Sonic LAB: Pittsburgh Modular Lifeforms SV-1 Blackbox Review

US Compact, desktop, analog, semi-modular - whats not to like?      23/09/16
    MP4 21:57 mins    

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Pittsburgh Modular's systems have been highly regarded for some time now their System and Foundation series, offer much modular possibility. Recently the Lifeforms SV-1 has been paired with the KB-1 keyboard and sequencer make a lovely pair.

The SV-1 is now available as a self contained Blackbox edition which is a solid metal case and included power supply.


We asked if you had any questions in this preview video - thanks for all your responses, I hope we've addressed all of them.


It's a becoming a common format - take a single self contained synth voice and house it in a dedicated case - think Make Noise 0-Coast, Moog Mother 32 etc.

The Pittshburgh SV-1 is a 2 VCO semi nomalized analogue voice, with State Variable Filter with built in MIDI interface and additional digital LFO.

The VCO is a new core from Pittshburgh - they wanted something beefier - VCO 1 has got Sine, Saw, Square, Triangle and the Blade wave - which is a modulateable Saw wave allowing a kind of octave shift. The MIDI CV is normalised to VCO 1, VCO 2 is free standing. Both have an extremely wide range allowing LFO type operation should you wish. VCO2 has Saw, Sine, Tri and Square - with no PW mod.

One thing worth a mention - it's analog and so does require warm up time to get the OSC tracking and scaling stable - it's actually around 10-15 minutes with the SV-1, which is a little on the long side.

VCO2 is also normalised to the FM input of VCO1 - so FM and X mod is there in plenty. Or indeed can be used to modulate other destinations at audio rates.

One thing I did find was that the FM depth control was rather linear, eg it's hard to dial in small amounts, would like to have seen it with a logarithmic response.

The waves pretty good, solid and buzzy where needed or fuller with Sine and Triangle. The Pulsewidth has a lovely tearing quality, which as you know is particular favourite of mine.

Speaking of which, the analog LFO (SQ and Tri waves) is normalised to the PW input of VCO1 and the FM input of VCO2. It's not clockable, and doesnt go all that high into Audio rate, but is a welcome mod source. - Don't forget there's a Digital LFO output too.

The Mixer is a 4ch or rather cleverly designed 2x2ch affair with VCO1 Sine/Saw/SQ and Sub 1 normalised (VCO1 has 2 sub osc - 1 and -2 Oct). However each pair of inputs can be split to provide 2x2ch - each can handle CV or Audio.

The Mixer is normalised into the State Variable Filter with resonance, though it will not self oscillate. Low Pass is normailzed to the VCA input, though High Pass and Band Pass are also simultaneously present at their own dedicated outputs and can be patched to the VCA or other places.

The filter has a nice quacky quality, when driven harder from the mixer with a drippy resonant character, though it is a shame it can't self oscillate at high resonance.

The ADSR, is a nice snappy - or plucky character and is normalised to both the VCA CV input and the VCF

Additional features, are an analog S&H circuit driven from the master tempo and two rows of Mults - always handy in any synth. Incidentally, SV-1 comes with 6 chunky patch cables.

MIDI Module:

With a mini jack input - adapter supplied, you can send MIDI into the synth, with the CV normailsed to VCO1, and the Gate to ADSR Trigger. Additional CV and Gate outputs are there for driving VCO 2 or others. Theres also a velocity CV out, and a assignable MIDI CC to CV. So plenty of mod options.

The arpeggiator function will take up to 10 MIDI notes and has the following modes:

Note in order, note in order with double trigger, random and random with a random gate. There is a hold function too.

The digital LFO has two outputs (like a mult) with Triangle, Random, Ramp Up, Ramp Down, noise and Sine. Repeated presses of the LFO button cycles through.

Additionally the LFO can be set to clock divisions of the master tempo which is really handy for clocked modulations - the master clock can be set to internal, external MIDI, external clock in.

So, how did I find it? Well the SV-1 has good set of building blocks, with nice sounding VCOs, a quality filter and an enormous amount of patching possibilites.

I've been asked if it's comparable to the 0-Coast or Mother 32, and the answer is no not really, the SV-1 is it's own thing and takes the classic subtractive architecture but adds a whole lot of audio rate modulation. With 2 VCOs you can take this places the Mother 32 can't go, although you don't get the sequencer of course nor the Moog filter. The 0-Coast is a very different sounding instrument, and less familiar if traditional subtractive is your thing.

I like it, as well as many classic subtractive sounds, pretty quickly you things can get unusual if that's what you need.

In addition as a toe-dip into the world of Eurorack or modular, it's a good place to start, as a self contained unit its  got a lot to offer. You can also if you do get bitten by the bug (and I'm sure you will), it can be taken out of it's case and put in the inevitably larger Eurorack case you will need - it's 48hp.

Available now priced at £599/$699 - the naked module will set you back around £50/$50 less



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