ML:2 - Circuit Happy
by Brandon Ivers
Syncing your modular to your DAW seems like it should be the easiest thing ever, right? Just use MIDI or maybe output a clock signal from your soundcard, and you’re good. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details when it comes to syncing these things, and anyone that has tried to do a live show this way can probably tell you a horror story or two. Even in the studio, it’s so common to have timing issues between modular and a DAW that it’s often not worth the trouble. Meanwhile, clocking systems like the E-RM Multiclock are great, but they’re incredibly expensive and typically overkill for most people. Is there a better option? If you’re using a DAW that supports Ableton’s Link protocol, then Circuit Happy’s ML:2 might be exactly it.
Coming in at a wonderfully diminutive 2hp, the ML:2 is built on the Espressif ESP32 microcontroller, which is another way of saying that Circuit Happy can leverage an existing platform for their code which keeps costs down while providing a lot of bonus functionality. In the case of the ML:2, the coolest bit of functionality is that it can work completely over WiFi. This means *anything* that uses the Ableton Link protocol and has WiFi, including mobile phones or IoT devices, can sync wonderfully with the ML:2. Considering how many great music apps there are on mobile devices these days, the ML:2 opens up a world of integration that would normally be difficult to achieve.
My primary use case was syncing my modular to my DAW [Ableton], and in that case, the ML:2 is considerably easier to setup than a lot of alternatives I’ve tried. Once you configure your ML:2 to connect to your WiFi router, Ableton Link will simply “find” the ML:2 as another peer on your network and connect automatically. From there, you can configure the ML:2 with a web-based control panel.
There are two primary outputs on the ML:2 that can be set to output clock, loop reset trigger, or gates, depending on the needs of your modular, and in most cases it’s fairly straight-forward to figure out what you need. For example, I used the ML:2 along with a NerdSeq sequencer, so I configured one of the ML:2’s output for a 24 PPQN clock signal, while the other output was set as a “reset” signal for starting and stopping the sequencer. You may have a more simple or complicated setup than me, but regardless, the options available for the ML:2 should have you covered.
If you find that your sync is a bit “off” in terms of latency, you have a few ways to adjust: If you’re using a DAW or device with the latest version of Link, you can set a delay time in Link itself via the ML:2 control panel. Otherwise, a DAW like Ableton will let you adjust the sync under “Preferences”. Note that I’ve owned a lot of other sync devices over the years, and I’ve learned the hard way that some outboard sequencers are sloppy no matter what you do. The ML:2, similarly, cannot solve that problem by itself, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
I should also note that there’s a couple of external caveats to be aware of with the ML:2. The first is that if you’re in a building with a single WiFi router or an unusual WiFi setup, you might have some issues with the ML:2’s general setup or operation for a variety of reasons that are too boring to go into here. If that’s the case, you can connect to the ML:2 as a WiFi router itself, which is great but then you would likely lose your Internet connectivity. I talked with the extremely helpful devs at Circuit Happy and suggested an option for setting the ML:2 in bridging mode as a remedy, and as of writing, they’re working on a new firmware that would enable this.
The second minor caveat is that the ML:2 made some electromagnetic noise in my case when placed next to certain modules, notably a Doepfer A-124 [the Wasp filter]. This is not surprising, as the filter is known to be a bit susceptible to this sort of thing, but it does mean you might want to plan where you place the ML:2 if you’re sensitive to noise.
Minor issues aside, I think the ML:2 is a fantastic sync option if you use Ableton Live or something that supports Link. It’s inexpensive, it doesn’t take much room, and the developers at Circuit Happy are responsive and enthusiastic. Heartily recommended, especially if you don’t mind dealing with a bit of WiFi configuration.
2 HP +12V 180mA -12V 0mA