Having been a longtime user of both 4ms’ DLD (Dual Looping Delay) and STS (Stereo Triggered Sampler) it’s easy to see that there is probably no way that either could be viable DIY modules. I’ve looked at the PCBs, and unless they came with everything but the jacks and switches soldered in, they’d be much too dense, complicated, and SMD-based for even the most diehard DIY-er. Not so with 4ms’ new Sampler and Looping Delay, single-channel DIY-focused versions of those classic 4ms modules that bring most of the fun and functionality of their longer-named antecedents. While these arrived for review fully assembled (whew!), and can be purchased assembled as well as in kit form, a quick look at the 4ms website shows the parts bag, and it looks like a totally doable affair. While these new modules are sans the cool palindromic monikers, the mirrored left and right sides, and the mostly white faceplates, they look exceptional…really. There’s something about them, perhaps a lack of fussiness or busy-ness that is very appealing, a simplicity to the layout and design that speaks well to 4ms design aesthetic.
First up is the Looping Delay. As with the DLD, this is a modern digital delay with a crystalline sound and perfect sounding repeats. While I’m also a fan of more vintage style delay tones, and definitely the machines that make them—basically any tape machine ever made and things like the Binson Echorec and the Morley Oil Can Delay—I find myself wanting more and more something with cleaner repeats and flexibility than a lot of the older delays offer. A clock-based delay, LD has a 48kHz/24-bit sampling rate at 16-bit recording for the looper, and while a single-channel delay it may be, it can be used in mono or stereo and it offers up to 87 seconds of maximum delay/loop time when in mono, with about half of that time (43 seconds) available in stereo mode.
The LD is almost exactly one half of the DLD—it’s one copied channel of the DLD—and in some ways is kind of like the kid brother, but it’s the kid brother with a smaller, surprisingly cool record collection, the kid brother who will shock you with his ability to make a decent home-cooked meal out of kitchen remnants, the kid brother who’s on his way to being Most Likely To…well, Most Likely to Something.
Same as the DLD, the Time knob is broken down into both divisions and multiplication of a clock signal, and sets the loop in a number of beats. This is set by the 3-position Time toggle switch, which controls the functioning of the clock. In the center position, it makes it so that the Time control dial is the exact number beats for the loop or the delay time. The +16 (up) position on the toggle means that 16 beats are added to the number on the Time knob, so if the Time knob is pointing to 4, 4+16=20 beats. If the toggle is down in the 1/8 position then the Time is divided by 8. If you are mathematically challenged and your eyes are glossing over and you’re about to give up on this review let me just assure you that this is as simple as throwing an “8” in fractional form under whatever number the Time dial is pointing to, so if the dial is pointing to 3, then we’re looking at ⅜ and the output will echo 3 beats per eight loops. Math. You can do it.
This Time function (along with all of the controls on LD) is CVable, which can make for some interesting delay options. A fast LFO (or audio rate CV) patched into the Time CV in, and the time swings rapidly from one setting to another, and acts frantic, out of control, and unpredictable, like it’s had too much caffeine. Patch in a slow moving sine wave—really slow if you have the patience—and the change in delay time can be glacial.
The other controls are really straightforward and as self-explanatory as can be: Feedback amount, Mix, and Delay Feed (the delay record level). Again, these are all CVable and patching in CV to modulate any of these opens up so many creative ways to shape the output. I really like subtle modulation so I found myself patching in random attenuated LFOs (there’s no attenuation on board the LD for incoming CV) to every parameter to give the output a nice, light movement and flavor, and then I started thinking about that guy who cut me off in traffic and almost t-boned me the other day and I scratched that attenuation, sped up the LFO and destroyed some sh$t. Felt pretty good.
There are a couple of light up buttons at the top of LD: Infinite Hold, Reverse playback, and Ping, where you can tap your tempo in to set the main clock. Ping lights up with the main clock signal, and this is a good visual for seeing what tempo you’re clocked at. You can patch in CV to clock LD here as well, if you want to control it with something else, or if you’re just tired of the responsibility of pushing the button to set the base clock. No judgment here. You can also pair LD with other 4ms modules, like their QCD and connect them behind the (scenes) module for a more streamlined approach to clock syncing and management. I’ve had the QCD for years and love it, so I’m a bit partial.
Inputs and outputs at the bottom of the module are easily recognizable with the Outputs (Audio Out, Send, Clock Out, Loop Clk Out) in a white area, and the Inputs (In, Time, Feedback (which goes to 110%!), Return, Delay Feed, Hold, Mix, and Reverse) in a black section outlined in white. Again, for such a simple aesthetic, both LD and the SD look chic…timeless.
The thing you need to know first about LD’s operation has to do with the Infinite button and how it basically controls the two modes: Loop and Delay. When Infinite Hold is disabled, LD acts like you would expect a delay to act. When Infinite Hold is active (it will light up), then LD turns into a looper, disabling the ability to record, and plays back what’s been recorded into memory. You can move the start and end recording points around, reverse it, and tweak it in various ways, and looking at the module it seems simple enough, but it's deeper than it seems. For example, the Reverse function is pretty simple…it has your loops/delay play in reverse. The delays that are already in the loop will be in reverse, but new delays will be played forward, since they’re being recorded in reverse, then reversed into being forward; that’s the new normal, the new reverse. Got it? When you exit reverse those new ones will now be in reverse, even though you’re out of reverse mode.
While there are no menus on LD, there is some advanced functionality, some button presses and such, the most interesting being the ability to “window” or “scrub” through the recorded loop, which is a way to pinpoint and play back certain points in a loop. It’s easy enough to do by holding the Infinite button (while in Infinite Mode) and turning the Feedback knob. As far as deep button presses and combos and such, 4ms makes it as easy and thematic as possible. It didn’t take me long to remember this one, mostly because I used it frequently.
There’s a lot to discover here, and using the Send/Return function to throw the delay/loop into a resonating filter, another delay, and a phaser was a lot of fun. I couldn’t always tell why something was playing back since LD’s playback can go as far back as about three minutes, so I would sometimes hear something I did a while ago, sometimes something from another module that I’d patched and already unpatched in the Send/Return channel. The manual explains this well, and there is a button combo that you can do to clear the buffer, to erase the memory, to start from a clean slate, and this is another thing that’s good to have memorized. Looping Delay is a lot of fun, and offers a lot of sample mayhem.
The 4ms Stereo Triggered Sampler is another module that belongs in the Eurorack canon. It’s an amazing module, really a performance-based system all to itself, that can go back and forth between two samples, mixing, modulating, recording, and so much more. I’ve seen Daedelus rock this thing so hard that I liken it to flying to the moon on a paper plane; straight up magic. I’ve messed with the STS a bit and am pretty familiar with how it operates so the learning curve for the new Sampler wasn’t steep at all, and I was able to get a handle on it quickly. Having said that, though it doesn’t quite have the STS’ ability to play two sides off of each other—it’s a single channel after all—but still retains the same core elements, flexibility, and feature sets that STS has, can still do stereo, and can still be magic.
Like the Looping Delay, there are four controls; Pitch (with an 8 octave range), Start Position, Length, and Sample, and each has a CV Input for modulation. Sampler can store up to ten samples per bank for up to 600 high quality stereo WAV files (it comes with 200 pre-loaded samples), so you’re not going to run out of material due to any lack of storage. It plays the samples back at 32-bit/96kHz, and it sounds great, though I’ve never had an issue with any 4ms modules when it comes to quality of any sort, so this is no surprise. Without a menu it will be nary impossible to remember what your 482nd sample on file is, so if you go that deep, well…you’ll figure it out. Cheat sheet, printout, screenshot…Me? I stick to four banks of samples divided by duties; percussion, vocals, found sounds, and drums, so I only used forty samples in four banks (banks are denoted by color via a light up LED Bank button, and the first four are 808 button colors; easy to remember), but I also left the fifth bank open for on the fly recording as I would record patch loops and snippets—as well as vocals—into that bank. I think it’s helpful to have a system for storing the samples like that, and on other modules that need it I use the same system ( PVFD: percussion, vocals, found sounds, drums) so I can easily remember it from module to module. Yes, PVFD sounds like some sort of physical affliction, but it works pretty well for me. Anyway, loading the samples into the provided 16GB microSD is straightforward—though you do need access to a computer to do so—and you can separate your files into categories within the file system for easier management. We all know how fun file management can be, but this is pretty painless and well thought out, so fear not Sampler user.
Again, just like the Looping Delay, inputs and outputs are at the bottom (Out Left, Out Right, End Out) in a white area, and the various Inputs (Pitch, Start Pos., Length, Bank, Sample, Left and Right Record, Play/Record, Reverse) in an black section outlined in white. There is also a Play/Record button and a Reverse button at the top of the module along with the Bank button that I mentioned already, and as noted with the L and R outputs, Sampler can be run in mono or stereo.
Jumping in at its most basic, by pressing the Play button (or CVing it), you can play and retrigger the current sample at any point in the sample, and by holding the Play button until it’s blue you can loop a sample. It’s easy to see that by looping you could effectively use Sampler as a songwriting tool, or a drum machine, switching between samples/parts by hand or CV. It makes for an interesting performance instrument in this way and with the ability to pitch, reverse, change the start/end positions, etc., makes it so you can potentially make a compelling performance out of just a few samples. Switching into Record Mode (hold Play and Reverse for two seconds until Play blinks red) I attempted exactly this, with a couple of drum loops that I sampled from my Drum Drops Volume 2 LP, a decades-old thrift store find. I did so pretending that I was performing live with no predetermined movements, and much of my tweaking and CVing was just a forced fast-paced frenzy of turning knobs, changing parameters, and patching/unpatching CV, seeing how musical or interesting I could make a performance with Sampler. Even though it was less than perfect, it was fun, effective, and I think somewhat musical. At the very least it was definitely interesting and seeing the rhythmic possibilities in something like this was eye opening. There were a few ways to glitchify a sample and when I got off track—which I did many times—it wasn’t hard to find my center again. Since the Pitch knob is center detent it was always easy to return to my starting pitch and like that, everything else on Sampler is well-labeled and easy to navigate. I’m sure to anyone that might have heard it that it was just a messy mashup of drums and noise and a lot of off-time head bobbing, but it gave me a glimpse into the potential of how Sampler could be masterfully played as an instrument. Like LD, Sampler has some button-push higher advanced features, so there’s even more beneath the faceplate here.
Putting Looping Delay and Sample side by side to work in tandem is where it’s at. Not only do they look sort of badass together, but they work together extremely well. I recorded a vocal drum track (it sounded as awful as it sounds here!) in Sampler and ran it through the LD, on a fast, basic ⅛ delay setting, so the delay was like a slap back, and it gave a robotic drum sound, and made my mouth drummiing actually sound cool. Patching a ton of CV into both (while still trying to keep the pitch and tempo somewhat consistent) brought out a somewhat chaotic, but interesting rhythmic wonderland and I ran it through some spring reverb and modulated that Wet/Dry mix with the Loop Clk Out on Looping Delay.
One thing I thought turned out really cool was to record a different but related vocal tone in each of the ten slots in one bank on Sampler. Changing from sample to sample, with a long enough sample playing for each, it was kind of like a Mellotron. Modulating the various parameters and I was in Meredith Monk territory. Doing the same with spoken word (I recited ten different passages from an article in a travel magazine that was sent to me by accident) was also really interesting I’m not sure why it always seems creepy to put spoken word into a music setting and chopping it up (maybe it’s the word “chopping” that is creepy), but doing so and giving the sample a short length, I was in granular synth territory. Of course, all of this—Length, Start Pos., etc.—is CVable and I would just put the Playback on loop and change from one tone to another, adjusting the sample position start and length to a very short time, and then a long time, to constantly change and bring variation to the length and playback area of the samples.
The CV In for all of the parameters on both modules goes from 0 to +5V, so for some things, like modulating the Sample, since there are ten sample slots that need to be modulated over five volts (CV from 0-5V=5, 5/10 slots=0.5), that means that if you want to go through all ten sample slots, you need to inject CV that changes by 0.5V for each particular slot. This isn’t necessarily easy to do, but with stepped voltage going in I had pretty good results. Plus you can math out again and figure that out, so say if you want to alternate from sample 7 to sample 2 to sample 4, you’d need 3.5V, 1V, and 2V, preferably in square waves so there are no in-between voltages. There are many ways to do this (programmable LFO, EG, etc.) and part of the fun of modular for me is figuring out solutions like this, problem solving.
I could go on and on about the sounds and rhythms I discovered, the movement that can be had, separately or together with Looping Delay and Sampler. These modules are mesmerizing, and if you’re a DIYer, does it get any better than being able to make modules of this caliber?
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