Normally when people talk about “modular synths”, you probably envision a giant Eurorack system with thousands of dollars worth of modules and rats nests of patch cables forming impossibly complex networks. But, over the past few years companies have made a concerted effort to bring the flexibility of modular to smaller and more wallet-friendly formats. The Volca Modular, Bastl Kastle and Make Noise Strega all come to mind. The latest instrument to take a stab at that formfactor is Pluto from Ann Arbor-based newcomers Modern Sounds.
The heart of Pluto is a two voice digital synthesizer with five separate modulation sources that, instead of having descriptions, are named for the five moons of everyone’s favorite dwarf planet — Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerbos and Hydra. The goal is to encourage exploration, experimentation and to create complex sequences using “randomized” Euclidian rhythms.
There is a small four-key touch keyboard in the corner. But you’re more likely to rely on the simple four step sequencers for each voice, which can also be set to ping pong or reverse. The steps can be quantized to preset scales to make sure things stay musical, but it also accepts MIDI and CV inputs to allow it to play nice with other gear. And there’s also a built in delay that also has looping and glitch modes for additional aural chaos.
Based on the demo clips posted by Modern Sounds, it seems to excel at the sort of pretty beeps and boops often associated with Eurorack. Which is pretty exciting since, many of the smaller and affordable modular systems out there seem to have rougher edges sonically.
Another thing that makes Pluto standout is its built in 2,500mAh battery. Most other portable synth gear relies on AA and AAA batteries.
Unfortunately there’s no word on when Pluto will start shipping or how much it will cost — only the promise that “Pluto is coming soon.”