Synthesizer startup looks to the cloud
Modulus in Bristol has developed a digitally-controlled analogue synthesizer (above, being played by one of the development engineers) that can connect to the cloud to allow artists to collaborate more easily. The company plans a range of products based on the underlying technology and protocols and is opening up the cloud protocol.
"Analogue synthesizers from the last century are collectors’ items and highly sought after because of the amazing sounds but the electronics are now getting old and increasingly frail," said Philip Taysom, Modulus co-founder and serial entrepreneur. He was most recently CEO of nanotech startup Peratech.
"Most modern designs of polyphonic synthesizers are pure digital and just don’t have the same iconic sound qualities," he said. "What we have created in the Modulus.002 is a fusion of these iconic analogue and hybrid sounds of the 70s and 80s synthesizers with the reliability of the latest electronics plus Internet connectivity to share sounds, settings and work collaboratively on music without relying on painfully slow serial/MIDI connections to do so. This is the first synthesizer designed for the interconnected 21st Century.”
He points to other UK and German instrument makers that have developed innovative synthesizer technology but not been able to turn this into sustainable businesses.
"The UK pioneered the synthesizer industry back in the 60s and 70s and that has grown to a billion dollar business," he said. "We are putting the UK back on the map with the first polyphonic synthesizer to have been completely designed and built in the UK for several decades."
A team of eight engineers has taken just under a year to take the Modulus.002 from drawing board to volume production. The keyboard is designed to map to the existing workflow that musicians use with a large integral display screen that is context sensitive so that it displays the control parameters of any control knobs immediately when touched by the user. Quick recall banks enable preset sequences and settings to be stored for instant use such as during a live performance.
"Alongside the voice architecture, a key innovation is that the Modulus.002 connects to the Internet," said Paul Maddox, Modulus designer and co-founder. "Being able to work collaboratively is fundamental and the Modulus.002 enables this to happen very easily using its Internet connection to the Modulus, cloud-based server platform to share settings, sequences and sounds. Musicians can now work together thousands of miles apart to create new music together. But, we wanted to go further than this, so we’re making our cloud technology Open Platform and, later in the year, we aim to form a consortium to encourage adoption of this standard by other manufacturers."
The architecture uses two Numerically Controlled Oscillators, generated in dedicated processors, that feed an analogue transistor ladder filter provides classic ‘warm’ sounds to provide twelve discrete polyphonic voices. This provides a stable signal with the same profile across the whole dynamic range but also provides the multiple timbres for a richer sound.