Erica Synths Pico


Future Music - - CONTENTS -

It’s the world’s small­est mo­du­lar sys­tem, but does it re­tain mo­du­lar flex­i­bil­ity? Philip Wise in­ves­ti­gates

Lat­vian com­pany Erica Synths started out in 2014 with a DIY Euro­rack ver­sion of the clas­sic Soviet Po­li­voks synth and they now boast an im­pres­sive line-up of prod­ucts that seem to be con­stantly re­vised and up­dated.

This year they shocked the Euro­rack world by re­leas­ing the whole Pico range at one go – 20 mod­ules in all! With this new Pico Sys­tem, Erica Synths have brought to­gether 14 of these mod­ules in a 42HP sturdy metal case about the size of a lunch box.

Although tiny, the Pico sys­tem is well laid-out with the ma­jor­ity of the jacks at the bot­tom, leav­ing the knobs and switches ac­ces­si­ble even when fully patched. The pots are not bolted to the pan­els but tak­ing out a few of the mod­ules shows that the cir­cuit boards are firmly at­tached with stand-offs mak­ing the pots feel sturdy and solid – no wob­bles.

Both the Se­quencers and the Drum mod­ules fea­ture glowing en­coders which change colour or flash to show which pa­ram­e­ter you are cur­rently edit­ing. This works well in prac­tice and en­ables lots of op­tions in a small for­mat

For my first play with the sys­tem I didn’t con­sult the man­ual and got stuck in straight­away. It’s in­tu­itive with only the CV Se­quencer’s op­tions pos­ing a prob­lem; for­tu­nately the se­quencer has a ran­dom but­ton which gen­er­ates some use­ful pat­terns im­me­di­ately.

A quick read of the SEQ CV Se­quencers on­line man­ual re­veals its depth – se­quences can be any length up to 16 steps. You can pro­gram slides, rests and le­gato notes, and the se­quencer modes are the stan­dard: for­wards/back­wards, pen­du­lum or ran­dom.

The out­put is quan­tised and there are nine scales avail­able; you can switch the oc­tave range be­tween 1-8V.

The VCO mod­ules are iden­ti­cal, each fea­tur­ing two banks of wave­forms se­lectable by a knob at the top or by a CV in­put. The first bank are sam­pled clas­sic synth wave­forms, and the sec­ond bank fea­tures more com­plex dig­i­tal waves end­ing in dig­i­tal noise.

One knob is used to tune the os­cil­la­tor by semi­tones – on the sys­tem I had the two os­cil­la­tors seemed to be very slightly de­tuned which goes some way to thick­en­ing up the sound, but the lack of a fine-tune con­trol is a lit­tle lim­it­ing.

They sound good for dig­i­tal os­cil­la­tors with a nice va­ri­ety to the wave­forms and de­cent bot­tom-end, but un­for­tu­nately the lack of FM or Sync in­puts lim­its where you can take them.

The fil­ter is ap­par­ently mod­elled on the Po­li­voks but to me it lacks the char­ac­ter and growl of that clas­sic. There is just one CV in­put with an at­ten­u­a­tor to con­trol the cut­off.

Next up is the TRIGG se­quencer – with four out­puts this would gen­er­ally be used to trig­ger the drum mod­ules; it can clock it­self or be sync’d to an ex­ter­nal clock.

Pat­terns are loaded into mem­ory from a sim­ple web-app. I used my phone to quickly knock up some beats; up­load takes only a sec­ond. Again this is very well-im­ple­mented. The pat­tern length for each chan­nel can be dif­fer­ent, mak­ing eu­clidean pat­terns pos­si­ble for more va­ri­ety than the stan­dard 16 step 4/4.

The two DRUMS mod­ules are also iden­ti­cal. Each fea­tures two trig­ger in­puts and a sin­gle out­put, and 64 sam­ples are avail­able. These

are se­lected with the top en­coder and you can also al­ter the sam­ple pitch, de­cay time and vol­ume. A CV in­put al­lows con­trol of one of these pa­ram­e­ters for the first drum out­put.

The drums sound great, fea­tur­ing a wide va­ri­ety of punchy us­able sounds, and the sys­tem also comes with a spe­cial board that al­lows you to up­load your own sam­ples. In a fu­ture up­date this will also al­low you to up­load your own wave­forms to the os­cil­la­tors and in­stall firmware up­dates.

The RND mod­ule takes a clock and pro­duces sync’d sine and pulse LFOs. Along with a ran­dom pulse and Sam­ple & Hold, a noise out­put is also avail­able. The dual VCA is ba­sic and per­forms well.

When we reach A MIX, the au­dio mixer, we be­gin to en­counter prob­lems. The mixer has only three in­puts, so you can’t mix the two os­cil­la­tors and play all four drums at the same time. Two au­dio mixer mod­ules would have pro­vided greater flex­i­bil­ity as one could be used to mix the two VCOs and noise, with the sec­ond as an out­put mixer to com­bine the drums and the synth voice.

An­other is­sue is that the EG mod­ule has only one en­ve­lope gen­er­a­tor. To my mind a min­i­mum of two is es­sen­tial for even a ba­sic synth and with a bit of re­design I think two could cer­tainly fit into a 3HP mod­ule.

With only one en­ve­lope you can con­trol the VCA but you have to use the RND sine or square to open the fil­ter which is lim­it­ing. I found my­self us­ing an ex­ter­nal ADSR to get sat­is­fac­tory re­sults.

If I owned this sys­tem, the first thing I would do would be to re­move the MULTI and put an­other EG in its place. A pas­sive sig­nal split­ter would work just as well with­out tak­ing up any case space.

As a por­ta­ble mo­du­lar starter sys­tem Pico def­i­nitely fits the bill. How­ever with lim­ited con­trol and CV in­puts it won’t be long be­fore you’re head­ing out for more mod­ules.

CON­TACT KEY FEA­TURES WHO: Erica Synths WEB:­ic­as­ Full sys­tem com­prised of Erica’s com­pact Pico mod­ules. In­cluded mod­ules: SEQ, 2xVCO, VCF1, TRIGG, 2xDRUMS, MULTI, EG, VCA, RND, DSP, MIX, OUT­PUT

GET­TING STARTED The unit comes with a set of Erica patch ca­bles and the man­ual fea­tures four demo patch lay­outs.

SIZE MAT­TERS Each mod­ule is only 3HP and this is the small­est full sys­tem you can buy at present.

SPE­CIAL FX The re­verbs and de­lays of­fered in the DSP mod­ule re­ally round out the sound.

RHYTHM MAKER The DRUM mod­ules sound fan­tas­tic, while the abil­ity to up­load your own sam­ples takes them even fur­ther.

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