MODE MACHINES SID REVIEW PLAYLIST… This soundcloud playlist is a good representation of what can be done using the SID in your lab with your DAW or sequencer of choice. In my case, the SID was paired with an MPC 5000 for all of the tracks in the playlist. Approximately 90% of all synth parts are from the SID.
Years ago someone put me up on the Elektron SID Station. At the time I wasn’t really interested. However, as the years have gone by, the SID Station has gone the way of mythical legend status. Subsequently, the SID Station, has been discontinued by Elektron and the only way to come by one is to sacrifice an arm and a leg on eBay where you might pay twice or three times as much as the original asking price. Enter Mode Machines SID.
The SID by Mode Machines was designed in conjunction with Alkex of Twisted Electrons (who also has a knobby SID synth on the market by the name of Therapsid). For those that dont know the SID is an “8 Bit Groovebox based on the Commodore 64 SID chip.” Yes, I’m sure you remember all those retro gaming sounds. Think Donkey Kong and the like. Well, the SID chip (the 6581 in my case) is the source of all of those nostalgic sounds. Thus, this sound and variants of the 6581 chip is what the SID is based on.
The Mode Machines SID comes kitted up with “a Swinsid SID Hardware emulation installed” which sounds pretty convincing out of the box. However, the SID is totally upgradable if you so desire. Removal of a few screws will allow you into the chassis of the groovebox where you can install (as I did) the 6581 SID chip. You’ll need to reposition the “SWINSID ON-OFF” jumper to turn the SwinSID off to allow the 6581 chip to operate as the sole sound source. The SID is compatible with the 8580 chip but this option requires some amount of undocumented DYI modding which includes the installation of a specific capacitor as well. However, if you have a 6581 chip, there are no other mods needed. Simply get into the SID, reposition the jumper, pop in the 6581 chip and you are good to go bang out some chiptune madness on your freshly upgraded SID synth.
The Mode Machines SID comes neatly dressed in a classic retro styled case indicative to its retro gaming lineage. It actually looks like an old game console. It sports 7 knobs at the top near its digital read out. The 4 of the 7 knobs are dedicated to Cut (filter cut off), Res (filter resonance), tempo, and volume. The 3 knobs beneath the screen are soft knobs that can be assigned to various parameters for tweaking sounds and presets. There are prev (previous) and next buttons that are used in Sound Mode (more on that below) to browse through the 100 synth presets.Just below that you’ll notice 16 sequentially numbered LEDs. These are used for the X0X fashioned built in 16 Step Sequencer.
Also, on the top side of the SID, you’ll find a “inst (instrument)/drum” toggle button that allows for toggling between drum mode and instrument mode. Additional, buttons include Track, Patt, Sound, Run, Prev, Next which all have relevance to the 16 step sequencer.
Finally, the piano buttons are laid out in the familiar piano black and white keys layout. These piano buttons are used as the typical piano keys / keyboard in sound and poly/sound modes but in pattern mode the piano buttons “are used to program notes into your pattern.” Next to the piano buttons are the transpose or octave “down/up” buttons. In sound mode they change the octave of the keyboard buttons and in pattern modes they transpose the selected STEP up and down by 1 octave. Lastly, there are the rest button (also used as the mini panic button) and the slide button.
Altogether, you have a handsome groovebox that gives you a good amount of options for programming 8 bit crunchy goodness straight away.
The back side of the SID handles the obvious utility needs. There are midi in, midi out, headphones, audio out, audio in, DC input and power switch.
The midi capabilities are limited considering you can not assign midi channels as one would have hoped. Maybe this is not such a big deal for those with one or two synths but if you have a hardware synth collection, its helpful to be able to assign channels according to your needs. As of now, with the current revision of the firmware (2.3b3) midi channels are assigned as follows;
- Midi channel 1 is set for synth sounds in sound and sound/poly modes
- Midi channel 2 is assigned to drum mode for drum sounds.
Drum sounds in drum mode reveals 2 banks of 12 preprgrammed and stored drum sounds. As described in the manual, “The wavetable mode is the heart of the classic sid sound FX and percussion sounds. Each WT sound consists of 12 steps, 10ms in length.”
Now, the million dollar question is… How does it sound? Excellently crunchy and every bit of 8 bit chip tune goodness that you would expect. Although the sound was expectedly lofi, I was surprise at how rich the SWINsid sounded. I almost considered not installing the 6581 chip. However, I quickly recognized the difference when the SID 6581 chip was installed. It’s dirty, grimey and nasty. I wasn’t prepared for the added noise and grit but truth be told, I really like the noise and grime. It was really inspiring and forced a cool creative vibe as one could probably tell from the Ill SID playlist on soundcloud.
The sequencer is pretty fun and offers that familiar X0Xbox style of step sequencing. If that s your cup of tea, then this is perfect for you. I enjoyed it but I love arps and so I enlisted the assistance of my MPC 5000 and MPK 49 arpeggiators. The voicing is so cool and rich that any arp is magical using the SID as a sound source. I further added to the SIDs crunchy voice with a bit of tape delay. I love having those 8-bit chip tune arp runs delayed and bouncing around. But I even took it further with running the SID thru an an old filthy Electrix – Filter Factory – filter. BOOM! I’m just saying, the sound was huge and thick prior to the added filter but with it there was instant dirt and creamy analog sweeps etc.
Just for your information… The filter and sound of the presets alone are great and you get every bit of 8-bit crunch with some surprisingly rich tones. But you can clearly step up your game, so to speak, with the right selection of effects etc.
I am not usually a proponent of the LCD screen and librarian software. So, the idea of connecting midi cables to my interface and installing the free Mode Machines SID librarian software was not something I really looked forward to. Still, once it was all hooked up and installed I could tell that a considerable amount of programming power awaited my attention. The presets can be managed (imported and exported) from the SID librarian software, easily. The presets can be totally transformed and instantly saved to the unit. It seems to have happened in real time.
The 3 assignable knobs (so called “expression knobs”) beneath the screen can easily be assigned to any of the 26 parameters within the SID librarian software. Other really dope features of the SID librarian software include things like being able to “conveniently draw the modulation graphs with the mouse and SID will receive the update in real time.” This is the sort of power that the SID librarian software yields. All in all, I’d rather have synths with knobs per function but there is only so far developers can go when it comes to small grooveboxes and desktop synths. I can easily see that the SID librarian software is an indispensable tool where it concerns harnessing the power of the SID. But if you are like me you can grab your favorite midi keyboard controller and the SID manual (to reference the midi CC values to control the SID’s parameters) and go to town setting up the perfect sid control surface.
Basic features include
- Based on the Commodore 64 SID chip
- Modulate up to 24 parameters
- Built in 16 Step Sequencer
- 100 + patches
- Inputs: 1 x 1/4″ Audio
- Ouputs: 1 x 1/4″ Audio Out, 1 x 1/4 Phones Out
- MIDI: IN/OUT
- Width: 10.83″
- Length: 7.68″
- Height: 3.54″
- Weight: 5 lbs
Overall, the SID is certified dope by BBoyTechReport.com. It sounds great. It’s upgradable with an authentic 6581 SID chip. It has a nice implementation of X0X step sequencer. There are 100 presets available along side 24 wavetable fx/drum sounds. It is easily controlled via midi with a midi keyboard, DAW, external sequencer or arpeggiator. The only things I would change is the midi implementation to allow assignable channels and maybe some folks would like a bit of noise reduction in the unit (although I see it as a part of its charm, its definitely a matter of preference and style).
Unfortunately, the Mode Machines SID is no longer in production and has been discontinued by Mode Machines but the units retail for $899 at well known retailers such as NovaMusik .
For more info on the SID, check out Mode Machines’ Sid product page – http://www.modemachines.com/products/discontinued/sid/
Be sure to peep the manual for more details on features and specifications.