It got leaked ahead of the release time… So here it is…
A couple of things I have fixed in Beads, because I thought they were an ugly mess in Clouds (and their micro or macro clones).
Input gain stage
When designing Clouds’ IN GAIN circuit, finding a stereo potentiometer that was reliable, compatible in feel with the single-track potentiometers used everywhere else, and had the expected 10mm PCB-to-panel distance turned out to be impossible. Some improvements in reliability were achieved by hand-soldering the part (with its share of support questions - “My Clouds looks like it has been repaired already!”), but all in all, I must have serviced several hundreds of units for scratchy gain pots, listening to Austra’s “Olympia”. And will continue doing so. “She saw the futuuure, and it was daaaark”.
Beads uses converters with a good enough SNR to allow line-to-modular amplification in software. Software gain is good: making it a set-and-forget setting, or allowing automatic gain control, removes clutter from the panel.
Converters, converters, converters
What can I say? The parts used in Clouds and Beads are just not in the same league. Big fangirl of Burr-brown/TI’s PCM line here And maybe I’m a snob, but I no longer want to say “Greetings codec! Now let’s go through those thirty registers” through I2C to get basic stuff done.
From mono to stereo to mono
I remained firm in my decision to use the MCU’s internal RAM instead of an external RAM IC, since fast RAM access is essential to allow a large number of simultaneous grains.
Beads has 6x the RAM size of Clouds, but very often it will be 12x by automatically switching to mono recording whenever only one input is patched. Remembering to switch between mono and stereo mode was such a pain, and now a thing of the past with Beads.
(as an aside, active detection of patch cable insertion is still my favorite “discovery” I’ve brought to Eurorack).
And a little detail: normalized R to L output is the second part of this equation
If you really want to just patch one jack to an audio input, and a pair of stereo outputs, now you can do it! I won’t be all whiney and cursed-artisty, and you won’t complain about it on muffwiggler. Do it really. Built-in randomization of grain parameters is there to ensure you won’t infuriate the spirit of Xenakis. With some nice Marble-ish work in software to get the right kind of distributions (and certainly not the same white noise source lazily fed to all the CV inputs… this thing was called ‘Clouds’, not ‘Contrails’…)!
And if you like using external CVs, you get both a direct and distribution spread control.
Sub-sample, alias-free, and tuned triggering
Very nice formant-ish or wavetable synthesis sounds can be obtained when the grains are triggered at an audio rate (and even better if this rate can track V/O).
Clouds’ grain triggering was locked to a stiff 1kHz grid, with a DENSITY input not tracking V/O. Beads’ SEED (and FREEZE too!) input is processed at audio rate, its DENSITY input is calibrated for V/O tracking, and the internal grain generation allows sub-sample triggering for accurately reproducing pitched notes without aliasing (with sub-sample access of the recording buffer, and anti-aliased envelopes).
Buffer size, quality, media emulation
Clouds used software down-/up-sampling to achieve its low-quality mode. Beads can do it either in hardware – by simply slowing down the converters – or in software, allowing the dry signal to be processed at the highest quality.
Using Clouds’ low-fi mode as some warbly tape emulation was an interesting emerging application. I took note and nudged things further in that direction in Beads! It’s not just a bit-depth and sample rate setting, it’s a whole sound character – influencing gain staging, feedback control, and reverb color.
Smarter delay stuff
It’s no longer an entirely different mode! It can track V/O! It can go as low as a few samples! And the feedback path no longer incurs a full block (32 samples on Clouds) of delay - it’s exactly one sample long, allowing accurately tuned comb-filtering.
Clouds lacked possibilities for rhythmic applications. Proof: a beat-repeater firmware was developed for it to fill this gap! Beads provides both division and randomization of an external grain triggering clock, and the delay features can be tempo-synced (including access to tempo-synced slices from the buffer).
Manually playing with FREEZE was fun. Manually triggering bursts of grains with a dedicated pushbutton (or from the GATE output of a keyboard) is a new interesting performance gesture!
Grain size decoupling
Clouds’ DENSITY and SIZE settings were coupled - DENSITY acted more like an overlap control really. Reducing or increasing the grain size without altering the density was not possible. I feel that decoupling these settings communicates more clearly what the module does.
Reversed envelopes, reversed playback
Parasites provided both, though the implementation of the latter wasn’t the most user-friendly.
Multi-purpose BLEND knob
Vade retro satanas.
Oh god that thing was huge (and don’t tell me about the µVersions - none of them look pretty or playable).
Coherence with recent modules
Beads introduces new things in terms of design language (white and RGB LEDs instead of red-yellow-green), but besides that, it looks better next to all my favorites.
Congratulations! Sounds amazing.
Beads will be a legend.
Can’t wait to have it !
Congrats! Very exciting feature set, well thought out, and beautiful to look at.
The amount of thought and development that went into this module is incredible. Not just simple improvements either, but a ton of consideration for how Clouds was used (or misused ) and the impact it had. I’m blown away just reading about it. Can’t wait to get home and hear the demos, and of course find out where to order it!
Congratulations! This looks like an amazing and worthy successor to this uniquely storied, flawed but brilliant module. It’s so interesting, and inspiring to read in detail the changes and upgrades you have brought to this, and your reasoning behind them. I missed OG Clouds, and despite being no fan of the third party alternatives in general, have both Micro and Super cell from Grayscale - my only two non MI original MI modules. This is an insta buy from me, and I can’t wait to play with it.
I know for now, and perhaps forever, this is the last planned MI module. I’ve said it before on this site: Your contribution to the world of modular is immense, and we all have so much to be grateful and thankful for. So Emilie, again, thank you for your wonderful modules, and the entire ethos you bring to their design, manufacture and support. Bonne chance with wherever you go from here - I’m sure it will be spectacular! I’ll stop embarrassing myself now ( sobs in 3u)
Congratulations on the release!
I’ve very much enjoyed beta testing it, and I’m looking forward to hearing what other people do with it
This is my brand.
So Beads can detect line level signals and automatically apply gain? What approach did you take with the software in order to do that?
I need to make some “Spirit of Xenakis” Fan art.
I look forward to the incremental evolution of the MI visual language for interfaces.
I’m impressed at all the features packed in there (thanks for keeping the reverb), and I guess it’s time to swap out my clouds clone for something a little nicer.
Nothing fancy, full wave rectification, and two layers of slew limiters with different attack/decay time (one to extract an envelope, the other one to react to changes in the level of this envelope).
During the first 5 seconds after a jack is patched, it is very reactive, and then it slows down with a response time in the seconds range… Then it awakens again if transients well above the expected level are detected.
(the Norbert Wiener kind, not the Keanue Reeves kind)
Just got mine ordered! Can’t wait for it to arrive.
Love the layout, it’s super clean and organised. I love the focus on the density knob, considering it always felt the most playable one on Clouds it’s great to see it got a promotion.
Really big fan of how the attenurandomizers have been implemented, much more interesting than just feeding in white noise.
I’m really looking forward to trying out some audio rate SEED shenanigans, as well as the tuned triggering stuff. I always found it hard to play Clouds with a sequencer effectively, hopefully this will be better! (I say hopefully, it clearly will!)
The fact that it’s a lovely big manual button too is awesome!
I love the tape emulation for the different sample rates, that’s definitely going to get a lot of use lol.
I also love the new automatic gain, that’s a super nice concept and I really hope it works as well as you’re implying. I have a feeling it will be one of those things that after a while anything that doesn’t have it will feel super outdated, lol.
Honestly, this basically ticks every box on my wishlist and then some. As someone who probably horrendously overuses clouds, you can bet this is going to be pride of place in my rack!
Congratulations on a great design @pichenettes . Amazing engineering. It looks like a lot of fun to use.
Congrats Emilie !!!
Seems to tackle all the limitation of clouds…
Ordered mine !!!
Finaly Emelie yyyyeeeeeeeessssss love it going to buy 2 one for me and one for you make is for us to have a nice piece of time thx thx :):)
I was here at the very beginning of this journey, completely clueless about any of this stuff, but certain that something special was happening. I’m using my first post here in 7 years to come in and congratulate you on all of it and also to say a heartfelt thanks for unwittingly playing a part in luring me into the deep and wide world of synthesis. It has significantly improved my overall satisfaction with being a human being on the planet earth.
So, thanks. Can’t wait to try this one.