The Quadrantid Swarm
The Quadrantid Swarm is a desktop touch synthesizer aimed at sound designers and musicians who are looking for an expressive tool to explore rich and unusual soundscapes with a direct intuitive approach.
Past research and development at eowave has contributed to a range of successful products aimed at musicians and performers - including sensor interfaces, MIDI devices, modular synthesizers and more. This has been honed and distilled in the Quadrantid Swarm. It is an instrument that has been designed openly - to be used with MIDI, alongside your modular synthesizer/CV sequencer or to be explored as a standalone drone/sequencer/generative synthesizer.
Here is the first protoype being presented at Superbooth'17 (many features have been adapted between then and the production model!)
The QS now features 8 modes. Each should be considered a springboard for musical exploration, rather than a preset. The modes are not direct emulations of existing instruments, but they borrow on inspiration from their namesakes. We found that this was the best way to retain the immediacy of function per button design while offering a generous feature set. The QS will ship with a cheat sheet that details the specifics behind each mode - the waveform, perc sound and character effect.
Organ - Strings - Drone - Noise - Grains - Perc - Metal - Chiptune
Let's take a closer look...
Building on the feedback we received at Superbooth 17, we have redesigned the front panel to be easier to read. This matte black PCB pictured below is the final material we will be using on production, although there is a mistake on this panel that will be rectified (white layer inverted!).
The oscillator section is a digital wave generator. In sequencer mode the spread control multiplies the waveform up to 8 waveforms. In keyboard mode the spread control will not affect the oscillator because the 8 waveforms are spread across the touch keyboard to be used as a simple polyphonic synthesizer. Character controls a different effect or folder depending on the mode. The character effects/folders will help you design timbres that will range from clean and glassy to dense and distorted. To change between sequencer and keyboard mode, hold shift and press start.
- CV IN - control voltage input from eurorack or analogue sequencers
- mod - attenuation for CV in
- freq - frequency (to tune the oscillator with your other devices)
- spread - in sequencer mode this controls the spread of the 8 triangle waves, in live mode this is inactive
- character - amount of wave folder or effect
What else...? We have also added in a sine wave which isn't processed through the spread or folder, giving an extra layer to your sound design
Tied to the fundamental frequency of the main oscillator is a percussive element. The type of synthesis implemented is different for each mode.
A simpler mixer section, feeding into the two filters directly below, comprises of three inputs. One for the oscillator voice, one for the perc voice, and one spare. The spare input can be used to patch in an external signal, utilising the filters. With nothing patched in, the third input is pre-patched as a feedback for the spring reverb (which will overdrive/distort with high gain levels to great effect).
- voice vol - oscillator voice volume
- perc vol - percussion element volume
- IN - channel 3 input jack
- in vol - channel 3 input volume/pre-patched to spring reverb feedback
Two analogue 12db filters, based on our 'fluctuations magnétiques' module. Filter 1 can be switched between high or low pass. Filter 2 is low pass. Using the two filter poles together you can create a bandpass and other interesting filter shapes. This allows for rich, throaty and deep sound sculpting.
- cutoff - cutoff frequency
- mod - modulation attenuator
- MOD - modulation input
- res - resonance amount
- hi/low - high pass/low pass switch
Two modulation sources unlock the expressivity of the synth. The first is an envelope, pre-patched to the cutoff on filter 1, and also patched to the VCA. The LFO section is pre-patched to the cutoff of filter 2 and features seven selectable waveforms via the shape function, and an 8th mode which is the sequencer CV out (allowing the sequencer to be patched to other devices). Speed is set using the speed knob. A square output has been included which can be useful for triggering clock resets and other timing functions. A slew in, out and attenuator has also been implemented to further your modulation experiments.
- GATE - gate input
- attack - attack length
- release - release length
- ENV - envelope out (pre-patched to MOD of filter 1)
- triangle shape - LFO main output, LFO shape changes as per selection (pre-patched to MOD of filter 2)
- square shape - square output which remains square regardless of shape selection
- speed - LFO speed or frequency
- shape - select one of seven LFO shapes or sequencer CV out
- NOISE - noise output linked to LFO speed. Can be used as audio or modulation source
- SLEW IN - slew input
- slew - slew amount
- SLEW OUT - slew output
An analog spring reverb adds bundles of character to the QS, and can be mixed and used to feedback into itself for chaotic overdrives. The reverb section can be used independently of the synth with your other devices, by patching a cable to REV IN, and using the main output.
- rev input - pre-patched to filter out, this is the reverb gain. It will clip at high levels
- rev level - reverb amount, higher levels give the impression of a larger space
- MOD - modulation input for reverb level
- REV IN - you can use the spring reverb of the QS independently with this input
A simple VCA can be patched to the envelope, LFO or external source to amplify the QS.
- VCA CV - pre-patched to ENV output
- VCA OUT - pre-patched to REV IN
- OUT - main mono output to connect to your mixer or audio interface
Interfacing (MIDI, CV and audio inputs)
We will be including a standard MIDI to 3.5mm adaptor to use in your live or home setup. CV, trigger, clock and reset inputs are also featured to use with eurorack standard devices.
We designed the QS for immediate use without having to worry about complex patching, so pre-patching is used to make connections in logical places. Some of these are highlighted using arrows, particularly the modulation sources and connections, the audio routing hasn't been highlighted to keep the design clean, but is explained above.
Capacitive touch keyboard
To select a mode, hold shift and press the desired key. To change between kayboard and sequencer mode press shift and start. In keyboard mode you can play the keys as a traditional keyboard. Pots 1-8 above the keys tune each step. In sequencer mode, press start to begin the sequencer. Now each key acts as a gate on/off, which triggers the envelope. Active gates are represented with a red LED.
Capacitive touch relies on the conductive nature of your body. The keyboard is used in selecting modes, turning on and off sequencer gates and playing the keyboard. Some of the modes also feature pressure sensitivity, allowing for velocity type control of the synthesizer.
A note on grounding!
To operate correctly, the QS needs to be grounded. In practise this means the output has to be connected to a device which is connected to mains electricity, such as a mixer, laptop or audio interface (that is in turn grounded through the laptop). Using the QS with a portable recording device or other 'unplugged' device will result in poor response between you and the keyboard.
The QS has no memory to save settings or sequences. The 8 modes are the only form of memory and cannot be overwritten. It is designed this way - as a tool for sketching, patching, jamming and experimentation. You can of course use your favourite sequencer to send clock, notes and gates over MIDI and CV.
How does it sound?!
We are still working on the code for some of the modes, but will be publishing updates as we go along with some in-depth examples.
The kickstarter campaign dekstop format will come complete with case, power supply, mains adaptor (UK, EU, US), MIDI adaptor and a pack of patch cables. Everything you need to get started with the Quadrantid Swarm. The QS will later be available in eurorack format - although the shipped desktop version can be transplanted directly into your case and works with eurorack as standard.
Upon launching this kickstarter campaign, we have already began to source the parts for this first batch. Our turnaround therefore is planned as below.
December - kickstarter completion, ordering of boards and components
January - board and component shipped to EU factory
February - building begins, delivery by end of Febuary
March - mounting in house and QC
March/April - Begin shipping to you
This is our planned schedule - as with any complex project involving numerous processes there could be delays. We will do everything we can to keep these to a minimum but ask that you be patient, helping us to concentrate on getting your synthesizer to you as soon as we can.
All of the components used in the QS are strictly sourced under RoHS compliance guidelines. We use materials built to last, and have been working with our suppliers for a number of years producing many eurorack and desktop devices.
The faceplate is a matte PCB material, which allows for the translucent shapes with LEDs mounted underneath for a fetching aesthetic. The enclosure is aluminium, finished in matte black. The enclosure sides (or cheeks) are black perspex material with the eowave logo etched on.
Our products are built and tested in the EU. The PCB mounting process is overseen by our partner in Slovenia, initial testing is made on site. The final mounting, calibration and QC is made in house.