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  • 2016 EM Review - Part 3: Boutique Instruments

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      In Part 3 of our 2016 Electronic Music Review. We have a survey of the many boutique instruments and effects boxes that came out this year. These small devices made by small companies offer a unique alternative to sound design. Often, using new and or vintage technologies to make other kinds of sounds accessible at low cost, with exceptions.


      BASTL Instruments

      Kastle Mini Modular Synthesizer

      Kastle is a mini modular synthesizer with headphone output, 2 in/out ports for interfacing other gear and it runs on just 3 AA batteries. It is DIY friendly and ideal for beginners in modular synthesis, but it will add quite some unique functionality to any modular synthesizer systems.

      (+) Complete Specs 



      bitRanger Analog Logic Computer

      The bitRanger is a patchable analog logic computer which sculpts sonic worlds ranging from data noise to melodic arpeggios. While being a handheld standalone synth it is also right at home in the music studio. Extensive connectivity makes it so flexible that it can connect to almost anything: CV control its unique sound, sync it with drum machines and sequencers or use it as an algorithmic CV / GATE pattern generator.

      (+) Complete Specs 





      The Tocante line of musical instruments is "about" and "touching" the materials of electronics. Each touchpad represents a pitch according to industry "preferred numbers," chosen by old wartime engineers for non-musical purposes. Here they form a unique and haunting musical scale, not unlike that of a gamelan or the neutral intervals of Persian music.

      (+) Complete Specs



      Din Datin Dudero

      The Din Datin Dudero brand is the original, esoteric analog synth for babies. Nobs, nodes, and a shmance. 

      (+) Complete Specs



      Meng Qi

      Grassi Organ

      Ciat-Lonbarde's Grassi Organ is a great portable noise organ /synth. It has two small speakers so you can just plug in a 9v battery and jam. each grassi has some random parts, so they all sound a bit different.

      (+) Complete Specs



      Teenage Engineering

      Pocket Operator Vol. 2 PO-28 Robot Synthesizer

      Small enough to fit in your pocket and powered by a pair of AAA batteries, the Teenage Engineering PO-28 Pocket Operator Robot Synthesizer features synthesized sounds and waveforms as well as a micro drum kit with 16 punch-in effects including distortion, repeat, filters, fill-ins, glitches, and noise effects. 

      (+) Complete Specs



      Pocket Operator PO-24 Office Synthesizer

      Small enough to fit in your pocket and powered by a pair of AAA batteries, the Teenage Engineering PO-24 Pocket Operator Office Synthesizer features the sounds of office equipment with 16 punch-in effects including aliasing, overdrive, repeat, filters, distortion, glitches, and noise. 

      (+) Complete Specs



      Pocket Operator PO-20 Arcade Synthesizer

      Small enough to fit in your pocket and powered by a pair of AAA batteries, the Teenage Engineering PO-20 Pocket Operator Arcade Synthesizer features real synthesized arcade, drum, and chip-tune sounds with 16 punch-in effects including solo chords, filters, fill-ins, glitches, and arpeggios.

      (+) Complete Specs





      Death from above with a high voltage shriek: TR-Valkyrie marks, destroys, and parties upon arrival in the great beyond mountain lodge of Valhalla; Odin forbid you should drop her on your foot. Weighing in at a scale tipping mass that is now stereotypical of Brünhilde’s soprano role, the chassis was originally factory built by the inventors of the first production Wein-bridge oscillator. Her heaven-sent innards wrought of 4 pentode tubes completely rewired to suit the alchemy of a Trogotronic Custom. 

      (+) Complete Specs



      ms679 Tube Mini Synth

      In rare moments of clarity we’ve long glimpsed a brutish dream burning in the solder smoke: A compact valve synth’ capable of the specular analog displays that make high voltage tubes essential for any serious electronic music aficionado. Building upon the legacy of the 676 Fury the 679 Gran Fury has 8x the patches, 150% more oscillating power, 120% more cv inputs & adds a synth bypass mode to double as a filthy tube distortion unit—repackaged in a low profile, rugged cast aluminum case.

      (+) Complete Specs




      MicroMonsta 8-voice Polyphonic Desktop Synthesizer

      The Micromonsta is an 8-voice polyphonic desktop synthesizer. Small, powerful, great sound, usability and easy editing were key elements while designing the Micromonsta.

      (+) Complete Specs





      Everyone can make music on BLOCKS, the most versatile music-making system ever made. BLOCKS is a modular music studio that’s for anyone — from beginners who have never taken a music lesson to pros who want to shape sound in new ways.

      (+) Complete Specs



      Twisted Electrons

      AY3 MKII 8-bit Synthesizer

      The AY3 features two AY-3-8912 sound chips boasting 6 voice polyphony. You can apply sequences, arpeggiators, noise, envelopes and pitch modulation to each voice with a click of a button. 

      (+) Complete Specs




      Design Synthesizer

      What if the design of a synthesizer was not dominated by economic considerations or with regards to certain brand criteria? What, if I could run free, use any material and manufacturing process, that I think feels right, fits and looks the best to design a synthesizer? If I could just choose the right ergonomic concept, no matter what it finally costs? 20 is this instrument. We dedicate this design to 20 years of designing synthesizers at Design Box.  

      (+) Complete Specs



      Critter & Guitari

      Organelle Pure Data Synthesizer

      The Organelle™ makes it easy to explore new sounds and experiment with new ways of making music. It combines playful and intuitive controls with a powerful and flexible sound engine. The result is an instrument that is limitless in musical possibility and a joy to play.

      (+) Complete Specs




      triode Open Source Synthesizer

      MeeBlip triode is part analog, part digital, capable of producing a range of uniquely aggressive, bass-heavy sounds. Triode's huge sound is driven by three oscillators and a unique twin-t analog lowpass filter. Two digital pulse / pwm / sawtooth oscillators can be detuned and a square wave sub-oscillator adds to the bottom end. For sonic variety, triode also offers hands-on access to 24 grungy wavetables, along with dual envelopes routed to oscillator amplitude and filter cutoff for powerful filter sweeps and effects.

      (+) Complete Specs




      SYNTHOR Digital Modular Synthesizer

      SYNTHOR is a standalone synthesizer audio application that doesn't need any other software to run. It works on Mac and PC and integrates with any professional audio interface. Choose from different audio driver type (ASIO, DirectSound, CoreAudio, etc) as well as the sample rate (96K) and buffer size (24bit). Processing is all done at audio sample rate, so so you have really fast and smooth modulation possibilities and low-latency.

      (+) Complete Specs




      NANDulator + mini 8x8 LED Scope

      The NANDulator is a simple digital circuit capable of producing rather complex squarewaves. It is designed to be used as a little synthesizer producing a wide array of sounds, varying from simple drones to noise, Atari Punk Console like sounds, bleeps and blips and it can even produce vowel like sounds. What sets it apart from more conventional synths built around the same chip (4093 QUAD NAND) is that it incorporates a very unique design which makes its behavior rather chaotic and unpredictable and it is the main reason it can produce such a wide array of sounds.

      (+) Complete Specs




      Open Synth Platform

      Zynthian is a sound synthesis platform that works on open source software and hardware. Its small size and ease of use make Zynthian a perfect tool for the studio, audio production and sound design, and live performances. Easy to configure, hackable and update-friendly, Zynthian is currently under development and open to anybody who wants to build their own Zynthian Box and thus contributing to its software development.

      (+) Complete Specs



      Did we miss something?

      Even with 1,000+ synths in the library. It is entirely possible we missed some things. Please help us by leaving a comment and link to any new products from 2016 that we missed We will be happy to update these reports with the information ASAP. EMjoy!


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