks to its distortion options, and compact size without feeling cramped.

Drezno (and space reserved for Jena): amazing as a waveshaper and noisifier. Very good as a pattern extractor/maker/mangler.

FM Aid: not often used for its stated purpose, but as a variation on a wavefolder. I have a lot of FM stuff already, but once in a while it’s good to mix things up or do the impossible.

Blinds: like a super-Shades, but also a ring modulator/crossfader. I should have had one earlier in my modular journey.

Ana: multiple ways of taking two signals (or one signal and a reference level) and doing something to them makes for some fine waveshaping possibilities and alternatives to FM.

Portal: this should really be in the FX row I suppose, but I’ve used it to generate impulses and noise to drive other things. When I got it I was worried it would be harsh and not very commonly useful, but it can be tamed and put to good use.

Planar: there is no more fun way to crossfade between sounds, or tweak a couple of parameters together, or both at the same time.

Bonus level: the Pod60

Blades: overall favorite (dual!) filter ever, due to its considerable versatility. I like my filters to be more than filters, and this has a heavy drive or wavefolding stage, can act as an analog complex oscillator with phase modulation, etc.

Angle Grinder: another example of versatility, as an oscillator it can sound remarkably wavetable-like thanks to its “grind” section. It can be really stable or chaotic and weird depending on how you dial it in. And the highpass just sounds really great to me for some reason.

Sweet Sixteen: the control center for my recording sessions, I have it handling mix levels in the DAW, effects amounts and parameters in both hardware and software, custom/quantized pitches in Teletype, and simple attenuator duty all at once.

stick a fork in it

Last night I “buried” the Expert Sleepers ES-6 inside my case, but it’s connected through the Mazzatron Mult+Passthru — so now all of the inputs to my audio interface are on one module, I renumbered them to match, and it gained me 4 more HP.

And then this morning I was decisive for once, and bought a Doepfer A-110-4 Quadrature Thru-Zero VCO, and a York Modular rHPF to go with it (since the FM input is DC-coupled). That fills up the remaining space in my case.

And I’m declaring it “done.” My plan is this:

  • Sell/trade no music gear until at least May 1.
  • Sell/trade a maximum of 3 Eurorack modules throughout 2021.
  • Buy only what can fit; no more/larger cases or putting stuff in storage to make room.
  • Don’t buy any non-Eurorack hardware synths or effects.
  • I’m allowed to sell (but not replace with other gear) the DAFM or Purple Rain if I feel like I’m just not using them at all (this seems unlikely.)
  • Exceptions: beta testing, equipment failure/replacement, unambiguous version upgrade. (Also unlikely.)
  • Buying software is okay but I should really consider whether I need it (and I probably don’t)

Overall, I want to move away from thinking about what I should get next, what I can sell to make space for it, and so on. I’ve gone through a lot of hardware since 2016, and… yeah it was fun exploring all of that stuff, but it’s time to break that habit.

It didn’t get in the way of my music-making, but it is kind of a drag on my confidence — almost a kind of constant second-guessing, and a lot of personal energy expenditure. That quote about “commodity fetishism” and “agential inversion of musician and instrument” really struck deep.

I have explored pretty much everything in the modular domain that really interests me. To practice some of it I need to use software rather than hardware, but I’m okay with that. I really like where my setup is now, the music I’m making with it and the inspiration and possibilities it offers, and I don’t need to keep shuffling my deck just because there are other cards out there in the world.

Perhaps once the incoming stuff settles, and more likely after the final Mutable Instruments module (which, yes, I’ve been beta testing) is revealed, I’ll go over all the bits and how I’m using them.

portal and blades

There are some module brands which can instantly create a holiday atmosphere among Eurorack geeks by announcing a new module. Mutable Instruments is one of the prime ones.

Mutable Instruments Blades, dual multimode filter

I did not see this coming at all. I had misinterpreted a previous hint and expected another successor to an existing module. But it’s a pleasant surprise!

Yes, I already have three Eurorack filters, which seems odd for someone who claims to not use subtractive synthesis all that much, and yes, I ordered this one too.

The cool things about this one are the continuous blend between lowpass, bandpass and highpass configurations — which, when oscillating, allows phase modulation. And the routing between the two filters, from single to parallel to serial, is also smoothly controllable and can be used as an input mixer. And the drive sections are smoothly adjustable from overdrive to wavefolding. And a button switches filter #2 to follow #1’s frequency but with its own offset, making variable-width bandpass or notch as well as harmonically tuned resonant peaks/oscillation easy.

In a sense, this is not just a dual filter but an analog complex oscillator, and those are magic words to grab my attention.

I think my protest about subtractive synthesis is a little misplaced. There have been several times where I used both Angle Grinder and VCFQ in stereo, mid-side, or serial HP/LP configurations. Or Angle Grinder as an oscillator, and VCFQ and Shelves in stereo… and so on.

My plan at the moment is to keep all these filters around, unless there is something specific that really calls to me more later. (More on that when I write up my goals for 2021.) VCFQ has a lovely sound to it and its pings are very nice. Angle Grinder of course is a great oscillator and weirdness maker. Shelves… is not quite what I expected but can be patched in some surprisingly cool ways, and it’s very possible it will make sense to pair it up with Blades for even more serial/parallel goodness.

The other bit of modular fun is Mystic Circuits Portal, which arrived yesterday. It claims to be “harmonic distortion” but what it is is a glitchy weirdifier, yet more useful than I first thought. The idea is it’s like a wavefolder but wraps instead of folding — but the “track” parameter causes it to crawl along and add motion in its own unstable way, enough so that with no input it can still burble and tick and hiss and sputter. And it also seems to pick up and amplify noise and exaggerate small motions in the DC range.

The second output is a sample+hold of the input triggered whenever the main part folds, and that includes the crawly motion so it’s this cool animated sample rate reduction effect.

The third output sends quick little triggers whenever the main part folds, and those can happen frequently enough to make a buzzy oscillation of their own, or with the feedback setting, act as a crazy little burst generator. I’m looking forward to trying a few experiments with this.

It’s a weird module to be sure, not something to use in every patch — but I feel like I have slack since all my actual needs for the music I make are well covered. So why not have something odd, unpredictable and sometimes inspiring in there?

da funk

My (replacement) DAFM Synth arrived, and it works just fine. Apparently, the one I returned also works fine in the hands of the seller, which is weird because it definitely overheated its USB power cable within a few seconds and wouldn’t turn on for me at all… but whatever, I definitely have a working one now.

The interface, while far from knob-per-function, is pretty clever. Rather than one mid-sized display it has four tiny OLED screens; in most modes each shows the parameters for its associated FM operator. The preset loading screen is different, and a bit weird and hard to figure out at first with the sparse documentation.

The navigation can be a bit awkward. FM synths have this challenging aspect where sometimes you want to divide up the parameter space functionally — setting all the ratios on one page, the envelopes on another, etc. as this does — and sometimes you want to to divide it by operator, so the ratio, level, envelopes etc. for a single operator are all together. I think if I were working with this physical design, I would have had the left encoder always “move” (selecting parameters, or press-and-turn to change pages) while the right encoder always edits whatever the cursor is pointing to. But this is still a million times better than trying to edit on an old-school DX synth.

There’s a tiny 11-note keyboard at the bottom, which is best reserved for emergency “no MIDI controller” purposes. The chip of choice — in my case the noisier YM2612 — is on display behind a transparent window, while the rest of the top is dark tinted acrylic.

That chip has a weird design flaw called the “ladder effect” that gives it its characteristic sound. There seems to be a ton of nerdy analysis of this and maybe not that much agreement on the details, but it comes down to: some Yamaha engineer cut one or two corners too many. The upshot is a sort of a characteristic digital fizziness that is not simple low bit resolution or low sample rate, and sounds pretty nice with some kinds of ambient pads and bass sounds. You can also set very long decay times that sound a bit like stuck notes, and it just kind of flows nicely with the noise and a touch of reverb or delay.

Possibly the truest and most universal trope from cyberpunk is “the street finds its own uses for things.” It can be an important principle in design in general, and we definitely see it all the time in electronic music. I’ve got my favored way to work with Bitwig, which absolutely baffles some other Bitwig users. I’ve got specific roles I like to throw at the Microfreak, which it might not have been designed for but it wasn’t designed against. And here’s this budget chip from an 80s game console, built into a mini synth with a cheap MCU from 2007, (mis)using USB as a power supply, and I’m using the synth in specific limited ways to serve my music.

I’ve entangled myself in deeper uncertainty about how to divvy up the remaining space in my modular case. As a result, I took the Euphoria off my wishlist (but hey, if you’re a family member reading this and you bought it for me already, worry not, it will not go to waste.)

Noise Engineering is doing cool stuff. Desmodus Versio has gone from a cool reverb to a whole platform, it seems, and the temptation is rising. (Although I think they misstepped when they didn’t put the USB port on the front to make it easier to flash; perhaps they will offer an expander that helps with that.) Some things I’ve read and watched about the Serge SSG or its cousin the Sport Modulator make me ponder that. The idea I originally had, to put in a Doepfer 256-stage BBD, is still there, but the much smaller Erica option would allow some other choices… and of course I still don’t know what the mystery release from Mutable Instruments will be.

So, I’ll just wait, and play with what I have, until a path is clear. I have a fine set of delays (and reverbs) already and so some of these, despite having a different vibe, might not really be the best choice but just FOMO.


I really wish that in US elections, there were NO exit polls reported and NO news about counts that have not yet finished. But then, there are a lot of things that are broken about our electoral processes.


I may have just made a last-minute day change to track order, but the new album is ready to be released tomorrow (or possibly tonight). This is my fifth for the year, 16th as Starthief, and — this is kind of weird to realize — 32nd album overall. And I may already have the seeds of an idea for the next one.

I started reading Neuromancer last night, and within the first few pages, encountered a few phrases that would make good song titles. Many, of course, are already taken — it is now a classic piece of science fiction, a vision of a possible future from 36 years ago. The joke now of course is that we’re living in the wrong kind of cyberpunk dystopia.

A cyberpunk-themed album in my style might be interesting. It was done so frequently with EBM and industrial music that the music was even called “cyberpunk” for a while, and there was (is? I don’t know) a whole cybergoth club scene. Billy Idol had an album called Cyberpunk, which was pretty bad cyberpunk but pretty good rock. And of course, the themes are pretty big with synthwave/vaporwave.

I need to think about how I could approach this. No movie dialog samples. Anything involving drum machines would be a departure for Starthief, since “no drums” was one of the biggest revelations/self-imposed rules from my 2016-2017 experiments… but I am not necessarily ruling it out. I don’t particularly want it to sound like EBM, or synthwave. FM synthesis seems obvious though, since I already love it. In fact, if I wanted a fresh challenge I might someday try an album with no FM synthesis 😉

Speaking of FM: Kasser Synths wrote to say that the DAFM Synth I was returning for repairs still hadn’t arrived — not surprising, given that it took most of a month to get here from Spain in the first place — and they’re going ahead and sending me a replacement to help speed things along.

Dreadbox announced another couple of entries in its Chromatic line of small, cheap and colorful modules. The Antidote is a Karplus-Strong BBD delay, which I first thought might be a good replacement for the Doepfer BBD I had on my wishlist. But in demos so far I’m not convinced it would serve me better than Mimeophon.

On the other hand, the Euphoria — with the unfortunate choice of white labeling on a bright yellow panel, almost guaranteeing third party replacement panels to come soon — is a BBD-based 8-stage phaser that sounds gorgeous and weird. E520 and FX Aid both have phaser, flanger, frequency shifter etc. modes but I don’t think any of them can quite touch it. I’m impressed enough to replace the Doepfer on my wishlist with Euphoria.

And speaking of regrettable panels and colors, Thonk now has Tall Trimmer Toppers to add a little size and better grip and color to mini-pots… which would have been great for the AI008 when I was trying to color-code that. Ah well. My current system has 68 (!) of those tiny little knobs, but most of them aren’t a problem. A few, though, have no contrasting color for their pointers, which is annoying — so I will get some for that. That gives me an excuse to pick up a few other knobs that it wasn’t worth paying for shipping on.

anything less would be unCVilized

I’m basically completely used to the new headphones now, and appreciating the extra detail I’m hearing with them.

Voxengo just released a plugin called TEOTE, an acronym for “That’s Easier On the Ears.” It adjusts the spectral balance of the input to bring it closer to a theoretical ideal — with minimal adjustment it just magically makes stuff sound better. This one uses multiband dynamics, which is a bit fancier than Soundtheory Gullfoss, and to my ears it seems to sound better on most material.

Tools like this are great for me. My mixing process isn’t the meticulous, surgical adjustment and perfect fitting together several individually recorded parts — rather, it happens partially as I build up my parts in preparation to record, and partially as a big part of the recorded performance itself. A tedious manual search for places in the spectrum that could use a tiny boost here and a narrow cut there would take me out of the creative flow, but slapping an automatic plugin onto the channel to see if it sounds better does not. (If there’s a drastic improvement, that means there was a lot to correct in the first place, and it’s probably worth a little of my time to investigate.)

Two things arrived on my doorstep today. First the bad news: after nearly a full month of shipping, the DAFM synth arrived from Spain. Its wonderfully crisp OLED display showed something for about 6 seconds and then died, the USB power cable unusually warm. Switching cables and chargers didn’t help.

Since I have had second thoughts about even needing another synthesizer, I’ve written to request a refund rather than a replacement. We’ll see how this goes.

The other thing is much happier: u-he CVilization. I spent about 90 minutes playing with the matrix mixer mode before even looking at the others, and… it’s a game changer honestly. It handles audio quite well, and is as easy and intuitive to dial in as I had imagined and hoped. But it also encourages taking control voltages to new places, and that seems to be its major strength.

It is a very good friend to a sequencer, especially something with multiple channels and not necessarily its own quantizer, like the 0-Ctrl.

Mode 1 can mix audio of course, but also CV, with handy muting, inversion, quantization and sample and hold. I had a patch going where it:

  • served as a feedback mixer for Mimeophon-as-resonator (with mutes for the original input, the feedback, or the final output, and the option to invert the feedback for a different character)
  • selected between or combined (using mutes) two pitch CVs from 0-Ctrl, with sample+hold and quantization. And also, allowed for mixing in some audio from another channel — which served to slightly randomize the pitch while staying within the scale and maintaining the overall melodic contour. It was gated by 0-Ctrl’s dynamic gate output, so I had control over the rhythmic pattern as well as swing/timing.
  • routed both pitch and audio to Mimeophon’s frequency control, so it simultaneously tracked pitch and added FM… again with a mute switch.

That’s a heck of a lot more than an analog mixer can do. And also, since it’s 4×4 rather than the AI008’s 4×3, it’s easy to set up stereo feedback matrices with ping-pong and so forth.

Mode 2 is the sequencer and sequential switch, and though it took me more time to grasp it, it’s also a very powerful friend to 0-Ctrl. Rearranging incoming control signals and interposing other values (fixed or random) into the sequence, driven either by a clock division or using a different sequence length, can really extend and bring variations into what would otherwise be a short and very repetitive sequence. I didn’t even mess with self-patching, which could potentially be really useful with the sample+hold feature. (It can also route audio, switching different sources and destinations around or silencing it, and that is probably going to have some use as well.)

Mode 3 is the “Mucorder”, which is purely for control voltages. It’s less like Marbles than I first thought — but again, a really good companion for 0-Ctrl. Record up to 16 steps, and let it mutate either by overwriting with values from its own input, another channel, a random shift up or down, or harmonization with the first channel. Each channel can have a different recording length, which allows a lot of polyrhythmic interplay. It’s another winner.

I haven’t tried mode 4 yet, but rather than manipulating CV quite as much, it pans/routes its four inputs smoothly across four destinations. Planar can either pan one signal to four outputs, or four inputs to one output… but I suspect it will be a good controller to rotate multiple things around the world with CVilization, and likely a powerful tool for drones.

So, wow. I was expecting a mixer and a quantizer, but I got quite a lot more than that.

auction action

Luftrum’s 10th annual music industry charity auction is now underway. This time the proceeds go to MusiCares COVID-19 relief.

This one’s just getting started, and it typically takes a couple of weeks to really get rocking. But last year’s auction raised $31,075 for the World Wildlife Fund to help protect rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia. Dozens of plugin and sample library developers and some notable hardware manufacturers contributed a lot of cool stuff to the effort. If you happen to be a maker and seller of music gear, please follow the link and click on “Contact Organizer” to join in.

4 years ago, this auction is what started me in modular synthesis with Mutable Instruments Rings (and a quick purchase of Tides and Peaks to go with it). So it’s like passing a personal milestone when it comes up each year. In subsequent years I’ve seen a couple of others buying their first modules and growing into modular synth buffs.

And if some tempting modular goodies make an appearance, I’ve got 24HP of free space now with no specific plans. As it turns out, what I’ve actually used my Disting EX for in recordings has mainly been crossfading and ring modulation. Mutable Instruments Blinds, which I was already considering as a replacement/consolidation for the AI008 Matrix Mixer and one of my two Shades, can do those things. The Disting sold very quickly, since demand is still higher than production and shipping speeds can handle, and I ordered the Blinds.

I’m holding onto AI008 for now because I’m still waiting on that pinstripe tape to try color-coding it. Could be the available space will expand to 32HP though.

I also decided I don’t need two Rings anymore — the combination of Mimeophon, FX Aid, E520, Shelves, and a mixer are quite potent for resonator purposes. But I’ll always keep one Rings to rule them all. 😀 The spare one also happened to go quickly, traded for a Mystic Circuits Ana, which handles some of the other things I used Disting for occasionally plus a few other fun tricks.

And now, it’s book review time! Only in my usual style of “I read this and I liked it” because being critical is a lot of work and I read for fun.

I had this pair on my wishlist for a while, but borrowed electronically from my local library. A fun, mostly lighthearted fantasy thing that borrows more than a little from D&D monster manuals and surprisingly a lot from rock & roll. There is a wizard named Moog. In the first book, old crusty mercs “get the band back together” to save one of their daughters (and in the process, a city, and the world); the second was said daughter wrapping up her own adventuring career.

I’ve just finished the first of these, and it was brilliant. It’s kind of equal parts fantasy and horror but in a science fiction setting; the writing style and characters are hilariously snarky while the subject matter is as grim and creepy and moody as you’d expect from a story about space necromancers.

The setting is creatively different, mysterious and, well, cryptic — I kind of get a Gene Wolfe vibe from it without the pretentiousness. The characters are the best though. Some of the language is very much present-day slang (e.g. “I couldn’t have noped harder”) but it completely works to convey the kind of attitude the main characters have. These are books that I might want my own copy of, depending on whether I feel like the second one is as strong as the first.

bad hair day, good synth day

The Medusa arrived yesterday — a bit late, box damaged, but synth intact.

It’s the sort of synth where, if I tried it for five minutes at Knobcon or something using its factory presets, I’d almost certainly have walked away and not looked back. Probably in under five minutes. The presets are, for the most part, awful.

But once I figured out what I was doing with both the synth section and the grid, and started exploring a little… this is one extremely cool piece of gear.

I understand why so many of the demos and several presets are bland: the analog oscillators only do the classic simple shapes, the digital ones are raw and basic but not in a particularly gnarly or exciting way, and the filter doesn’t have much character of its own. It’s a clean slate and you have to do your own color mixing, to mangle some metaphors. With judicious tuning, use of the oscillator sync, FM, copious modulation sources and all sorts of clever tricks available with the grid sequencer/performance controller, if it sounds boring it’s the musician’s fault. Synthesis means the assembly of smaller parts into a whole, and that’s what has to happen here. It can certainly do beautiful, brutal, quirky or scary, and it’s not even difficult to get there. It can’t do everything, but that’s why I have more than one synth… 🙂

As with most synths it really benefits from some reverb or delay. Every other Dreadbox synth has one of those built in; this doesn’t. This is not a problem for me at all, but it does contribute to some of those lackluster demos since people seem to think it’s “cheating” to add external FX.

The grid is brilliant. Note mode lets you select (or create) a scale, and also set the layout to the interval of your choice (or a “guitar” mode); it’s a combination that is really great for jamming, thinking differently about intervals and chords, or playing runs that would be (almost?) impossible on a piano-style keyboard. The velocity setting doesn’t work very well with the onboard synth and honestly is best turned off, but pressure and X/Y movement can be assigned to various parameters. Grid mode is a sequencer that’s mostly intuitive (with a couple of odd quirks) and lets you assign not just notes and chords to any individual step, but ties, steps that randomize on each playthrough, and parameter settings. Between that and the paraphonic modes — and the way those modes interact when you’re using FM or sync — it’s definitely got some unique capabilities.

The Lyra-8 was inspiring and influential, leading me toward the 0-Ctrl and certain techniques. But I do think the Medusa is the better choice for me now and for the future.


Carefully Introducing Problems was released in early June. I recorded nothing new in June, and two tracks in mid-July. Things have broken loose though; in the last couple of weeks I’ve finished 6 tracks. Perhaps it’s the big refresh that my modular synth went through, or perhaps I’m just coming out of a funk.

I mean, it’s still the Corona year, America feels more like a failed state than ever, and I’m still tired and tense all the time, and I feel like everyone’s just trying to hang on and survive. I was thinking today about a former coworker who said (many years ago now) that she admired me because I was always trying to improve myself, and I kind of wonder when I stopped doing that. But still, I feel like making music.

Phonogene arrived Saturday. An old one, with the ugly knobs Make Noise originally used (but with the wrong colors) and a panel that looks as if it was dirtied and cleaned a few times in its life. But it’s got the firmware update from 2013 at least. I’ve got some replacement knobs on the way, and might pick up the Grayscale replacement panel if I feel it’s warranted in a couple of weeks or so.

The old version as it’s supposed to look, vs Grayscale’s staid but unambiguous version.

Phonogene was discontinued in early 2018 and was succeeded by Morphagene — which has higher sound quality, more memory, stereo, multiple layers for true granular synthesis, SD card saving and loading, etc. But there are those who prefer the Phonogene’s charm and simplicity, and I believed I’d be among them. For smooth granular I’ve got Clouds; for blurry spectral time manipulation there’s the E520. Phonogene is more for raw 90s “clicks and cuts” style manipulation, combined with synchronization of other modules. As I’ve found, it suits my music quite well.

I don’t have much thought about what could go in the remaining space. (18HP, plus a possible 8 more from the MG-1 and a possible 4 more if I “hide” the ES-6 inside and access it through the PassThru.) I don’t need another oscillator, that’s for sure, nor more effects, and I think I’m fine on modulation sources. I figure, I should hold off to see if something else brilliant comes along, or my musical needs evolve. So I’m declaring this “version 4.0.”

Quick summary:

  • “0.0” (Exploration) was learning Eurorack and exploring.
  • “1.0” (Suitability) was when I thought I had a fairly stable system I could live with, which would only mutate slowly. The focus was on complex oscillators, wavetables and resonators.
  • “2.0” (Consolidation) replaced a lot of stuff with an ER-301 Sound Computer, and moved it all into a single case with a lot of empty space.
  • “2.1” (Effects Dive) had me trying out a Rainmaker, Erbe-Verb, Doepfer BBD and more pedal effects.
  • “3.0” (Focus) was realizing that Version 2 was kind of wrong for how I want to make music (even though I learned a lot), and reverting to what I liked best about 1.0.
  • “3.1” (Integration) switched me from Maschine to Bitwig and the ES-3/ES-6.
  • “3.14” (Harmony) saw me adding the Lyra-8 and think more about the performance aspect of my process.
  • “3.2” (FM Overkill) was sort of a refinement phase, a further refocusing and embracing of what I liked. That began in late 2019.
  • “4.0” (New Waves) includes selling off my effects pedals, adding the 0-Ctrl and Planar and the Pod 60 case, and switching from the beloved Hertz Donut and E352 to Shapeshifter and EnOsc.