Sonic LAB: Pittsburgh Modular Voltage Research Laboratory

US Compact West Coast powerhouse      05/12/19
    MP4 25:21 mins    

Another feature packed system from Pittsburgh Modular, the Voltage Research Laboratory is a combination of the Lifeforms Voltage Lab - a West Coast type of synth combining complex oscillator, secondary oscillator, function generators (2), Dynamics Controllers (2) and an analogue delay.

The Lifeforms Touch Controller - 10 touch pads with 2x CV out plus Gate and Y axis controller and sequencer and  the case, a wood panel split case with PSU and utilities.

Voltage Lab is a compact instrument, with  a pretty densely packed panel and all the patch points along the bottom, which I prefer to in module points - especially when things are so tight.

From left to right we start with the MIDI interface, DIN on the provided adapter - follows the usual form of Note to pitch CV, Gate and Mod to CC and MIDI clock as an option. This routing can be normalled on a per Module basis  using the edit/MIDI button to Oscillators, Functions Generator A/B, Dynamics A/B.

The heart of this instrument is the complex oscillator which essentially gives you a ton of rich harmonic content, with the Sine, Tri, Saw, Sqr and combinations - these go into the Wavefolder with additional asymetry and axis controls for more tonal variety, but Pittsburgh have also added a Warp function  - something that they have developed, which works really well on Saw and Square waves - which really sound interesting. CV control of Timbre (fold), asymetry, axis and an assignable mod bus which can switch between FM, Wave,VCA - there’s a VCA built in to this module and Ring plus some combinations. The secondary Oscillator is normalled to the Mod input so audio rate mod is not a problem.

Secondary Oscillator  is simpler with Sine and Alpha Shape which approximates Saw through Square wave - though a bit more rounded.

Sound wise these both have plenty of weight, but the main attraction is the astonishing amount of tonal variation you can achieve with these, Pittsburgh have figured out how to fold Saw and Square in a unique and musical way adding to the timbres you can get.

Next up the Function Generators which double up as envelope style one-shot cycles, or LFO cycle mode with a variable response to sharpen or loosen the curve - a wide range of shapes available, but in loop mode doesn’t go into audio rates which I would have liked to see. Additionally the two can be linked to work in tandem with unison mode together, at end of Rise, end of Fall and more options.

Dynamics are the next and offer another set of functions which are uniquely Pittsburgh - with classic Low Pass Gate mode with Pluck mode for short snappy sounds, and an additional filter resonance feature which makes a real difference sonically and allows for a more subtractive approach with some nice deep harmonics. VCA and Filter mode gives yet more options with CV control over Response Curve and Dynamics. Both Dynamics modules have dual inputs so can be used to blend between to sources - this compensates a little for the lack of traditional mixer.

Analog delay - a nice addition, but the delay time is a little short - maybe up to 700ms only, CV control of time though.

Other features: Random generator, random CV sequences with an additional Gate output, Sample and Hold module with a noise output as well. Additional utilities A+B=A/B/C output for summing and mult (no gain control though)

Lifeforms Touch Controller - a 10 pad touch controller with two rows of CV controls for 2 values per pad, plus Gate and X axis CV output. But the 10 pads can be used as 2x5 pads each with a set of outs plus the mix of the two.

Unfortunately there’s no quantize on the CV, but he ho. You can use these pads as 10 dual CV preset spots or a more playable pitched style controller. Additionally there’s a sequencer, up to 64 steps which can be used in mono and duo modes, a clock divider and clock input, scan and reset inputs.

Overall, the system is a nicely designed and laid out one, sometimes it does feel a little cramped as they’ve packed so much in, though I’d like to have seen the top panel angle a little shallower for better visibility,  but the sounds it can make are really varied. You’ll need to get your West Coast hat on though as this is not your regular subtractive synth. I like the fact that there are two complete signal paths here - you can run two mono voices, one from each oscillator. Missing is a mixer and possibly a quantizer if you wanted to use the sequencer more actively for pitched work, but overall its an impressively featured system. It's not cheap, but it does 

Available soon as a complete system $1599
Lifeforms Voltage Lab Module $899
As a Blackbox desktop $TBC

Touch Controller $399
Walnut Case $349

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