Thoughts on the ION / modular synths?

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metrosonus
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Thoughts on the ION / modular synths?

Post by metrosonus » Thu May 17, 2007 1:50 pm

I'm 99% sure of this, but I guess I want to verify it for my own edification.

The advantage of modular synths (other than being analog for the most part) is that you can freely interconnect various compatible modules from various manufacturers to custom tailor the sound you want. The most common singal path would be VCO -> VCA -> VCF and each in turn could be driven by CV or LFOs. These monster modulars that you see are made out these three basic components in various configurations and number along with various effects like ring mod and sample and hold, reverb ect. So all in all, patching a modular is relatively simple, but it's a matter of choosing the various modules you want to achieve a particular timbre.

correct?

and moving onto the ION.. I've been digging through some demos (there's a good one on matrixsynth right now) and I think I can say why quite a few of us don't like it. It's the mama's boy of synths. It sounds too clean and good natured like it's all gussied up for sunday church. I think us synth heads are in love with wide dynamic range, unique artificats and inherent imperfections that give each synth a unique character. The ION stuff that I've heard sounds like those awful jazzy demos you allways here for synths; too clean, sterile and unhuman. Maybe that's why we choose the synths we do? as a reflection of ourselves?

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Post by memo » Thu May 17, 2007 2:08 pm

Most people use the VCO->VCF->VCA route because it makes sense for the majority of musically useful sounds - LFOs and envelopes are assigned as needed, typically for vibrato and dynamic effects.

The ION can do quite a bit more than most synths (analog or digital); it supports ring modulation, FM (both exponential and linear), sample and hold, and all sorts of complex modulations including audio-rate LFOs. Plus it has modern options such as tempo sync.

Synth demos are almost always cheesy and uninspired - but I've heard some pretty wild, metallic, unpleasant, gritty, and unwholesome stuff come out of an ION, in addition to smooth analog emulations and cheesy jazzy stuff.
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Post by metrosonus » Thu May 17, 2007 2:14 pm

If you got links, post em. The ion is one of those things I'd love to have, but can't see it in terms of the sound I want to get out of it Vs. the specs on paper.

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Re: Thoughts on the ION / modular synths?

Post by Media » Thu May 17, 2007 2:30 pm

metrosonus wrote:I'm 99% sure of this, but I guess I want to verify it for my own edification.

The advantage of modular synths (other than being analog for the most part) is that you can freely interconnect various compatible modules from various manufacturers to custom tailor the sound you want. The most common singal path would be VCO -> VCA -> VCF and each in turn could be driven by CV or LFOs. These monster modulars that you see are made out these three basic components in various configurations and number along with various effects like ring mod and sample and hold, reverb ect. So all in all, patching a modular is relatively simple, but it's a matter of choosing the various modules you want to achieve a particular timbre.

correct?

and moving onto the ION.. I've been digging through some demos (there's a good one on matrixsynth right now) and I think I can say why quite a few of us don't like it. It's the mama's boy of synths. It sounds too clean and good natured like it's all gussied up for sunday church. I think us synth heads are in love with wide dynamic range, unique artificats and inherent imperfections that give each synth a unique character. The ION stuff that I've heard sounds like those awful jazzy demos you allways here for synths; too clean, sterile and unhuman. Maybe that's why we choose the synths we do? as a reflection of ourselves?
0.
I had an ION for a short while. The biggest gripe I had with it is that it was far too clean, and it almost sounds "distant". Like to say you have a pillow over your speaker, or somebody is playing a cool synth in the other room. It just never cuts enough, well IMHO. Those of you who say "well, learn how to program, and tweak the presets" and so on, even after deep editing its still just barely sharp enough. Other synths do not require that investment for just a "up to par", or "good enough" sound.

As in anything, this is just a perspective.

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Re: Thoughts on the ION / modular synths?

Post by Slickie » Thu May 17, 2007 2:38 pm

metrosonus wrote:These monster modulars...
keep in mind that a modular these days does not need to be monster in size/modules to be VERY versatile. I have 2 doepfer suitcases (though neither is full) and that is more than enough for me. I could easily get by with one suitcase and the right moduels. There is just so much capability in one specific module (right now Im big on the doepfer BBD module)

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Post by metrosonus » Thu May 17, 2007 2:41 pm

Well that's sort of my fear.. It's easier to work with a wider dynamic range and timbre than it is having to work around a filter with a tiny range or as you said, soaunding muffled. I thought the same thing at the store..

I just dont get who makes these synths that have all these awesome capabilities.. then adds on a tiny filter or you have to compress the h**l out of it to boost the sound, but by then you loose what's left of the dynamics....

I loved albino too.. I played with the demo for months... but in the end I allways had to compress it to make it louder and I had to chain several filters and push the h**l out of them to get that rawwwrrrrrrrrr sort of sound out of it. It's sad that you have to work that hard to get a good sound out of what otherwise is a phenominal engine. It just not worth my time in the end..

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Post by meatballfulton » Thu May 17, 2007 3:09 pm

The advantage of a modular is you can create unique signal and control flows not possible with hardwired synths. Want to run each VCO through it's own filter? Want to run multiple filters in series or in parallel? Want to run audio through a S&H? Want to create complex envelopes by running multiple EGs through a mixer? In a modular the difference between audio and control signals blurs.

The tradeoff is some things that are trivial in most hardwired synths can use up a lot of resources in a modular...want a delayed fade-in of an LFO? Well, now you need a delay, an EG and a VCA in addition to the LFO. Need an envelope that goes both positive and negative? Now you need at least two EGs and a mixer. Etc.
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Re: Thoughts on the ION / modular synths?

Post by metrosonus » Thu May 17, 2007 4:10 pm

Slickie wrote:
metrosonus wrote:These monster modulars...
keep in mind that a modular these days does not need to be monster in size/modules to be VERY versatile. I have 2 doepfer suitcases (though neither is full) and that is more than enough for me. I could easily get by with one suitcase and the right moduels. There is just so much capability in one specific module (right now Im big on the doepfer BBD module)
Which modules would you pick? Im researching my own suitcase right now. I think a two mono synth setup would be allright.. but I also want to add in a CEM/SSM filter, joysticks and LFOs..

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Post by Soundwave » Thu May 17, 2007 4:33 pm

I’ve been tempted with the Ion in the past but the opinions regarding the sounds have been mixed, some say it’s the best VA around with a huge programming potential and some say only the Moog filter sounds half decent and it has cheap sounding DA converters. I think for the price they’re very good for what you get but I’ll stick with my AN1X for now.
As far as modulars are concerned my Arturia Moog Modular covers most of that ground for me but if I was to go hardware it would be a Doepfer/AS hybrid as the prices are reasonable and there’s plenty of new unusual modules available that don’t just copy vintage gear.

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Post by miket156 » Thu May 17, 2007 5:53 pm

Quote by metrosonus:

"and moving onto the ION.. I've been digging through some demos (there's a good one on matrixsynth right now) and I think I can say why quite a few of us don't like it. It's the mama's boy of synths. It sounds too clean and good natured like it's all gussied up for sunday church. I think us synth heads are in love with wide dynamic range, unique artificats and inherent imperfections that give each synth a unique character. The ION stuff that I've heard sounds like those awful jazzy demos you always here for synths; too clean, sterile and unhuman. Maybe that's why we choose the synths we do? as a reflection of ourselves?"

If you’re looking for that “wide dynamic range, unique artifacts, and inherent imperfections that give each synth a unique character”, you’re talking about analog. All VA’s sound clean compared to many vintage analogs. Nord leads sound cleaner and very digital compared to the ION to my ears. The ION was designed to sound “smoother’ than many VA processors, like the Korg MS2000. Many people have said the Korg MS2000 was harsh sounding. Harsh sounding not being very musical. That was a problem with earlier VA designs.

The ION was designed to sound like an analog, and Alesis did an admiral job of creating a smooth sounding VA that is very musical and can emulate many of the early vintage synths. Personally, I’ve never heard any VA that has the character and “balls” of a good quality vintage synth. I don’t know that a VA can by their nature.

The ION demos are OK, but you can get better results if you work with it. I don’t agree Media’s post that said "well, learn how to program, and tweak the presets" and so on, even after deep editing its still just barely sharp enough. Other synths do not require that investment for just a "up to par", or "good enough" sound. What other synths are you talking about?

If you do a live show, don’t want to sound like every other synth on the planet, and need to cut through, get a DSI keyboard evolver. That’ll do it. The ION is a nice synth for someone that wants to do analog emulation and doesn’t want to spend a bundle of $$. I don’t play in a band, I work as a solo act, so cutting through is not a problem for me. The ION works well for classic rock and allows me to leave my precious vintage analog synths safe at home.

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Post by metrosonus » Thu May 17, 2007 6:03 pm

I agree with everything.. It just doesn't sound like what I want.... I pesonally hate being on that razor's edge.. caught between the features I want, but not the sound I want. Which is why i've been researching my own modular for god knows how long.. After really listening to it though, I figured most people might be like me and not like it because it doesn't scream "if it's too loud, then PISS OFF!!".

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Post by MrFrodo » Thu May 17, 2007 6:08 pm

It's pretty likely - but not confirmed here - that the Alesis R&D staff decided to stuff the ION with lots of features, including the presance of the Modulation Matrix. It's highly possible that they were focusing too much on stuffing the chasis and not enough on "functionality."

One reason I'd consider the Micron above the ION is that, in my mind, the presance of the front-panel knobs on the ION is more of a joke than a help. You may have less realtime control with the Micron, but it stilll seems easier to understand at first glance than the ION.
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Post by metrosonus » Thu May 17, 2007 6:15 pm

A common complaint I hear is the knobs on the ION. Is it the placement? Or they don't provide access to deeper features which requires a menu system?

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Post by otto » Thu May 17, 2007 6:52 pm

I think it all depends on where you coming from. The Ion is smooth sounding and is that so bad? It doesn’t the least bit make me think of bland jazz, it makes me think of 70’s-early 80’s analog and I think it excels at pads and smoother basses. I think the people who hate the Ion are the people who think all analog should sound like a mid 90’s dance track. The Ion can do some crazy sounding stuff and can get very wild sounding but I think it excels at smooth but not sterile as you insinuate. FM is far better at sterile. I think the Ion can compliment a more aggressive sounding synth like a Nord, Virus, or MS2000. And as far as the “whole reflects the person you are” comment what does that say about people with a variety of synths with opposed sounds? I loved the Ion and I don’t listen to this cold jazz your referring to.

And the comment “if it's too loud, then PISS OFF!!" – Get a guitar if that’s your mentality, synths aren’t really a tough guy instrument and no amount of distortion, painted leather jackets, or in your case shiney dancey shirts are going to change that.
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Post by metrosonus » Thu May 17, 2007 7:10 pm

Smoother basses is what I think of when I think of 90's dance tracks.. Haddaway, KLF ect..

I think we choose synths that we feel best expresses a sentiment or something we want to say based upon it's sound, features or something inherent in the synth itself (or several for that matter). For some it's the ion, for some it's not, that's all I was saying.

or in your case shiney dancey shirts are going to change that.

Thems fightin words right there...

Shiny dance shirt? ha ha. Aggressive synth music may not be as socially acceptable as heavy metal or something.. More often than not it's compared to punk rather than metal...But shiny shirts aren't the fashion.. that's the trance crowd..

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