Mutable instruments Shruthi by hmmm
Mutable instruments Shruthi-1 mutable-instruments.net
I started off making music the hard way. With a naïve, know it all approach that was incredibly close-minded. I would hear someone?s view on a certain product, or method thinking it was the start and finish of all knowledge. As soon as I could string together a drum rhythm or punch a few notes on the keyboard I thought I had it all made and that my music was amazing, the next ?hit?. I learnt humility the hard way, with plenty of rejection and criticism of my music from a wide range of people, including friends, which is unusual (thankfully honest). It was long after when I sat down, though about it all, and questioned my approach.
This led me to decide I would work as a sound designer for ?as long as it would take? for me to understand the fundamentals of sound, why some sounds are good, but more specifically, what makes sound unappealing and where I went wrong. I am still in no way an expert on the topic but I have come a long way.
When I decided to learn about sound I figured that I would also have to understand the hardware that makes it. Many hesitant attempts lead me to discover the burgeoning community of electronic DIY builders and developers who are taking matters into their own hands as they search to advance new hardware and software platforms. The market for DIY synths, modulars, compressors, summing mixers, microphone pre amps, controllers, etc. is really well established. There is some amazing gear out there.
Mutable Instruments, among other choice pieces, currently offer the Shruthi-1, which is a really interesting hybrid mono-synth. It comes as a kit and is really easy to build, even for those with practically no soldering experience, like me, as it comes with heaps of support. Real analogue filters are combined with a vast array of digital synthesis possibilities including, among others, 8-bit oscillators, FM, wavetable synthesis, an extensive modulation matrix, sequencing, full MIDI implementation and polychainable, for polysynth capabilities. It is optimized for DIY assembly and is deceptively simple to construct. Then there is the sound, but more on that later.
Lets start at the beginning though. Olivier, who has designed and produced the Shruthi-1 thought it would be a smart idea to offer different analog filter options so you can swap filters in and out. I totally agree. The standard SMR-4 analog filter that comes with the kit is actually sensational and really smooth but if you wanted to add a little something something you could pick an SSM2044 (Waves PPG, Korg Mono/Poly, Polysix) or the IR3109 (Roland Jupiter 8) or the CEM3379 (Doepfer, Ensoniq, SCI). Ordering the Shruthi-1 is actually the hard part. Not because the process is anything but really simple and easy. Rather they sell out too quickly. I?m very serious one this one. The kits are in such demand that they are barely in the store for more than a day or two and then sold out. This could be annoying, and I got annoyed. But you have to admit that for such a reasonable price, it?s worth the wait. And the price is very decent. You pay Euro130 for the kit, which includes everything you need, except the soldering iron, solder, patience and skill. Wow is that a respectable price. The case is an additional EURO20. I understand that some people have different ideas for them and mount them with modulars and there are other cases and programmers out there so I guess it makes sense not locking someone in. And that?s the beauty of the Shruthi-1. The source code is open license, all the schematics are posted up for anyone to copy and/or modify. It really is a community that is all about evolving the idea in the direction anyone wants. The forums provide a wealth of support. Olivier is constantly there for direct communication and feedback.
I ordered the Shruthi-1 before I had ever picked up a soldering iron. But I did a bit of homework and decided to go with one of the least Wattage irons I could find. I picked up a 15w iron. This has served me incredibly well as a noob and I would recommend everyone start at the 15-30w end of the scale as it might save accidents like lifting PCB plates. I also decided that I would break my way into the Shruthi-1 by making some XLR and TRS cables first (Have you seen the price of premade cables lately?). They were simple, even a little too simple and I worried I would not know enough for the build.
But the Shruthi-1 arrived and I decided to dive straight into it. The directions provided are really straightforward and there are plenty of photos the journal the process step by step. I did run straight into a problem though. My power supply for whatever reason was not playing ball, but I headed straight to the forum and got help real quick and solved the bad soldering I had done (My fault). The rest of it unfolded without a hitch and was fairly quick. It took me 3.5 hours to build and calibrate. The satisfaction of pealing off the plastic covering off the plexiglass and screen were immensely pleasing.
Others have compared the Shruthi-1 to the DSI Mopho, and I can see why. It?s a similar concept. They both are hybrid analog/digital, both monophonic, both compact desktop units, etc. But like others have said, the sounds are quite different. I haven?t spent heaps of time with a Mopho, but from what I?ve heard, I think the sounds are better than the Mopho. I like the SMR-4 filter better, I like the user interface better, and I think it is more flexible, not to mention half the price. I can see how some people would like the DSI though; it does have DCO?s and analog envelopes albeit digitally controlled and you don?t have to build it, which will be enough for many.
There is no question that the sound demolishes every softsynth I've ever used. This really caught me by surprise. I don?t claim that I am an analog elitist and my studio contains many choice pieces of gear from both sides of the spectrum. The Shruthi-1 is my first synth that takes the warmth of analog and the flexibility of digital and delivers it in a really cool way. And it stands up against the rest of them, and then some.
The sounds you do get from the Shruthi-1 are really interesting. They range from gritty, crunchy and analog style bass, to smooth phase-y wavetable pads, to bright leads and then crazy noise type sounds. It really is such a different machine to everything else. You need to check out the mutable instruments site to have a listen. Beware that it can be hard to uncover clean analog sounds across the entire key range. One compromise is that there are certain waveforms that are limited so the high notes can be clear but the bass is crunchy. While there is sometimes alias at the high end when you get a real nice rounded low end. Patching makes you think about the sound though. There is some 8-bit grittiness to the oscillators, but the Prophet VS ran an 8-bit core and it sounds great. This can be really cool, but you just need to work it into the sound. Ok and the case is actually pretty cool. The clear plexiglass lets you see all your neat (yeah I?m surprised too) soldering. I would definitely recommend gigging with it, to show it off.
Some people will write it off because of the construction. The 8-bit oscillators will ward others off. This is absolutely fine because for those who want something that lets them dig deeper into the idea of music, music creation and sound, there will be less fighting for a spot in the queue. And there is definitely enough of that already. It is a very powerful piece of kit for the price and a real addition to my studio. It was an eye opener as well as a mind opener and has taught me many things about sound, the way it is developed and the processes of audio. Dragging my eyes away from the screen to the Shruthi-1 is a win? win in this case.