New Eurorack module reviews: September round-up
This month’s best new Eurorack releases include contrasting sequencers from XAOC and RYK Modular, Roland-inspired offerings from System80 and Erica, plus two very different loopers from Flame and ADDAC.
In a bumper month for new module releases, things neatly fall into three categories for us in our latest Eurorack round-up. We start with sequencers, courtesy of XAOC and RYK Modular. RYK’s M185 sequencer has been given an update for 2021, expanding its power in a few exciting new ways.
For those who are unfamiliar with the M185, it’s got one of the most complicated back stories of any module you can imagine: originally released in 2007, the M185 was designed as a sequencer for Roland’s rare and influential System-100M format. The unique design was licensed to Intellijel for the brand’s Metropolis module, which in turn was updated to the excellent Metropolix this year (you can read our review of that one here). The M185 concept is a little simpler than the Metropolix, but the fundamental approach is the same: each stage of the sequencer can be set to have multiple steps (from one to eight steps for each of the eight stages). In practice, that makes it a far more creative, hands-on sequencer than an eight-step unit might sound.
The updates this time around are relatively small but quite significant, the most extreme being the addition of an expansion header which allows you to link two M185s for 16-stage sequences. Even with just one module, though, you’ll still benefit from the addition of built-in quantisation scale options on the pitch CV knobs, and programmable gate patterns for real-time x0x-style gate trigger programming. It’s fair to ask why you’d opt for the M185 when the Metropolix already exists, but the RYK module’s slightly more simple approach makes it more intuitive to use, not to mention the fact that it’s quite a bit cheaper.
XAOC’s Moskwa 1965 Rotosequencer II is a very different prospect, reflecting just how much variety you can now find in Eurorack sequencing. Based around a circular format, the Moskwa inspires a different kind of mentality when you’re creating patterns or tweaking in real time; the circular approach encourages you not to think about the start and end of the sequence so much as a fluid, open-ended approach to patterns, changing direction and adjusting sequence length in real time. The version II update adds extensive probability and randomisation options, plus eight-stage micro-sequences within each step. You can also hook up the updated Ostankino II expander module to add a further nine CV/gate inputs and nine outputs for full access to modulation features and greater control. The Moskwa II takes a different approach to the M185 and represents superb value at under £300, but both sequencers are superb. You can’t go wrong either way.
Another pair of newly refreshed modules this month both channel vintage Roland vibes. From System80, the 860 MK2 is based on the multi-mode filter from Roland’s classic Jupiter-6 synth. The MK2 version replaces both the original 860 and the larger JOVE in the brand’s line-up, adding a few new features like filter mode recall after powering off the module, a quad OTA filter core and built-in mixer. The Jupiter-6 is a polyphonic synth, but the filter works well in this monophonic application, with a distinctly Roland tone that’s silky and classy at low resonance but more than capable of getting nicely acidic if you want.
Erica Synths also serve up an updated module inspired by Roland circuits, in this case the TR-909’s legendary bass drum circuit. The Erica Bass Drum 2 isn’t an exact replica of the 909 kick, but instead reimagines the sound with a focus on modular-friendly CV control of parameters such as pitch, decay and drive. The update adds a gated trigger option, allowing more control over sustained drum sounds. You could think of the Bass Drum 2 as a much more flexible alternative to Tiptop Audio’s BD909 module, or a slightly simpler and more user-friendly alternative to Jomox’s ModBase 09 (which we reviewed here). It sits nicely between the two in terms of price, meaning there’s something for everyone when it comes to 909 kick modules.
Our final pair of modules are both loopers of sorts, but their contrasting approaches give very different end results. ADDAC’s 112 voltage-controlled looper and granular processor is a huge dual-module setup, with CV patch points broken off to their own panel separate from the hands-on control section. The approach here is all about granular synthesis, feeding audio into the module, looping and breaking down into granules to resynthesise and process in real time. It’s a complex module which takes some time to get to grips with, but the results are fascinatingly deep, from subtle pitch-shift-delay-style effects through to dense, evolving textures and drones.
Flame’s Vocorder, on the other hand, is described as an ‘analogue spectral looper’, combining an eight-channel analogue vocoder circuit with a CV recorder/looper . You can use it as what Flame call a ‘classic vocoder’ with the looper disabled, but the real fun starts when you engage the looper, recording and replaying the CV signals of the analysis bands up to a maximum loop length of three-and-a-half minutes, warping the vocoder effect and creating twisted harmonics as you use the Rewire control to modulate the routing of the CV recordings across different filter channels.
Neither one of these two looper modules is cheap. The Vocorder comes in not far off £400 and the 112 is a little over £500, but you can see where the value for money comes from. Both modules are uniquely capable sound design platforms in their own right, able to generate and manipulate sound in inspiring ways.