Blue Fun Station Part 1 – The Blue Voice

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Review by Steve Korn

In addition to the ever-growing selection of M-odules, STS offers a small number of pre-configured ’shop panels’ which provide groupings of modules targeted at specific tasks within the Serge system. In the old days, when STS still offered custom panels, they would keep several of these shop panels in stock for quicker delivery. Nowadays though they are built to order just like the M-odules so there is no delivery time advantage to ordering shop panels. But you do get an extra two panel inches of module space and it can greatly simplify the ordering decision for new Serge users. To make things even easier, STS also recommends two specific groupings of shop panels called Fun Stations which combine a Voice panel with a CV panel and (optionally) a TKB. There are two classes of Fun Stations, Blue and Red. The Red Fun Station is somewhat more oriented towards ‘traditional’ synth-playing with the inclusion of Quantizers, Analog Shift Registers and true ADSRs while the Blue Fun Station is geared more for audio chaos. It is the Blue Fun Station which will be considered in this review.

The Blue Fun station consists of the Blue Voice panel coupled with the CV2 panel. So let’s start with the left side of the Blue Voice panel. The first thing that greets you is three rock-solid Serge oscillators, one fully-featured NTO and two of the slightly slimmer PCOs. By now you are probably familiar with these modules (if not, then please read Ben’s fine post on the Dual OSC M-odule a few entries back) so I won’t go into great detail on them. Except to say they are an especially fine combination for FM sounds and they track beautifully together. The PCO can get into really low sub-audio territory when a control voltage is applied with its VC F knob set to invert (really nice for super slow modulations).

Next up is your audio processing section with the Ring Modulator, Wave Multiplier and Voltage Controlled Q Filter with a pair of 3×1 Audio Mixers in between. The Ring Modulator does what you would expect with a few twists – its mode knob allows you to smoothly (and under voltage control) transition from no modulation to AM (original signal still present ) to full ring modulation (sum and difference frequencies only). By pushing the carrier knob past 12 o’clock you can introduce some subtle distortion which sometimes is just the right way to dirty things up. The RING can also be used as a spare VCA but in my opinion there are much better Serge VCAs elsewhere on the system (it has some audio bleedthrough and is a bit convoluted to patch). Still, it excels at traditional Ring Mod sounds and is very efficiently designed too, using only 1 panel inch of space. The Wave Multiplier is an incredible module and really, no Serge system should be without one. Its really three modules in one – the upper wave mult is a VCA (can also square up its input in hi mode), the middle section is a crazy wavefolder which can produce fascinating new timbres out of simple sines and triangles and the bottom section is a series of three wave rectifiers in a row, great for warping your sound even more and super for slowly evolving drones. A couple of points about the Wave Mult – the knobs below the VC jacks on the middle and bottom sections do not attenuate the CV IN so much as alter the timbre shift. So for more subtle effects you really do need to use an attenuator or VCA before hitting the WMX. Also the middle section has a blue IN jack which is DC coupled – do try it on control voltages, you will get very interesting results! Also the bottom section has two INs (one squares up the input first) and two OUTs (one AC-coupled and one DC-coupled) facilitating its use in feedback patches.

Most Serge systems include the VCFQ so I won’t write much about it here except to say that the Blue Voice includes the extended version which can be switched into low-range to effect slow moving control voltages. Ringing the filter via the TRIG IN with the VCFQ switched to low and the Q cranked up leads to some really rubbery looney tunes-style effects. The Dual Audio Mixer can be configured as two 3×1 mixers (with phase inversion on IN3) or one 6×1 mixer via the AUX input on the lower half. One thing that’s nice about the dual Audio Mixer is that it allows you to easily structure your patch into ’sound source’ and ‘timbre-variations’ with independent control of each tone stack (be sure to leave at least one mixer port open for a feedback path though!). Finally we have the UAP which is a very versatile VCA/mixer hybrid. With a flip of a switch it can be configured to be either two independent VCAs, a 2×1 cross-fader or a 1×2 panner. It also has separate AM inputs but truthfully the effect is so subtle here its better to AM via the separate VC Gain jacks of the VCAs.

I have found the Blue Voice to be a very well-balanced panel with almost no obvious weaknesses. It is a fantastic entry point into the Serge sound but would need to be paired with a CV-oriented partner to get the most out of it. The CV2 is the obvious choice but other M-odules that would complement it well would be the Mayhem, CV Generator or you could even cross the line and pair it with a Red CV2 for some purple fun. It would actually be quite hard to replicate the collection of functions found on the Blue Voice in only two M-odules – the closest I can get is a Triple OSC and a Wave Proc but then you’d still be minus the essential VCFQ, down an audio mixer and also lacking the very versatile UAP. I think Rex nailed it when he spec’d out the Blue Voice. The only area I found somewhat lacking was in the number of VCAs because if you choose to use the UAP for your output module that only leaves you the top section of the Wave Mult for interpatch VCA duty and may force you to also employ the RING as a VCA, a task it doesn’t really excel at. So if you do decide to go for the Blue Voice, you may want to eventually add something like an Audio Matrix Mixer, Hex VCA or Stereo Mixer M-odule somewhere down the line.

The second half of this ‘amusement park for electrons’ is the CV2 panel which I will cover in-depth in the next installment of this review.

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Serge Modular panels (including the "Blue Funstation" panels) are currently manufactured by Sound Transform Systems (262) 367-3030.

What you give is what you get.

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