Nanobox Lemondrop Nanobox Fireball - 1010 Music

Nanobox Lemondrop Nanobox Fireball - 1010 Music

by Sam Chittenden

How small is too small? Does a small synth hinder or expand possibilities? I used to think there was a limit to how small you could go while still being fun and playable, but with the 1010 Nanoboxes I’ve had to revise my stance a bit. I'm really impressed with the way that 1010 has managed to maintain a very usable product in such a small form factor. The Nanobox enclosure checks in at a pretty astounding three inches by just under four inches and a little over a half inch thick [ignoring knob height]. Made of a sturdy and brightly colored plastic [red or yellow depending on the model] and centered around a relatively large touch screen, the Nanoboxes pack in a wealth of features, high quality sound, and a depth of programmability that belies their small and compact form.
The Nanobox line currently has two distinct flavors: the Fireball, which is an eight-voice wavetable synth, and the Lemondrop, a four-voice granular synth. On the hardware side of things, both units are identical and consist of a touch screen, two knobs, and four soft touch buttons.
Inputs and outputs are located along the back of the unit and are 3.5mm TRS jacks for line in and out, midi in and out, and a clock input. There is a microSD card which contains the firmware, presets, and sample content for the Lemondrop or wavetables [as .wav files] for the Fireball. There is also a USB C port for power [no MIDI over USB].
There are two knobs for editing parameters within the Nanobox, the top knop is for parameter selection, while the bottom knob adjusts the values. The four buttons are used for navigation between various pages and layers of the interface. And of course there is the touch screen itself which is used for a variety of interface tasks. 1010 seems to have found a sweet spot in the balance between physical controls and the touchscreen interface. Navigation through the controls and menus felt easy and natural after only a short learning curve. The screen itself is very clear and despite the small size the display offers a great deal of visual feedback and ample room to maneuver around [even with big fingers].
On the firmware side, the Fireball and the Lemondrop share a majority of the feature set. Each Nanobox has two filters, two ADSR envelopes, two LFOs, an internal modulation sequencer, and an effects stack [only two effect types can be active at one time].
Both have [in addition to their respective main two oscillator types] a third digital oscillator and the ability to mix in an external input into the mix.
There is a three octave grid keyboard [with several scales available] and a killer X/Y modulation screen for performative macro adjustments.
When first powered on, the Nanoboxes default to a home screen that shows waveform views of the two main oscillators and, in four boxes along the bottom of the screen, the status of the various synth parameters. As notes are triggered, visual feedback is provided for both the oscillator waveforms and the different modulation events that are affecting the sound. On the Fireball the waveform views will morph depending on the current settings and the Lemondrop shows grains triggering along the two different loaded samples. This visual feedback is well thought out and very welcome and despite the small screen real estate, an overview of each modulator's activity is clear.
1010 has organized the UI of the two synths into different "stacks'' of parameters. This organization keeps the menu relatively flat and allows for quick navigation between different parameters. While not completely free from menu-diving, the Nanoboxes interface is nevertheless pretty zippy to navigate, especially considering the depth of these two engines. In order to edit a parameter or oscillator, you first touch the waveform graphs or parameter name to enter into that particular stack. Once in a stack you can cycle through the different layers within it by pressing the layer button [indicated by the three stacked lines icon]. Select parameters using the top knob [or touch screen, although those with larger than child-sized fingers may find selecting this way less than accurate] and adjust the values using the lower knob. Parameters that can be modulated [and this is the majority of them] will have three small squares to the right of the parameter value. Each square indicates a modulation slot [a solid square means there is a modulation source assigned, while an empty square denotes a slot's availability]. Simply press the right arrow to access the modulation assignment page. The Nanobox has a great deal of modulatable parameters and all modulation sources are freely assignable to available slots. Both synths also feature a pretty neat modulation sequencer [which technically can modulate pitch—and can be quantized to semitones if desired-but isn't really intended for traditional melodic sequencing] that can be used to add interesting movement and variety to the sound. The stepped nature of the sequencer really lends itself to rhythmic modulation, but with small intervals between the steps can do a more passing resemblance to smooth modulation if needed [especially if you increase the number of sequencer steps to its maximum of 32]. If the internal modulation isn't enough or you can't get on with the control scheme of the Nanoboxes, there is also an excellent MIDI implementation. Pairing the Nanoboxes with a MIDI controller is easy with a fantastic "learn" functionality. Simply touch the Learn button in a modulation parameters page and then twist the knob or press the button you want to map and the Nanobox will map that control's CC messages to the parameter. It couldn't be simpler. No more wading through endless CC mapping lists! MIDI CC messages can be used with any modulatable parameter.
The two available filters [multi-mode with options for LP, HP, BP, and Notch] can be run in parallel or in serial configurations and sound really good. Ditto for the effects available on the Nanoboxes. Two simultaneous effects can be run at a time and you can choose from a flanger/distortion [contained on the same page but both the flanger and distortion have separate settings], chorus, and phaser on one slot and either delay or reverb on the second.
One of the advantages of the touch screen that 1010 have leveraged nicely in the Nanoboxes is the inclusion of an macro X/Y pad. Great for performance and intuitive real-time sound sculpting . Both the X and Y values can be mapped to any of the available modulation sources and in a nice touch, the "home" point of the pad can be adjusted, allowing you to draw your finger around with impunity knowing that the value will snap back to the set point once released.
Both the Lemondrop and the Fireball are extremely capable synths. Their small size and bright coloring give them a somewhat toy-like vibe but they are solidly constructed, well thought-out, and interesting music making machines. A refined user interface makes the Nanoboxes easy to learn and a joy to use. Access to all of the programmability and depth of these two synths is quick and straightforward, which is really saying something considering the sheer amount of features that have been packed in. The Nanoboxes are certainly powerful enough as stand alone synths but a standout feature for me is the fact that they both incorporate a flexible line-in, an addition that adds a ton of fun and interesting possibilities to these synths. Obviously great for a super compact on-the-go rig, the Nanobox line's small form factor and ease of use makes them excellent companions to other hardware set-ups as well. Especially powerful for adding polyphonic depth to a eurorack set up, providing an effects toolbox, or a live granulator in the case of the Lemondrop.
Price: $619