studio | tech

the joy of synth

Behringer Neutron Semi Modular Synth

After many years of every studio, synth and programming nerd [in some cases, quite rightly] wetting their pants whilst discovering numerous soft-synth emulations within the digital domain, the majority of these folk are now beginning to see sense and there appears to be a move back – towards hardware… stuff you can touch and feel, knobs you can twiddle, sliders you can slide, plugs you can plug in and pull out – you get the general idea.

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be playing with my knobs rather than trying to mouse or touch pad-control a tiny fader on a miniscule soft synth GUI.

Up until quite recently, I was using, or rather trying to use Arturia’s sonically [and visually] excellent Yamaha CS-80 emulation, but what was infuriating was how difficult it was to actually hit and then control the correct controller!

Of course, finding the wedge to purchase a vintage synthesizer such as the CS80 is beyond the reach of most people’s pockets, currently selling in the region of around three grand plus on eBay. I certainly won’t be buying one any time soon… plus I don’t have the room – they’re bloody enormous!

What’s become extremely popular in recent years is the move towards modular synthesis, which is where the synthesizer revolution all started, really.

Let’s face it, like most things, everything tends to come and go, fashions are cyclic; and audio hardware is no exception. After years of synth manufacturers trying to make everything smaller, with library presets to attempt to make the business of actually creating ‘music’ quicker and simpler, we’re seeing a move towards noodling, the experimentation with noise, the crafting of unique sounds – which modular synthesis is obviously fantastic at doing.

But, it’s a bottomless pit, both in terms of the hit to the pocket and the sheer amount of components that are available on the open market. One can spend vast sums of dough and a disproportionate amount of time creating sounds that, in all honesty, you could quite easily wring from a $10 virtual plugin.

Anyway. I’m veering off course here and digressing… as usual.

After promising myself that I wouldn’t dip my toe into the murky world of modular, I’ve reneged on my vow, and recently purchased a Behringer Neutron.

However, I can console myself with the fact that it’s not actually a modular synth ‘proper’. I suppose it’s semi-modular, in the respect that it has a not-insignificant patch bay to piss about with, if the desire takes you. Even with no patching, it still makes extremely pleasing noises. I’ve not yet spent vast amounts of time with it, but I’ve noodled around with it for long enough to realise that one should roll of some of the bottom end on the mixer prior to tweaking any of the numerous knobs on this thing – the bass on the Neutron is seriously incredible… and if one’s not careful, one’s monitor cabs could get easily blown.

Behringer have properly upped their game over recent years, and as a seasoned tweaker, I can whole-heartedly recommend this to anyone looking to add atmospherics to underpin their work. It excels at this, as well as being a great lead monophonic synth. In the right hands, it’s also musical, and whilst you should keep a focused eye on the tuning [which is prone to wander], it can definitely give a mini-moog a run for its money.

You can hear what it’s capable of by watching and listening to the videos I’ve linked to here on this page. In short, this is an impressive piece of gear.