In the following interview, veteran keyman Erik Norlander talks about his involvement with the design of IK Multimedia's ( new ) UNO symth ( -and tangentally about "his baby", the "Syntronik" soft-synth suite ). Read through to the end for "things to come" ( -or at least my suggestions for some cool products I'd love to see Erik and IK tackle in the future ). Would you like to see these products made as well? Weigh-in and let us know!
When I first learned about IK Multimedia's ( new ) UNO synth I knew I'd be writing about it in CTN. Once
I found out about it's stellar feature-set and ridiculously low price I knew it would be of great interest to every CTN reader. After all, reviewing "biggest-bang-for-your-buck" gear is what we're all about! I was even more intrigued when I came across some online videos featuring Erik Norlander talking about and demoing the
UNO. Did IK merely hire Erik to promote the UNO at these trade shows or did he in-fact have a "guiding
hand" in developing and designing the UNO? I had to find out. Ergo, this interview.
*P.S: A big heartfelt "thank you" to IK Multimedia's Leslie Buttonow ( -who tracked down Erik , got him my questions and then e-mailed back his answers ). Quite literally, this interview would NOT have been possible with out Leslie's exemplary efforts to "make it happen". As well, my thanks to Erik for taking time from a grueling trade show schedule to provide the answers you're about to read.
( -RIGHT ) ERIK ON THE TRADE SHOW CIRCUIT.
Explaining IK's ( new ) UNO Synth to the music media. To Erik's right is Enrico Dell'Aversana, IK Multimedia product manager. Soundmachines is the Italian boutique design firm that collaborated with IK on the UNO.
Tomm Buzzetta -Creative Tech Nerds ( CTN ): How did you become involved with the Uno's development?
Erik Norlander: I created a virtual instrument with IK Multimedia called Syntronik that we released last year. It is based on samples of my own classic synthesizer collection combined with IK's modeling of the filters from some of the most famous models like the Moog 904a, Oberheim SEM and Roland Jupiter-8. And of course it includes IK's brilliant effects from AmpliTube, T-RackS and Sample Tank, plus a few new ones like the Ensemble effect that models the chorus-phaser of the famous ARP String Ensemble and the Roland Juno-60 synth and classic Roland string machine ensemble choruses. Throughout the development of Syntronik, we talked about how cool it would be to make an actual hardware synthesizer instead of a software plug-in. With the success of Syntronik, it was clear to us that we needed to finally venture into the world of analog synthesizer hardware.
( -RIGHT: ERIK NORLANDER AT THE ALESIS ANDROMEDA )
Session player ( -on Arjen Anthony Lucassen's "Universal Migrator, Parts
1 & 2" ), "Rocket Scientists" band member and solo artist in his own right, Erik's fascination with old-school analog instruments has resulted in two decades of analog-oriented albums. If you haven't already, check out our review of his "Galactic Collective Definitive Edition" CD/ DVD and his latest album "Surreal". Tapping into Erik's extensive knowledge of vintage synths and design expertise ( -hone on such synths as Alesis' "Andromeda" ), has given IK a distinct "edge-up" in the R&D department! BEWARE: THE "WALL OF DOOM"!
*NOTE: The paragraph ( above ) is but a "quick snapshot" of Erik's career. For a more extensive "bio" and
discography visit Erik's Website.
CTN: What specific features did you push for in the Uno?
Erik Norlander: My design called for two oscillators and a noise generator through a resonant multimode filter, an all-analog audio path. Then this audio path was to be controlled by two envelopes, assigned to the filter and amplifier, respectively, along with a flexible LFO that could sync to external MIDI as well and run freely on it's own. It was critical that the envelopes had the right exponential shape to them as all of the best classic synth envelopes do, so we made sure to get that 100% right. Then add to this an arpeggiator and step sequencer. That was the vision, and in the end, that's what we got!
Okay, I'm just going to say it: IK Multimedia's new UNO synth has the BEST feature-set of any ( $300.00 or under ) synth currently on the market! Check out all of these cool features and "sonic goodies":
* An ALL ANALOG signal path ( -with two continuously variable wave shape VCO's -including PWM of the square wave, a Noise Generator, a Two-Pole Multimode VCF ( -with LP, HP and BP responses ), ( -ABOVE) IK's UNO SYNTHESIZER
* An LFO with all the usual waveforms PLUS "Sample & Hold" and "Random" ( -routable to pitch, filter, amp ),
* Attack and Decay Envelopes for the Filter. Attack and Release Envelopes for the VCA ( -accessible from the front panel with the other stages accessible via MIDI CC or the unit's software editor ),
* A ten-mode/ four octave Arpeggiator,
* A sixteen-step ( -20 parameter automatable ) realtime/ step edit Sequencer, * Five Performance Buttons
( -similar to those on Novation's Mininova ), * A ( 27-note) touch-sensing Chromatic/ Scale Keyboard ( -with thirteen scales ). Whew, are we done yet? Nope, not yet!
* A Sync Delay effect, * Self-tuning with "Auto-Tune" calibration ( -no "drifty" Oscs -yeah! ), * USB MIDI and
2.5 mm MIDI In/ Out ( -proprietary cables included ), * A nifty Audio In "Daisy Chain" connection ( -a thought-ful accommodation for the mixer-less ), * A Mac/ PC software Editor/ Librarian ( -which I'll never touch! ),
* Full MIDI Implementation of all Parameters, * Clock controllable via MIDI CC.,
And lastly, two features that make me very happy: * Economical ( 4 x AA Battery ) or USB Powering -freeing you from the tyranny of AC outlets! The unit's compact, lightweight Italian design ( -courtesy Soundmachines ) virtually screams: "Play me in a secluded mountain meadow next to a babbling brook". Nice stuff ! -Tomm.
( -LEFT ) CLOSE-UP OF THE UNO's CONTROL PANEL.
( 40 ) onboard controls, an LED display, a four-knob by four row matrix of control parameters, extra knobs for filter cut-off, tempo and volume, 5 performance buttons, up & down buttons for choosing from ( 100 ) presets, arpeggiator and sequencer buttons and various buttons for glide, octave, delay, global and alt functions -along with a 27-note chromatic/ scale keyboard. -CHOOSING AN UNO PRESET That basically sums up the UNO's front control panel.
CTN: WHY did you push for those specific features?
Erik Norlander: There is nothing like a real analog synth, nothing like the sound of true free-running analog oscillators. I have been involved in some absolutely fantastic virtual instruments -Syntronik is the most recent one, of course, and it is a truly brilliant VI ( -virtal instrument ). But a real analog synth is another animal. It is a living, breathing, organic instrument that is ever changing and animating in subtle ways or not-so-subtle ways. I am so proud of the previous instruments with which I've been involved ( -and of course the Andromeda is
a highlight there ). But now the UNO Synth is another chapter.
Beaming like a new papa showing-off the latest addition to his "family". Erik and IK Multimedia are justifiably proud of the "new kid". And a cute little tyke he is too! But watch out for this toddler's analog "snarl". He may be teething but the little bugger has some real old-school "bite"!
Combining lightweight ( 4 x AA battery ) mobility, an all-analog signal path and a stellar set of features ( -and doing all of this for an insanely low price tag of just $199.99 ), Erik and IK have really pulled-out all the stops in creating this nifty little "Everyman's Synth". And at this price why not buy TWO? ( -ABOVE ) THE "NEW KID"
CTN: Can you tell us a little about the Italian Soundmachines design team tasked with designing the UNO?
Erik Norlander: Soundmachines is an excellent Italian boutique synthesizer manufacturer and they approached IK Multimedia to see if IK was interested in collaborating on new products. This was a happy coincidence since we were already planning to make an analog synth. So, Soundmachines did the actual electrical design on the synth based on our specification. It has been a great relationship and I hope it continues.
CTN: Are they an "offshoot" of Fatar or Crumar ( or ) an altogether new Italian synth design firm?
Erik Norlander: Soundmachines is an independent company not related to Fatar or Crumar.
With a pair of headphones and four AA batteries, you can play the UNO Synth anywhere! On a park bench. In a grassy meadow. On a train or buss. You name it! No longer do you have to be tethered to an AC outlet to CREATE your music!
How cool is that? The UNO can also be USB powered.
( -ABOVE ) UNO PARK BENCH "CONCERTO"
CTN: Obviously, the UNO is the polar opposite of the Alesis Andromeda ( -a "cost no object" dream synth ) that you had a hand in designing years ago. Contrary to the Andromeda, I see the UNO as more of a "common man's synth". A stunningly full-featured yet affordable mono-synth that finally brings electronic-music down to the level of the average man and woman ( -as opposed to the privileged realm of Ivy League University "Electronic Music" departments and wealthy rock stars ). Was that in-fact, part of the thinking and "design ethic" behind the UNO?
Erik Norlander: Yes, I think you said it well. The Andromeda is perhaps the ultimate analog synthesizer with almost every function you can imagine, and then with ( 32 ) oscillators and ( 32 ) filters. It was a very expensive synth at the time, and now on the used market they are going for even more than the original retail price. The UNO Synth is very the "everyman's synth". It is 1/5th the price of the Andromeda, and it is a much more straightforward instrument. However, the thread that ties the two together is the sound quality. Both are based on real, living, animated analog oscillators and filters. You can use the UNO Synth on a big album production, major film score or arena concert, and it will surely hold it's own against other analog synths.
( -RIGHT ) THE UNO'S REAR-PANEL CONNECTIONS
The diagram to the right shows the UNO Synth's extensive rear-panel connections. In addition to headphone and line out jacks, IOS/ PC and Mac
MIDI In, USB power in and 2.5 mm MIDI In and
Out ports, a thoughtful audio in "daisy chain" jack
is also provided. Nice! ( -TOP RIGHT ) THE UNO IS "WELL CONNECTED"
CTN: The UNO's ad copy is a tad unclear on this point -so maybe you can clarify this point for our readers: Can the UNO's LFO be used to continuously modulate the pulse-width of the Uno oscillator's square waves ( -or can you only "set" the pulse-width duty-cycle of each oscillator's square waves directly from the oscillators themselves ) with no continuous PWM from the LFO?
Erik Norlander: The oscillator waveform shape as well as the pulse width of he square wave can be independently modulated for each oscillator by both the LFO and the filter envelope.
( -LEFT ) GETTING "HANDS ON" WITH THE UNO The UNO's programming matrix and clever front panel design make getting around the unit a breeze. The sheer number of features is amazing. Especially, considering it's tiny $199.99 price tag! Products like the UNO, Syntronik and Modo Bass make I.K. Multimedia a company worth
keeping an eye on! "UNO" IS TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL
CTN: Has there been any talk of following up the UNO with another ( -more advanced ) hardware synth next year? Perhaps one havng the UNO's current feature set in addition to: a three octave keyboard, VCO's: each having several mixable waveforms ( -adjustable from front-panel sliders ) enhanced with two selectable sub-octave oscillators ( -pitched one and two octaves down from the lowest oscillator's pitch )? Perhaps a more full-featured effects section ( -having a phaser, flanger and chorus, along with the current model's delay PLUS a stereo panner effect that could be combined with any of the other effects -for stereo-panning chorus, phasing -along with stereo outputs of course?
Well, that would be my "wish list" for such a model for what it's worth! Any chance of seeing something
like this at next year's NAMM Show?
Erik Norlander: We have of course had follow-up conversations, but that's all "top secret" for now. -END OF INTERVIEW-
For my upcoming "Hands On Review" of IK Multimedia's UNO Synth. You'll find it right here on this webpage. The folks at Sweetwater tells us it should be delivered
sometime in mid-July. Can't wait! ( -ABOVE ) GETTING "HANDS ON" WITH THE UNO
At the UNO's suggested retail price of $199.99 it's almost a "no-brainer" to buy TWO! For what a lot of "starter" synths will cost you, you can purchase TWO UNO's.
Imagine the sonic potential...
Not only will you double the oscillators ( -FOUR instead of the two you generally get with the standard $399.99 "starter" synth ), you'll also get double the Filters, LFO's, Envelopes, not to mention the extra arpeggiator, sequencer and OTHER "sonic goodies" ( -like S&H, delay, etc. ).
And since BOTH units have identical features, controls and layout -you won't have to learn a new synth. Double the -"DOUBLING" UNO'S SONIC POTENTIAL! sonic firepower minus the new synth "learning curve"!
Recently, I've been thinking:
"How cool would it be if Erik and IK turned Syntronik into a "Hybrid" Hardware Synth?
Companies like Arturia, Creamware/ Sonic Core GmbH and inDSP/ Use Audio have converted softsynths into hardware in the past *( -See their back stories below ). There's really no technical reason why this couldn't be done with IK. Multumedia's "Syntronik" as well ( -especially, considering the dropping price of high-quality DSP chips ). And considering Syntronik's superb sound-quality, I can't think of a better case for doing it!
Imagine the power of having multiple "Syntronik Deuxe" analog synth emulations in a "reach out and tweak it" hardware instrument! No fussing with computers, mice or monitors! Just the old-school immediacy and "live performance" tactile feedback of an honest-to-goodness hardware instrument ( -sporting a front panel full of beefy, Moog-style knurled knobs and buttons ). Could anything possibly be cooler than that?
"Syntronik Deluxe" presents THE BEST CASE YET for turning a computer softsynth into a "Hybrid Hardware" Synth. "Syntronik Deluxe's" suite of twenty two authentic sounding analog emulations virtually screams "tweak me"! And what better way to do that than by giving musicians a control panel with the "live-performance" knobs and buttons they need to unleash "Syntronik's" potential!
A laboratory full of vintage analog synths and key- boards. That sums up "Syntronk Deluxe"! One or more "Plugiator" style instrument ( s ) affording keyboardists the immediate tactile feedback of old-school "instruments" ( -with front-panel access to their various synth and keyboard parameters ). Wouldn't that be a "dream come true" for any synth freak? Weigh-in. Give us your "feedback"! ( -see below ). A SYNTRONIK HARDWARE "INSTRUMENT"?
DSP Audio Processor hardware instruments are nothing new. Arturia took their well-known "V" Series of soft-synths and tranformed them ( -via the magic of Analog Device's "Tiger Sharc" chips ) into a knobby hardware module they called the "Origin". It allowed users to create and play new hybrid "instruments" ( -by mixing and matching oscillators, filters and other synth components from the "V" Series ) into new "hybrid" synth creations. Problem was, the "Origin" didn't come cheap. Few could afford it! Check out our interview ( -ABOVE ) ARTURIA'S "ORIGIN" with Arturia's co-founder Frederic Brun for more details.
Around 2005/ 2006 Creamware/ Sonic Core
( -known for their Scope and Minimax software ), came out with their "Authentic Sound Box" ( ASB ) line of hardware instruments. This, in the midst of the company's break-up and division of intellectual property rights. The ASB's presented gorgeous hardware instrument replicas mimicking the control panels of their software emulations of the Mini-moog, Odyssey, Sequential Pro and even Hammond B3. As nice as they were, it was inDSP/ Use Audio, ( - co-inheritor of Creamware's intellectual property rights ) that really did something special. ( -ABOVE ) THE "MINIMAX" ( ASB )
They introduced the "Plugiator". This compact, desktop hardware module allowed users access to ALL of the ASB softsynth emulations ( -along with a few new ones ) and did it all form ONE BOX! A brilliant concept! I owned two of these units myself. "Plugiator" came with three of the instruments factory installed and one free for download. The rest of these "plug-ins" were available for a nominal ( -ABOVE ) USE AUDIO'S "PLUGIATOR" charge ( -downloadable from the Use Audio website ). The unit's front panel presented you with a matrix style grid of knobs ( -across the top ) with eight lines ( -each dedicated to a particular "plug-in" synth ). It afforded some basic parameter programming tweaks from the front panel ( -with deeper programming via computer ). While brilliant in concept, the "Plugiator's"Acihlles Heal was it's over-dependence upon the computer ( -both to download/ install it's "plug-ins": a confusing, arduous process that involved voucher and activation codes ) and it's equally nightmarish "Plug-In Manager" interface that required Adobe Flash V 9 to run!
LESSONS LEARNED: Needless to say, IK Multimedia should pay close attention to the lessons learned from these earlier "Hybrid Hardware" Instruments and avoid their pitfalls ( -especially that of depending too much upon external computers and online downloads! ). A fully-stocked, self-contained instrument that can be played like an old-school vintage "instrument" right-out-of-the-box ( -INDEPENDENT OF and APART FROM EXTERNAL COMPUTERS and WEBSITE DOWNLOADS! ) should be amongst it's top design priorities!
In designing such a synth, one could take the more expensive approach ( or ) the smarter more affordable "cost-effective" approach. The more expensive approach might start off by selecting 24 -25 control param-eters common to all ( 22 ) of Syntronik Deluxe's synths ( -i.e: things like oscillator wave and tuning, filter cut-off and resonance, LFO speed and depth, filter and amp ADSR envelopes, etc. ) and then designing a control-panel giving users direct access to these parameters. That approach would work but all of those knobs might be expensive. And 24 -25 parameters really doesn't allow for very deep programming anyway.
( -RIGHT ) MOCK-UP OF EMS' "PUTNEY" VCS3 SYNTHESIZER
The British EMS Company's VCS3 Synth has been heard on Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" ( -it was actually the Synthi-AKs briefcase version -though the circuitry is nearly identical ), on many of Brian Eno's "tone poems" and on too many other avante garde recordings to mention. It's been faithfully emulated in Syntronik Deluxe. Imagine having this unique synth ( -along with 43 OTHERS ) available from ONE ( -or several ) "Plugiator-sized" HARDWARE instrument( s )! ( -ABOVE RIGHT ) SYNTRONIK'S "VCF3" ( -THEIR VERSION OF THE LEGENDARY EMS VCS3 )
Carefully side-stepping the mistakes of past "hybrid synths", here's my idea of what an IK Multimedia "Syntronik Hardware Synth" might look like. Click the link below ( -and scroll down to the "Cast Your VOTE!" paragraph near the bottom of the page ) https://creativetechnerds.jimdo.com/ik-multimedia-modo-bass-1-5/ to read more about it's feature set. Let us know if you'd like to see IK Multimedia put this and the OTHER two ( "Syntronik" and "MODO BASS 1.5" inspired ) machines pictured there put into production. We'll pass along your comments to the company.
Five "Syntronik" instruments ( -having the "audio DNA" of 14 Moog synths ) with full hands-on control of ( 69 ) parameters per synth -for about the cost of what competing manufacturers charge you for their single engine hardware synths! Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. What do YOU think?
At nearly half the size and weight of today's smallest workstation keyboard ( -Korg's Kross-2 61-key ), the "Grab & Go" design above ( -stocked with "Syntronik", "MODO BASS" and new vintage guitar, bass and drum kit sounds ) would be a "dream come true" for touring keyboardists ( -tired of lugging around today's big, bulky, behemoth ( 15-35 lb ) workstation keyboards ).
This three octave ( mini-key ) workstation would cram an entire museum's worth of priceless analog synths, keyboards, basses, acoustic and electric guitars ( -along with 12 vintage drum-kits ) into a light-weight, easily transportable "gig-bag" sized instrument. With a built-in ( 24-bit/ 96 Khz ) eight track recorder, eight drum/ sample pads ( -to the right of the keyboard ), and the ability to record and "sample" both internal as well as external instruments -this compact workstation keyboard eclipses anything the "Big 5" currently have!
Suddenly, gigging would become FUN again for touring keyboardists! And home project-studio owners would finally be able to "fit" a full-featured workstation keyboard into their limited work spaces!
WHAT? JUST THREE-OCTAVES? MINI-KEYS?
I can already see some keyboardists "rolling their eyes" saying this. If you're one of them then yeah, this work-station isn't for you. It's for keyboardists who are tired of hefting around big, bulky workstation keyboards. It's for touring axemen sick of stressing about having their ( $1,500.00 - $2,500.00 ) "livelihoods" stolen ( -or having it "bite the dust" due the rigors of the road ). -FOR THE "EYE-ROLLERS" *NOTE: loosing a $600.00 keyboard hurts a lot less than loosing $2,500.00 keyboard! It's for the people who want the entire "analog era" available from a single keyboard ( -compact enough to "ride shotgun" alongside you on the passenger side of the front seat -as opposed to occupying the entire rear seat or hogging up most of your car's available trunk space ).
A THREE OCTAVE MINI KEYBOARD is the best compromise you can expect for a lightweight ( -under 5 lb. ) "Grab & Go" sized workstation keyboard. Three octaves is more than enough to play both monophonic leads and bass lines. In fact, it'll even allow you to do some chording -even two handed stuff! And by the way, isn't the whole point of a workstation keyboard to build-up your compositions one part at a time ( -recording these "backing tracks" internally -so you can play along with them during your live performances? So, really, who needs 5-6 octaves and keyboard-splits anyway? Just record your backing tracks one-at-time using the entire keyboard! ).
Currently, the smallest full-featured workstation keyboards you can buy are Korg's Kross-2 61-key and Roland's Juno DS61. Teenage Engineering's OP-1 doesn't count ( -not in the same league! ) ( -ABOVE ) KORG'S KROSS-2 61-Key
At almost half the size and weight of these key- boards, a Syntronik and MODO BASS-powered "Grab & Go" Workstation Keyboard would be a very attractive option for many touring keyboardists! ( -ABOVE ) ROLAND'S JUNO DS61
And what about bedroom project-studio owners like me? Today's workstation keyboard manufacturers have abandoned us! Ever try to fit a Yamaha MOXF6 or Kurzweil PC3K6 "boat anchor" into the tight confines of the average bedroom studio? Good luck with that Eugene! The above-mentioned Syntronik "Grab & Go" Workstation would answer the prayers of thousands of such bedroom project-studio owners. I can tell you that based upon the comments I've received from CTN readers. So, WHY don't keyboard manufacturers ever listen to our pleas for such a keyboard? Forget them. Maybe IK Multimedia will!
If IK could produce such an instrument ( -and do it in the $599.00 - $649.00 price range ),I think it would absolutely CRUSH the competition! If IK actually takes up this project and produces such an instrument, maybe they'll cut me in on a bit of the profit and send me a "Grab & Go Workstation" ( -for suggesting this product concept ). That would be nice indeed! I'd love to be the FIRST reviewer to get my hands on one!
"KEY ISSUES" Key to the success of such a "grab & go" workstation would be it's keyboard. A 3-octave mini-key keyboard ( -with the same premium keybed and velvety "feel" ) as those used in Yamaha's ReFace line would be essential! A cheesy, clunky or stiff-actioned key- board would sabotage things from the get go. Special attention would need to be paid to ( -ABOVE ) YAMAHA'S REFACE LINE this aspect of the instrument!
*NOTE: Take a look at the ( 4 ) ReFace models above. The compact Syntronik Workstation Keyboard that I've described would have nearly identical dimensions and weight as the ReFace models shown above!
Drums, bass, rhythm guitar and effects in a single box. That's the idea behind my "Rhythm-Section' Machine.
No more having to compromise for just drums ( or ) maybe drums + a few bass sounds thrown in. This puppy really has EVERYTHING you need
for a complete backing rhythm-section all in one box! ADD in "MODO BASS's" cool instrument and playing style "tweaks" along with ( 6 ) selectable guitar strums ( -for your rhythm guitar parts ) and you have something really special that no other manufacturer has! This is another product I'd love to see IK tackle.
If you'd like to see these "Syntronik" and "MODO BASS" inspired instruments become reality, drop us an e-mail. If enough people want them maybe IK Multimedia will consider producing them at some point. It's worth a shot! One thing's for sure: the "Big 5" synth manufacturers have stopped listening to their customer's "feedback". They only seem interested in churning out those "easy-to-manufacture" designs they can make a quick profit from. It would serve em right to have a forward-thinking "upstart" like IK Multimedia sneak up and topple their "apple-cart". I'd love to see that happen!
*NOTE: If you'd like me to post your comment on this matter ( -below ), be sure to give me your permission to do so in your e-mail. Include your first name and the first letter of your last name along with the city, state and country you're from ( -i.e: -Jamie Parsons, East Anglia, UK., for example ), so our readers know you're a real person.
E-MAIL US HERE: firstname.lastname@example.org
I'll post the most concise, entertaining and pithy comments I receive below. Let's hear from you!
My "Syntronik Hardware Instrument" idea has garnered favorable response from synthesists as far away as Spain and the Netherlands. The synth media has taken note as well. Check out the Gear News piece below. Weigh-in: Should IK Multimedia turn their "Syntronik" software into an actual HARDWARE Synth? How about a ( -ABOVE ) "GEAR NEWS" TAKES NOTE. Desktop Module ( or ) a Compact Workstation?
Gear News has taken note of my Syntronik Hardware Instrument idea and run an article about it on their website. If you'd like to read it -click on the page link ( -below ):