Synthfest 2022 – Our Report & Highlights
WRITTEN BY: Tony Miln
UPLOADED: 11th Oct 2022
Once again (after an enforced break) we were able to bring our unique brand of noise to Synthfest. This our report on what we did, who we met, what drew the crowds, and some of the things that piqued our interest on the show floor.
After a three year hiatus it was great to be back in Sheffield aka Synth City for Synthfest organised by Sound On Sound magazine. Always a great show and clearly everyone else was similarly enthused as it was a sell out event.
I managed a swift recce of the other exhibitors after setting up on Friday night – the most obvious and immediately appealing of which was the gorgeous Fender Rhodes Mk8 liveried in what can only be described as Binson gold (see below). Manufactured entirely in Leeds UK, it’s a truly stunning instrument that is proving a runaway success (I overheard someone saying that Herbie Hancock had ordered one and Stevie Wonder had bought three!). As Rhodes were only two stands away from us we were able to enjoy the wonderful sound of a succession of players putting it through its paces over the course of the show – I’m not saying it was a huge improvement on six different kinds of simultaneous modular noodling, but… (I am. It was.)
Naturally there were the usual corporate big hitters downstairs in the dungeons – Roland, Korg, Yamaha, Moog etc – and while each certainly had interesting things on offer (special mention to Korg for the ARP2600M), you are probably not surprised that I didn’t linger long, much preferring to get back upstairs amongst the innovative (and downright crazy) smaller independents and modular meet stands. However there was one corporate stand I was determined to visit – Focusrite Novation distribute Sequential synths in the UK and I was eager to get my first look at the new OB-X8 (and also the Prophet 5). Neither were a disappointment (in the very short amount of time I had to play): the OB-X8 is indeed everything I’d hoped it would be – it truly sounds and feels worthy of the name. I’m hoping we can persuade them to let us sell these: few modern synths in my experience really do match their vintage forebears.
By Saturday morning the enormous void on Analogue Solutions’ stand had been most impressively filled by the magnificence that is the Colossus Double Stack: a Colossus with a Colossus Slim neatly perched on top. Twenty four oscillators of sheer bloody minded British brilliance. I cannot begin to describe just how glorious this creation is in the flesh: a truly epic synth that commands your gaze and melts your circuits. I briefly daydreamed of how many months/years it might take to truly master this beast – and what a joyous sonic journey that might be. There is little else in the synth world that would not seem overshadowed standing next to a Double Stack Colossus and the AS stand was suitably mobbed for much of the day.
In past years we have taken a Volvo estate full of vintage gear, but this year – due in part to us having fewer people able to help out, but mostly because we no longer have our trusty Volvo – we went for a slightly less excessive and more focussed approach (as Susie from Sound On Sound remarked ‘this year you’ve not brought the kitchen sink!’).
The chance to A/B an Echo Fix EF-X2 with one of our Roland RE-201 Space Echoes proved very popular, but the undoubted star of the stand was the first public appearance of our RE-402 Stereo Space Echo prototype – two channels of vintage Roland echo with one tape, motor and stereo heads. Preorders are open – we are just about to start building the first machines for delivery starting in late November. Nothing else sounds quite like stereo tape echo – I’ve been enjoying using the prototypes for well over a year and am completely smitten!
There was plenty of great new gear for people to try (and buy – our special show deals proved quite popular). We’d brought some of our favourite pieces and it’s fair to say that the Finegear Dust Collector unsurprisingly attracted a good deal of interest given it boasts a real spring reverb, delay, phaser and two channels of tape saturation as well as two LFOs and flexible effects routing (on ¼” jacks!) – all for less than the cost of a single premium guitar pedal. You can see it above in-between the 707s, along with Soundgas Engineers Chris, Will and Ryan. It’s effectively an instant mini hardware studio and perfect for anyone just starting to look outside the box on a limited budget. Small wonder that they sell faster than we can order them – and our show deal allocation was gone almost straight away. Sound On Sound editor Sam Inglis was very taken with Dust Collector and said he’d find it hard to not have one.
We’d brought some of our Soma gear – the Cosmos being one of my favourite effects of recent years – based on the Frippertronics concept, this unusual device is designed to engender a meditative state while playing and I can attest to just how dreamy it sounds. I’ve been using our demo unit regularly with guitar, synth, drums and keys and it always seems to inspire something different and captivating. Paul White (SOS Executive Editor) was describing the music he releases with Cydonia Collective as ‘hippy trippy ambient noodling’ and I suggested that the Cosmos or ‘Drifting Memory Station’ (as it is also known) might have been made especially for them!
The Alter Audio Timetosser also gained a few new fans and users over the day – while it was designed with DJ performance in mind, mine has found a place permanently plugged into my Isla S2400 sampler. Five minutes with the Time Tosser yields the sort of intricate results on beats and loops that thirty years ago would’ve taken days of laboured programming: it’s become a real secret weapon for me (I will admit to being a sucker for anything that can instantly reverse the source signal). We had it running with an HKA modded TR-707 to great effect.
Naturally we brought our Soundgas Type 636P and 636P2 preamps for people to check out – the heft and filth they added to all sorts of signals was much enjoyed, especially when paired with the incredible Bass eKalimba which several people said was their find of the show (more than one remarking on the irony of a Kalimba being the highlight of a synth show).
While the Yamaha CS-15 enjoyed a great deal of attention (most people excitedly telling us ‘my first synth was a CS-5’), the mysterious long thin brown keyboard in the corner with drum pads and strings – and all functions annotated in Japanese was undoubtedly the one that attract the most interest out of our synth offerings. The Suzuki Waraku Koto Synth (far left in the shot above) had a good few people intrigued, none more so than Gaz Williams of Sonic State who stopped by to film an interview all about it (and our other Japanese curiosities such as Suiko Poetry Trainers and Taishogotos) – we’ve added the Sonic State video at the bottom of this post.
It’s become something of a Synthfest tradition for me to jam with our good friend Joe Newman and this year was no exception – in the past he’s joined me in the bar for an impromptu set, but this time we had to ‘make do’ with playing on the Soundgas stand, which turned out to be no hardship at all, especially when his friend and one time band mate (Joe has been in a band with almost everyone in Sheffield it seems), Chris Morris of Aziza & Finguz joined us on Bass eKalimba. I was on Syndrum and RE-402 echo, Joe on SA-09 (or the Organ Donor as one wag described it when I said I’d bought it because I needed a side panel for my 808) and Echo Fix EF-X2. The Soundgas/HKA modded TR-707 with Timetosser was our funky drummer.
It was refreshing to once again be able to meet up and chat with friends and customers old and new and to finally meet a few ‘internet friends’ – Alex Ball stopped by and we were busy talking ‘synth bollocks’ when Philip Oakey strolled by: Sheffield is indeed Synth City.
Our thanks go to all the Sound On Sound team for creating and running such a fantastic event – we’re already counting down the days until next year’s Synthfest. Hope to see you there.