Knobcon Synthesizer Convention Round-Up

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Gone are the days when major/quirky/innovative synthesiser announcements were reserved exclusively for the Winter NAMM Show or MusikMesse. Berlin’s Superbooth is perhaps the biggest day of the year for many modular enthusiasts and always brings with it a plethora of new gadgets to get your mouth watering. Another prominent synthesiser specific trade show/convention is Knobcon in Chicago, and 2019 marks its 8th birthday, which took place earlier this month. Most of the big names were in attendance including Korg, Roland, Yamaha, Buchla and Moog as well as a long list of smaller boutique manufacturers such as Erica Synths, Studio Electronics and Delta Sound Labs.  There was plenty to see so here’s our pick of highlights from the show.

Modal Argon8

Modal synth. 3 Sept 2019

We posted about this last week when it was announced. The Argon8 synth builds on the Wavetable engine from CRAFTsynth 2.0 combining it with the voice stacking polyphonic architecture of the SKULPT and adds a full size Fatar keybed with aftertouch, XY joystick, oscilloscope display, all packed in a rugged steel/aluminum chassis. Check out our full article for the complete specs.

Korg NTS-1

This was teased back at Superbooth but now we have all the details. This DIY monotron sized synth kit is now the most affordable way to get access to Korg’s innovative and customizable multi-engine digital oscillator as seen on the prologue, and minilogue xd.

As well as offering traditional virtual analog waveforms, the multi-engine is packed with VPM oscillators for 2-operator style FM synthesis and a user mode allowing you upload custom oscillators. There are plenty of great 3rd party oscillators available now, but it’s also easier than ever to make your own with 3rd party apps like Wave Shaper allowing you to convert samples into a multi-engine compatible format.

This looks like a pretty crazy deal at $159 AU which should hit our shores later this year. Check our our full NTS-1 article here. 

ASM Hydrasynth

This one certainly took us by surprise. Not to be outdone by Modal’s 8 Voice aftertouch equipped Argon8 Wavetable synth, ASM arrived at Knobcon to show off their 8 Voice Wavetable Hydrasynth with polyphonic aftertouch and a huge array of tantalizing specs. Interestingly, Knobcon 2019 was also the first public appearance of the company ASM themselves who’s VP of Product Development Glen Darcy will be familiar to many viewers of Arturia’s official YouTube channel. The Hydrasynth will also be available as a desktop module. Check out our full article for more details.

VCV Rack Updates

We covered VCV Rack’s major 1.0 update when it was released earlier this year and it continues to grow as a powerful open source eurorack style modular soft-synth environment. The crew were on-site at Knobcon to show off some tasty new modules including VCV Chord (which as you may expect, creates chords), and due to popular demand there is now a VST plugin version of the rack being developed for commercial release.

Checkout VCV Rack’s website for the growing list of 1st and 3rd party modules, and if you’re new to VCV Rack have a look at our article on VCV Rack 1.0 to find out why you need it in your modular life.

Curious Sound Objects Bitty

Curious Sound Objects describe Bitty as ‘A fun ass sound toy’, a sentence whose meaning could be dramatically altered with some misplaced punctuation. Regardless, this Arduino-compatible battery/USB powered pocket-operator-esque machine indeed looks like a ton of fun if you don’t mind your synths with packing a bit of grit. Operation is straightforward with four trigger pads, and two knobs for parameter adjustment. Buying a single unit gives you access to the full library of available soundpacks, so it’s easy to quickly convert your Bitty from a Theremin to a trap kit for example.

Bitty is on target to launch in 2020. Checkout their Kickstarter campaign for more info.

Erica Synths Pico System 3

Erica Synths showed up to Knobcon with a super intriguing prototype of a new Pico System 3. Instead of individual eurorack modules like the previous Pico Series entries, Pico System 3 is a single self contained unit with no case required.

There’s a bit for everybody here with a Pulse Width oscillator, a west coast style waveshaping oscillator (and 2 low-pass gates) a sequencer, bucket brigade delay and more. Perhaps the most curious addition is the Voicecard preset management system, similar to that used on the Buchla Music Easel. These voicecards slot into the left side of the unit and can recall any patching configuration, no cables required. 5 cards will be supplied with the unit along with a blank card for you to solder your own patches. That’s right. Solder your own patches.

It remains to be seen how popular this awkwardly cumbersome patch management/storage system will be, but it’s undeniably interesting and perfectly symbolizes the idiosyncratic nature of the modular synth community.

As this is still a prototype, there’s not a lot of information out there, but head to Erica Synths’ website for more information about the current Pico Series as well as the recently announced Black System II


Honorable Mention – Teenage Engineering Rumble

Although Teenage Engineering were not actually at Knobcon 2019, this timely product announcement piqued our interest and feels like a worthy honorary addition to our list. In their own words: “rumble is the second hardware expansion module for the OP-Z. it’s a built-in haptic subwoofer, using high-definition vibrotactile feedback and psychoacoustic technology, allowing you to feel your music. when using rumble you will feel like you’re holding and listening to a deep sounding subwoofer. the frequency response 10 – 150 hz is designed to maximize impact while minimizing additional energy consumption. it also features a silent metronome mode, great when performing live to always know exactly where the beat is.”We honestly haven’t seen enough synthesiser optimised portable haptic subwoofers with vibrotactile feedback. It’s available now for $89 USD.

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