New Modules

Today, Sylvia and I received 2 new Modules for the Eurorack Synthesizer we’re creating.

  • A couple of months ago, we purchased the 1st piece… the Case.
  • Our 1st Module was the “Double Helix Oscillator” by Pittsburgh Modular.
  • A few weeks ago, we bought the “qMI 2” a “MIDI-to-Control Voltage converter”. Made by Vermona Modular.

After a lot of research, planning our budget, saving our money and talking it over, last Thursday, Sylvia and I bought 2 new Modules:

Granted, we eat fried potatoes for supper every night and a can of soup for Lunch, when we go to work, but I have no idea how we managed to “save” and “pay for” those items. I’m not really that good at this type of money-juggling. I have enough trouble remembering to deduct each day’s purchases from our Checkbook. “Sylvia” is the financial Wizard in OUR family! I do my best to continually stay tuned-in to her energies and to act-on any suggestions she provides.

As for the timing of this purchase… THAT was also interesting… We bought these from “Detroit Modular” (see links above), which is located in Michigan. We ordered them Thursday morning and the expected delivery was “by Monday”. (It was shipped through the Post Office.) Up until Friday night, their Tracking information showed that our package was still traveling through the various States, on its way to us, here, in North Carolina. When I checked their Tracking information this morning, Saturday, it showed that it was to be delivered “today”!

We used the website “Modular Grid“, in order to learn about some of the Modules available and to create this Synthesizer using their free software.

  • It’s a great website. You can search for Modules by “Manufacturer’s Name”, “Function” (Oscillator, Envelope Generator, etc.) and can see which Modules have been released recently and which are the most popular. You can also build your own “on-screen” Synthesizer. Their software will keep track of how much money the total System will cost AND whether or not the Modules you selected will actually fit inside the Case you used.

​This is a picture of our “Modular Grid” Synthesizer. It shows which Modules we currently have and where I placed them. (Of course, they can always be moved. If needed.)

Although we currently have 4 Modules, we don’t enough Synthesizer elements to make a complete sound.

  • If you’re building your own “Modular” Synthesizer, and don’t know which “types” of Modules to buy, look at the classic “analog” Synths of the past. Two of the easiest ones to use, to follow the signal flow (sound) from start to finish, are the “Mini Moog” and the “ARP 2600”.
  • There are no locked-in-concrete rules with this but “basically”, you start with a sound source, such as an “Oscillator” So you’ll need a “VCO” (Voltage Controlled Oscillator). (“Voltage Controlled” simply means its Pitch can be changed by a frequency which is produced by one of your Modules. Putting a parameter under “Voltage Control” will not only make changes faster than you can “manually” change them, but it also means “random” and / or “very fast patterned” changes can be produced.)
  • Next, the Oscillator’s sound get filtered. So you’ll need a “VCF” (Voltage Controlled Filter”).
  • From there, the sound moves to a “VCA” (Voltage Controlled Amplifier”), then to a Mixer and finally, out to Speakers, a recording system, headphones, etc.
  • Also, because you’ll be using a “Voltage Controlled” Filter and Amplifier, you’ll want a Module which is designed to control them and this would be the “Envelope Generator”. Just as we use our mouth, tongue, breath and Voice Box, to “form” and “speak” words, an Envelope Generator produces Stages of voltages which control the opening and closing of the parameters of the VCF and VCA. (Of course, with Modular Synthesizers, almost any Module can be used to change the parameters of almost any other.)

Right now, Sylvia and I have an Oscillator, Envelope Generator, a “MIDI-to-CV” converter (so we can play notes in this “Analog” Synth using our “Digital” keyboard) and a Multiple.

  • The “Warna II” is a “Multiple”, Mixer and Inverter.

To complete the “building blocks”, we still need a VCA and VCF.

What I can tell about these Modules, especially the new ones is…

In just testing the Envelope Generator, I had to use the Multiple several times. At one point, I used 3 of its sections and 10 of its 15 Patch-Points. More than once, today, I told Sylvia: “It’s a good thing we bought this Multiple.”

It wasn’t just “a multiple”. We did a lot of research, watched a few videos and read several pages of descriptions before deciding on this particular Module. It has:

  • two, 1-in-4-out Multiples,
  • one, 4-in-1-out Mixer,
  • and the two Multiples can be switched, to convert the incoming signal to its opposite polarity.
  • Plus, all of the Inputs on this Module are “DC” coupled. This means it will accept “Audio” sound sources AND “Control Voltages”.

As for the “Envelope Generator”…
I’ve been wanting us to have a “delayed Gate” feature in a Synthesizer for quite a while. We may still purchase a Module which only provides that feature but this A-143-2 Module not only has FOUR Envelope Generators, each can be Triggered (activate) separately from the others or Triggered when any of the others has completed its cycle.

I was able to create a 4-stage, one-after-the-other Envelope today. I was also able to create a looping waveshape. Sort of like a customized LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator).

Anyway, so far, we’re finding that both Modules were well worth the money.

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Double Helix Oscillator

I’ve been wanting to fine-tune the image of the Double Helix Oscillator, that I used in the Patch Chart I created and, today, I finally got around to doing just that. This one is cleaner, more professional looking and contains less clutter… making it easier for everyone to indicate Knob and Switch settings as well as the Patch Cord connections routings.

So the updated Chart for this Pittsburgh Modular module is now in our “Downloads” area and is free to download.

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Modular MIDI-to-CV

Last week, Sylvia and I returned the Pittsburgh Modular “MIDI 3” Module. After 2-weeks of working with it, we found that it just wasn’t offering the features we needed.

A few days ago, we ordered the “qMI 2” by Vermona. Here’s a screenshot of it.

qMI2 Image small

Here’s the link to that Product’s page:

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The “MIDI 3” Module

Although it’s possible to control the “Double Helix Oscillator” with the Arturia “BeatStep Pro”, there are times when you just want to get back to a familiar input mechanism… like a Keyboard.

  • Yes, our “ARP 2600” does have a Keyboard which produces Control Voltages and can control the “Helix”… but… all of the keys stick and a few of them produce random Voltages, making it difficult to use.

We want to use our “Roland SH-201” Synthesizer’s Keyboard to control this new Modular Synth we’re in the process of buying Modules for. However, the “201” is “Digital” and doesn’t have a “Gate” or other Control Voltage outputs, which could be used to control a Modular Synth.

So yesterday, we ordered the Pittsburgh Modular “MIDI 3” Module. This will convert our SH-201’s MIDI information to Control Voltages for the Modular Synthesizer.

I’ve fine-tuned the Patch Chart for the Double Helix and have created a Patch Chart for the MIDI 3. Both of these can now be found in our “Downloads” section. (See the menu at the top of this window.)

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Double Helix Oscillator – overview

Sylvia and I have only had the “Double Helix Oscillator” for a day and a half and we’re really enjoying it. The build quality in their “Stucture 270” Case is first-rate. The “care of design” that’s behind the Double Helix has infused this Module with more functionality than may appear at first glance. Each time we “just want to try a simple Patch”, “hours” just fly by. For us, that’s the sign of a versatile piece of gear.

On June 21st, I sent an eMail to Pittsburgh Modular, asking if there was a Manual for their “Double Helix Oscillator”. This is their reply:

  • The Double Helix is an excellent analog synth voice module. While we don’t currently have a manual for this item available, I’ll be happy to give you a brief walkthrough of its functionality.
  • The Double Helix contains two full range analog oscillators. They can sweep from subsonic LFO range, up past 20 KHz. The first oscillator has 5 waveform options (including a 1 octave down suboscillator and our signature Blade wave) while the second oscillator as 3 waveforms. They both track 1V/O and have various modulation options available.
  • The module also contains an LFO (with Sine, Square, and Random outputs) and an analog noise source
  • The Contour section is where the Double Helix shines. It contains two sections: Timbre and Dynamics. The Timbre section is an analog wavefolder. Basically, it continuously folds the peaks and valleys of the incoming waveform to add complexity and upper harmonics to the sound.  The Dynamics section is based on our Dynamic Impulse Filter module and allows for organic “plucked” percussive sounds
  • Finally, the CV router at the bottom allows for easy control and experimentation with modulation. You can route several modulation sources to various locations simultaneously, which adds even more complexity to the sound.

Although they don’t “technically” offer a “Manual”, they do provide some very helpful information on the Double Helix product page. Here’s the link:

Because Sylvia and I needed a “paper” version of that information, I pulled-out the content from that web page and reformatted it into standard pages… and I allowed for those pages to be on 3-holed paper. (So they could be placed in a 3-ring Binder.

  • Note: If you print those 4-pages as “double-sided”, the holes in the paper will not interfere with the text or images.

You can download this file from the link below.​

Double Helix Overview (pdf)

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The “Double Helix Oscillator”

Over these last several months, after buying 3 small Synthesizers, Sylvia pointed out that I wouldn’t be satisfied until we got a “Modular”.

  • I thought about it for a while and she’s right. My experience with Synthesizers started in the 70s, when Synthesizers themselves were still evolving. There were only a handful of companies making Synthesizers and “Moog” and “ARP” were the most popular.
  • My first Synth was a very basic Korg. While in High School, I saved-up and bought a “Mini Moog Model D”. About the Time I was getting bored with its limits, I read about a much more flexible, more powerful Synth: the “ARP 2600”. Again, I saved-up some money, sold the Mini Moog and bought a “2600”.
  • In 1972, I took 1 Semester of private Synthesizer lessons from a local college. The Professor in charge of the Music Department told me he went to school with Bob Moog. The Synthesizer in the Electronic Music Lab was a “Studio Moog”, similar to the “Moog System 55”. Here’s the link to that model:
  • My point is, Sylvia’s observation is correct… Since I came up through “old school”, analog, one-function-per-button, Synthesizers, I wouldn’t be happy until we bought a Modular Synth.

So, after doing a lot of research, we decided to jump in. About a month ago, we bought the 1st piece — the “case”. It’s a “Structure 270”, made by Pittsburgh Modular. Here’s the link to its product page:

Last Saturday, Sylvia and I drove to our local Guitar Center store and bought our 1st Module — the “Double Helix Oscillator”, also made by Pittsburgh Modular. Here’s the link to it’s product page:

When we brought it home, I was just going to try out a few simple things and… almost 4-hours went by… Whoosh! Now THAT’S a sign of an interesting piece of music gear.

  • The keyboard on our ARP 2600 doesn’t work right and we don’t have another keyboard that will send “CV” (Control Voltages) out. So we couldn’t play this new Oscillator with a regular keyboard. However, since we have a “BeatStep Pro” (by Arturia), I was able to connect its “Pitch” output to the Double Helix (to change notes) and the BeatStep Pro’s “Gate” output to the ARP 2600’s “Gate Input” (to fire the Envelope Generators / open and close the sound to the speakers).

Knowing that the “Double Helix” doesn’t have any way of Storing Patches (saving its settings), I spent almost 3-hours today creating a Patch Chart for it. I’ve uploaded it to this Blog and you should be able to download it from the link below. So if you own a “Double Helix”, this Chart may be of some help in keeping track of the sounds you create.

  • A contrasting pen color, such as “red”, works best.
  • For “Knob” settings: simply place a line where the “white line” on the real Knob should be turned to.
  • For “Patch Points” (Jacks): just draw a line from any Patch Point to any other. It’s better if you don’t draw those lines over any other Jacks, Knobs or Switches. If you need to indicate that a Patch Point on the Double Helix is connected to another Module, just end the line below the diagram and add some text explaining where the other end should be connected.
  • For “Switches”: since the Double Helix Switches can be moved to 3 positions, I illustrated those positions with 3 small circles for each Switch. Just fill-in the appropriate circle or draw a line through one of them.

Click the link below to download this Chart…

Double Helix Patch Chart

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Plexiglass Synthesizer Shelf

A couple months ago, the company Sylvia and I work for was throwing out some old Retail Display Cases. Some of them had Plexiglass (Acrylic) sides.

  • Some were 3-foot by 4-foot. Others were 2-foot by 4-foot. All were 3/8-inch thick.

They were also throwing out some other Display Cases, which had thinner sheets of Plexiglass. Some of those pieces were “corners” (right-angles).

So we took home a few sheets and some smaller pieces.

We didn’t know what we were going to use these materials for but we’ve always liked the clear, revealing state of Plexiglass.

After we got everything home, Sylvia mentioned that I’ve never like our current Synthesizer setup. Although it’s a simple, “3-boards held up by some bricks” arrangement, we keep everything covered with a bedsheet, in order to keep the dust off of our music gear. So Sylvia suggested we build a clear, Synthesizer shelving unit.

It took about 5-weeks, a LOT of work and a handful of trips to our local Hardware Store, to buy some tools that we needed.

  • ​Two of the things we purchased were “power tools” — a cordless drill and a cordless “multi-tool”. A few decades ago, my Dad, who’s been a Carpenter for most of his life, gave me an old Jigsaw. That was my 1st “power tool”. I did try to cut this Plexiglass with it but its speed was WAY too fast and the Acrylic simply melted.

That was 1 of the 1st things we learned… Cutting Plexiglass too fast will melt it. We also learned that if you cut it while too much vibration is being created, by “hand tools” or “power tools”, it will crack.

After spending about $230 for the following tools, our “free” Plexiglass turned out to be not so “free”… and that’s not counting our Time and labor:

  • Cordless drill
  • Cordless multi-tool
  • a set of standard drill bits
  • a special, diamond drill bit for cutting the 1-inch holes into the back panel
  • a set of special drill bits for cutting holes in Acrylic
  • nail polish remover. Used to “chemically weld” pieces of Plexiglass together. (Actually, we used this on the “Drumstick Painting Box” we made out of a rotating Display Case. This stuff wasn’t as good as it could have been. We should have bought the better product, which was “Acetone”.)
  • A special, thin-blade, “full contact with the cutting surface” saw. (I used this when the multi-tool’s battery was charging… which was a lot.
  • a Scoring Tool, used to “scratch” or “etch” the cutting-edge into the Plexiglass. Score the Acrylic at least halfway through and it will snap-off with a very clean edge. The problem for us was the thickness of these particular sheets.
  • 2 “C” clamps. These were probably the best $10 we spent on this project. They came in handy for lots things… clamping 2-pieces together for cutting or drilling, etc.
  • nuts and bolts for holding everything together.

While designing and building everything, I did remember the Saying:

  • Measure twice. Cut once.

In my case, though, this didn’t help a lot. My Dad still laughs at me (in a good way) for not being able to cut a straight line or hammer a nail properly.

So after everything was cut, drilled, filed (for large sharp edges), sanded (for smaller rough edges), we disassembled the old shelves from the top of my desk and disconnected the 60 or more cables.

  • ​Most of our Synthesizers have 5 CABLES coming out of them!
  • 1 is for electricity
  • 2 are for “MIDI” (“MIDI Out” and “MIDI In”) (MIDI sends and receives computer-music information between computers and music gear which have this feature.
  • 2 are for “Audio” (1 for the left side of Stereo and the other for the right)

So, after the new shelving unit was assembled and ALL the cables reconnected… the shelving unit is about a quarter-inch off. The top of the back-right corner of the back panel is about a quarter-inch higher than the side it’s connected to. (I just checked and the back of the side-piece is not touching the desk.)

We didn’t discover this until everything was finished. Since it took over 6-hours to assemble everything, we’re not about to take it all apart, just to fix a quarter-inch slant. (If you look carefully, you can see the curve in the center shelf, just under the black & green Synth that’s sitting on a purple board.)

  • My “guess” is that this entire shelving unit, with nothing on it, weighs about 50-pounds!

The top shelf has a large empty area on its left side. This is where our new Modular Synthesizer will be placed. (Sylvia and I went to our local Guitar Center last week and ordered the “case” for the Modules but it’s on back-order.) The case we bought is the “Structure 270”, made by “Pittsburgh Modular”. Here’s the link:

These are the pieces of music gear we currently have in this new shelving unit:

  • (top-center) Korg Volca FM
  • (top-right) Roland Cube 30 (CM-30) amp
  • (middle shelf, left) Arturia BeatStep Pro
  • (middle shelf, right) Roland System-1m
  • (bottom shelf, left) Samson “SM10”: 10-channel, stereo mixer
  • (bottom shelf, right) iConnectivity “MIO 10”: 10-channel MIDI Router
  • (sitting on my desk, “under” the shelving unit) Roland SH-201 Synthesizer

Anyway, for those of you interested in this, here are some photos of what Sylvia and I created and how we’re using it:

Plexiglass Shelf - 2 front

front -1

Plexiglass Shelf - 1 front-right


Plexiglass Shelf - 5 back

back – 1

Plexiglass Shelf - 9 front-left

front-left corner

Plexiglass Shelf - 8 front

front – 2

Plexiglass Shelf - 10 front-right

right side -2

Plexiglass Shelf - 11 back

back – 2

Plexiglass Shelf - 4 back-left


Plexiglass Shelf - 3 front-left


Plexiglass Shelf - 7 front-right

right side – 1

Plexiglass Shelf - 6 back-right


Shelf closeup - 1

shelf with screen – 1

Shelf closeup - 2

shelf without screen – 1

Shelf closeup - 8

closeup of front-right

Shelf closeup - 6

shelf with keyboard close

Shelf closeup - 9

closeup of keyboard out

Shelf closeup - 5

shelf with keyboard back

Shelf closeup - 4

shelf with screen – 2

Shelf closeup - 3

shelf without screen – 2

Synths - 2

drums & synth wall – 2

Synths - 1

drums & synth wall – 1

Synth cables - 1

synth cables – 1

Synth cables - 2

synth cables – 2

Synth cables - 3

synth cables – 3

Synth cables - 4

synth cables – 4

Synth cables - 5

synth cables – 5

Synth cables - 6

synth cables – 6

Synth cables - 7

synth cables – 7

Shelf closeup - 7

screen rest – 1

Shelf closeup - 12

screen rest – 2

Shelf closeup - 13

screen rest – 3

Shelf closeup - 14

screen rest – 4

Shelf closeup - 10

synths activated – 1

Shelf closeup - 11

synths activated – 2

Synths - 3

synth wall – 1

Synths - 4

synth wall – 2

Synths - 5

synth wall – 3

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Drumstick Coatings

A few weeks ago, I bought a pair of “bamboo” drumsticks. I bought the “Boso Natural 7A” drumsticks. They’re:

  • 15 7/8-inch long,
  • .530-inch in diameter and
  • weigh 1.3oz. / 36.85g.

Although I have a pair of “Zildjian Anti-Vibe”, a pair of “Vater Sugar Maple”, as well as sticks made from other woods, I wanted to find Drumsticks which were even lighter. Since I only play “electronic” drums, I don’t have a need to use wooden sticks which are as indestructible as steel. Plus, I’m concerned about damaging the mesh heads, rubbers pads and various sensors which make-up these drums.

Here’s the link to the Boso drumsticks:

Drumstick Coatings
Last week, we bought a can of:

  • “Rust-o-leum Metallic Finish” (Chrome, 7718830) spray paint.

and a can of

  • “Rust-o-leum LeakSeal (265495): flexible,clear, rubber coating” spray paint.

Using 2-coats from each spray can, sprayed a few days apart, I painted my Boso Drumsticks with the Chrome paint and my  “Vic Firth: American Classic, hickory, 7A” sticks with the rubber.

The Chrome coating feels slightly grippier than the rubber. Both are better than the clear “Plasti-DIP” coating I used on another pair of sticks a few months ago.

  • (At that time, I sprayed-on too thick of a Plasti-DIP” layer and this made them “spongy” feeling. Plus it contributed to that coating tearing only after playing with them a few times.)

My goal with all this was to have a consistent grippy coating on all of my drumsticks, no matter which “brand” or “model” I purchased. I thought about, but never purchased, drumstick “tape”, “wax”, and other “designed-for-drumsticks” coatings as well as drummer’s gloves. I even experimented with some tacky “lip balm” that Sylvia and I have purchased, which does work but it leaves too much residue on my hands. I want something which will provide the tackiness while I’m playing but affect my hands when I set those sticks down.

Yes, some drumstick manufacturers do offer rubberized coatings on their sticks and they are pretty good. However, besides wanting grippy sticks for “playing” I also want grippy sticks for “twirling”.

  • When I was first teaching myself about drumming, I intensely watched the drummers at each concert I went to. Back in the 70s, when I was doing this, you could easily go up to the higher levels in the concert hall and stand either next to the stage or slightly behind it. I would head for that “watch the drummer” sweet-spot every time. I could see almost every drum-strike and pedal-press they made. Whenever they would “twirl” their drumsticks, it went by so fast, I couldn’t really tell what they were doing. I “thought” they were “twirling” their sticks end-over-end, around their Index Finger. So that’s what I taught myself. (I’m still not very good at it.) To do this, it requires that your Index Finger be at the balance point of the stick. Most drumstick manufacturers stop their “grip coating” just before this point. This means… when I twirl a stick, even with a rubberized coating on it, my finger starts at the non-grip area and then the sticks usually slip away from me.

Right now, I’m still experimenting but the “Chrome” coating seems to work just a bit better than the “LeakSeal” rubber. Neither is as grippy as I need for twirling but the sticks ARE tacky enough to remain comfortably in my hands. (Keep in mind, I’ve only been testing these coatings for 2-days.)

Besides ending-up with a consistent grippy coating, I prefer to have that coating be “clear”. This will allow me to paint my drumsticks “purple”, Sylvia’s favorite color or a gradient of “blue-to-purple”, which is our band’s colors — Sylvia’s “purple” and my “blue”. Plus, I can then print out our band’s logo on clear, self-sticking paper, cut them out and attach it to my drumsticks. When finished, each stick will be colored, show our logo AND be tacky.

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Although I talk a lot about “synthesizers”, I’m really a “Drummer”. (However, I also like doing Sound Design.)
About a week ago, I was doing some research on the different ways Drummers keep their drumsticks from slipping in their hands when their hands begin to sweat.
I looked through ideas on:

  • drumstick tape,
  • spray-on rubber coating,
  • roughly-sanded drumsticks,
  • and the various tacky liquids that companies make for this purpose.

At one point, while in the middle of all this confusion, Sylvia mentioned: “Why not use that extra tube of “lip balm” that’s on your desk?” So I put some on my hands and then coated the drumsticks with it. It’s a bit too tacky but it does work.
Today, when I started to practice my drums, I noticed that the lip balm coating had worn off. Since that tube had been finished, I used another tube from a different manufacturer. However, this brand didn’t work at all. It almost made the drumsticks slippery. I even tested a 3rd brand that we had and it didn’t work either. So here’s the score:

  • Badger (brand) lip balm is what I used first and worked the best.
  • Biggs & Featherbelle (brand) almost made the drumsticks slippery.
  • Alaffia (brand) also didn’t work.

So the next time Sylvia and I are shopping, we’ll pick-up another tube of Badger brand and I’ll do a little more testing with it.
Just thought I’d pass this along, in case it helps others in the same situation.

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Novation Ultranova

Although Sylvia and I have owned a Novation “Ultranova” synthesizer for several months, I was having a difficult time wrapping my head around its various sections and how they interconnect with each other. My synthesizer background has been with the:

  • Mini Moog (purchased “new” back in the 70s and later sold),
  • the Vako Polyphonic Orchestron (purchased “new” back in the 70s and later sold. Not really a “synthesizer” but a “reproducer” of recorded sound),
  • the ARP 2600 (purchased “used” back in the 70s and later sold. In the mid-80s, Sylvia and I purchased a “new” one when we heard ARP had just announced they were going out of business)

Thinking I needed to create a type of “overflow chart”, showing “what” connects to “what”, I printed out several pages of the Owner’s Manual and brought it to work. For the last few weeks, I looked through it during lunch.
After reading through it more closely, I discovered that one aspect of my confusion was from the cryptic titles printed on the screen, indicating the different functions. For example: “01WTInt” stands for “Oscillator 1, Wave Table Interpolation”. Then, reading its details helped me understand that this feature adjusts the movement between certain Wave Tables from “Stepped” to “Smooth” when activated.
I also more-clearly understood that certain functions are not as complicated as I thought they were. They’re simply “routed” or “accessed” in a way that’s different from what I’m used to with other synths. For example: the Ultranova does offer “Ring Modulation” but there is no dedicated “button” or “knob” for this. Instead, it’s selected in the “Mixer” — because it’s a mixture between Oscillators 1 and 3 or Oscillators 2 and 3. Your choice.
At first glance, the Ultranova seems to have a lot of “menu diving” but after my recent working with it, I now see that most sections only have one or two “screens” worth of adjustments.
At a retail price of just $600, this synthesizer is well-worth the money.

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