With analog and modular synthesizers people are often trying to find a kind of vintage sound with a certain expression that might harder to create in a digital environment. Often it is about desired imperfections that that are hard to achieve in our perfect-computer-sounds age. And there is definitely nothing wrong with perfect sounds from digital sources. But sometimes people are looking for something else. By going the route of imperfections it is not only about the sound source that many are seeking – it is also about processing and capturing sound that creates a special character. When looking for vintage sounds it makes sense to ask, how have these sounds been recorded back in the days? And the answer will most likely be: on tape. And there we have found our first hint for that nice addition to the quality of sounds that is not coming from the sound source or some sort of effects machine.
Well, this might lead into a wrong direction right now… Because this post is not about creating vintage sounds, or about analog synthesis, or tape-recordings… This was just one example where imperfections and coloring of sounds comes into play. And because there are uncountable ways to achieve these desirable imperfections, we are limiting us by only looking at mixers that are known for adding something special to your sounds.
The Ring SM is the gentleman among the modules presented in this post – with its high quality sound and premium appearance. And it has some special tricks up its sleeve that are not part of this topic, but worth a look. When familiar with the routing and panel layout the Ring SM reveals its capabilities. Other than being a five channel mixer it also features a special kind of ring modulation and sub-octave generator. But let’s focus on what the Ring SM can do to your sound without these special additions. As a mixer it is based on an old Moog design – the CP3 mixer circuit. This gives the Ring SM the ability to clip the incoming signals. This circuit is famous for adding a very welcome saturation-like sound with enough input gain. On this mixer unity gain on a single input occurs with the output knob set to 10 and the channel input knob set to 9. When using more inputs you would have to turn back the input gain to get clean results. To be honest most times there is no need to avoid clipping – because the clipping of this module sounds polite and really great. It gives your sounds a nice touch of strength and warmth. Considering all the additional features, this is a great all-rounder that could find its use in almost any system.
The Touell Skouarn is more than a mixer. In fact it is three preamps with a feedback modification, a mixer and an instrument, all in one. All three channels feature an input and direct out jack, due to this it is possible to use the Sonveskans single channels independently as sound sculpting tools. Because the channels reach their peak input level pretty soon when dialing in the input, the most part of the knobs range is used to clip and distort the signal. And as if this wasn’t enough, there is another knob that can feed the output signal back into the input to work even more on the original signal. Say goodbye to your sine-waves – let the Sonveskan play with them and lean back. The discrete built, the germanium transistors and feedback paths are lovely tools to create controllable mayhem. By putting some simple waveforms into the input and carefully dialing up the gain and feedback knob it is possible to create very expressive soundscapes. By adding CV to these parameters it is possible to even put more life into the resulting sounds. This is the most extreme mixer in this overview and it is sometimes closer to being an effects module than a mixer. Definitely worth a try!
The Catalyst Audio Model 106 is a six channel mixer with individual outs for the groups of channels 1-3 and 4-6 and two outputs that feature all six channels. Thanks to its transistor circuitry and low headroom, the Model 106 has a very distinctive sound. High input levels lead to warm, nonlinear distortion. However, signals are never getting destroyed (until to the point you add feedback). Rather, the module adds some rich analog flavor. It always adds strength to the sounds you put into the module. And by using the various outputs it is possible to go totally crazy with feedback – we recommend trying that! But even without any additional patching the Model 106 is able to valorize any input sound. It just adds something to the sound that has to be heard, come to the showroom and listen yourself!
The Erica Synths Fusion Mixer is already available in its third generation. This version is compatible with the standard eurorack power supply, other than the original Fusion Mixer. With the tube in the audio signal path this mixer gives you classic saturation sounds. By really pushing the inputs it is even possible to use the Fusion Mixer as a waveshaper and when adding feedback to the equation it can really scream. But the sound is a little gentler than from the Model 106 or Sonveskan…and by gentler I mean: it can still be as gentle as a hammer – if you want it to be. It is a versatile module where you can choose between subtle saturation and screaming waveshaping. The different output options allow pretty similar patching compared to the Catalyst mixer, and in fact they are pretty similar in their layout, but offer a different sound palette due to their technical architecture.
So these are four ways to add coloration to your sounds just by using a mixer. They all feature a different approach and different circuitry to achieve the coloration and therefor they do sound different. So by deciding to buy a mixer for the purpose of sound design, it is a matter of personal taste on which one to to choose. With this overview we wanted to give you a general and most likely subjective impression of what charakter or coloration these modules are capable of. We hope this helps with your decision or gives you one or two new ideas for patching.
And as always:
This is by no means a complete overview of available modules nor a full review of the discussed modules. The what about… text are here to give you new ideas and maybe another perspective on things. All these modules offer more features than we have talked about in this post. For further information please click the provided links or – even better – visit the SchneidersLaden and ask the experts in the showroom.