Wednesday, 30 January 2019

My new GTK33 Studio!!!

Be warned, this is a loooooong bloggy posty!!!
So in my last bloggy thing, I alluded to an influx of hardware into my . Well I thought for this bloggy posty thingy I would expand upon the hardware thing, with a run down of what's now residing in my wee music making room and a few pics of the set up.

As the studio has had such an impacting level of change, I thought I might update the name a bit - I guess the title of this posting gave it away, but hey, GTK33 Studio is the new handle. I'm nothing if not original......

Now, to be clear, I haven't abandoned software in favour of hardware, no, I have not become a tiresome "only hardware for me" bore, in fact, far from it. Over the last year I have invested heavily into the best I could get so that my production side is now completely "in the box", and the greater part of my recordings will remain software synthesizers - no end of hardware synths will replace the likes of Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 or ReFX Nexus²!!!

Anyway, digressing. The move to bringing back hardware was in part due to undertaking a course of study relating to my day job - the very nature of my work and studies are quite intense on many levels, so I wanted to be able to do something practical in my downtime from work and study that would help me take my mind away from that part of my life. Small form synthesizers were the order of the day.
I now have twelve hardware synths living in my studio, along with relevant audio and digital interfaces. There is a mix of companies, but the main two are Korg and Behringer. So without further ado, here we go:


The Korg MS-20 Mini synthesizer is a 2-oscillator semi-modular monophonic unit. It has both hi-pass and low-pass filters, each with their own resonance controls. It also has a patch bay for extended modulation purposes. The MS-20 Mini can hold it's with the biggest of them all with it's growling basses, snarling leads and filters that scream like a bitch. It's got huge playability despite slim keys (I personally have absolutely no issue with either slim or mini keys, but a lot of people do seem to cry about it - hum-ho) and I totally adore it's filth, it's grit and it's rawness. I've been wanting an MS-20 since I was 13 years old - 40 years on, I've got one. Moving on......


The Korg Monologue is a 2-oscillator fixed-architecture monophonic synthesizer, with built-in effects and a 16-step on-board sequencer. As with the MS-20 Mini synthesizer, it has the slim keys (see previous comments about said slim keys) and whilst it might look a basic unit, it appearance belies a powerful sound. It's a very playable machine, it wants to be tweaked and it gives much in return. I was a little hesitant when the salesman in my local PMT store recommended it, but 5 minutes playing it convinced me I needed this little beastie.


The Korg microKORG synthesizer is a 4-note polyphonic analogue-modelled affair that has been around since 2002 and shows no sign of falling out of favour or indeed, showing its age!!! Alongside a very respectable sound engine, it can also serve as a vocoder, providing some fantastic electronic voices from robotic to android choirs. It has mini keys, however, any decent keyboardist can work round this. For more involved keyboardisting I simply control it using my Novation ReMOTE 61 SL MIDI keyboard controller. And that vocoder...…!!!


Another Korg, this time we have a real oldie but seriously good goodie in the shape of the half-rack sized Korg 05R/W digital synthesizer module, based on the Korg 01/W series that uses AI synthesis. The 05R/W contains 340 multi-sampled waveforms, 8-part multi-timbral, 164 drum sounds and the presence of GM (General MIDI) is strongly felt. The 05R/W also has a very effective and superb sounding (considering the time it was made!!!) multi-effect processor that allows up to four simultaneous effects. Another fab addition to this little unit is the alternative tuning scales facility - this allows for Arabic, Werkmeister and Indonesian scales as well as the usual equal-tempered alongside the capability to create and store your own!!!


Again, a pair of small form synthesizers that, on first encounters, look like a couple of toys. They are most definitely NOT toys. Built-in sequencers (pitch and motion), impressive filters, MIDI IN and able to sync to the Monologue and the MS-20 Mini as well as to each other, these little units are veritable powerhouses. The membrane touch keyboard can be overcome by controlling from a MIDI keyboard and when fed through studio monitors, they shine brightly. I have the Volcas connected to the system via MIDI and mainly use them for sequencing duties, for which they are more than capable.


Another small form synthesizer, again with mini keys, only one oscillator and tiny in size, but by golly this little synth has got some seriously hairy bollocks!!! And it has a built-in sequencer. And it has a mini patch bay for CV/gate control as well as CV/gate outputs on the back. It can go from cold and metallic to soft and gentle to aggressive and harsh. I have to say that I was blown away by this little unit. Like the Korg Monologue (to which the Microbrute is a perfect partner), this little synth is very playable and just loves to be tweaked. Coupled with the CV/gate options, it's a very flexible bit of kit and is an awesome component in a semi-modular set up - I 've already had plenty of sleepless nights patching and tweaking the Microbrute with the Neutron, System-1m, MS-20 Mini and Model D.


You may have seen a fair bit of comment across the Internet about this little Eurorack-sized piece of equipment. What Behringer has provided here is a small form "clone" of the legendary Moog Minimoog synthesizer, that has proven both divisive and achieved much acclaim at the same time. It's Eurorack-compatible and Eurorack-sized, but it punches well above it's weight and it's sound dominates much like it's inspiration. The leads cut like a knife, the bottom makes yer trouser bottoms flap and it's filters are bordering on orgasmic. This is a veritable wolf in sheep's clothing, it's perverse, it's filthy and I fucking love it!!!


A second Eurorack-sized synthesizer from Behringer, the Neutron is a monophonic 2-oscillator semi-modular analogue unit with dual 3340 VCOs, a multi-mode VCF, two ADSRs, as well as a BBD Delay and overdrive circuit and, get this, a 56-point patch bay. It's had a very positive response since its release in 2018 and with good reason. It's a stonking piece kit. Coupled up to the Arturia MicroBrute, the Behringer Model D, the Korg MS-20 Mini and the Roland System-1m, you have an awful lot of patching capabilities for endless hours of sonic mayhem and creation.


The Roland System-1m is a keyboardless Eurorack-sized version of their System-1 synthesizer, lacking the arpeggiator and control wheels of the latter but instead enjoying CV/GATE patch points. As well as being a 2-oscillator, 4-note polyphonic virtual analogue synthesizer, it is also capable of hosting and controlling several of Roland's AIRA Plugout synthesizers, such as the Promars, SH-2 and SH--101. It is able to conjure up a multitude of sounds ranging from dreamy pads and sparkling plucks to raw metallic lead and fierce basses. And those lights!!!


The diminutive 2-oscillator UNO synthesizer from Italian music gear manufacturer IK Multimedia is a curious little thing. It's small, very light in weight and really quite plasticky. I bought it pretty much on a whim as I had heard it in action at the 2018 SynthFest in Sheffield. When it arrived, I wasn't sure that I had spent money wisely as the build is not and it's very finicky when hooked up the computer. In fact, whilst trying desperately to update its firmware and get its app to work I was fast reaching the decision for sell it on. It really was too much trouble and had it not been for my chum and fellow synth enthusiast Rob Puricelli (of "Failed Muso" blog fame), it would have gone. And am I glad he guided me through the darkest waters of the UNO's reluctant updating procedures because this is one synth that is not a book to be judged by its cover.


Okay, the CRAFTsynth from U.K. synth company Modal Electronics is not a recent purchase as I bought mine in the Summer of 2017. But I include it here because it's seeing a new lease of life since the arrival of the new hardware. It's a very cool digital monophonic synthesizer which has some amazing features for it's size that you might only find on more expensive synths. The CRAFTsynth has two oscillators with sine, triangle, sawtooth, PWM, Noise and FM, as well as an LFO with six destinations that include VCA amplitude, filter cutoff and PWM. As with the Korg Volcas and IK Multimedia UNO synths, don't let yourself be fooled by size, this little unit can kick some serious arse (sorry/not sorry it's "ass" - I'm English, not American).


Now, I love vocoders. No, I really do. I was VERY satisfied by the Korg microKORG, but I still had a hankering after the Vocalist II from U.S. company, Digitech. I had one a few years ago and I really enjoyed using it, but the desire for a more software based studio saw it go. Anywho, I just got one for an absolute steal on evilBay and no postage costs wither because the seller was in my home city of Norwich!!! Love a bonus. Anyway, I digresss. The Vocalist II is not a new machine. Nope. It was originally released in 1993 and found favour with one of my musical idols and inspirations, John Foxx. It's basically a pitch shifter that can do the traditional vocoder thing, but it's more immediate strengths lie in it's capapbility to provide you with 5-part harmonies, played from a MIDI keyboard or sequenced from  a DAW via MIDI. It's a bit of a challenge to program at times, but the results are more than worth the effort.


I've been using a terrific little Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2-channel audio interface for the couple of years. It's sturdy, stable and reliable as well as sounding great. However, the advent of hardware synthesizers saw my needing more audio inputs into my computer and so I opted for the Behringer UMC1820 audio interface. This gives me eight separate audio input channels so that each input ( hardware synthesizer) has it's own track and can be both recorded simultaneously with and processed separately from the other hardware synthesizers. It also has MIDI IN and OUT, as well ADAT connections. The eight inputs are combined XLR and line in sockets, and each input has a MIDAS preamp.


So, the Behringer UMC1820 audio interface has eight inputs. I have twelve synths and a mic. Doesn't add up does it. No. I really needed more inputs so the best way forward was add the ADA8200 digital interface to the equation. The ADA8200 (the unit with the red, blue and yellow leads coming out of it), which is connected the UMC1820 via an ADAT connection, basically gives me another eight audio inputs, taking the total number of audio inputs to sixteen. Each input has both XLR and line inputs as well as MIDAS preamps. It was a breeze to set up, hitting the ground running as soon as it was connected and switched on - within a half hour, I was running seven synthesizers, sequenced from Reaper on my computer. The UMC1820/ADA8200 combination is quite a formidable one for the home project studio, and I'm very much looking forward to the expanded possibilities these two units will offer me.

So there you have it, the run-down on the current state of hardware affairs in the GTK33 Studio. It's a nice little collection of synths, both digital and (predominantly) analogue, that give me the option of a multitude of sonic possibilities, and as a whole, they are a cool addition to the many software synths I already have at my disposal. When I have some time (hopefully soon!!!), I'll be sorting a run-down of the studio software - now that'll be a long'un!!!

Life and studio update :-)

Oooops, I did it again - several months since the last bloggy posty thing. Seriously though, where does the time go? Blink and six mont...