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What Sorcery is This?

  • Music

A couple of weeks back, I put up a fairly lengthy post about my idea of the perfect synthesizer. If you haven’t seen that, you might want to go back and take a look at that before reading the rest of this post.

I’ll wait …

Cobalt5S. Image courtesy Modal Electronics.

… And, we’re back.

You may have inferred from my previous post that I was pretty smitten by the Modal Electronics Cobalt8 series. And who wouldn’t be? There’s a lot to like. I also had an opportunity to go and play with one for a couple of hours over this past weekend, and I found that it absolutely sounds incredibly good, and it’s really easy to get around, even without the Modal App. Now, it’s not as lush as a Prophet Rev. 2, nor it as full-bodied as a Hydrasynth. The Cobalt8 is, however, a lot less money, and still manages to sound great and do all I want — and more. I think I like it, that’s what I think.

A “New” Synth From Modal Electronics

Now you’re probably thinking, “Hey, Geren, that’s not a picture of a Cobalt8. It’s a picture of … well … what the heck is that, anyway?” And, you’d be right. The picture is of something brand-spanking-new from Modal: the Cobalt5S, which I’d call the middle little brother of the Cobalt8. I consider the Skulpt as a part of the Cobalt family, because it’s architecture is nearly identical, but with simpler oscillator, filter, modulation, and effects sections, as well as being limited to only 4 voices. The Cobalt5S is also that, but…

Like the Skulpt, the Cobalt5S has fewer voices than the Cobalt8 (5 instead of 8), 2 LFOs instead of 3, and 2 fixed effects instead of 3 configurable effects. What it does share directly, though, are the oscillator section, filter section, and the envelopes. It has an ingeniously streamlined control setup using 16 rotary encoders with coupled push-buttons, and of course, the Modal App is in play. Instead of the 2-axis “XY” joystick, there’s a XYZ trackpad (that’s a trackpad you can push on to control a modulation parameter, in addition to the usualy X and Y directions). And, while the Cobalt5S trades the full-sized keys for mini keys, velocity and aftertouch is maintained and I’m told that they are at least as good as those on the Arturia Keystep 37. In fact, it looks like the Cobalt5S isn’t all that much bigger than the Keystep 37.

Based on what I’ve seen and heard so far (YouTube playlist below), I’d say that I could happily live with every bit of this, especially with a retail price under $450!


I’m pretty certain that I’m going to pick up a Cobalt5S when they become available, unless someone wants to gift me one (or a Cobalt8). With the much lower price tag, that opens up the possibility of doing some other interesting things down the road, like getting a Modal Electronics Argon5S (hint, hint, Modal) …

ASM Hydrasynth Explorer. Image courtesy Ashun Sound Machines.

… like possibly picking up a Hydrasynth Explorer. Like the Cobalt5S, it packs most of the goodness of a full-on Hydrasynth into a package you can carry under your arm, and at a similar price reduction, and it even manages to retain the polyphonic aftertouch of the larger models that have full-sized keys.

Or, Behringer has been announcing a whole series of synth mini-me’s, all slated to cost between $50 and $100 that will begin shipping as soon as they can get the chips to put in them. So far, they’ve announced their takes on a slimmed down Sequential Prophet VS, an Oberheim OB-something, a Jupiter-8-inspired-whatsit, a Theremin-ish gizmo, and a 4-voice version of a JP-8000. Or something like that. At least a couple of them are very intriguing. Dammit, Uli!

Again, all of these are supposed to be priced between $50 and $100. They’re all ugly as sin and live in an enclosure similar in size to a Korg Volca or IK Uno Synth or Modal Electronics Skulpt. Maybe. They’re not up on the Behringer web site yet, but they have splashed pictures and descriptions on their Facebook page, where they’re causing a fair stir amongst a lot of people who apparently have no idea what they’re talking about. But, what can you expect? It’s Facebook, after all.

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