I began my journey into synthesis with the Doepfer Dark Energy II. There were things I didn’t like about it. I wish it had more CV ins and outs. And there were things I did like about it. PWM saw anyone? Oh, and don’t forget the range switches.
Having the range switches was great. Being able to change the range on the LFO’s kept things awesome. You could pop it up into high-range and do some audio-rate modulation, which created some great sounds in so-many ways. It was really interesting to modulate the VCA with an audio-rate LFO. But sometimes you just need a more “normal” LFO rate, so you’d throw it into medium-range and maybe put a nice wiggle on the filter cutoff, or on the PWM (Nick Batt would). Or you could pop it down into low range for some reasonably slow, gentle modulation. I happen to be a fan of a very slow LFO, but it seems like very few get down past the 30 second or maybe one-minute cycle. How about some more range switches manufacturers?
The other thing that the Dark Energy II had, was a range switch… on the envelope! From slow and steady slopes, to lightening-like responses, you had masterful control over transient shape because of that little switch. It was a long time before I bothered moving it out of medium range, but after I did, a world of new modulation possibilities opened up. From a look at modular grid, there aren’t a lot of envelopes out there with range selection (which is sad.) But, if you want to experiment, the Doepfer A-140 has you covered and at great price.
The other great thing about a range switch is control. Could you imagine having that entire range of possibilities just on the knob. It’d be so hard to dial things in just right. Over, maybe an inch an inch-and-a-half of knob travel you have a five-minute cycle at full CCW and 5kHz at full CW. The range switch not only opens up our options, but it maintains our control over our LFO’s and envelopes.
Tides was my first eurorack module. It’s still one of my favorites. And, if you have a Tides, you know, that without the range button, it would be absolutely neutered, as an LFO, as an Envelope, and I’m not even sure it’d be able to get into audio range (which would be a tragedy as it’s such a beautiful VCO.) Just think about that. Would you keep your Tides if it didn’t have that little range button? Would you have ever wanted one in the first place? For me, the answer is a solid, “no.” The ability to switch between very high, very low, and normal ranges is an easily overlooked, but absolutely key part of the magic of Tides.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to work with an LFO or an envelope with a range switch, I highly recommend you seek one out. The addition of a simple switch is not typically the most thrilling aspect of a new module, but if you’re looking for super-fast envelopes or super-slow LFO’s those range switches are likely to get you where you want to go, or at least a lot closer than those without them.
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