With the BC16 mini synth shipping (probably - has anyone else got one?) here are the first pictures of the follow up - Chimera's SM16 sequencer, taken from a PDF factsheet on the Chimera Synthesis site. It has a tonne of features - CV & Midi outs, 16 steps or 2x8 steps, Midi sync/control. And it looks great. It certainly didn't ship on 31st March, as the PDF claims, but it should ship sometime, and it's £136. It would be nice if Chimera could deliver existing orders rather than developing new products... although, when I met him, Ben also told me more about the ph303 bassline synth, which has the most bonkers-sounding hardware interface I've ever heard of - not just knobs in a funny shape, but something completely different. Lets hope it appears sometime.
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Ben from Chimera Synthesis just popped round with one of the first production batch of BC16 mini synths. I'll write more in a few days, but first thoughts: It looks incredible. It's tiny (exactly the same size as a CD) and heavy, made from three slices of computer-carved white plexiglass bolted together with 7 hex bolts. It feels extremely robust (the patch leads are as sturdy as any tiny silicone cable with gold-plated plugs on each end can be). It excels at making VCS3-style strange noises. This isn't a bedroom operation with one guy and a soldering iron - these things are made (by machine and hand) in a factory. There have been lots of delays in shipping the first batches, and many unhappy early buyers still waiting. If they get that sorted out and these things are reliable, then I'd be hard pressed to think of a better way for a music geek to spend £136. More: My Chimera BC16 pics on Flickr, and previously on Music Thing.
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After a week with the Chimera BC16, here's what I'm thinking...
The good bits:
1. Looks great, and feels fantastically well made.
2. Intuitive, fun, educational interface. You'll learn more about how synths work in a few hours with this than with years of VST plugins. My 5 yr-old son immeditately fell in love with it, making helicopters and sirens and turning the sound down, randomly turning knobs, then turning it up to see what came out. Nothing is labelled, so you have to listen.
3. It makes a huge range of noises. The digital multi-waveform oscillator will annoy purists, but it's versatile. A reasonably effective two-oscs-in-one system can sound pretty fat.
4. It's a quirky, unique synth, hand made in Britain and absolutely in the lineage of EMS, EDP, OSCar.
5. The sound is immediate, ballsy and gritty. Huge bass, huge brightness.
6. It's absolutely a real synth, not a toy. Compared with the Tenori On, this is a real (if simple) instrument. It makes any sound you can patch, not a bunch of presets.
6. It has no blue LEDs, but several red and green ones.
7. It's totally self contained - 6xAAA batteries last a few evenings. There is a power supply on the way (soon).
8. In theory, they can make these in any colour, including clear. That will be hot.
9. It's £136 shipped - the price of a Squier strat or an effects pedal, cheaper than many soft synths. The price is crucial, because it makes most of the other issues irrelevant. The bad bits:
1. It's really hardware in Beta (track the updates on their blog). If you can wait a year, I think Chimera will either be out of business (and BC16s worth a fortune on eBay), or shipping a more refined version.
2. The output from the 1/8th inch headphone output is super hot, and fairly noisy. To get the best sound for recording, you need to make a mini banana plug -> 1/4 inch cable and take the sound direct. (They gave me one for this review and will be selling them soon)
3. The MIDI is being debugged as I write - barely works on mine, but should be much improved on the models being shipped now. If you can't imagine using it without midi, it's possibly not for you (yet).
4. There are a tonne of digital artefacts from the oscillators. I think it's cool, but if you're looking for silky analogue tone, buy a Moog Voyager at 14 times the price. Similarly, you're unlikely to write a love sonnet about the filter.
5. Delivery is flaky at the moment.
6. It's a perfect portable synth, but if you pull one out on a bus (let alone a 'plane), someone will call the bomb squad.
My recent computer woes mean I can't post any new sound samples, but the tried and tested 'loop random squiggles and add breakbeats' method was fun while it lasted.
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Chimera Synthesis have a new thing: The Chimera BC-8 is a shrunken version of the BC16 - the cute little handheld modular. From the preliminary spec sheet: "bC8 contains a stereo headphone amplifier connected to a 24bit / 48KHz
digital to analog converter (same unit as used in the bC16). A powerful DSP generates a VCO and LFO (similar to the bC16), also the DSP performs VCF and VCA functions as well controlling the patching of functions to each other and running a simple but powerful ‘ one button’ pattern sequencer. bC8 is controlled by eight rotary knobs and one push-button. Four LED’s indicate battery status, LFO and EG level and other mode elements. bC8 pattern sequencer records the timing/duration of the button presses and all the knob settings for each action, these can be altered live for acid loops etc…" Sounds like a lot of fun for £75, competing perhaps with something like the Korg Kaosscilator. More details as they arrive. Shipping later this month, apparently... (Thanks, Brad)
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Love the look of this. The Chimera BC16 is a tiny circular mono synth - those holes are patch points (as you can see in this picture), linking together the VCO, LFO, Envelope, 24db filter, noise and ring mod. Orders taken now, shipping in mid Jan. Next year they'll be coming with the SM16 - a sequencer and MIDI/CV interface, and the PH303 - a $299 303 clone. And yes, before you write, it looks very similar to the Technomage Life which has been about to reappear for a year or two, but certainly isn't currently on sale for £115... UPDATE: UK Prices are up: The synth (inc patch cords) is £116. The sequencer/MIDI interface (inc patch cords) is £136, both including shipping.
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Here's the first clip of the Chimera BC-16 mini synth in action (covered previously). The synthmessageboards have been all over the BC-16, starting with "this is awesome", moving on to "I've ordered mine", then "It hasn't arrived yet", then "It's a hoax" and finally "It's a scam." I don't see any reason to think it's a scam (I can think of about a million easier scams that don't involve designing a tiny circular modular synths) but they're obviously having a hard time meeting customer orders. Still, after seeing this video, I just ordered one myself for £136. Lets see if it turns up...
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Bleep Labs BitBlob is the only thing to buy this Christmas. A patchable synth encased in a pyrex glass jar complete with glowing monsters. $216, limited edition of 30...
Another xmas essential is Benge's Twenty Systems album - a lovely booklet/CD package with twenty tracks recorded on twenty different systems, from Moog Modular to NED Synclavier. (More pics here at Hardformat)
New synth #1: Dave Smith Mopho, tiny yellow all-analog synth for $399 (from Analog Haven). Like the button marked 'push it', don't like the lack of knobs.
Where's the party at is a great-looking sampler module kit on a single PCB, complete with dozens of breakout points for circuit bending.
New synth #2: Moog are re-releasing their Taurus bass pedals, in a limited edition of 1,000. $1,695, all analog, based on the original circuitry but with midi and proper memory. People have been asking for this in forums for years, but I'm amazed they've actually done it.
David Dewaele from Soulwax (another MT reader) explains their extremely fun-sounding live setup to Future Music mag - a mix of Ableton and analog gear. Unfortunately, it's an audio slideshow, so rather than scanning through the article you have to listen for 8 minutes...
Wonderful podcast #2: Us and Them is a genuinely mind-blowing collection of Cold War propaganda music - you can download all seven episodes from the sidebar of the Clerkenwell Kid blog
New synth #3: Korg Microkorg XL - very long awaited follow up to the absurdly successful Microkorg (if they'd only sold the actual synths that appear in music videos, they'd still be rich). Gone are the wooden end cheeks and light up buttons, replaced by an interesting-but-ugly look slightly reminiscent of the Micromoog.
Steim is now safe. The Dutch Council for Culture has agreed to help fund the Amsterdam home of strange clicky music and gestural interfaces. The blog-inspired letter writing campaign apparently helped. (Previously...)
In the not-awesome-but-understandable camp, the Chimera BC16 is currently off-sale as they catch up with back orders (finally). Shortly before that was announced, they put up the price of the wonderful BC16 to £280.00. Still a good price, but not the astonishing bargain it was at £116, when it was first announced. (Previously)
Here's a tiny patchable inverter accessory for the Chimera BC16 mini synth "a little PCB (postage stamp) with four wires hanging out of it (the whole package is heatshrunk into a clear sleeve) - it's purpose is to 'invert' any control signal used on the bC16". Being sent out free to all BC16 owners(mine hasn't arrived yet). UPDATE: It arrived! It's cute! Haven't tried it out yet...
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