MATRIXSYNTH: Evenfall Mini Modular Designed by Grant Richter of Wiard

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Evenfall Mini Modular Designed by Grant Richter of Wiard


This one was spotted and sent in via Soviet Space Child.

via this auction

"I guess 50 (60?) of these were produced, either as kits or assembled products. I bought this to complete my own rack full of Grant Richter modules. It was a largely an impulse buy fueled by the tingly feelings my Wiard 300 modules give me. Make no mistake--this is NOT a Wiard module nor does it sound like one. It is not nearly as awe-inspiring overall, though it does have a few tricks that make it worth exploring. Definitely a cool piece of synthesizer history.

I found this to be, overall, one of those "sweet spot" machines, where nuanced wiggling can give you some really unique and impressive sounds. This is particularly true with the bandpass filter, which really sounds like Satan yelling about the weather while contending with a head cold. Very cool.

There are a few peculiar aspects to this, such as the weird gain staging. Any setting after 12 o'clock in the VCA will saturate/distort. Maybe you like this. I don't care for it personally. That's just the way these things work, as confirmed by several other owners, as well as Cary Grace, who currently builds all modules under the Wiard name, and who tours with an Evenfall Mini Modular (largely because it's small and light, I guess). This is a very lightweight synthesizer.

The pots are all mini pots, like attenuator pots on lots of modern Eurorack modules. I'm a bit of an oaf for these, but they're not difficult to work with.

I have not opened it to check internals or perform any mods. I'm not sure whether there are schematics floating around, but if you choose to go that route I'm sure you're an intrepid enough lad or lass to chase them down.

Cosmetically, there is some damage on the lower right edge of the panel; I have straightened this to the best of my ability.

Their words (copy/pasted info from around the web):
The Evenfall Mini Modular Synthesizer is a rack mountable semi-modular analog synthesizer featuring the warm, organic sound of real analog circuitry and the flexibility of individual control knobs and a patch cord interface.
The Mini Modular also features internally "pre patched" or "normalized" connections among the modules. These connections make the Mini Modular a capable synthesizer even without inserting patch cords. These internal connections can be overridden by inserting 3.5mm patch cables as desired.
The Mini Modular can be patched to make sound by itself or in conjunction with another voltage-controlled synthesizer. It can also be controlled from a MIDI controller via the built-in MIDI to CV interface which provides pitch, velocity, gate, pitch bend, portamento on/off, and modulation output voltages.

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This synth was designed by Grant Richter of Wiard synthesizers and there were roughly 60 sold, 30 in kit form and 30 assembled. The previous owner told me this is a factory-assembled unit.

Grant wrote this on the old Wiard Yahoo list:

"That is a great little instrument.

It was originally slated to be the Wiard Model 3600, but I decided to pass on it because we could not find knobs to fit the little nubby pot shafts. They are just like TR-808 tuning pots. I feared the lack of knobs would limits sales too much.

Electronic Musician magazine gave it and outstanding review, citing it as one of the best engineered and most musician friendly instruments of its type, in spite of the lack of traditional knobs.... The Mini-Modular is an ARP Odyssey in a more compact package with MIDI and extra features. The filter is a state variable instead of a 4 pole. The whole instrument is built out of 1% metal film resistors for stability and low noise. "

Chris MacDonald was the other part of Evenfall, and he had this to say about the production:
"There are only around 60 Mini Modulars in existence, so they are quite rare. Initially they were sold as kits via the synth-DIY mailing list with around 25-30 sold and then I did one production run of around 30. As I recall, the kit serial numbers start with MMK and the assembled models start with MMA. "

And here's an old marketing blurb I found describing it:

"The Evenfall Mini Modular Synthesizer is a rack mountable semi-modular analog synthesizer featuring the warm, organic sound of real analog circuitry and the flexibility of individual control knobs and a patch cord interface.
The Mini Modular also features internally "pre patched" or "normalized" connections among the modules. These connections make the Mini Modular a capable synthesizer even without inserting patch cords. These internal connections can be overridden by inserting 3.5mm patch cables as desired.
The Mini Modular can be patched to make sound by itself or in conjunction with another voltage-controlled synthesizer. It can also be controlled from a MIDI controller via the built-in MIDI to CV interface which provides pitch, velocity, gate, pitch bend, portamento on/off, and modulation output voltages."

FEATURES

3 Channel MIDI/CV Converter (plus Gate and Portamento On/Off, modeled on the Roland TB-303 glide)
2 Saw/Pulse VCOs
Lowpass/Bandpass VCF
2 VCAs
Dual LFOs
Sample and Hold
ADSR and AR Envelope Generators
Noise Source
Waveshaper
Lag Processor (Portamento)
Full modular patch points for every function of the synth, compatible with Eurorack and other 1/8" modular systems
Dual Multiple
Active Attenuator

A recent addition to the analog-synth scene is the Evenfall Mini Modular ($699). Designed by Chris MacDonald in collaboration with Grant Richter of the Wiard Synthesizer Company, the Mini Modular was originally sold in kit form. Since late 2000, however, the Mini Modular is only available fully assembled.

The Mini Modular features 12 modules in a preconfigured arrangement with normalized connections between the modules (see Fig. 8). Having the modules prepatched makes the Mini Modular exceptionally easy to use, especially with the built-in MIDI-to-CV interface. After unpacking the synth and powering it up, I was making music with it immediately. The normalized connections and color scheme give the Mini Modular the feel of the classic ARP 2600.

The list of modules includes two VCOs, a VCF, two LFOs, two VCAs, envelope generators, a lag processor, a 3-channel MIDI-to-CV converter, sample and hold, a waveshaper, an attenuator, and a pair of 4-way multiples. That's a lot for a synth that is 3U tall and weighs a mere 2.5 pounds. Because the Mini Modular is so light, it helps to rack mount the synth so it won't wander the desktop from the force of front-panel patching. To get that much power in such a little space, MacDonald uses ⅛-inch jacks and small, narrow knobs. Enough space is around the knobs to allow large fingers to work them, but they take getting used to.

The Mini Modular has three rear-panel jacks: a MIDI input, a ¼-inch output, and a DIN connector for the large Elpac wall-wart power supply. I appreciate having the ¼-inch output on the back because it makes it easy to interface the Mini Modular with the rest of my studio. The rear-panel output is connected to the Attenuator module. If you patch directly from the Attenuator output on the front panel, it disconnects the back-panel output. A nice feature is the front-panel power switch, something many of the other synths in this article could benefit from.

With one exception, the module layout of the Mini Modular logically follows the signal path through the instrument from left to right. The exception is the location of the VCA 1 between the MIDI-to-CV module and VCO 1 rather than next to VCA 2 on the panel's right side, where you might expect it to be. As it turns out, the CV3 output of the MIDI-to-CV module is normalized to the CV input of VCA 1, and the audio output of VCA 1 is normalized to the FM inputs on both VCOs — so it makes sense that VCA 1 is in this location. Although it is a little farther away on the front panel, the output of LFO 1 is hardwired to the input of VCA 1 as well.

Most of the normalized routings are reflected on the front panel in red lettering below the input jacks. Spend a little time with the Mini Modular, and the normalizations become second nature. For example, once you realize that the triangle output from LFO 1 goes to VCA 1, it is easy to visualize the connection. The Mini Modular's manual includes an excellent step-by-step tutorial that walks you through the normalized connections (see Fig. 9).

The VCOs have pulse and sawtooth outputs, with controls for wide-range tuning, fine tuning, FM amount, pulse-width, and pulse-width modulation depth. A Sync switch on VCO 2 allows you to sync the tuning of the oscillators together.

The FM control knobs on the oscillators and filter have both positive and negative positions. They let you sweep the oscillators in contrary motion using the LFO as the modulation source, for example. The trickiest part of using the Mini Modular was getting the FM Control knobs in to the exact center position to remove the prepatched LFO modulation. An easier way is to plug a cable into the FM Control input to break the normalized connection and leave the other end of the cable disconnected.

The VCF is a 2-pole filter with separate bandpass and lowpass outputs. The lowpass output is normalized to the waveshaper and VCA 2. The filter features two inputs with level controls, an FM input with a level control, and an Aux FM input. When you're using the MIDI-to-CV converter, the VCF's Keyb switch allows you to increase the cutoff frequency of the VCF as the MIDI note number rises.

Evenfall includes four patch cords with the Mini Modular. However, there are so many control options that you'll want more cables. Two of the instrument's handiest items are the 4-way multiples, which allow you to take full advantage of the synth's control options. With the combined FM and waveshaping possibilities, I created rich, biting sounds that blended nicely with other synthesized textures.

The Mini Modular is elegantly designed; easy to use; and with 12 versatile modules in one package, a great value for the money. The Mini Modular is a great instrument for anyone new to analog synthesis. For the experienced synthesist, it's a pleasure to use."


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