The price of entry into the world of modular synthesis has been trending downward for sometime. Moog even recently released the Mavis, a DIY Eurorack-compatible synth for just $350 – a shockingly low price from the company. But Cre8Audio seems to think that prices haven’t come down fast enough. It has been setting the pace in an incredible race to the bottom – and I don’t mean that as a bad thing.
In May, Cre8Audio announced the East Beast and West Pest – its first pair of self-contained synths for just $250. They’re some of the cheapest analog semi-modular synths that I’m aware of, save for the Korg Volca Modular, which is sort of a weird dead end on the synth family tree.
What they share
Unsurprisingly, the East Beast and West Pest have a lot in common. The basic chassis is the same, both have a 20-point patchbay, a 32-step sequencer, an arpeggiator, a one-octave keyboard, an LFO and a digital multi-mod tool. Even the core oscillator is very similar, with the West Pest having most of the same waveshapes and a slightly “buzzier” tone. It’s the rest of the sound-shaping modules that set the two apart from each other, with the East Beast and West Pest predictably leaning into East Coast and West Coast synth styles, respectively.
The build quality on both is about what you’d expect from something at this price point. There’s a lot of plastic and don’t seem like they’re designed with the rigors of your life in mind. They don’t feel cheap or toy-like, though; they just feel like what they are: entry level synthesizers. The larger knobs are easier to handle than the tiny ones on a Volca and the overall package feels a touch more robust than an IK Multimedia Uno. They’re also a lot more fun looking than those instruments. I know that the almost comicbook-esque aesthetic here won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I quite enjoy it. It’s playful and a bit silly, and let’s not forget – synths should be fun.
The keyboard is a welcome inclusion, perfect for auditioning patches or punching in sequences and arps. But, like the one on Moog’s Mavis, I wouldn’t want to actually rely on it for performance. The keys are small and a little wobbly. Plus most of the keys have two additional shift functions for controlling various features.
Honestly, the better bet is to use an external controller and set the built-in keyboard to default to the yellow / green functions instead. This is made easier by the fact that both the East Beast and West Pest have MIDI inputs and MIDI to CV converters for controlling other parameters. That’s not unheard of on a budget semi-modular synth, but it’s not a given either. Even some of Moog’s more expensive instruments like the DFAM don’t have MIDI support. I will make one minor note here though, MIDI notes were quite a few octaves higher than expected straight out of the box and I was initially a bit confused until I found the instructions for changing the octave offset in the manual.
One of the more unique shared features is the digital multi-mod tool. Since they only have one LFO and one envelope generator (or “dynamics section” in the case of the West Pest), this gives the instruments an extra set of controls to draw on. This can be an additional LFO, envelope, random generator or MIDI-to-CV output. There are some limitations, for instance you can only map a single MIDI CC, and the envelope is a simple decay envelope with seven preset rates, but it’s a nice addition nonetheless.