Merlin Status Update

December 20, 2014 in Project Merlin

As the festive period hits and the end of the year draws ever closer it seems like the perfect time to provide a quick status update on Merlin and how things are progressing. For those who have been keeping an eye open for new updates there is a mix of news to share.

The first (good) news is that re-designs of the initial concept circuit-boards are moving along nicely and should make Merlin easier to build both as individual units and as batch jobs when we get to that stage. If we can finalise the design of the boards it will then enable us to confirm the size of the casing to house it and how that then compares with the more traditional Eurorack module sizes.

So what about other news? As some readers will know there have been busy periods in the past where the day job has taken hold and meant I’ve not had as much time to focus on Exclusively Analogue. As we head in to 2015 another such situation has arisen and it unlikely I’ll be able to commit any substantial time to Merlin until March. I am however still planning on building a working prototype in order to get some sound demos and pictures put on the site.

For now though I’d like to wish everyone Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Merlin Confirmed – New Synth From Exclusively Analogue

August 13, 2014 in Exclusively Analogue, Project Merlin

We’re pleased to confirm that ‘The Merlin’ is now real and in direct response to feedback and suggestions from Exclusively Analogue customers. In keeping with the aviation link the ‘Merlin’ is named after the iconic Rolls Royce engine that powered a number of aircraft including the Spitfire, Hurricane, Mosquito, and Lancaster.

The aim of Merlin is to provide a powerful analogue synthesizer with maximum flexibility and at a competitive price (approximately £800 depending on format). Part of the flexibility comes from making it small enough to fit into the Eurorack format but without compromising usability. To this end all of the jack sockets are on the bottom to avoid patch leads crossing the controls which is a common drawback of a lot of Eurorack modules. Merlin is available either as a self powered 19″ rack mount module, a self powered desktop module, or in Eurorack format able to utilise an existing power supply.

‘Out of the box’ it just requires a CV and Gate input to work and is pre-patched to form the classic Analogue Synth routing. The 54 mini jack sockets enable the user to create numerous alternative routings – input signals and control voltages or output signal and control voltages. The format is ‘classic’ with 2 Voltage Controlled Oscillators (VCOs) providing Sawtooth, Square, Sine and Triangle waveforms. There is also a separate Noise Source and an External input. There are 2 LFOs – one Voltage Controlled and the other normally dedicated to Pulse Width Modulation. For interesting modulation there is a Sample & Hold and that’s normally clocked by the VCLFO and sampling the Noise Source. A Ring Modulator is also provided to allow creation of complex waveforms.

Merlin Synth by Exclusively Analogue

The heart of any Analogue synthesizer is the Filter and ‘Merlin’ has a powerful Multi Mode Filter. The Voltage Controlled Filter (VCF) is based around the SSM2040 design and has 24dB Lowpass, 12dB Lowpass, High Pass, and Band Pass outputs thereby giving a broad spectrum of sound modification. The standard filter frequency modulation options are available (Keyboard CV, FM, and selectable positive or negative Envelope) plus the Resonance (Q) can also be modulated which most filters do not have. There are also 2 Envelope Generators – one for the VCF and one for the Voltage Controlled Amplifier.

The picture shows the first Merlin in a rack unit and as a comparison a collection of Eurorack modules have been included on the bottom to give you an idea of how ‘Merlin’ might be added to an existing system or as a starting point for a system that can be expanded by adding modules.

We are currently at the testing phase of the prototypes and should have some sound and video files available soon. At this stage we are taking expressions of interest with the opportunity to be one of the early owners once production starts.

Pioneer Tribute Modules Preferred to Eurorack Size

April 14, 2014 in Exclusively Analogue, The Aviator, The Pioneer

We recently had the pleasure of delivering a Pioneer “Tribute” system to the studio of Steve Everitt, an accomplished professional composer and musician. Steve has been a regular contributor to ‘Eat Static’ – an eclectic electronic band headed by Merv Pepler. Taking along another Pioneer “Tribute” system and combining it with Steve’s Aviator meant there was a total of 5 complete Exclusively Analogue synth lines.

Tony commented – “Whilst I have the technical ability to produce the equipment, I sadly lack the musical talent to be able to produce anything remotely appealing. In contrast Steve has talent by the bucket load, which was proven within the first 30 minutes of my being there when he added a sound from his new Pioneer system into a beautiful piano led piece he was working on. The piece already had Steve’s Aviator in the mix and the end result was a magical combination of traditional instruments; Steinway piano, orchestral strings and various electronic ‘textures’ to produce the final result.”

The rest of the day was spent experimenting with the two modular systems and creating a variety of interesting sounds which, even in fairly simple sequences, sounded good. Seeing and hearing the equipment being used by a professional was a very rewarding experience.

Two Pioneer Tribute modulars in action - Exclusively Analogue

Merv Pepler joined later in the day, primarily so he could see the two Tribute systems together. Merv was very familiar with the Aviator, having recorded Steve’s on a number of albums in the past and as a result is considering, like Steve, stepping into the modular world. Merv was definitely impressed with the Tribute system and it is likely that he will have the very last system as well as one of the last Aviators. Interestingly, both Steve and Merv have been considering adding some of the more popular ‘Eurorack’ size modules to their collection however both seemed to prefer the larger format of the Emu design.

The advantage of the Eurorack equipment is that you can cram a lot into a small space which is ideally suited to the ‘bedroom musicians’. Lots of people spend time on modulars creating new and interesting sounds and Steve made the comment that he was concerned he would spend too much time ‘wiggling’ and not making music. With Steve and Merv I know that any analogue equipment they have will be used to create music which is, after all, what any musical instrument is for – not solely as a piece of furniture.

Two Emu Modulars In Use – The Analogue Monster

February 18, 2014 in Exclusively Analogue, The Pioneer

At the end of 2013 Tony decided to build a special 24″ by 24″ “Square” Pioneer ‘Tribute’ system similar to the original Emu modular that he had in 1994. The modules have been built into a Maple wood cabinet and have been set up as two complete synthesizer lines including 5 VCOs, 3 different Voltage Controlled Filters, 2 Dual Transient Generators, 2 Voltage Controlled Amplifiers plus a few other useful modules. The picture below shows two modular systems together.

2 EMU Tribute Modulars - Exclusively Analogue

The two systems provide 4 separate analogue synth lines controlled by various Kenton MIDI/CV convertors. Using the MIDI files of some well-known pieces of music Tony had the basis to experiment with different sounds. As an example, he used 1 line for the bass, 2 lines as sequences and the final line as a lead with an added drum track from a MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro, running Logic Pro, was also able to control everything via a MIDI interface.

So what sort of sounds can be created with 2 Emu Modulars? Well just about any classic analogue sound because both systems have Universal Active Filters and MultiMode filters to compliment the usual 24dB Low Pass Filter meaning the more interesting High Pass Filter ‘buzzy’ sounds are available. Tony is a fan of a slow sweeping HPF with resonance as an effect if you can get the slow sweep to work in time with the music. Another nice effect is having the filter frequency shift in time with the music to create a rhythmic pattern similar to adding an accent on certain notes, say every 4th note in a 1/16th note sequence. He’s done this previously using analogue sequencers but in this latest set up I used the aux outputs from the Kenton interfaces to provide the additional voltage to change the Filter cutoff.

The original plan was that the new “Square” system would be sold and it has therefore been advertised on eBay. However, like every one of the Tribute systems built so far, this one has been ‘lovingly’ hand crafted to a very high standard and as a result is one of a kind. If you are interested in purchasing this system for your studio or setup please get in touch.

The Story Of Aviator No.28

January 22, 2014 in Exclusively Analogue, The Aviator

It’s always great to hear the stories and thoughts of Aviator owners and this post is more of a guest post than anything else. The owner of Aviator No.28 has written in to give us his story and how he has used it as part of the setup for his band Eat Static.

When I bought my Aviator, I was in an experimental techno band called Eat Static. That was around the time of our 3rd album, ‘Science Of The Gods’, so probably 1997. Your synths were as rare as rocking horse poo at the time and highly sought after. Luckily, I had become a successful Production Music composer in my day job and was able to pay a bit over the odds for mine. Worth every extra penny!

There were three members in Eat Static and we had an enviable collection of analogue synths and drum machines. No modular synths, though, (unless you include the Waldorf Wave with its then innovative digital ‘patchbay’). All three of us had (and I think still have) a Roland SH-5, famous for its raucous bandpass filter, ring modulation and useful patching switches. The SH-5 was perfect for creating the sound of imaginary animals or alien voices, a kind of signature in our music, so the Aviator was initially tasked with trying to outdo the Roland in this regard.

I remember that we used to sample little snippets of the Aviator making atonal screeches, sweeps, bubbles and other ‘cross-mod’ effects and then set up sampler patches with multiple Aviators, one sound on each key, (something I still do today). Also, we would use MIDI to CV/Gate units to send a rhythmic part to the Aviator to create deranged hi-hats, guiros, congas etc. Of course, the fun part was twiddling knobs ‘live’ while recording these rhythmic parts. The three of us were always in competition over who could create the most outrageous noises and make the others laugh most. To make things even more interesting and enjoyable, we would try to pull faces that matched the sounds. All this while surrounded by about 30 cats in my studio. Happy days!

That was before I got married, obviously! Now, we have only two gigantic Maine-Coon cats, though I still pull stupid faces when I’m playing with the Aviator or SH-5 on the next Hairy Bikers’ theme or whatever. : )

What I’ve always enjoyed about the Aviator is not so much its sublime, warm musicality, (which is there, of course), but its ability to ascend to the ridiculous via unheard groans, squelches, burbles and all manner of grotesquerie which innovates rather than imitates. Analogue synths have a character and, while others are known for their warmth, purity, complexity or rawness, for me the Aviator endures for its ability to do all those and be funny and rude without being offensive – probably because its British, and exclusive.

Aviator #28 - Exclusively Analogue

As you can see from the image above, Aviator #28 had a custom front panel and colour scheme making in a definite collectors item.

Voltage Controlled Filters – Low Pass & Multimode

December 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

Any analogue synthesizer is only as good as the Voltage Controlled Filters (VCF) that it has. Most of the classic analogue synths (MiniMoog, MemoryMoog, Prophet 5, Oberheim OBXa, etc) only had 24dB Low Pass Filters (LPF) which whilst giving a great sound were a bit limiting. One of my favourite filters was fitted to the Oberheim SEM synth module and this was a MultiMode filter giving High Pass (HPF) Band Pass (BPF) and Notch (NF) outputs as well as the usual Low Pass. In addition the filter had resonance on all the modes which meant it could create some very different sounds from those synths limited to an LPF. The design of the Oberheim filter was relatively straightforward using 2 transconductance amplifiers (CA3080s), which gives a 12dB response, and this type of circuit was also used on the Emu Resonant Filter as well as being the basis for the SSM2040 filter IC. Note that the SSM2040 had 4 transconductance amplifiers in it so it can give a 24dB response.

I used 2 MultiMode filters in the Aviator and have just completed a new MultiMode Filter Module, in the Emu style (see pictures), with the circuit based on the Oberheim design. As previously mentioned the Emu Resonant filter was basically the same design and having done a side by side test they do sound very very similar. More details of the MultiMode filter can be found on the Modules page.

multimodefilter lowpassfilter

The other filter I have reworked is a Low Pass Filter utilising the SSM2040 circuitry. Dave Rossum was instrumental in helping to design the SSM ICs and although an Emu LPF module using the SSM2040 was not built (as far as I can establish) Emu did use the IC in their Synthesizer Voice Card and in the later version of the High Pass Filter module. The SSM2040 is renowned for producing the “smooth” sound of the early Prophet 5s (Rev 1 & 2). Later Prophet 5s used CEM ICs.

This ‘new’ LPF is therefore the Emu LPF that might have been built if Modular construction had continued. In a side by side test with the original transistor based LPF, in my opinion, the SSM2040 version does sound smoother and is a 24dB filter, just like a Moog!