Zorx Electronics
810 MK2 - System80

810 MK2 - System80

by Jason Czyeryk

I remember drooling at the Jove filter, Toronto-based System80’s Jupiter-6 inspired VCF, when it came out a few years ago. I have fond memories of playing my friend’s father’s Jupiter-6 when I was younger, and, as it was my introduction into synths, it’s safe to say that I have a soft spot for that particular machine. Before my friend (and his father’s Jupiter-6!) moved ten states away to Texas, I learned a little about synthesis and synthesizers, and how to coax amazing sounds out of that Jupiter-6. Most of the sounds I thought were amazing involved me doing many massive filter sweeps—well, filter “slides,” since the VCF was slider-based—to the point where my friend’s father would come over and show me that there were other things one could do with the synth. When they moved the fun was over (at least for me and the J-6) and so when Jove came out, I was back in my friend’s basement again, messing with the filter again, this time with a knob instead of a slider.
The high of the Jove has now made way for System80’s new 810 MK2, a welcome sight for those of us who love vintage Roland-style synths, and sweeping the filter of said synths. Consisting of a VCO, VCF, and a VCA, the 810 MK2 isn’t much of a departure from its predecessor, the MK1, already a pretty revered unit, as the changes are minimal, but welcome. The new attributes are that MK2 sports solid-state octave switching, now has memory recall of waveform selection, and a has a burly steel back cover, which of course doesn’t effect the sound in any way, but gives the module some of its bulk and contributes to the ultra solid build of MK2.
While 810 is inspired by vintage Roland synths, it isn’t a direct clone of any one synth; instead, it's a combination of cherry-picked circuits of the late 70s early 80s Japanese machines. Like I said, the 810 MK2 is built like a tank with a heavy steel enclosure, sturdy knobs, and a no-nonsense Roland-esque faceplate. There is no mystery here; the sections are pretty straightforward, and labeled as such. On offer are a lot of modulation possibilities, routing options, and inputs for external modules. Each section on 810 MK2 is normalled to the next, but the normalizations can be broken so that each feature can be used as a separate module and the capacity of being able to use it as three separate or connected modules, makes it really useful.
The VCO is selectable from Pulse, Ramp, Triangle, or Sine and tracks over seven octaves. There’s a six-octave range switch, two sync modes (weak and strong), PWM CV input, and a Sub-oscillator out (yes!). One thing I really like on this are the two CV inputs for 1V/Oct. I’ve always liked being able to run a sequence and an LFO through a VCO to create some vertical shifty movement using two CV sources without the need for another module; it’s nice to do that with and within 810.
The filter section is a 12/24dB quad OTA chip that was used in a lot of the classic Roland synths, even my (friend’s dad’s) beloved Jupiter-6. There are—like the VCO—two CV inputs to modulate the frequency (one unipolar and one bipolar), and also CV for resonance control. The VCO and Sub oscillator are normalled into the filter, but can be overwritten by external signals so that you can process anything through the two inputs and utilize the filter separately, if you so choose. The filter sounds big and amazing; anything from 80s sci-fi, to chippy vintage warmth, to squelchy honks and so much more can be had. The VCA is also an OTA design with three inputs (!), and two modulation inputs that have a selectable response for either exponential or linear. It’s a stacked affair.
Playing 810 is a joy and with a sequencer and a handful of LFOs and/or envelopes (and a little reverb doesn’t hurt) it's great as a monosynth voice. With so many modulation options, it’s really incredible and gets better as you move through it. The VCO is great, and the PWM brings back memories of other vintage Rolands I’ve had the pleasure of playing since the J-6, and really has that sound down, so very 80s to my ears. Simply running the VCO through some reverb with a bit of the PWM happening, and it sounds pretty magnificent, even sans VCF. Even the lowly sine wave sounded much better than other VCOs in my rack, ones that (until now) were my go-to favorites. No, I’m not naming names, I’m just saying. I don’t even know how or why one sine wave would sound better from one machine to another—it’s just a sine wave, right? Well, not always, as I found out (potentially) why in the 810 manual. Either way, running it through the DATA I couldn’t see the difference between sine waves from other modules. But I could hear it.
Adding another VCO in to the mix (literally) so it can get into FM territory is where 810 comes even more alive, and when you get to the VCF section—yes, it’s only an LPF, but it sounds so sweet, from subtle to not-so, and is switchable from 12 dB to 24 dB, and with two modulation inputs for the frequency plus the CV in for Resonance—that’s when things start heating up. For me, it’s the addition of the Sub-oscillator that gets routed and is controllable in the VCF section (same as the VCO) where 810 pulls that much further from the pack and starts to flex. There’s even a switch on the back of the module for selecting the octave and shape of the Sub. Since both the VCO and Sub have input controls that are normalled, but can be overridden by patching something external into them, this means the VCF has two inputs that could be used for external service for other VCOs, sound sources, et. al, to use its sweet filter, though the 810’s VCO and Sub would be bypassed. This little mixing section gives the filter so much versatility; if you go from VCO to VCF, once you get to the VCA section there are another two additional inputs with controls, so if you defer to add anything to 810 up to this point, you can find so much use in the VCA section’s inputs, adding drones, basslines, counter-melodies…I mean, whatever you want/need, that on top of the standard flexibility you’d find in a full-featured VCA (two mod inputs, plus a gain control and a linear/exponential switch) you can bring the whole party all together in this one module, all are welcome to make this more than the sum of its parts. Just because you have food, people, and a table doesn’t mean you have a dinner party, you need that special thing—the shine. The same goes here, and you know what? 810 MK2 has the shine.
How flexible is MK2? Part of me does wish that the VCA/Mix section could go before the filter so I could meld all of the signals and filter/crush them in that section. Oh wait…I can do that. And did. Many times. And it was great. You can drive the VCA to get some distortion into the filter and tweak the filter, the Sub, and on and on and find more and more fat, vintage type tones to soak in.
If you think I’m being hyperbolic with my review here, it may be true, but I wasn’t in an excited state when I stepped up to the plate for this review. I wasn’t in any state, just my normal state, whatever that is. I lost track of time tweaking, patching, unpatching, modulating, unmodulating… It wasn’t just the nostalgic rush either, I’m way over that, I’m much too jaded for simple time-machining nowadays. 810 MK2 is just an extremely well-designed module that sounds incredible and I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re able, hunt this one down, give it a good home, and never let it go. I’ve played a lot of synth voice modules—there are a lot out there—and this is one of, if not my absolute favorites. It’s also a great learning tool as well for newbs.

Price: $450