Mark Jenkins flies in all the way from London to attend Los Angeles’ busy post-covid (we hope!) music tech show
Well, wouldn’t you know it. No sooner had we published our “Scenes from Synthplex” story, when our own Mark Jenkins surprised us by turning in a much more detailed report on the show, complete with some excellent pictures.
It’s far too good not to share with you, so here it is – two reports for the price of one. Take it away, Mark. – NB
One of the first music tech exhibitions to emerge from the post-COVID era, the 2022 Synthplex in Burbank CA, which launched with a 2019 event seems to have been a great success.
The 3-day event combined a good number and high quality of exhibitors with seminars, one-off displays of historical instruments, live music from performers such as the Keith Emerson Band, and strong attendance figures.
Synthplex heavily featured large, professional synthesizers reaching up to the multi-thousand dollar range, from companies including Sequential, Oberheim, Roland, Yamaha, John Bowen, Groove Synthesis, Schmidt, and others.
But there was a whole hall also for Eurorack modules, small digital instruments and software, as well as exhibitors of studio speakers and sound processing equipment.
Our quick tour features some eye-catching highlights and well-known names without attempting to be fully comprehensive. If you need the full picture, you might want to consider attending next year!
Prices are currently in flux with the US dollar, Euro, and Pound almost reaching parity, with many companies shipping direct to customers and having to deal with new shipping costs and import/export fees. Contact each company for the latest prices.
ILIO.COM showing software, including Unify to layer and combine AU and VST plug-ins, Multiphonics CV-1 (a software modular synth), and from Delta Sound Labs the Stream granular synthesis and Fold distortion software.
Christine Higgins, “product wrangler” from the LA-based company, helped show their new product Nanobox Razzmatazz, a tiny pink digital drum machine with a huge variety of sound manipulation, FM synthesis, sampling, effects, and pattern composition options. Like earlier models Nanobox Fireball – a red polyphonic digital synth – and Nanobox Lemondrop, a granular synth (no need to explain the colour of that one), it sells for $399.
The company continues to market Bluebox and Blackbox, a small desktop digital mixer/recorder and a desktop sampler.
The ARP Archives or “ARPchives” project was represented by Dina Pearlman, the daughter of Alan R. Pearlman, the man behind classic instruments such as the 2500 and 2600, Axxe, Odyssey, and Quadra.
Showing off a rare “Blue Meanie” version ARP 2600 with a matching blue keyboard, Dina explained: “We’re meeting so many long-time users of these instruments. But it’s great to see newer developments too like the Korg models. The company reached out to my father during the design stage and we can really approve of those instruments.”
Expanding from their Deckard’s Dream module inspired by the Yamaha CS80 (now in a slimmer Mk. 2 version), the Japan-based company now offers two related Eurorack modules: “Deckard’s Voice” at $700 and “Rachael” at $350. New instruments include the $5000 Xerxes Mk.2 rack; the $4000 Ee-Seh-Nin inspired by Roland synth designs; and Kijimi, based on the French RSF Polykobol at $3750, though only $1000 in kit form.
John was instrumental in the design of the Sequential Prophet 5 and later the Wavestation and other Korg models. He also created the sound sets for many of these instruments, so can truly be said to have been heard around the world.
His Solaris synth, launched a few years ago, is a without-limits keyboard offering all the possibilities of a modular system. At Synthplex it was joined by the first of a new desktop module version – vaguely reminiscent in format of the old Oberheim XPander – and a simply boxed voice expander. Currently Solaris sells by direct order at $4000 (keyboard) $3000 (desktop) and $1000 (voice expander).
EON ONE NETWORK
An independent designer Eric Netherland, also involved with the PianoArc design, has built a Keytar-style keyboard, called the Netherblade, using a display originally designed for train station destination boards. With a touch-responsive layer added, it gives a huge number of possibilities showing either a keyboard-style layout or a guitar fretboard-style layout.
Both respond to multi pitch bend, so it’s possible to grab a whole chord and twist individual notes to different degrees. The overall size of the instrument is that of the old Yamaha KX5 Keytar – much more compact than, for example, the current AX Edge model being shown in the next room by Roland Corp.
Bob Hoover and Andrew Silverman from the company showed the 24-voice 3rd Wave. This is a tribute to the PPG Wave 2 (2.2/2.3). It ] captures the abilities of the original comprehensively – with all the archetypal glassy, metallic analog/digital hybrid sounds on show – but adds enormously to the original spec. For a start, the famously quirky sequencer and arpeggiator are replaced by a much more straightforward MPC-inspired design. Price is $3895.
The legendary designer of the LinnDrum showed off the latest firmware updates to his LinnStrument controller, which comes in two sizes (and which recently achieved over 4000 sales). The device matches a free MPE-responsive software instrument called Surge, and with five types of polyphonic touch sensing offers a very different approach to performance and composition. It sells direct at $1499/$1099 (a little more in stores).
The Robert Moog Foundation showed rare instruments like the MinitMoog – not a misprint, it’s a rare 2-oscillator version of the semi-preset Satellite in black, with stronger detuning and sync sounds.
A circular MIDI keyboard offering an 88-note piano and two 76-note synths together with touch-sensitive controller pads. Most prominent user is probably Lady Gaga – but the instrument is $40,000. A new prototype with its own website also being shown was a keyboard offering slightly reduced width keys – so tenths and larger intervals are much easier to play, including perhaps for female performers or any with smaller hands.
Panoptigon is a large desktop module like a record deck, for playing disks from the Optigan and Orchestron libraries. These keyboards were early rivals to the Mellotron, playing sampled sounds from an optical disk rather than tape strips – the Optigan a domestic system from Mattel and the Vako Orchestron a more professional system used by Kraftwerk. That band’s distinctive choir sound was sampled by New Order for “Blue Monday,” and sounds from the disk system retain a gritty, pleasantly retro quality. The new player adds features like MIDI In from keyboards, and the ability to slow and “scratch” the disks by hand.
The legendary designer from E-Mu now has a range of around half a dozen Eurorack modules with various filtering and other abilities, including all those of the original E-Mu Morpheus module.
The company has also put the SP1200 drum machine back into production, now with separate outs for the original sound and for a new higher resolution sound.
Sales Manager Axel Fischer was helping promote the Schmidt eight-voice analog polyphonic synth, as used by Hans Zimmer and Jean-Michel Jarre.
The Schmidt from the mind of Stefan Schmidt, earlier of German design company MAM, is a compromise-free design only built in batches of 25 at a time. Its massive routing possibilities give the instrument a sound that can only be described as – well, massive. Price is around 20,000$/£/€ and the synth was presented at Synthplex by Pomona-based dealer Noisebug.
Sequential is having a huge resurgence with the name passing back to Dave Smith’s DSI company not long ago, before the founder’s very sad passing last May. But the company has also assisted in the re-emergence of Oberheim, with Tom Oberheim himself speaking at the show, and it was possible to compare side-by side the traditionally 24dB and 12dB analog filters of the two brands.
On show were Sequential’s full-size Prophet 5- or 10-voice, their more compact three and a half octave Take 5 polyphonic, and the Pro 3 mono/paraphonic model, and the Oberheim OB-6. Now the larger 5-octave Oberheim OBX8 is also available at almost £5000 in the UK. The stand was indeed an analog playground…
A small range of US-made Eurorack modules – in a slate grey panel finish, they’ll almost match Behringer’s 100 series modules. But they have quite different abilities, concentrating on mixing, switching, and crossfading. There’s also a triode tube distortion module.
Detroit Modular and others in the USA and Juno or Gear4Music in the UK can supply all the current designs, and there are good YouTube video demos.
Perhaps the surprise of the show was a new compact desktop module version of the mighty Synclavier digital synth, Synclavier Regen. Original software designer Cameron Warner Jones had a hand in the recent iOS and Arturia software versions of the instrument, but this hardware version at $2500/£2205 adds many new facilities.
Like the original, Regen is a digital harmonic synthesizer with sampling and multi-track recording, but now with 12 partials to each sound, additive and subtractive synthesis, polyphonic aftertouch and MPE, reverb, bit crush, and multi-mode filter, and two sample libraries including 700 original Synclavier samples. At Synthplex, Pomona dealer Noisebug introduced the design.
SYNTH MUSEUM POP-UP
At Synthplex 2022, Marcus Ryle, Paca Thomas, and others had worked on filling up a whole room with a “history of synthesizers” pop-up museum.
As well as some very early synth designs and oddities like Octave’s now massively sought-after Catstick (a desktop modulation controller with joystick similar to Moog’s CP251 modulation device), the room featured event co-founder Michael Boddicker’s massive Moog modular, which has appeared on countless hits, plus an almost entire instrumental history of Oberheim.
Classic Oberheim instruments on show included a massive modular system made from rare black panel SEM modules. Effectively it’s a multi-timbral polyphonic modular system.
Oberheim’s early programmable monophonic OB1 and the huge Oberheim four-voice/eight-voice keyboard synths were also on show.
Also at SYNTHPLEX 2022 –
YAMAHA with a whole range of workstations and digital pianos, also showing DTRONICS hardware editors for their ReFace FM and classic DX7 synths.
ROLAND with full size synths, compact models like the JDXa, the AX Edge keytar, and boutique desktop modules replicating the old JD800, JX8P, and other synths.
Robert Margouleff of the legendary T.O.N.T.O’s Expanding Headband synthesizer duo with the late Malcolm Cecil giving a seminar.
Jordann Rudess of Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment looking around and talking about the MOISES.AI vocal removal and speed variation software.
VINTAGESYNTHESIZERMUSEUM.COM a 100-keyboard studio in LA offering recording and tuition sessions.
TOMHILBE.COM with microphone pre-amp simulating plug-ins including the No. 67 Melcor.
DIRTYWAVE.COM with a palm-sized multitrack recorder the M8.
BJOOKS.COM the Denmark-based publisher featuring Mike Metlay with his epic high-quality photographic volume “Synth Gems. 1”