Sonic LAB: Kodamo Mask1 Bitmask Synthesizer Review

US An unique synthesizer      02/06/23

Kodamo Mask1 is a DSP powered synthesizer which at it's heart has  Bitmask Oscillators - two of them. Not heard of that before? Me neither, but I can explain, or at least attempt to.

But first a word about the UI and hardware. Stephane Damo, the synths designer has a love for 80s synths, and this is reflected in the rather sparse UI - there are only two knobs, a bunch of parameter buttons and a five character LED display - pretty minimal.

They chose this consciously to limit the number of parameters and really make them count.

I guess this is a conceptual approach, though I must confess that it goes a wee bit too far and does result in a lot of button pressing and scrolling.

Now on to that Bit Masking... 
Using a Sine wave as the source, the waveform is chopped into multiple bits or slices, which can then be masked (muted) , flipped, reordered or scaled. It's a technique used in computing apparently and Kodamo have  applied it to their oscillators.

The result is a cross between chiptune type sounds and wavetables - to my ears. It's an usual starting block and as such influences the sound  considerably.

Basic voice structure is two oscillators each with 256 Bit Mask configurations - each resulting in a pretty different source tone, there's a start and speed point which allows you to scan through the Bit Mask positions.

One noise source which has a filtering/bit reduction control for true game over vibes.

A Multimode DSP state variable filter with resonance (LP, HP, BP, Notch modes)

Two LFOs, four ADSR looping envelopes - OSC1  level,  Osc 2 level, Noise Level and filter.

These can all be looped.

An additional simple A/R pitch envelope is also included.

Finally, there's a pair of DSP preset FX generators, which offer preset FX:

FX1 has Chorus (16), Distortion (16), Bitcrush (16), Ringmod (16)

FX2 has Delay (16), Reverb (16), Distortion(16)

These are non editable, with a wet/dry balance control. However, they are nicely chosen and complement the sound well. 

Internal sounds are organized in a bank of ROM (120) and 400 user memories, the keyboard can be split or layered with programs sharing the same FX config as the first selected program. In addition, there's a sequencer and arpeggiator. The sequencer works like a simple Looper, play something in, and stop recording to set the loop point - more like a recorder.

While the UI and approach to the editing process are designed to achieve a certain philosophical brief,  I can't help but wish for a more,  or rather less button and parameter driven approach. By going all in for the 80s style interface and 5 character display, it's makes editing fluently difficult. 

However, the Mask 1 does sound good and the reduced parameter set does not reduce the sound shaping capabilities. The Mask 1 is capable of some really lovely sounds, as well as deep lows and crystal highs.

I should also point out that as an instrument, it's very playable, the velocity and aftertouch response feel very smooth and predictable, this really enhances the  playabillity and responsiveness of the instrument.

The Kodamo Mask 1 is  available now priced at £2025/2250/$2250 from several online retailers.

https://kodamo.org/mask1

 



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