New Eurorack module reviews: July round-up
This month’s bumper selection of new Eurorack module releases includes a hotly anticipated oscillator from Verbos, an updated Fusion valve filter from Erica Synths, plus an updated sampler from 1010 Music.
Following the release of the excellent digital 4ms Ensemble Oscillator last month, we return to slightly more conventional analogue territory with the biggest new oscillator release this month. Like much of the brand’s output, the Verbos Electronics Foundation Oscillator is heavily inspired by Buchla’s classic West Coast approach, consisting of a discrete transistor-based oscillator core with square and triangle wave outputs, feeding into a multiplying waveshaper for sine, saw, pulse and spike outputs.
The basic square and triangle waves are thick and lush, but it’s the waveshaper that we’re really here for, adding overtones and harmonics to the core oscillator tones via three simultaneous outputs. Sweeping the timbre and richness controls manually gives you an impressively wide range of tones, everything from ultra-fat PWM through to pokey little acidic sounds. What it’s really all about here is modulating the richness and timbre via CV, each of which has an attenuverter built into the input. Subtly modulating timbre with an envelope gives an almost filter-like twang to notes. I also found it particularly effective to take multiple waves out of the VCO and combine them via a VCA mixer; if you patch, for instance, the raw square output and the spike output to a Mutable Instruments Veils, you can use an envelope to modulate the timbre of the spike and simultaneously adjust its level, adding overtones and character to the raw square signal whenever you trigger a note.
The sparse front panel of the module might fool you into thinking it’s a simple oscillator, but there’s loads of depth here once you start to explore it. The Foundation Oscillator isn’t cheap, but it’s a fair bit more accessible than Verbos’s other oscillators and an excellent introduction to the fundamental West Coast additive approach of building harmonics.
It’s maybe a little incongruous to patch the Foundation Oscillator into the Erica Synths Fusion VCF3, but the clash of philosophies works surprisingly well, with two very different approaches combining nicely. Updated from the VCF2, the VCF3 is based around an updated but similarly mellow, valve-based low-pass filter but adds CV recording to store movements of the cutoff pot, allowing you to program modulation patterns. Excellent fun and an effective way to get a lot more out of the brilliant filter. Even without the CV recording, though, the VCF3 sounds gorgeous: whether it’s the valves or the vactrol circuit on the cutoff frequency slowing things down and making them mellow, there’s a beautifully lyrical, vocal quality to the filter which works particularly well on delicate bass sounds and chords.
If there’s one obvious issue with most of the Fusion modules it’s that they tend to take up a lot of rack space, an inevitable trade-off when trying to cram valves into the Eurorack format. The VCF3 is bigger than the VCF2, but it does do a lot more: in addition to the CV recording, it retains the three-way input mixer of the VCF2 (with a dedicated pre-filter mix output) and adds a buffered multiple to make use of the extra front panel space. Top notch sound and decent value when you consider you’re basically getting a mixer and mult included in the price.
1010 Music’s Bitbox Mk2 is an updated version of the brand’s impressive sampler module, already a great module but now with more processing power to make it even more capable. We’re big fans of the ALM Busy Circuits Squid Salmple, but the Bitbox is a compelling alternative option. The most notable difference in approach is the Bitbox’s visual focus, mainly based around the touchscreen, which offers a user-friendly approach to what can be quite a complex module once you dig into its capabilities. You have up to 16 stereo sample slots, each of which can be audio or CV, and four separate outputs with a maximum of 24-note polyphony. Each of those sample slots can be configured for one-shots, loops, granular synthesis, slicing, multi-sampling or live recording, making it about as versatile as Eurorack sampling gets.
The Mk2 update focuses heavily on improving the processing power of the module, effectively doubling the spec of the Mk1, but the workflow and feature set is largely similar, not messing with what was already an intuitive and powerful module. CV and MIDI control of settings (MIDI via 3.5mm TRS jack) is particularly impressive, allowing you to assign parameters and set up interesting modulation effects and powerful granular synthesis that interacts with other modules nicely. The Bitbox offers huge creative potential in a single module. It’s also worth mentioning the new Bitbox Micro, which can’t quite match its bigger brother in terms of outright power but represents great value for money.
We finish this month with two fairly simple modules that do basic tasks very well. ACL’s Pan Mix is a straightforward four-input mixer with a stereo output, allowing you to sum mono sources and pan them into a stereo signal. There are no VCAs or CV control, just eight good quality pots to set levels and pan. You’ll also find a stereo aux input which is summed with the four mono inputs at unity gain, allowing you to add an extra stereo input or cascade multiple units together. Simple but effective.
The WMD 4tten is similarly straightforward: four channels of either attenuation or offset, each with a fader to control the level. It’s intended primarily to add tactile control to your patches, whether that means manually adjusting the level of a signal or using an offset to control a parameter via CV (especially useful for modules that offer CV control of parameters without dedicated knobs or faders). Each channel can be used either as an attenuator with a CV or audio signal patched in, or as an offset generator thanks to an internally normalled 5V source. At £87.99 and just 4hp, it’s a cheap and compact way to add a decent level of hands-on control to your rack.