Once upon a time in Sheffield...
Once a year in the month of October the lovely fellows from Sound on Sound put on a wonderful synth-focused event in Sheffield called Synthfest. It’s an annual gathering where manufacturers, collectors and retailers get into one space and share their enthusiasm for all things bleep.
This year we made the 3 hour journey from KMR HQ with some of the finest synths we currently have on offer, with an aim to share their awesomeness and our knowledge with the wider general public.
Every year we meet a tonne of new people who come from all kinds of backgrounds, so it’s great to speak to each of you and learn about what synths make you tick. We all share your enthusiasm, so talking to like minded people is always a real pleasure!
For the fourth annual instalment of Synthfest we brought up a superb collection of toys including Moog One, Moog Model 10, Waldorf Quantum, Waldorf KYRA, Dave Smith OB-6, Buchla Music Easel, Waldorf STVC, Moog Grandmother and our lovely Moon Modular system!
Thank you to everyone who stopped by to ask about the gear we had on show.
Our Top Picks
Without a doubt each year of synthfest brings a new and interesting collection of synthesizers to the market and this year was no exception. Despite the markets growing interest in throw away budget “clones” and “me-too” synthesizers, it was truly inspiring and a breath of fresh air to see some really unique machines crop up.
Is it an ARP? Is it an EMS? - No it’s Colossus!
Top of everyone’s list this year was the rather incredible Analogue Solutions Colossus, an EMS Synthi 100 / ARP 2500 inspired mega synth, by our good friend Tom Carpenter. A four year long passion project which has ultimately brought Tom to crafting what is widely considered to be the finest example of his work to date.
This £30,000 beast is a semi-modular design, boasting 12 VCO’s, 12 SVF’s, 12 VCA’s and much much more, presented in a wooden cabinet that reeks of EMS heritage, comprising of all original circuit designs with an incredible, deep evolving workflow that lets you create anything from monster drones to complete tracks.
During the show, we had a chance to get hands on for a short time, the build quality, the feel and the sound of this synth is pretty much unmatched by anything else in its class, the pin matrix makes for super smooth patching with great visual representation and the step sequencers let you dig in and make really complex evolving patches or dirty raw techno….
This is a really staggering machine, that screams get out of my fucking face to the “German clone wars” and shows the rest of the industry how things should be done.
It’s a thoroughbred beast, it costs loads. By my god is it worth every.single.penny.
Get your Moog on
It’s no secret that we’re Moog enthusiasts at KMR, so when we were given the chance to have their amazing new legacy modular system on our booth we jumped at the chance to do so. We were very lucky to have the only Model 10 in the UK on our booth for the whole day.
Let me prefix this with “nothing smells better than a fresh Moog Modular system” I don’t know what they put into those boxes in Asheville, but there is something about that new Moog smell which is impossible to describe!
So, we got to open up a fresh modular system on the day and turning that thing on for the first time and hearing those 901 VCO’s was a really special experience, that system doesn’t really sound like anything else, the vibe of those oscillators, through that filter coupled with the gorgeous fixed filterbank is something you really won’t forget anytime soon.
We hear a lot of synths here at KMR so many so that some become a bit “blurry”, but every time you turn on a Moog Modular for the first time, the moment sticks with you.
The Model 10 is an excellent synthesizer, delivering real heritage Moog tone with a museum quality build that’s only achieved using the build processes the guys undertake in Asheville. A real highlight of Synthfest.
WTF is a Hydrasynth?
At Knobcon this year a brand new synth manufacturing company lifted the veil on something that they’ve been (obviously) working very hard on for quite some time, that thing was the Hydrasynth: an eight voice polyphonic wavetable synthesizer.
It would be an understatement to say that our hype for this product was quite high, I mean this is a machine that has some serious people behind the scenes works on the development. The end product delivers what I consider to be one of the most interesting synthesizers of the last few years, with eight voices of polyphony, a superb array of oscillator sources, more modulation that you would ever need, stereo effects, modular connectivity and much more.
Playing the Hydrasynth was something I’d been looking forward to, after watching plenty of YouTube videos on the subject, I felt pretty well equipped to get hands on and deep dive with this machine and the small amount of time I did get to play, absolutely 110% delivered that experience I was expecting.
Pads, soundscapes and ambient is what I’m all about, so this synth speaks to me in ways that other things have struggled to do so.
...It will be mine, oh yes, it will be mine.
Wait is that the Valkyrie?:
Almost correct….this was only the second public outing for the forthcoming Waldorf KYRA, another machine we were asked to host during the event, which again we jumped at the opportunity to do.
Originally unveiled at MusicMesse 2018 as the Valkyrie project and then adapted by Waldorf to become the KYRA, this 128 voice 8 part multi-timbral FPGA based synth was on show in its Waldorf livery at NAMM this year and I may have mentioned to some how much I was anticipating it’s release, my early impressions were that the machine was hiding it’s majesty, since it boasted probably the most impressive spec of any synthesizer I can think of, but at NAMM its potential had yet to be unlocked.
Fast forward 9 months, we’ve got one of the only KYRA synths on our booth and we had a good chunk of time to get to know it.
The synth has moved on A LOT since its debut, and now in its final “retail” state it was easy to start designing layers of sounds and really dig into the capabilities of the synth. It’s ridiculously easy to use but has some of deepest editing experiences I’ve ever seen…and the most important thing, the sound, my oh my does this thing sound fantastic, high fidelity, rich, lush and loads of character.
It could quite possibly be the only polysynth your setup would ever need.
Bravo Waldorf for spotting the potential of the Valkyrie and bringing it to fruition.
What’s Super1 plus Super5?
That’s right Super6! Our buddies from Bristol UDO Audio made the trip up to Synthfest this year to give the forthcoming Super6 some loving from the U.K. general public, the first time this synth has been available for the masses on home soil to get hands on with this synth.
I’d had a sneaky glimpse of the Super6 back at Bristonica Machina, when George and Will were demonstrating another synth and my interest levels were instantly raised…as soon as I saw the mock up, I could see that Axel Hartman had been involved…since the UI, the control layout and everything just had little swashes of his style.
Swing around Superbooth this year and there was a huge buzz surrounding this English heritage polysynth, my first go of the Super6 hardware instantly left a mark on me, even though it was some way away from being completely finished, I could already see and here it would be a very special keyboard indeed.
So when I saw the guys were coming to Synthfest, I was super super keen to see how far the machine had come on, and my oh my was I happy. I mean, the super6 is just such a bloody lovely looking, feeling instruments with a really useable, deep playing experience, which doesn’t seek to emulate anything else sonically (I mean Roland visuals for sure), yet it sounds somehow nostalgically pleasing, even though it’s totally fresh.
It’s just wicked in every conceivable aspect. And it’s appearance at Synthfest was rewarded with a busy booth and a lot of chat and hype afterwards.
When you’ve reached the peak... you can always go further
That’s right, one of my personal favourites from Superbooth this year, the Novation Summit was available all day during Synthfest…whilst this might have gone under some peoples radars, I was extremely lucky to be exposed to the Peak for a good amount of time, so I know very well what the synth is capable of.
So when Novation announced they were making the Summit, which is effectively dual Peak synths with a keyboard…I was quite excited to see what it was all about. Unfortunately I didn’t get much time to tinker with this machine in Berlin, so when I found out it would be at Synthfest I made sure I got some time with it.
Playing with the Summit you get a sense that Novation really understand their core demographic, for starters, all the presets are the bollocks..they sound exactly like the kind of things I would want to make on that machine, the workflow is effortless and its capabilities, whilst vast are very liberating…you can basically modulate anything with anything by anything, letting you create generative moving textual stuff, to proper filthy FM tones.
It just screams quality and knowledge. The Peak rested firmly in my top 10 synths of past 5 years, so it’s no surprise really that I think the Summit so bloody good.
Synthfest 2019, just like all the other year brought a load of new synth orientated toys to the masses, with what seems to be a slurry of forward thinking “deep” polysynths, all with their unique strengths and certain appeals.
Though it must be said, that this year certainly lacked some representation from what I personally consider the most important part of the modern synth landscape, and that’s Eurorack….there just wasn’t a strong presence this year, which I find personally concerning because I love seeing new Euro innovations, but it doesn’t surprise me really, that market has become terribly saturated and I can only assume that things are getting tougher and tougher out there for these small builders…so forking out the expense and making the effort for a show in the middle of England? I can see why there might have been less on show.
There was a tonne of new 5U stuff on offer from the lovely Paula Maddox from Dove Audio, Soundtronics and much more so it’s really really great to see this format seemingly starting to grow again, as much as I love euro you simply can’t deny how good 5U feels and sounds, so as the Euro market gets saturated, maybe there will be a slow migration to 5U? Who knows?
This year was great, we really enjoyed speaking to everyone who came by and for those of you who didn’t get a chance to see us this year, make sure you get ready for Synthfest 2020!!!