The Noise Engineering Ataraxic Translatron (at-ar-ax-ic) is quite possibly the most nostalgic and sonically diverse sound generator available in the Eurorack format. Fun, quirky and an absolute breeze to use, in this review we’ll explore the glitchy awesomeness that this little 4HP oscillator contains.
Not a run-of-the-mill analogue oscillator by any possible standard, Ataraxic Translatron is how Noise Engineering so adequately put it “Classic Arcade Sounds in eurorack format”. If you’ve ever played a retro video game or medalled with a vintage arcade machine, you’ll more than likely notice how lo-fi and crunchy (and super cool) the effects and music were. Many of the tones these machines generated came from a unique form of oscillator circuit namely a Linear Feedback Shift Register Oscillator and that, is exactly what Ataraxic Translatron is.
For those of you who know me, you know that I love my video games just as much as I love my synthesizers and when the two worlds meet, I get a little teary….then just make some weird noises for hours. That’s pretty much what I did when I got my grubby mitts on the A.T.
Workflow and layout
Noise Engineering love their quirky names and whilst they might be tricky to pronounce, the modules they make are easy to use and cram in plenty of features to keep even the most tweakiest of sound designers busy for a long time.
AT fits it’s complex synthesis architecture into a compact 4HP, it features a simple LED readout, two potentiometers, three patch points and a single switch. The pots are made of metal, they feel very positive and provide control over the pitch (across 6 octaves!) and tonal characteristics of the module.
The three patch points allow for the following control;
- Tone input: this input accepts many different voltage or clock based signals, its used for dynamically switching between the different states onboard.
- Pitch input: this accepts the eurorack standard 1 volt per octave input for precision tracking.
- Output: this is your audio output section.
The two way switch controls how the pitch section works. When in CV mode the pitch input works on the 1 volt per octave standard. When the module is switched to clock mode, the CV input becomes a binary clock that drives the shift register on rising edges.
To test this module we mainly kept the system running in the more standard 1 volt per octave mode, so that we could easily sequence it and play with the different tones.
The techy blurb.....E=Mc2.
The sound core of the AT is made up of a 16-bit shift register which run through XOR logic to create its diverse array of tones.
There are 13 total tones available, with 1-9 and A-C producing slightly more predictable, "static" tones. Tone E however produces a different result every time it’s selected, as E is based upon the state the LSFR stage is running. This mean each time this tone is engaded, you get completely different results.
Let’s get gaming….I mean testing.
To test the Ataraxic Translatron we decided to use a classic monosynth signal path and a range of different filters to see how the complex nature of this sound generator combined with other, smoother analogue circuits faired.
Our signal path / module choice is as follows;
- Audio Damage ADM06 Sequencer
- Studio Electronics Shapers ADSR
- Noise Engineering Ataraxic Translatron
- Studio Electronics 3003 Filter
- Mutable Instruments Frames
- Synthrotek MST Sample & Hold
- Dave Smith DSM01 Curtis Filter
Our first port of call was to programme a simple 16-step sequence into the ADM06, send the pitch CV to the AT and mult the gate signal to drive the ADSR and filters. The first filter we paired with the AT was the 3003, the thought process was something with a crunchy tonality would meld well with more “liquid” sounding filter…..that turned out to be really good choice! The raw character of the AT mixer with a slowly evolving filter response produced acid-esque feeling tones with some really sweet harmonics.
We found that each tone setting had something unique to offer, no setting sounded the same and blended in exceptionally with pretty much everything we paired it with. As the patch number increases, the complexity and harmonic content increases also. For more simplistic sounds, patches 1-4 are recommended, but if brash digital timbres are your flow, then play with the higher register tone settings.
I think I should say right about here in the review that I’m a BIG fan of tone setting 1. This particular setting had a distinct low end character and “fatness” that I instantly fell in love with. In this setting I could honestly see myself using AT as a sub oscillator to add a subtle grunt to more brittle sound sources or generators.
So that was more linear, simplistic sequencing nailed onto more adventurous synthesis.
Adding modulation makes everything….better.
As you may have picked up earlier when I was mentioning the specs of the Ataraxic, you can shift through the tone settings using external voltage control, the idea of this pleased me no end, so I had to start experimenting. This is where the Synthrotek MST paired with the Mutable Frames comes into play.
To test the tone switching capabilities, we kept the same signal path as before but we used the Synthrotek MST S&H clocked with a noise source to produce random voltages to modulate the tone setting on AT. We then used the same sample and hold to modulate the Frames clock input and sent three of the resulting CV signals from Frames to the Dave Smith DSM01 Curtis Filter.
This allowed for FM style effects on the DSM and randomised tone switching on the Ataraxic. The tone input accepts voltages in the range of 0-6 volts so plumbing in a random sample and hold yielded a rather pleasing rhythmical result that melded well with the audio rate control being produced by Frames and the DSM.
With the tone settings under CV control you can create slowly evolving patch changes in time with your performance, or you can, as I like to, send random voltages to it to create some highly unique rhythms and odd synthesis tones.
So to summarise what the Ataraxic Translatron can do and complete this review, if you want a chiptune style sound source or a second oscillator to fatten up more brittle tones, or if you’re seeking some plain old weirdness if your modular, then seriously give the AT a look in. It’s powerful synthesis core coupled with a wide operational range and a truly unique sound really make me wonder how on earth they managed to fit it all into just 4HP….!
We have the Ataraxic Translatron available to demo in our Synth City demo area along with a massive range of modular and other analogue goodies. So if you’re curios to try it out, then come and pay us a visit!
For more information about the Noise Engineering Ataraxic Translatron call us on 020 8445 2446 or e-mail us firstname.lastname@example.org
By Tom Lewis