Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tiptop Audio Z3000 Released!

Hey folks - I'm incredibly excited to announce that the Z3000 Smart VCO has finally been released! For many of you who have been patiently following along on the forum, you know what a long wait it's been - six months! I think in the world of synth modules, this is a really long time, and I want to thank everyone who has been extremely patient through this process, putting up with little hints and teases while we wait for the release.

Now that it's finally official, it brings me enormous pleasure to be able to say that all testing and production is done, and modules are now in-stock at Analogue Haven!

A little bit about this module - this may not be news to some of you, as I'm actually not the first blogger to write about it today, and there has been some juicy bits of info dropped in the forum recently.... but for those who don't know, or are looking for some more, here's my personal summary (official information available of course at Tiptop Audio's website)....

The Z3000 "Smart VC-Oscillator" is, as you would probably imagine, a Eurorack VCO. My opinion is that another VCO option is *always* a welcome thing, however the Z3000 brings some really interesting and unique functionality to the table.

First of all, I feel compelled to mention, this is an ALL ANALOG VCO. Tiptop is known for working some digital into their modules, and the digital/analog question has come up many times. The entire VCO circuit is completely analog. I'd also like to say that it is a really warm, thick, 'lively' sounding VCO. One of the design goals was to avoid creating an ultra-stable, static VCO, and the guys at Tiptop have been incredibly successful in this respect. All the waveforms really sound wonderful, however the sinewave in particular is something I find extremely compelling - I can't say exactly what it is, it's not a perfect sine, but it sounds somewhat bright and animated compared to the sinewaves from my other VCOs (Livewire AFG and Blacet VCOs).

So, where does the digital fit in? This is another very exciting part of the story - and what gives the Z3000 the 'smart' part of its moniker. Built alongside the analog VCO is a digital frequency counter... this is an amazingly flexible feature to add to the module, and it functions in a variety of different manners... by default, it displays the current operating frequency (in Hz) of the oscillator. This display can be changed to two other modes - an octave display, and a note display. The note mode is very cool... it will tell you the frequency in Hz, until you tune to a specific note, and then it displays the note and octave number. Really cool! I now have no excuse for 'not tuning my modular', and in specific setting up harmonic intervals between multiple oscillators is really easy. Multiple oscillators? Yes! The Z3000's frequency counter has an "Ext In" jack, allowing you to patch in any sawtooth wave from any oscillator, and you can then use the frequency display to tune your external oscillators as well. Extremely cool and I have to say this one seemingly simple feature has led me to start using my modular synth in ways I never have in the past.

So, what else is special about the Z3000? I'm glad you asked :) The FM response of it is wonderful - there are two Linear FM inputs (with attenuator knob), as well as a single exponential FM input. Comparing it to the AFG and Blacet, the response to FM in the Z3000 is much deeper and more 'dynamic' sounding. I have to admit that I'm not the most knowledgable FM synthesist, however the incredible tones I've been able to pull from this beast have ensured that I'm going to spend a LOT more time exploring FM than I have in the past.

Another amazing (and as far as I can tell unique) feature is the HSM "Hard Sync Modulation" input. The main Sync input allows for some of the coolest, sharpest sync sounds I've been able to hear from an oscillator so far, however the HSM jack allows a variety of different sync sources to be used, not just square waves. The range of possible sounds is simply enormous. My Z3000's sit next to my AFG, and as much as I love the AFG, I have to say I find myself working with the Z3000 far more often - the sound is just so rich and lively.

I want to take a moment to highlight the beta testing process.... I know a lot of people found it took a very long time. There were a few revisions of the digital part of the code, as well as some changes to the tuning functions (testers found it 'touchy' and hard to tune to a specific note - this was fixed when we all sent our modules back for both a software and hardware update). There was a lot of stuff to focus on with this module, and we were really lucky to have a very motivated and excited testing team, all of whom have contributed in their own unique way to the development of this module. To highlight just a few of the many efforts, Mark Pulver was vocal and essential in making sure this was not another 'static' oscillator.... Matthew Davidson applied his enormous experience testing all functions of this VCO, and even working on the panel graphics...and of course the Tiptop team working hard to build, ship, receive, update, rebuild, reship and get these modules out there. Just an amazing job by everyone and the six months flew by extremely fast to be honest with you.

I'm really excited about this module - it's as close to perfection as I can personally imagine. I'm extremely grateful to the team at Tiptop for once again giving me the chance to be involved with a really exciting project, and putting up with my often travel-delayed replies to emails and discussions. At $245, I can't see any reason why most eurorack users will not want to add this to their setup, it's an absolute no-brainer decision as far as I'm concerned.

A huge congrats to Tiptop on the release of what they have very honestly called 'their baby'. This has been a huge effort and one I think they should be extremely proud of. Please do check it out.

More information at Tiptop's webpage

Z3000 for sale at Analogue Haven


felix said...

Fully agree, even with only hearing it for a brief time at AHBA. I was surprised by the price too. With the level of features that this brings to the table, $245 is a steal. I bought two!

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