Majella Implexus Review
Majella Audio is a young company based in the Netherlands offering a range of innovative new synths. Implexus is their flagship instrument, an analogue desktop synthesizer that offers a combination of East and West coast synthesis to create a highly flexible synthesizer with powerful sound-shaping capabilities...
From the exterior, the Majella Implexus exudes quality with a sturdy aluminium chassis surrounded by two beautiful wooden cheeks with a grain that’ll make each unit a little unique. This impression of quality is reinforced by the internal power supply that connects via IEC (kettle lead) something not often seen on desktop units.
All the knobs have a great tactile feel - many of them being surrounded by attractive LED indicators that provide an impressively detailed representation of what is going on. These LED displays show the position of the control and move when modulated.
There are also great features that are often missing in synthesizers such as clock-following LFO with four subdivisions allowing to sync LFO to MIDI or CV Clock, Built-in stereo delay, again with clock-based subdivisions and a tuner that indicates when both oscillators are in tune with the incoming MIDI or CV message. The tuner also includes an A440 tone generator.
In addition, Implexus includes a CV patch section at the back working at 1V/oct that opens up many of the functionalities that are not evident on the top panel some of which surprising. More on this later.
A lot of detail has been placed into the design and functionalities of this instrument with a layout that manages to conceal its complexity in an easy to follow design. It didn’t take long to familiarise myself with the all the functions and how they flowed into each other.
East Meets West
Majella’s stated aim with the Implexus is to combine the strength of the traditional subtractive synthesis often associated with companies such as Moog (East coast) and the more experimental approach developed by Don Buchla in California (West coast). As a result, Majella has selected different parts from each design philosophy and combined them in this hybrid instrument to create something quite special.
The heart of the Implexus comes from the Complex Generator, a Buchla inspired oscillator that offers a waveshaper (Harmonics) ranging from “Sine Wave” to “Square” or to be more exact from Odd to Even Harmonics, and a wavefolder (Folder) to create complex waveforms. Both the Harmonics and Folder include modulation capabilities using either of the two LFOs and Envelope.
The VCO includes a Range and a Fine Tune control as well as a Linear FM control that lets you modulate the complex Oscillator. People familiar with the Buchla Music Easel will recognise the power offered by the functionality.
The Harmonics section starts with the sinewave at the centre with dialling to the left bringing uneven harmonics resulting in a square wave while on the other side even harmonics are pushed. The legend can be somewhere confusing as it shows a ramp down saw wave but to my ear, it didn’t sound like a sawtooth wave. This was confirmed by looking at the oscilloscope.
It turns out that there is a very valid reason for that. A sawtooth wave when folded results in a sine-like waveform. To keep things interesting, Majella has kept a waveform that is less rich than a sawtooth, but that folds in interesting ways. This waveform is also akin to the even waveforms on Buchla synthesizers.
The Harmonics section can be modulated via Mod EG and LFO1 to create some interesting textures as the harmonics can travel from odd to even based on the modulation settings resulting in moving texture changes.
The Folder section folds the incoming waveform on itself and creates rich harmonics. It can also be modulated via EG and LFO 1 or 2. A Bias control offsets the wavefolder resulting in asymmetrical harmonics emphasis.
MOD OSC provide frequency modulation of the Harmonics and Bias control using the waveform and frequency of the Basic Oscillator, similar to the Buchla Music Easel.
The second oscillator is based on a more traditional design and offers a choice between SIne, Saw and Square waves. It includes also a fine tune control. Interestingly there are no ways to sync both waveforms together. The Basic Generator can be used for FM purposes as mentioned earlier and is also fed to the mixer and works great to beef up the sound of the Complex oscillator or even add harmonies. A Sub Oscillator is also included using a simple squarewave.
The Eastern Front
From that point on, we leave the West coast philosophy and move definitely into the eastern camp with a traditional 12dB/oct VCF and two ADSR envelopes.
As mentioned previously the low-pass filter uses a 12dB/oct slope with both Cutoff and resonant controls. A button switches the filter to high-pass mode. There is an EG amount that allows the MOD EG to affect the filter positively or negatively (inversed) but strangely there is no LFO amount control. Instead, Majella has added a cut-off input CV control allowing to patch LFO2 to the cut off directly.
The Implexus includes two Envelopes Generators (EG). Both have fixed routing and are clearly described. The MOD EG is routed to the Envelope and the Oscillators while the AMP EG dictates the shape of the sound by affecting the VCA section. Both include a Loop button called Loop for the MOD EG and Drone for the AMP EG. Engaging the Drone removes the need for a trigger and offers a great way for ambient/drone soundscapes. The Loop function allows for the repetition of the envelope, acting as a third LFO which can be assigned to the Filter Cutoff.
Rounding off the features the Implexus includes on the front panel a glide control a Pitch EG knob that sets the amount by which the MOD EG affects the pitch of the oscillators as well as two controls for Vibrato (Rate and Amount).
A Clock section accepts CV Clock, MIDI Clock and also features a tap tempo button when not externally clocked. The Clock can be used to clock both LFOs and the stereo delay.
To round off all the front-panel features, a stereo delay with tempo sync adds space and really help the synth stand out without the need for external sound processors.
On the back, the Implexus includes, in addition to the traditional MIDI I/O connections, 10-point patch connection for CV connections. It includes three CV out (Complex Output, Basic Output, Clock) and seven inputs, including independent inputs for generators and modulators.
The Implexus design has been carefully thought out with a clear one-knob per function that invites you to play with it. With such a large estate assigned to the Complex Oscillator, it is no surprise that most of the sound-shaping and design centres around it and I found myself using the Complex Oscillator as the main sound source for almost everything.
The fact that the Complex Oscillator started from a Sine Wave and was able to move towards complex shapes effortlessly often rendered the filter “unnecessary”. The different modulation sources assigned to the different functions of the CO such as the Harmonics and Folder, intuitively transform simple sounds into complex, evolving rhythmic sequences. I found myself spending hours just playing with the sequences and discovering some truly interesting interactions.
Playing with the MOD OSC really adds a level of complexity and richness to what is an already very rich sound and allowed to create sounds that are often traditionally associated with digital synthesizers.
The Basic Oscillator on the other hand served as a great way to beef up the sound or add FM to the Complex Oscillator to great effect. Adding the Sub harmonics also added a sense of heft to the sound that really helped ground the synthesizer when used as a bass or a lead.
The filter section was perhaps a surprise for me for two reasons. First I didn’t expect to use it so little for shaping “simple” sounds, but it became much more fun as a result. By setting a clever combination of the LFO controlling the Folder and/or Harmonics, against the MOD envelope, I was able to create some unique and interesting sounds evolving in truly interesting ways.
The resonance never goes into self-oscillation which I initially regretted before realising that it didn’t miss it that much. By using the EG AMT, I was able to create some 303-like squelches, something the Implexus seems to be naturally good at. I found myself playing with the EG AMT much more than I expected to… so much fun.
Overall the filter is extremely nice and easy to control and offers a lot of bite without ever becoming uncontrollable.
Having MIDI Sync’d LFO was also a nice touch as it allowed to perfectly synchronise certain effects with the beats, extremely useful when doing beat-driven electronic music such as Techno.
The addition of a delay is a really nice touch, and I especially appreciated the one-knob per function approach to that as it allowed me to play with the delay in quite drastic ways to beef up a loop. The Regen control allowed me to push the repetitions but stopped short from going into self-oscillation. This is great for most rhythmic musical genres allowing the delay to decay behind the original sound, but that meant I couldn’t push it into the extreme effects for more experimental genres. Changing the time or clock divisions in the middle of performance allowed the creation of tape-speed style delay which can also be used to great effect.
The Patch point is a nice addition and can add some interesting functions to the synth such as paraphony, LFO control of the cut-off filter, etc… but I found that having them located at the back, really highlighted their nature as secondary functions. Having said that, Being able to control the Harmonics and Fold with an external sequencer or other function generators is really fun.
The Majella Implexus is a very rewarding synthesizer, its meshing of both East and West Coast is very well done and their one-knob per function design really makes it a dream to discover and play. I would characterise the sound as a little dark, possibly because the Complex Oscillator doesn’t go completely into a sawtooth, but that worked for me as it really filled the bottom and low mid frequency really nicely and just enough presence to work as a lead.
I found that it had a natural ability to sound awesome for bass and leads and excels at rhythmic sounds and would be a great addition for any techno producers. The sync’d LFOs and Delays are really nice additions really highlighting its rhythmic strength.
The wealth of modulation sources combined with the capabilities of the Complex Generator makes the Implexus a really powerful and fun synthesizer. I also really liked the bite of the filter that reminded me of the 303, especially when playing with the MOD EG amount.
All in all, I really enjoyed my time with the Implexus and have often found myself just playing and jamming for hours without noticing the time go by. Implexus almost begs the user to get into deep experimentation and, for me, that’s the sign of a great instrument!