Sonic LAB: Modal Electronics Argon 8 Wavetable Synth
8 voices, full size keys 13/01/20
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Modal Electronics Argon 8 is an 8 voice digital wavetable synthesizer with full size keys - although only three octaves.
It shares much of the DNA from the SKULPT, which we also reviewed and enjoyed. Even though it's a digital machine, still capable of some lovely organic sounds.
The Argon 8 shares these characteristics, but with an expanded set of controls, 3 FX generators, up to 512 step sequencer and an arpeggiator, plus the distinctive Modal joystick.
The Wavetables are upped in number (24 wavetables each with 5 sets of waves) with some very smooth interpolation when sweeping through. Indeed the basic VA waves (Sine/TRI/Square/Saw) also just sound good - rarely here a sine wave with as much heft as this, presumably that would be down to the D to A convertors? Not sure, but there’s plenty of meat and buzz to the two oscillators.
They also share the same spread features of previous synths with a detune phase through 3rd,4th, 5th and -octave intervals as well as other variants. Blending between the two via a dedicated mix control.
There’s also a dedicated OSCMod routing which can be set to be a number of possible routings: phase, ring, sync and more - allowing some really complex sounds can be achieved.
Next up the filter offers the same 2 pole modelled, with resonance and morphing - yeah it's digital but also pretty musical - combined with the post filter drive, some excellent harmonic content and searing tones.
It works well for polyphonic and mono sounds.
Modulation is a key aspect here two with 2x LFO 1=global 2=per voice and can be linked to note frequency for audio rate work, 3x ADSR - VCF, VCA and MOD. These are pretty simple, no looping or delay or adjustable curves, but can be very snappy for percussive elements.
With 8 assignable mod slots (11 sources, 52 destinations) plus four fixed slots, 8 is good, but I did find it easy to run out as the sound design journey tends to take you there!
I should mention that there are a lot of Shift Functions on the front panel, which while it sounds daunting is actually pretty intuitive, there are no menus here, just dual functions. The Modal APP gives you the parameters on your computer via USB/MIDI as well as librarian functions for the 100 patches, 100 sequencer and 100 FX slots.
FX are a big part of the sound of the Argon 8 and there are plenty of algorithms and some reasonably extreme settings to be had. With three effect engines, you can get pretty out there. Most parameters can be modulated apart from some of the time related ones, though you can access these using the sequencers animator tracks (4 of these)
The sequencer and arpeggiator round of a good solid set of features, but the thing that I was most impressed by was the sound, it's unique and compelling with plenty of sonic variety and depth.
An instrument with character, and one that is easy to get lost in when tweaking away.
I think my main criticism is the lack of keys, a lot of these sounds cry out for a more expansive playing experience and 3 octaves doesn't really do it justice.