Modal’s new Craft 2.0 proves that an inexpensive little synth can sound amazing.
The Modal Craft 2.0 is an entry-level monophonic synthesizer whose size belies its surprisingly respectable capabilities. Selling for less than $150, it’s from U.K.-based Modal, a manufacturer that offers a complete catalog of other instruments ranging from the polyphonic touch-keyboard Skulpt ($299) to the full-sized keyboard synths Argon8 ($749), 001 ($1,995), 002 ($4,995), and very upmarket 008 ($5,495). Because the diminutive Craft is built on more or less the same technology, it may make you yearn to own any of the larger, more expensive models. Nonetheless, it has powerful digital voice with eight oscillators generating 45 waveforms, a state-variable filter, and various onboard effects.
Good Things in Small Packages
The Craft is indeed tiny—smaller than the old Stylophone and only six inches across. It draws power from either three AA batteries or the mini-USB connector on its rear, alongside MIDI In and Out DIN jacks, 3.5mm audio and headphone outputs, and 3.5mm Sync In and Out (Korg and Teenage Engineering format) for the arpeggiator and other functions.
The Craft is nicely finished in white plastic with gray and blue touch buttons. It’s much more aesthetically pleasing than the previous 1.0 model, which had just an exposed printed circuit board. Ten small rotary controls and a single larger Cutoff knob feel smooth and positive, and each has three functions selected by touch buttons above the keys. The first set of functions includes filter cutoff, resonance, attack, decay, sustain, release (similar but independent ADSR envelopes for filter and modulation are also present), and volume.
The second set of parameters
The oscillators allow you to select from 40 different waveforms, including many from the much costlier Modal 002. The analog-style filter can smoothly morph from lowpass to bandpass to highpass mode. In addition, you can program different keyboard scales to make up for the Craft’s lack of black keys.
The number of dedicated front-panel parameter controls isn’t the only area of compromise. The touch “keyboard” is a little too limited, and although it does transpose up and down several octaves, you’ll probably prefer to play the Craft from an external keyboard with a wider range, velocity sensitivity, and a pitch bender and other performance controllers.
The eight-note keyboard also acts as selector both for sounds and for banks of sounds, offering 64 patches altogether. The factory presets include some excellent arpeggiated, wobbling, echoed textures, but also some heavy, almost Moog-like bass sounds, as well as cutting lead lines that benefit from glide and distortion. You can edit arpeggio patterns in depth and transpose them while they’re playing. The Spread function detunes the oscillators. Hidden modulation options include hard sync between oscillators, ring modulation for clanging metallic sounds, bit-crushing to degrade sound quality, and wavefolding to achieve an even wider range of timbres.
Even without dedicated controls, all the available parameters mean the Craft can be quite expressive in the sense of adjusting or morphing a sound while it’s playing. You shouldn’t expect to sound like Jan Hammer playing complex guitar-like lead lines with a lot of pitch bending, though you could get much closer to that using an external keyboard.
Is that a Synth in Your Pocket?
If you’d like to be able to turn up at a music improv session and whip out a tiny, powerful-sounding instrument from your inside pocket, the Craft 2.0 could well become your instrument of choice. With an Arturia Keystep or similar small controller keyboard, you could turn up at a slightly less abstract event and play strong bass or lead lines.
If you really get hooked on the sounds of the Craft, you may well want to go polyphonic and look at Modal’s Skulpt, the 8-oscillator, 4-voice equivalent, or even at the much more upmarket models. Going Modal could prove truly addictive.
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