Blocks modular synth sounds almost as good as it looks


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/07/11/blocks-modular-synth-sounds-al.html


#2

For what it does, the 2-octave model isn’t that expensive. These are pro instruments designed for pro musicians. I remember a day when I use to have several $5k+ instruments in my touring rig. I’ve pared it down to one $5k synth and two $2k’s and this is light for more pros. Then again, my ex has a quarter million dollar instrument…but then again, my instruments are 5 years old, not 300.

If you have the chance, play with the more expensive ones…they seem to have different memory foam (or whatever they are using) than the Block version. I might still pick up the Block version as I have no legitimate reason to buy the bigger ones these days…it requires a different playing style than the bigger ones where they can still be played rather easily by someone that deals with piano. The smaller one…squishy. It would sound good with monophonic instruments that you REALLY focus on the expression and not much more.

Sound-wise…its crap. I can’t stand the built-in sounds. The blocks version has USB-C and will do midi over Bluetooth LE – pretty low latency even with third party sounds – I’d suggest finding an expressive library and going deep. The built-in sounds seemed like WOWs that sound good by themselves, but in a mix…shit. There are companies that design their sounds to sound good at Guitar Center, and there are companies that design theirs to sound great in a studio. This is the former (I use to design sounds for well-known synth companies…and I focused on the later).

I’ve only spent an hour with the new one but there is a reason the others cost so much. They are worth it.


#3

Pity i can’t play, this would so be the thing for me.


#4

Cheaper than a continuum, but probably also not as good.

http://www.hakenaudio.com/Continuum/hakenaudiopricia.html


#5

Out of curiosity; how do things referred to as “synths” actually break down on the “basically just an input device” to “full instrument” scale?

Your description of this one suggests that it’s cooler than a basic MIDI keyboard; but should be relegated to input duty while a more competent device does the actual synthesizing.

Is it increasingly the case that “synths” are pretty much keyboards for controlling more versatile and powerful software running on computers; or do synths as instruments remain fairly viable; just this one is not to your liking?


#6

It is far too easy to put a synth engine into a controller these days, especially one with off the shelf sounds that might check off a box from upper management but does nothing for a real musician. In this case, the product actually makes no sound on it own…HOWEVER, there is a companion app that makes the sounds. And is the editor for the device to tell it how it reacts and all the rest of the setup.

So technically there are ‘synths’ and there are ‘controllers’ and then all sorts of things in between. Samplers are not considered ‘synths’ by some…however what is sampling other than practical application of FFT synthesis. And then you have ‘romplers’ where they are samplers but all the samples are baked into ROM and you can’t change these. Again, synthesis but someone glued the knobs shut. And hundreds of more names musicians will call each of these. However, if it makes noise, I call it a synth. In this case, the ‘block’ is a hardware / software combination and even if you can use solely the hardware for something else…I’d still call it a ‘synth’.

In this case, the software app does the synthesis. Its cool, but it doesn’t sound ‘almost as good as it looks’. Sounds pretty shitty. I know one of the ‘keyboard wizards’ that did the programming for this product, and he is more known for their soulless playing style that favors speed over style.

That said, yes…as a midi keyboard it is AWESOME. It supports polyphonic bends. Polyphonic aftertouch (I have a synth from the '80s – EPS16+ that had polyaftertouch and it was amazing…and then no one made anymore for 40 years!). It supports midi OFF values (as opposed to just on…how quickly you lift your fingers actually affects how a real instrument reacts…why should a synth not give the same options). It is very expressive. I played with a solo violin patch that was based around a sampled strad but using granular sampling techniques to allow seemless switching between different articulations…and it was GORGEOUS…but it was also a $500 library that you used on your Mac :stuck_out_tongue:

At this point, I use MOSTLY software packages and barely anything out of the box on synths. So much easier. I have a few instruments that could go out without a computer – ones that I programmed pretty much all the sounds I’d use and I’d still prefer to use my laptop or iPad with specialized software. It is just so much easier to program and to get things dialed in.

So hopefully this answers your questions and I’m not just rambling on after midnight…I’ll be more coherent in the morning.


#7

That is informative, thank you. My knowledge of the matter is pretty much “in the before times, when Kraftwek wandered the earth, synths were quite similar in many respects to the analog computers from which they evolved; then they started to go digital, and the limitations of fixed-function embedded computers were pretty galling(both any specific design defects and trying to keep hardware that turned out to be on the wrong side of history supplied with SCSI floppy drives SmartMedia cards); but the general purpose hardware wasn’t up to the task and MIDI turned out to be pretty cool; and now the general purpose hardware is vastly more powerful(though sometimes still iffy for particularly latency sensitive stuff; and computer keyboards certainly aren’t the input device you want); and people say increasingly nice things about the software based sound effects, sample libraries, instrument simulations, etc.”

This general trend led me to wonder whether standalone synthesizing(and any other actual waveform/sound generation, I realize that there are other items here that are ‘synthesizers’ only in a broad sense) is still really a viable feature, or mostly a checkbox for noodling around with before you get your input device hooked up to the computer and software that will be doing the work.


#8

The funny thing is that when talking about latency and otherwise, even an arduino can provide more ‘analogue’ sounds than anything that Kraftwerk did with a latency that you’d REALLY have to isolate and listen to specific sounds several times over before you ever heard the difference. Back in the day, we’d ABx test different technologies to see who could hear / feel the differences (my actual background is in psych…which meant going to NAMM – the BIG music show that every single artist in the world seems to converge on once a year…and I could use my academic talents once a year!!!) – but we’d ABx test technologies. Folks that were renowned for having exacting desires and precise hearing and precise feel of the instrument they are playing.

Honestly, the folks that were most acclaimed did worse. And it actually averaged right around 50% preference for the ‘real thing’ vs. the analogue of it with shitty latency and smushed bits. I.e., random noise. And each and every time they were still convinced even after that their ears were best. Even when I showed them that they picked the ‘worse choice’ 6 times out of 10. In which folks that dropped out of high school (ok, that would have been me too if I hadn’t gone back to school after a few years on the road to finish my HS, College, Grad…each time dropping out and then picking it up later)…quite a few uneducated people DEMANDING that I change my methodology because it was wrong. Yay dumbasses. Make music and shut your mouth about science.

Are their hardware synths that are awesome? Sure. A lot of software folks are moving to hardware. And the reverse is true as well. Going to Gearfest this year (put on by Sweetwater Music) there is a resurgence of try analogue synths…and I knew a LOT of the folks that were demoing them as they use to work for big software based companies (either putting the software in a computer or embedded systems).

So a lot of cool real synths…but don’t limit yourself. And honestly, I’m sure someone could come up with a great work with what is provided even in the shittiest of boxes these days! It is like the whole Mac / PC debate I hear musicians getting into…I don’t care what platform you are using, if you can’t make good music even on a Linux box, YOU are the problem, not the instrument.


#9

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.