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East Beast Semi-Modular Synthesizer Demo + Review

A New Collaboration from Cre8audio + Pittsburgh Modular

Jacob Johnson · 09/22/22

Cre8audio have been one of the most interesting characters to come onto the Eurorack scene in recent years. Between their affordable prices, bold visual aesthetic, and humorous approach to describing their products, they've cemented themselves as an approachable entrypoint into modular synthesis, with the NiftyCASE being quite a popular choice for newcomers.

Now, Cre8audio is entering the semi-modular game with East Beast and West Pest—perhaps two of the most affordable yet full-featured semi-modular instruments to ever be released. In this article, we're going to focus on the East Beast...but if you're looking for info on its sibling, you can also check out our full article about the West Pest.

As implied by the name, East Beast is an homage to East Coast-style subtractive synthesis, sporting rich analog oscillator and filter sections. It's also another entry in the continued collaboration between Cre8audio and Pittsburgh Modular, who themselves have a history of designing stellar modules and standalone instruments. In fact, Pittsburgh's legacy instruments were fundamental in designing the East Beast's sound.

The Dream Team: Cre8audio + Pittsburgh Modular

Pittsburgh Modular has been putting out stellar modules since they opened their doors back in 2012, so it only makes sense that Cre8audio would tap into their pool of knowledge and experience for their products. Classic Pittsburgh modules like their original Analog Delay and the unique DNA Symbiotic Waves are highly sought-after to this day, but it was the original Synthesizer Block, later renamed Synthesizer Box in its slightly revised form, which planted the seeds for their semi-modular explorations. In a time when there weren't many easy entry points into modular synthesis, it provided an excellent starting point as a complete, patchable voice with default routings between its sub-modules.

In a few short years, Pittsburgh Modular would put out a number of fun semi-modular instruments that could be used outside of a Eurorack case, including the Lifeforms SV-1, Voltage Research Laboratory, and Microvolt 3900. The SV-1 in particular was seen as a contemporary to the likes of Moog's Mother-32 and Make Noise's 0-Coast, but was a unique alternative due to the fact it had two oscillators, a full ADSR envelope generator, and a very flexible and fully-featured MIDI-CV converter. Though many of these instruments were only around for a brief period of time, each of them were an important landmark on Pittsburgh's design journey, and would lay the groundwork for their current work with Cre8audio.

East Beast's Analog Heart + Digital Brain

In some ways, East Beast is both a streamlined take on Pittsburgh's prior instruments and an extension of them—but still maintaining the patchable and semi-modular workflow. Cre8audio themselves say much of the East Beast DNA can be traced back to the SV-1. At first glance, it does look to be a bit more straightforward than the SV-1, and, at least in terms of its synthesis blocks, it is. But beneath the surface of Pittsburgh's expertly-designed analog goodies lies a digital network of parameters, settings, and even additional modulation sources to further supplement the East Beast.

The sonic foundation of any noteworthy subtractive synthesizer lies in its oscillator and filter, and they don't disappoint in the East Beast. Its sawtooth-core oscillator sports the four classic waveform options: sine, triangle, sawtooth, and pulse, with the ability to select them individually or in various combinations. There's even the ability to generate pitched noise by rapidly selecting random waveform options. East Beast focuses more on the sound quality and keeps the oscillator controls fairly simple, but there's Fine tuning, Glide, linear FM, and pulse width modulation for the square wave to coax sonic nuance and variety from the creature within.

As for the filter, it's also a fully-analog design by Pittsburgh Modular, dubbed here as the PGH Filter. Pittsburgh has always produced phenomenal filters, and the East Beast filter is the most refined entry in their catalog to date. Arguably the component of a synth that defines its character the most, this filter design is a multi-mode, "Zero Dead Spot" circuit, which means it has a rich sound across its full frequency range without a tendency to distort. Choose between thick lowpass, pristine highpass, and cutting bandpass. Interestingly, this filter approaches self-oscillation but doesn't quite get there, lending itself well to the juiciest filter sweeps imaginable.

To round out the analog elements, East Beast also contains an ADSR envelope generator, LFO, and VCA. But beyond that, East Beast's digital side packs a ton of features to be explored through patching and configuration. Notably, its Controller section, which consists of the black and white keyboard buttons at the bottom of the front panel, is your access point for MIDI-CV conversion, clock division, pattern sequencing with arpeggiation, and a multi-function modulation source. Spit out random voltages for sci-fi pitch sequences, set up a snappy decay envelope, define a clock synced LFO, or a number of other functions to fit your needs.

It's here that the East Beast really opens itself up, revealing its flexibility and allowing it to achieve things a fully analog instrument wouldn't be able to do on its own—at least not one that's this compact and affordable. Plus, the East Beast can be removed from its enclosure and mounted in a Eurorack case as a 40hp module, should you feel inspired to expand its capabilities or drop a high-powered voice into an existing system.

Unleash the East Beast

East Beast easily proves that the power of modular synthesis doesn't have to come at a premium price. Conversely, it also shows that with a smart design, no compromises need to be made in its sonic capabilities. We're stoked that East Beast could be a way for more people to dive into modular synthesis, further chipping away at its historically high cost barrier. It also warms our heart to see the folks at Pittsburgh Modular continuing to iterate on their designs, and we hope their partnership with Cre8audio gets their circuits into the hands of more eager synthesists.

And of course, remember—East Beast has a weird, wonderful sibling designed to exploit some of the quirkier aspects of West Coast synthesis, as well. Check out our review of the Cre8audio + Pittsburgh West Pest next!