MATRIXSYNTH: Vintage Aries 300 Series Modular Synthesizer with 61 key Control Keyboard

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Vintage Aries 300 Series Modular Synthesizer with 61 key Control Keyboard


via this auction

"What you are looking at is a special instrument.

300 Series Modules
The core of this system is five modules from the Aries 300 Series. There is one VCO module, one VCF module, one EG module, one VCA module, and one Clock/Noise/S&H generator. Yes, this is basic; here are the module names:

AR-317 VCO
AR-312 EG
AR-314 VCF
AR-316 VCA
AR-318 SH/Clock/Noise Generator
But of course, that's only the core. This system is bookended with some interesting devices. To say that it is "modified" would really be an understatement. It has been lovingly built by a lifelong musician.

The great thing about this system is that it was used by a professional musician as part of his home studio and performance rig for decades. It's often the case with these vintage units that they have aged poorly due to being left for decades in a closet or basement or whatever. But this was used consistently over its lifetime, up to the time of its builder's death. It has been played, as pieces like this need to be.

As you can see, the VCO module has been modified to include a further fine-tuned frequency control, right in the middle of the four knobs.

The Sound

There are an enormous number of modular and semi-modular systems available for musicians right now; the possibilities are almost endless. However, this has an edge that many modern synths don't have: the sound. These modules together sound much more like an ARP 2600 or vintage Moog modular than anything currently on the market. In fact, the sound of the filter is somewhere between Moog modular and early ARP filter. This probably isn't a coincidence, since Aries was a DIY synth-kit company founded by a former member of ARP in Massachusetts.

There is basically no digital component or microchip to be found in this system (perhaps a microchip for clocking) and as such, it sounds very organic and quite raw. The sound is both sweet, cutting and powerful. Even though there is only one oscillator, it sounds quite alive and impressive.

One thing that sets the Aries series apart in general is its flexibility. The VCO can output all of its waves simultaneously. The VCF can accept multiple control AND audio inputs. There are TWELVE jacks in almost all of the modules, which maximize the I/O potential of the system.

The form factor is much larger than modern Eurorack format, but the PCBs are not the same kind of crowded affairs as modern modules. They all measure 9'x3', the same as vintage Moog or the legendary Wiard modules.

Keyboard
As you can see in the photos, this also comes with a 61-key control keyboard, the AR-313. It is bulky and a bit heavy, but it has four banks of Gate, Trigger, and Control outputs. Modular keyboards are expensive; this is included in the auction and should also be useful for controlling any other modular gear.

Extra modules:

To the left of the Aries modules, you will notice a homemade clocking and selector module. There is one very important selector knob the top that allows the player to select which mode to use. "On" means that the control input on VCO module is over-ridden by the sequencer (on the right of the main modules). It will still respond to CV from the keyboard, but it will do so in an unreliable manner.

The sequencer seems to be hard-wired to the VCO; it is always sending CV to the VCO but it can be switched off via the above mentioned selector knob or turned to "hold" on the sequencer itself.

The rest of the module is a bit of a handwritten mystery. There are a number of jacks that hint at clock divisions and perhaps even a basic sync or pulse signal, perhaps for clocking the sequencer? But there is no manual and the man who built it has passed away, so it contains untapped potential.

You will also notice twelve rocker switches to the left of the VCO. It is anyone's guess what they do. They may have been used for activating or deactivating organ registers, as this unit was literally bolted down to a late 70s Yamaha home organ for most of its lifetime. The audio output was routed directly to an input on the first module. I had to unbolt and disconnect these when I found it.

The unit was one half of and organ-synth keyboard rig, like a mini version of Keith Emerson's organ/Moog modular system; no doubt that is what inspired this contraption.

Now, to the sequencer. It is quirkily labeled in steps 0-15 instead of 1-16. Why? Who knows. It has delightfully eccentric mismatching knobs and a load of playback controls. None of these are clearly labeled, but they do all kinds of things to the gate length and playback order, and it's fairly easy to figure them out via trial and error. The sliders on top of the sequencer appear to control clock divisions in the playback speed.

Despite its odd labeling system, the sequencer is a straightforward, unquantized 16 step analog sequencer affair. But it has plenty of ways of changing the order, length and speed at which these 16 notes are played back, and is quite tactile and fun. Free running with random voltages, it sounds like the computer room in sci-fi B movie--great for real organic sounding FX.

Issues/Imperfections

This piece of gear was used for decades by a professional musician, as stated earlier. But it was a DIY build and it is about 40 years old, so it is subject to some wear. As you can see from the photos, there is a dent in the outer housing on one side, the labels are not all legible, and faux-wood covering is not in great shape.

There is some scratchiness in the potentiometers and some of the keyboard keys need an extra press to trigger, but they do trigger.

The SH/Clock/Noise Generator did not output a usable sync but I may have patched it incorrectly.

I was unable to test some of the functions of the far left module, as the functions are not labeled clearly or there is no clear indication of what they do.

The Attack phase of the EG module tends to cut out at about 25%.

TiniJax--this is the format of the 1/8th inch jacks used in the system. They are not as easy to come by as the more typical mini-jack format used today, but they will still send and receive through modern Eurorack cables without much issue. I have borrowed LFOs from my MS-20 and my Microbrute and they behave exactly as they ought to. Included is the number of cables you see in the photos, as well as a long adaptor cable leading from the VCA, terminating in a standard TS 1/4" jack to plug directly into a mixer (to get around the fact that there isn't a proper Mixer module in this system).

All things considered, this system is basic but pretty incredible for what it is. It really sings. It will accept and interact with modern gear (control voltages, triggers, sequencers, etc) just as it ought to. I'm only selling it because I don't have the space for it."

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