Sonic LAB: Modal Electronics SKULPT Review

US 4 voice VA Synthesizer      19/11/18
    MP4 20:14 mins    

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Modal Electronics' latest release saw them use Kickstarter as the launch vehicle, it went pretty well with almost 300% funding. 

SKULPT is now shipping and we have a production version  - ours is black, but is also available in white. It comes with the stretch goal case which can be used to cover the panel ot sit the unit in for a flat operation.

SKULPT is a  digital synth, Its all DSP, virtual analog, four voices with 8 oscillators per voice, variable waveforms, FM and unison detune which also covers chordal intervals.

Its a small desktop, battery powered unit, all plastic - I guess built to the cost constrictions, with all knobs as rotary encoders (sending MIDI CC) plus a  1 octave touch keyboard (b to b). This also doubles as function switches for various parameters, plus the orange LEDs show parameter status as you twiddle.

With 6 AA batteries you can go mobile, though micro USB also handles power and MIDI - you'll be pleased to see there's also full size MIDI In and Out, as well as Sync in/out, Headphones and Main output (all on 1/8th inch jacks).

Two oscillator groups, with four osc per voice for a total of 32, variable waveforms on each; Osc 1 sin/tri/saw/sq/pw - continuously variable, Osc 2 sine/tri/saw/sq/noise.

You can FM osc 1 from Osc 2 anf this yields some quite usable tones - they actually sound pretty OK. Tunable intervals between Oscillators plus detune gives you range, with the Spread parameter working to detune those groups of four Osc per voice, from regular beating frequency through to chordal intervals, you can stack up a lot of notes  especially when playing in poly or duo mode.

Filter is a state variable model with Low pass through band and then high pass - the resonance has a pleasing musical character that belies its digital nature. With additional distortion modeling post filter, there are some really organic tones to be had.

3 Envelopes - ADSR - VCF, VCA and MOD with each stage available via the 8 slot mode matrix as a modulation destination.

2 LFOs- LFO 1 is global and gets into low audio rates (syncable), LFO 2 is one per voice and can go into audio rates based on the ROOT note in divisions and multipliers (RT/8 through RT*3). Both have retrig, free and one shot modes.

Modulation Slots
8 total, with quite a lot of destinations - positive and negative depth on each, great for complex patching.

Delay - syncable with a crusty feedback -  with time/mix/feedback all modulation destinations, as a delay its simple but really effective. Adding character to most patches. 

Distortion - adds some pleasing driven harmonics - lovely for gnarly pads and driven mono 303-isms.

Sequencer And Arpeggiator
Arpeggiator is straightforward enough, and can be synced to incoming clock (or not), with beat divisions (1/32 - 1/2).
Sequencer is up to 8 bars (256 steps) though only 1, 2, 4, 8 no odd step lengths. There's also 4 lanes of parameter recording (Animation) which is handy, though its last state - eg change filter on one step and it will remain until you record another parameter change. Sequencer is also only real time record, may suit your style (or not).

Sync - there is Sync in and out which I thought would be extremely useful. And indeed it can be, though perhaps more syncing tempo to an external LFO or arpeggiator clocking. While MIDI clock will get you sequence start, using sync jack in doesn't give you a sequence start on input.

For instance, hooking sync jack out of Beatstep Pro - pressing play wont start the SKULPT, but when you hit play on its Sequencer, Skulpt will be tempo synced but not step synced. Maybe better to auto SEQ start on receipt of first clock pulse? Ditto auto SEQ stop, otherwise the Skulpt auto sync detect flips back to internal sync and will play at its internal tempo. See what I mean? Easily fixed with firmware update which is simple to do via the editor. In fact, I think they are working on this behavior as I write.

The Sound
I must confess, I was pleasantly surprised by the sounds Skulpt makes, it has an organic, musical feel which is perhaps not what you might expect from a pure DSP synth. I was particularly into the pad sounds, which would be even more improved by the addition of a stereo output - perhaps the Spread control could throw the voices out wide? I was able to get some decent mono sounds too, bass it does and also pretty complex modulated sounds bordering on much more complex synthesis than you'd expect. 

Priced at £269 UK, there's always the option to hook up 2 for 8 voice operation, though it might be a little more pricey. The price seems around the maximum I would want to pay for this unit, if it could be slightly cheaper I would say its a no brainer - its a very musical little instrument with a surprising character. But even so, I would recommend taking a look.

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