Ana­logue So­lu­tions Tread­stone

Ana­logue So­lu­tions re­turn with a new kid on the Syn­thBlock – the Tread­stone synth. Bruce Aisher found out more

Future Music - - CONTENTS -

I was ex­pect­ing great things from this diminu­tive, but rugged, box

Usynth stal­warts Ana­logue So­lu­tions are back with the lat­est in­stal­ment in their ‘Syn­thBlocks’ tril­ogy, the Tread­stone ‘Ana­logue Synth and Sound Maker’. Th­ese are small desk­top units that sit some­where be­tween self-con­tained sound gen­er­a­tor/pro­ces­sors and patch­able mod­u­lar-style build­ing blocks. Tread­stone (a Bourne novel ref­er­ence) is the most knob/switch/ socket-laden of the Syn­thBlocks so

Kfar - a fact re­flected in its higher price. I was ex­pect­ing great things from this diminu­tive, but rugged, box.

In sim­ple terms, Tread­stone is a patch­able sin­gle os­cil­la­tor ana­logue synth with MIDI and CV con­trol. Power is de­rived from the in­cluded 12V DC adapter and all ex­ter­nal in­ter­fac­ing (in­clud­ing the MIDI in­put) is via 3.5mm jack sock­ets. Ana­logue So­lu­tions pro­vide adapters that con­vert the MIDI socket to a stan­dard DIN con­nec­tor and the Au­dio Out to a larger 1/4” socket. Plug­ging a key­board or DAW MIDI out­put into the Tread­stone gets things go­ing, and after a quick read of the man­ual (to de­ci­pher the front panel graph­ics) I cre­ated some re­as­sur­ingly ana­logue­sound­ing noises. De­spite its ap­par­ent sim­plic­ity, basses, leads, drum hits and weird ef­fects were all within its grasp - es­pe­cially once you be­gin us­ing the patch­bay to cre­ate more com­plex types of mod­u­la­tion.

The MIDI in­put feeds a MIDI-CV con­verter that turns note-on/off data into con­trol volt­ages for the VCO and EG sec­tion. The VCO con­sists of a com­bined saw­tooth/square/pulse gen­er­a­tor, with the fi­nal bal­ance de­ter­mined by a wave­form mix con­trol. Be­low this, there’s the switch for adding Noise or a Sub-Os­cil­la­tor square wave (one oc­tave down) to the pre-fil­ter mix. Given the lim­ited panel space, th­ese are very much ei­ther on or off, with their rel­a­tive lev­els to the main VCO non-ad­justable. My feel­ing is that the sub gen­er­a­tor might’ve been mixed a lit­tle lower in level, as it leads quite eas­ily to dis­tor­tion in the sig­nal chain. You may love the drive this im­parts to the sound, but note that there is no way to dial-back on this with­out turn­ing-off the sub. I pre­ferred the sat­u­ra­tion cre­ated at higher fil­ter res­o­nance set­tings with only the main VCO in play, (though would have liked a choice on whether it was part of the sound). The square wave’s pulse width can be mod­u­lated by the on­board en­ve­lope or LFO by ac­cess­ing the ded­i­cated PWM switch. When mod­u­lated here by the LFO, there is no con­trol over the depth of mod­u­la­tion, and there­fore it’s a bit frus­trat­ing to find that when the LFO passes through the ex­treme points of its cy­cle the sound dis­ap­pears com­pletely. How­ever, this does re­sult

in Am­pli­tude Mod­u­la­tion-like ef­fects – use­ful for cre­at­ing harsher tones.

The Tread­stone fil­ter is based on the clas­sic SSM 2044 fil­ter chip (now back in pro­duc­tion) that could be found in Korg’s Polysix and Mo­nop­oly synths (among oth­ers). This is of the 24dB/oc­tave low-pass va­ri­ety and gives a sat­is­fy­ing bite. As stated above, push­ing the res­o­nance can sat­u­rate the cir­cuitry (mainly at lower fre­quen­cies), though it can­not quite dive into self-os­cil­la­tion. Be­neath the main Fil­ter Cut­off con­trol are two smaller knobs for set­ting en­ve­lope and ve­loc­ity mod­u­la­tion amounts.

The En­ve­lope Gen­er­a­tor is of the usual Ana­logue So­lu­tions four-stage va­ri­ety, with At­tack, Sus­tain and a com­bined De­cay/Re­lease con­trol. Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances the EG is trig­gered by in­com­ing MIDI notes, though the Tread­stone also fea­tures a cou­ple of self-con­tained trig­ger op­tions. Drone mode mim­ics a note-on/gate sig­nal, while LFO trig­gers the en­ve­lope in time with the LFO (sim­i­lar to that on Roland’s clas­sic SH-101). Both of th­ese re­quire the VCA that fol­lows the fil­ter to be con­trolled by the EG – though it also has a ‘Key’ mode which turns the amp en­ve­lope into a sim­ple on/off af­fair. The VCA can also be se­lec­tively by­passed for cer­tain sig­nals if re­quired, al­low­ing the noise or saw wave to be mixed with the fil­tered sound. In­ci­den­tally, the only LFO con­trol on the synth de­ter­mines its speed. It out­puts both tri­an­gle and square waves, though th­ese are only avail­able sep­a­rately via patch­points. One is­sue, that is au­di­ble at higher pitches with the fil­ter open, is the way in which the LFO mod­u­lates pitch very sub­tly at all times. You might put this down the the charm of ‘real’ ana­logue cir­cuitry, but the sig­nal bleed is there none­the­less.

The fi­nal pro­ces­sor in Tread­stone’s ar­moury is a lo-fi dig­i­tal echo sim­i­lar to the one found on the AS Dr Strangelove. This is great ad­di­tion, though I would have loved the feed­back con­trol to go a lit­tle fur­ther and al­low in­fi­nite/ris­ing re­peats.

Taken to­gether, all the fea­tures men­tioned above would make for a cool lit­tle synth, but its flex­i­bil­ity is mas­sively ex­panded by the 12 patch­points and built-in MIDI Loop Se­quencer (see box­out). I had a lot of fun with the Tread­stone, and it of­fers more po­ten­tial than you might first imag­ine. It would make a nice ad­di­tion to an­other synth or mod­u­lar sys­tem (es­pe­cially given the re­cent an­nounce­ment of an up­com­ing Euro­rack ver­sion). FM VER­DICT 8.0 De­spite some func­tional quirks, the Tread­stone may be just what you’re after to add some ana­logue flavour to your setup


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