MATRIXSYNTH: From the Syntar to the MMM Phoenix

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

From the Syntar to the MMM Phoenix

In case you missed it, click here for a letter from George Mattson on the MMM Phoenix series analog modular synth. I thought I'd pull some highlights from the letter below, but please do read the full letter. You can also find a detailed spec list for each module available for the system here, and you can find more info on the Syntar here and here.

"My name is George Mattson.
30 years ago I developed and manufactured a performance oriented analog synthesizer I called a Syntar. The synthesizer was innovative at the time, met with limited success and has recently become a topic of conversation in a variety of synthesizer forums.

Due to the growing abundance of new, analog synthesizer enthusiasts, I have been asked to return to manufacturing.

I took the core circuits of the Syntar (thus, the Phoenix Series) and designed a new format; a portable, true analog modular synthesizer specifically budgeted for the new market."
[Matrix: note the analog of the Phoenix rising out of the ashes of the Syntar.]

Some highlights on some unique modules to the system.

"Signal distribution: I do have one major design philosophy quirk. I don’t like passive multiples-period. Using a passive multiple for signal distribution degrades the signal. Using a passive multiple as a “mixer” sums the signals together and can lead to overloading the input of the destination module. I designed two new modules to replace these functions:
The 4X-1X2 buffer: Sort of a buffered “splitter”. It can take 4 different input signals and split them into two output signals for each channel. Each signal is buffered so, the signal is rejuvenated and doesn’t degrade. I took the liberty of cascading the channel outputs into the input of the next channel. So, if a signal is patched into channel 1, it is available on all 8 outputs until the chain is broken with a subsequent channel input. Then, the original signal is available on the preceding outputs while the new signal is available on all of the remaining outputs. It sounds weird but, once you’ve used it, you wonder how you were able to get by without it.

The 4X Mixer: The “other function” replacement of a passive multiple. The mixer has four inputs and actually two outputs, an inverting and a non-inverting output. I designed the mixer to be used for either audio or control voltage signals. This allows for precise adjustment of an audio mix or, a real nifty way to build complex control voltages by using multiple CV sources. In order to add a bit of excitement, my audio mixing days came back to me and I added a “punch-in” pushbutton on each channel to allow for an abrupt addition or elimination of the channel signal into or out of the mix. This is usually a subliminal function but, makes a big difference in audio or CV real-time control.

Filter: The Syntar utilized the SSM 2040 filter. They’re not available anymore at any kind of reasonable price or in guaranteed quantity. Since I had plenty to do with the rest of the system, I was able to get a custom filter designed specifically for this system kindly and graciously by Synth DIY guru Jim Patchell. He designed a 4-Pole 24dB/Octave state-variable multi-mode filter for this. That’s synth-speak for WOW. It sounds great. Thanks Jim. Way to kick a--!

Keyboard control: OK, I had to make some concessions here. Rather than designing an analog keyboard input module and trying to find and stock keyboards (they’re hard to find anymore in small quantities), I went digital and provided a MIDI-CV input module. It’s actually integrated into the power supply module, which makes this a double-wide module and isn’t available as a stand-alone module. I originally designed the system using a commercially-available MIDI-CV controller but, it had limited function, the manufacturer was hard to communicate with and they didn’t want to give me any reasonable OEM pricing. Sooooooo, I had a MIDI-CV controller designed to my specifications by Scott Rise of Division 6. This turned into one of the coolest modules. (even if it is d*g*tal) Read the module descriptions for a full description. This allows the owner to use any MIDI generating keyboard they desire, or any MIDI generating sequencer control. Mmmm- 16 systems, each utilizing a different MIDI channel. Yes, it blows the “Basic and inexpensive” philosophy out the door. But, it was actually less expensive to design and manufacture than pay the “not-so-OEM” pricing offer’s I was quoted for something less versatile. We all win. I’m negotiating with Scott (a nicer way of saying “convincing”) to produce versions of this in other formats or stand-alone units and allow me to offer them for sale on the web site." [Read this thread for more]. via Scott in that thread: "The rumors are true; I will be coming out with a standalone version of the MIDI-CV converter. As far as an exact time frame, I'm not entirely sure yet. I need to get through the MMM launch stuff first.

I also want to get some input from people like you who might possibly have a need for such a converter or are already using one. What would you like to see it do? Now is your chance to help shape it and make it useful. The initial version is going to be based on the one I designed for the MMM but some things will need to be different. For example, should the mod wheel continue to drive a separate 0-5v output or should it modulate the main CV? Does it need an S-Trig output?

Later down the road I will be making a multi-out version that has even more features, so even if your suggestions don't make it in this version they would probably make it into the next one."

click here for the full letter. click here for the modules. click here for the main site.
And don't miss the forums.


  1. The only feature I would add to the standalone MIDI-CV is polyphonic outs. Even two voices would be great.

  2. ...and with this, we've exceeded the USDA recommended daily allowance of number of posts dedicated to a single product launch.

  3. I agree with david on this. I have yet to purchase a M2CV module because they don't do polyphony. If I have 3 VCO's, I'd like to be able to play triads

  4. Is this becoming a Mattson advertisement forum?
    I mean, there have been other modular makers before. So whats so special about this one?

  5. I also agree on the incredible amount of Mattson posting. I know Matrix has said he isn't getting paid for all this advertisement but one surely has to wonder.

    Note also that the PAiA midi <-> cv kit is polyphonic, with lots of options (two voices + cv/velocity, 4 voices + velocity, 8 voices no CV...). And is cheap if you feel like putting one together. Also the usual suspects of Kenton and Encore polyphonic MIDI <-> CV, it'd just be nice to have another option.

  6. Its the first *new* modular down the pike in quite some time. It has some unusual features and works a little differently than the others. All of those things make it "Matrixnewsworthy" IMHO ^_^

    It is what it is.

    Many of people's suggestions have been taken to heart and we will most certainly see some of these features in future modules. The phoenix modules are clones of the Syntar circuits...with some very nice extras added.

    A short time with the prototype was all it took to get me on board. Even though I have a Serge Modular, there are some unique features of the MMM including the portability and *sound* as well as "feel" that have made it so compelling for me.

    Neither Matrix or myself are paid, it just happens to be a product I believe in! I've already placed my order for the same price as everybody else and am counting the days ^_^

  7. Ok, so that's worthy of like one or two news blurbs. One intro and one "here's the final specs" Not what, 15?

  8. LOL!

    When the modules were shown, one at a time, there was no description, just photos. That was going to be a "fun" way to introduce the product.

    Then there was the full story on release.

    There was another one for sound bytes and this one with a few module descriptions(finally).

    If MOTM was a brand new company, I'm certain Matrix would have a ton of coverage, even on each module...especially if Paul Schreiber had personally asked for the reveal to be on this site.

  9. Well I think it's cool, and my interest in modular synths is only at the "I think I get why people are into them" level. May a thousand flowers blossom; and to let Matrixsynth pull the satin off is a gesture of respect to Matrix and the community here.

    Anyway, not so long ago we were treated to a blizzard of Prophet '08 articles... and I'd suggest that the Mattson Modular certainly holds its own compared with that.

    (Anyway, who stands around moaning because their host is too bouncily excited about something...?)

  10. ... *mutters* must learn to proofread...

  11. i certainly appreciate manufacturer updates alot more than when every little piece of kit put on ebay gets a story.

  12. Good point. No need to learn about the latest Microkorg up for sale.

    I'm not sure what about this has really sat wrong with me, be it the sort of condescending tone in some of the postings (ie. people trying to "teach" me how to use a 4x Mixer), or the really salesman like attitude in some of the wording, even in comments ("Some really interesting unique features..") repeated ad nauseum.

    It's fine to be excited about something, and I suppose at the end of the day perhaps I'm expecting too much "journalism" out of a blog, just the whole ordeal has kind of left a bad taste.

    Anyhow, I do like the fixed time glide on this Midi -> CV and I can't wait to see what the price of the standalone is for what that's worth now.

  13. "Is this becoming a Mattson advertisement forum?"

    No, but this is Matrixes' personal diary/journal, right? and as he has said in the past he'll post whatever he wants. I know he is excited about the MMM so much so that he got line to get one of the early pre-production mules. So in a way Mattson is getting paid and he's getting broadcasted. But that is cool with me because I'm getting one too. How about you? It costs too much? It doesn't do this or that? You know, you're getting boring to us. We're feckin' excited about it. :)

  14. This could also be a great sociology experiment. Just how many 'meh's were there? And if anonymity is gone, is there less hate?

  15. I don’t like passive multiples-period. Using a passive multiple for signal distribution
    degrades the signal. Using a passive multiple as a "mixer" sums the signals together and can lead to overloading the input of the destination module.

    That's just wrong. Using a passive multiple for signal distribution doesn't degrade the signal, unless your cables are wrecked or the modules that you're patching to have really low input impedance (which would be a design flaw, input impedance should be high). For well-designed modules, passive signal distribution should cause MUCH, MUCH less signal degradation than running the signal through any active "splitter". An active circuit always decreases signal-to-noise ratio.

    Using a passive multiple as a mixer is pilot error. Stupid, stupid, stupid. If you're using a passive multiple as a mixer, you shouldn't own a modular. Besides it doesn't "sum the signals together", it averages them, weighted by the output impedances of the sources.
    There's no chance of "overloading" the input of the destination module (however, you can overload the outputs of the source modules, and you could fry them).

    I'm a little surprised that Mattson would make these erroneous comments. It makes me concerned about the quality of the circuit designs.

  16. I like modular synthesizers fine and all, but I especially like the ones that don't need all those confusing patch cords, have more colorful buttons and lights, and comes with at least a four octave keyboard attached! Yeah!

  17. Regarding the number of Mattson posts, I love George, but you are right. ;) I thought twice about putting this one up, but I wanted to put something more substantial up that let people really see what some of these modules could do in the post itself. In the prior posts they were all just images of the module. They were meant for people to look at them at detail and then discuss in the comments, but that pretty much got ruined by all the whining, so I felt much of the details got lost in the comments. So, here they are. Hopefully the buzz and the hype is over and people can now start looking at the modules in more detail.

  18. Interesting points there nuke.. I hope they get addressed and not ignored into obscurity.

    I'd also like to know why the audio samples that were posted have nothing in the spectrum above 2.5khz. I got the impressing that the "VCO to 4x Mixer" sample was just the VCO and not the LP filter, so I'm trying to figure out where the rest of it went.

  19. BTW, moving forward I will only be putting up new stuff on the MMM, by new I mean stuff I haven't posted before. I do this for all synths, period. Considering the PNW synth meeting is coming up, and as the first systems come out, samples, videos and images are sure to get posted. I would do the same for any other synth as you you.

  20. Matrix this is your world, we are fortunate to have such a great web page/blog to come to do what you want

  21. With regards to the "nuke" comment about using a passive mult as a mixer - there's a long history of doing this, for reference look at Allen Strange's book. When was that published? In the 70's?

    Any modular that can't stand having its outputs jacked in any fashion isn't well designed.

    There's a story in "Analog Days" about an early Moog that damaged itself while a musician was patching it. Moog's response was, no problem, show me what you did, so we can fix it.

  22. Carbon111 wrote:
    Its the first *new* modular down the pike in quite some time. It has some unusual features and works a little differently than the others. All of those things make it "Matrixnewsworthy" IMHO ^_^

    To take nothing against George, Cwejman introduced a lot of modules fairly recently -- some of which are unique -- and they received little to no coverage here. Not newsworthy, somehow? Hmm...

    So, there is some bias showing. The community reacts to that, perhaps unconsciously. That's not George's fault, so I'm sorry for any grief he gets from any backlash.

  23. jm said "So, there is some bias showing."

    That's a bit of a leap, isn't it?

  24. "To take nothing against George, Cwejman introduced a lot of modules fairly recently -- some of which are unique -- and they received little to no coverage here. Not newsworthy, somehow? Hmm..."

    Then send them in!!!! I'm not psychic and I do not scour the web. I had no idea there were any new moduls. I only see what comes in. Look at my blogroll. Look at the via links in the posts. I'm on AH, digital hell, the waldorf list, and some others. Not a single mention of new Cwejman modules so of course nothing went up.

    So.. please send me the module list so I can put up a post. Send me anything you do not see me post, but of course do a search on the site first to save both of us some time.

    I didn't see it on either. Moogulator does seems to get a lot of the Cwejman first.

  25. No one has a right to complain about the Mattson coverage, until they send Matrix info about other new products. Post or piss off.

  26. I meant no offense. I was trying to objectively present an "outsider's" viewpoint.

    Matrix somehow missed the new Cwejman gear, obviously. If I implied that he purposely didn't cover it, I apologize. (I was surprised when I realized the relative lack of Cwejmen posts.)

    Gwen: I suppose it depends on how you define "bias". Matrix clearly *likes* the MMM, i.e. has an inclination toward it, i.e. is biased. His exuberant enthusiasm for the MMM was showing. That's not a crime, but I believe that =- rightly or wrongly =- some people were put off by it.


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