Superbooth 2021 Report
After last year’s cancellation of the main Superbooth event, anticipation was high for the 2021 edition.
Superbooth has always created a friendly environment where synth-freaks can come and see the latest innovations in synthesis, discover new musical projects and meet other like-minded people in this vibrant community.
A New Exhibition
Perhaps unsurprisingly, with all the safeguards the organisers had to implement to provide a Covid-safe environment for the thousands of people that attend the show, Superbooth 2021 was very different from the previous 2019 event. Restrictions meant that the exhibition hall was only accessible for half the day. As a result, the organising team had to come up with a different plan and the majority of exhibitors were actually displaying their creations outside in tents or bungalows organised in small “islands” that remained accessible throughout the day. Arturia went even further with their "Arturia Caravan" - a converted silver caravan that resembled something between a coffee shop and a Sci-Fi spaceship!
The new layout had some minor drawbacks - for example, the distance between each “village” meant walking long distances, sometimes with scant directions. Thankfully in most cases following the crowd got you to your destination.
On the positive side, this new system provided a less noisy environment with only a few exhibitors competing for attention inside each tent or bungalow, which allowed for more meaningful conversations and an overall great atmosphere.
Of course, our focus was on all the new product announcements or prototypes of future products - or simply crazy ideas. Here are some of our show highlights:
Buchla were showing their newly designed Music Easel combining their 208C module with a brand new and redesigned 218e touch plate. The new iteration of the 218 is visually quite different from older models but has a great feel. Gliding between notes is incredibly smooth and the inclusion of a “ribbon strip” is an intriguing feature that will deliver new possibilities to this already extremely versatile instrument.
The new Music Easel comes in a surprisingly sleek case with a slimmer, square design design. It feels more portable, less clunky, maybe more “2021”. The new case allows for the inclusion of two additional modules, and Buchla showcased a module designed to capitalise on the features of the new Easel including USB connectors, 1v/oct adapters to connect to Eurorack modules, as well as other features that were previously only available via external cards including preset management.
Random Source Serge
We were very excited to visit the Random Source bungalow as they showcased some new 4U and Eurorack modules for their Serge systems including the Serge Variable Bandwidth Filter for Eurorack and a new 4x4 utility module for their 4U system that can function as a voltage-controlled attenuverter or a four-quadrant multiplier. The different Serge systems on display (Crocodile, Mantra and INORI) sounded incredible and were a pleasure to play with.
Another intriguing item was their 12x12 “Programmable Switch/Summing” matrix, an all-analogue matrix that is capable of routing audio as well as CV signals to any chosen destination. Instead of the pins found in synthesizers like the EMS Synthi, this matrix uses buttons to directly activate the desired source and destination and also includes preset memory. 5U musicians and performers alike will certainly love the possibilities that this has to offer.
Next to Moon Modular was another 5U manufacturer, Synth-werk whose love for old Moog modular synthesizers has led it on a quest to recreate some incredible recreations of Moog’s famous systems - Model 10, Model 12, Model 15 and 3P systems. These are truly beautiful sounding systems.
TipTop caused quite a stir on the first day of Superbooth with their announcement of a Buchla licenced, Eurorack recreation of the legendary 200 system. The price was even more surprising! Even though most modules are still not ready, and costs remains unconfirmed, the pricing that was mentioned will ceratainly make a compelling argument for Eurorack users who may be tempted to discover the world of Buchla without having to leave their Eurorack system. I have to say that TipTop appears to have done a great job and the system on display definitely felt Buchla-like.
Away from the modular realm, Erica Synths had a machine that was for many the highlight of Superbooth, a new four-voice drum-machine called Perkons HD-01. It includes four-voices each with a digital oscillator, analogue filter and drive, FX Send feeding the internal bucket-brigade delay. The Perkons HD-01 manages to feel instantaneous and easy to play with thanks to its four-voice step sequencer that will get you to create rhythms in no time. However, it also includes many advanced features that certainly make it stand out.
Perkons is also very intuitive - without any explanation, I was able to quickly dial in great-sounding rhythms and playing with the delay allowed for the creation of a short performance in no time. This machine begs to be played - highly recommended!
Ashun Sound Machines
Ashun Sound Machines were showcasing their two latest Hydrasynth models, the Hydrasynth Deluxe and Hydrasynth Explorer. The original Hydrasynth was already a very capable synth, but the Deluxe version just pushes things even further. With two Hydrasynth Engines and its large keyboard, the possibilities on offer are mind-boggling and a dream for sound designers and musicians alike... The Hydrasynth Explorer is surprisingly small for all the power it offers and is certainly a lot of fun to play with.
Dreadbox debuted the Nymphes, their compact desktop 6-voice polyphonic synthesizer. It’s a great polyphonic synthesizer and a must-have for anyone looking for a great-sounding poly synth that remains extremely simple to use. Any initial reservations I had of the dual-function and menu quickly vanished as I started to play it.
Waldorf showcased their newly announced M, a powerful synthesizer combining the engine of the original Microwave wavetable synthesizer with the engine of later models Microwave II and XT. The sound is unmistakably Waldorf with all the grit that made their name, and this new design offers a lot of flexibility and power in a compact desktop design.
UDO showed their Desktop Super 6, which has all the features of the keyboard version in a compact desktop format and clever mounting options thanks to the included rack ears and the VESA mount holes underneath. Just like the keyboard version, the Desktop Super 6 sounds incredibly lush with wide stereo imaging and is, amazingly, even more flexible than you may expect at the first sight. It’s a delight to play.
Sequential showed their recently announced Take 5, with 5-voice polyphony aimed at beginners or people looking for a portable polyphonic synth. It features the filter used in their latest Prophet Rev4 range and has many great features while remaining easy to play. The Take 5 has an unmistakably Sequential sound and the user interface allows users to achieve great sounds very quickly.
There were many more great and/or interesting exhibitors, from the impressive Schmidt synthesizers (possibly one of the best polysynths I’ve ever had the opportunity to play with), to the crazy Silhouette optical soundtrack synthesizer, that uses graphic elements to generate sounds.
Superbooth 2021 also had a section dedicated to DIY where people could showcase their strange products or offer “build your own synth” workshops. It’s always great to see what creative minds can come up with. Perhaps the most striking contraption was the Drohner, a sound relaxation box with built-in speakers and transducers that allows you to escape for a little while.
Superbooth remains a great gathering of like-minded people sharing their passion for electronic music and the instruments that allow us to make it. This year, despite - or maybe because of - the difficult conditions that have shaken the world over the last 18 months, Superbooth felt special, more relaxed. It exacerbated the feeling of being part of a community – and it felt great to be back!