Modal Argon-8 | 200 custom sounds
(patches compatible with desktop / rack & keyboard)
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How many patches?:
You will receive all the sounds from my Youtube & Soundcloud demos plus extra sounds (180 original presets + 20 variations = 200 presets in total).
What format / import method?:
My patches come under the name “WCOG” in a soundbank saved in sysex format, they can be exported / imported with the ModalAPP.
What genre / style?:
There is no one style, because it is you who decides what style these patches will be played in. It’s a wide variety of sounds that are meant to inspire, make you look at the synth in a different light and give you a great choice of directions. Some patches are bread & butter, some offbeat; they’re the result of me trying to find the limits of the instrument. The patches are ready-to-use in music or can serve as starting points; you can find the textures or the dynamics that you like and tweak them to suit your exact taste or purpose. I tried not to include patches that would overlap with any other soundsets out there, so 90% of my patches should be original-sounding to you.
Any external stuff?:
I did not use any external FX in the demo; all the delays, reverbs & sound deformations are part of the Argon8 engine / mod matrix. Some sounds have some slight EQ-ing though.
Notes on grades lower than 3/3:
modern: great but not as varied as the champions (like Hydrasynth)
vintage: it does sound organic, but at the same time too clean for vintage tones
engine: no various filters, no loopable envelopes, too few mod matrix slots
timbre plasticity: retains the big / deep / clean sound most of the time
versatility: great, but no comb / formant filter or other “cherries on top”
build quality: solid, but not as solid as Peak / Summit for example (plastic parts)
ui & ease of use: pushable knob & seq control + button combinations irritating
Argon 8 number 1 (the buggy one):
This synth tested my patience like no other.
I order my Argon in April 2020. When it arrives, I fiddle around with it for 3 or 4 days and… for the first time in my life decide to use my right to return the product after the purchase. The synth seems half-baked and I’m not sure if it has a technical fault or whether it’s a matter of flawed design. It is incredibly quiet, but in a weird way. When I make a starting patch, it sounds ok, but once I start to detune the oscillators, or add the onboard chorus or reverb, the sound literally vanishes with each increment of the knobs to become almost inaudible at high settings. The envelopes and sample & hold LFOs are poppy (create clicks / pops in the sounds).
Next: I discover quite a number of things in the Argon engine that make no sense and irritate me somewhat. Some of those things I do not understand because I had not read the manual. Some I understand after reading it, but they are still irritating or at least disappointing:
The synth has an onboard limiter. When it’s active (=when I set the patch volume over the value of 100, and many times I must do that to be able to hear anything), the limiter kicks in. It’s the same kind of feeling like when I’m riding an electirc scooter which has an electronic chip that artificially limits the speed to a “legally safe level” when it senses that I have exceeded 15 mph. I can feel the scooter wobble. So when I play one note on the Argon 8, it’s loud, but when I hit more, Argon is reducing the overall volume. This creates a kind of unexpected dynamic. I’ve read somewehere that this is for the sake of a better audio quality. OK, I will take Modal’s word for it and try to get accustomed to it, although I can only wonder whether anyone but nerds with oscilloscopes would notice the difference in the “audio quality”;) The synth sounds pristine though, so I give it the benefit of the doubt.
Next: Argon does not memorize (save) settings like volume boost (off / normal / saturated) and tempo (the tempo setting is not included in the saved patch). Also, it does not memorize the sequence – I have to save it separately as a sequence file in the sequence bank. But that’s not the end of it. Because the sequence also needs to be “linked” to the patch before saving the patch. Otherwise the patch will play a different sequence after restarting the synth – the one which randomly pops out after powering it up. I remember that Waldorf Q had a similar way of storing patches and sequences. I have no idea what is the benefit of that:( I mean, I think I know – to make the sequences freely available for other sounds. But hey – the ancient “copy & paste” feature would solve everything.
Also, Argon turns out to have a very clumsy sequencer control. It is impossible to edit one bad note out of a sequence, so if I make a mistake, I have to record the sequence all over again. Plus the most irritating bug: sending MIDI from my DAW causes my Argon to randomly start its sequencer and wreck (randomize) my patch.
Next: the synth has no way of exporting the sounds. No button, no nothing. The only way to do that is via the Modal app that runs on… Windows 8 and above. I have Windows 7. I’m thinking – WTF. Social exclusion! Lives of Windows 7 users matter! The illuminati use their dirty sneaky ways to manufacture my ‘voluntary consent’. But I won’t give in;)
Last but not least, another disappointment comes when I discover that some of the modulation combinations that seem obvious turn out to be impossible (or hard to predict). Some of the FX settings can be modulated, some cannot. If I want to route [note] to [lfo 1 speed] I get an error message that it is an invalid mod assigment. But doing it with [lfo 2] is okie-dokie! Go figure. I know, one of the LFOs is global. Maybe I got too pampered and spoilt by Hydrasynth which didn’t have such limitations. But this is not a reason for me to return the synth. My biggest gripe is the volume thing and bugs.
Argon 8 number 2 (the broken one):
Some time in August 2020 I learn that Modal had released a firmware update (v 2.0), boasting that they have improved this and that, removed some bugs and what not. They say the volume thing has been improved, the sequencer has been overhauled. So I decide to give it another try and order my second Argon, but this time I do it in a big European shop and decide to choose “B-stock”. I am kinda in two minds about it, but the shop says on their webpage that they “meticulously check” the B-stock items before resending them to customers. The box comes and it looks fine, so I don’t hold the courier up. But when I open the box in the treacherous privacy of my home, out of it comes a completely massacred Argon. Half of the keyboard is broken, the metal corner is chipped away as if by hitting asphalt during a heavy fall. So I think it must have happened before the synth was shipped to me. I think to myself “Christ, this synth is cursed” and I return it for the second time. The shop says something that really pisses me off: that I should wait for the shipping company employee and if they don’t come, I should call the shipping company and schedule a meeting with them to do the paperwork. I am mad at everybody – the shop or the shipping company, at Modal. I feel like an idiot in this modern world, where instead of doing my thing I have to be a helper of shipping companies and a beta-tester for synth manufacturers that for some reason nowadays seem unable to release a fully finished product. Lesson learned: wait one year or so before buying a “brand-new” synth so that it gets proper, de-bugged firmware. Or learn to accept the price of cheap. What you save in cash money you then have to give away in the immaterial currency of nerves and time. But the lord has given me so much patience that here I am, with my third Argon and…
Argon 8 number 3 (the good one):
Some of the issues / bugs that I mentioned in the rant above have been fixed by the firmware update (v 2.2), some not, so I don’t know what to say. My judgment is blocked. I don’t know if they are fixable and if they will be fixed in the next OS releases.
Anyways, I spend enough time with the Argon to finally overcome or forget all the minor hurdles and I have to say I do like it. I mean, I have a kind of like-love-hate relationship with it. At the beginning there’s hate. The bare waves sound like crap. The synth seems stiff and uncooperative. But patience brings lovable results and some remarkable sounds. I find Argon wonderful for ambient drones, textured pads and atonal soundtrack effects. I also find it very interesting for… let me put it this way: modest or beautiful digital sounds. Like choirs, glassy bells or ethereal synthy pianos. Some of the sounds bring genuine amazement. Maybe the volume “bug” (design) actually boosted the synth audio to another level. It’s full in all spectrums.
I’ve seen some people return their new Argons because it sounded “characterless”. On the one hand, I disagree. I can come up with many adjectives describing the Argon sound. Most of the time it’s glassy (this is the starting tone). But it can also get raw, rubbery, sparkling & squelchy. To my ears it’s a “dirty clean” sound. It’s either digi-dirty or laboratory-clean, or somewhere in-between, but it has an ingredient that makes it… listenable. I think the ingredient is smoothness (a kind of organicness / orgasmicness). I can put a sequence or a pad on repeat (sorry, I mean “sustain”) and just stand next to my audio monitors for several minutes and listen to this shimmering, ultra-smooth tone.
On the other hand, I can agree with the “characterlessness” argument. There’s not much going on with the basic sound. Also, there is no “vintage” knob to randomize settings for you;P A simple chorused sine wave is enough to give you a strong & pretty timbre. But your pretty sine wave can sound like a cheesy ’70s organ if you add an untreated digital wave from the second oscillator. It’s tricky. If you do not have a bit more patience than with your Prophet, it’s easier to get discouraged or end up with something totally unusable.
We have to remember this is the way such (wavetable) synths work. It’s not an OB-6 or a Nord Lead – a you-get-what-you-see, one-sweet-spot, ready-to-consume synth. You have to spend more time to find its more numerous sweet spots, or rather “modifiers” (like wave re-shapers for example) to modify your sound into something nice or interesting. Once you start reshaping this and modulating that the Argon will yield some curious and outstanding textures that sound straight like out of a pro-album. However, there is a saboteur in the engine and I’m not sure who it is: the filter or the FX. I’ve heard that the FX is not of the best quality and that people skip it. I don’t know. I’ve heard this argument so many times with almost every synth out there that it’s beginning to sound asinine to me. I’ve managed to make some routings of the FX that not only satisfy my ears, but also transform the timbre into something totally new, so I wouldn’t “skip” this section. It’s always a nice thing if the designers let you rearrange the FX routing, and Argon does just that. But to be 100% honest I have to say – YES, I can’t fully gel with with the filter and the FX. I have trouble finding the sweet spot of the individual modules. The British competitor UDO Super-6 seems to be better in this respect – it sounds “organic / orgasmic” from the get go and has more “character”. However, it’s less versatile and costs 4 times as much as Argon. Another British competitor, the Novation Peak / Summit, is halfway between in terms of price and can also be described as “characterless” yet orgasmically listenable. If I were to choose a sound that is leaning more towards all things analogue, warm & bassy, I’d take Novation. If I were searching for more textures and digital flavors, I’d take the Modal.
Argon8 has one of the nicest designs and simply looking at it pleases my eye. The keyboard is well-built, the knobs and buttons are comfortable and precise, so don’t worry if someone calls them “cheap”. There are many “cheaper” synths out there for that price (like Korg Opsix). By the way, these are Bourns frictionless encoders – that’s why they might give the illusion of being “cheap” when you tweak them. Just be warned of one thing: one of these knobs is a pushable knob 😛 I myself hate pushable knobs and I think it’s always a bad decision to implement them. FUN FACT: I’ve just bought a brand-new electric oven to bake me some Louisiana-style chicken and it also has this pushable data entry knob, and I would find those modern gadgets funny had they not been irritating. In order to maneuver around in my Argon and to find / edit even the basic settings, I have to take part in this interplay of turning and pushing one or two knobs. Turn the left one, then push the right one, then turn the left one and once again push it. Sometimes clickology gets in the way. It’s not a grudge, because that’s the way many deeper synths operate. However, not all. Ironically, I find the Hydrasynth more transparent and convenient to use than the Argon which seemingly has everything on the surface while the Hydra has things “buried”. But Hydra is a different kind of instrument – an instrument where thought comes first and the sound comes second. In Argon creation & experimentation is easier / faster). Anyways, after 2 weeks of tweaking the synth inside out and remembering all the shortcuts the editing feels almost effortless and it’s hard to stop once I dive into the wavetables.
ARGON VS MINILOGUE XD
Let me continue the comparison thread: I don’t know why but I have always made an association in my mind between Argon 8 and the Korg Minilogue XD. People rather compare the Argon with the Hydrasynth, since both are “8-voice wavetable synths”. I guess the feature that I thought to be the link between A8 and XD was the sequencer animation. However, the XD is a bestseller while Argon is not, and I can understand that when I look at the genius UI of the Korg XD and the sometimes convoluted interface of Argon. Programming the Argon sequencer is not as easy. Sometimes it’s even impossible (when you first record in realtime and then want to edit the steps of the sequence – Argon won’t allow it). Also, the Argon sequencer won’t allow “steppy” values like in the XD. That’s either because of low resolution of the animation lanes, or Modal’s decision to implement “parameter slewing”. Or maybe because the Argon has encoders instead of pots. Anyways, the “animated” performance that is played back sounds a little bit different than your input.
ARGON VS HYDRA
Hydra is a much deeper synth, so let me just say two subjective words about the timbre. In Hydra it’s thinner but more versatile. It’s more laid back, less “obvious” (not so easy to guess with your eyes closed). In Argon it’s a deeper tone, more warm & rich, more “in your face” (intense), but harder to bend & control. The synth is not as big a chameleon as the Hydra. It has too few filters and not enough mod matrix slots, EQing, etc (Argon has 8 mod matrix slots, alas, count it as 6, since 2 of the slots will be taken up if you decide yo use the Y+/Y- joystick). But believe me, it’s still enough to make this synth impress you with its wide palette of patches, whose nature & quality make it more of a soundtrack / background textures machine than a traditional bass / lead synth.
ARGON VS BLOFELD
This comparison may strike you as a little odd, but I’m making it because Waldorf Blofeld is still in production and Argon8 sounds really similar. If you need a better interface and a more hi-fi, refined sound – go with the Argon. If you need a deeper engine for more fun and more vintage sound – take Blofeld. Had the price of Argon been 200 Euro more, I would say the decision is a no-brainer in the favor of the Blofeld. But the Argon costs about 550 Euro when I’m writing this.
And for this price I think it’s a good deal and a nice addition for the shelves of today’s synth shops and music studios. There are not many full-sized knobby synths out there for that price, and the range and quality of the sounds you can get out of it make it worthwhile. One of the Modal synths is called “skulpt“. That would be a good moniker, because if you hang around with Modals, you become a sculptor. You start with a chunk of stone and use your tools to carve an angel out of it. It takes a little bit more time, but eventually bears very sweet & exotic fruit.
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This Post Has 2 Comments
Try the Cobalt8. Compare it with the Hydra… You will hit the Hydra with the Cobalt. Hard. That is what I almost did.
I have the Cobalt-8, demo’s coming soon. Although I’m not sure the Cobalt took me into directions in any way similar to the Hydra experience;)