Zorx Electronics
Triphase Oscillator - New Systems Instruments

Triphase Oscillator - New Systems Instruments

by Ian Rapp

San Francisco-based New Systems Instruments makes some very cool and interesting modules, and we’ve favorably reviewed a few of them in previous issues. Their take on modular synthesis is definitely inspired, and there’s a sort of mellow scientific approach that goes on with each; they’re always good for experimenting so they work well as more advanced modules, but are also good learning tools for indoctrinating those not yet in-the-know. Their latest module, the all-analog Triphase Oscillator, is one of their most straightforward to date and is exactly what is stated by its name: it’s three phases of an oscillator—a sawtooth, to be exact—although there is a little bit more to the module than that as it also has a Moog CP3 style bipolar mixer on the back end.
With a 1V/Oct input, Hard Sync, and linear FM on all three waves, main Coarse and Fine tuning dials, and a Main Output that’s a combination of all three phases, the features get you off to a good start. It’s when you start isolating the phases, each with an individual output and a Phase offset (with CV In) and the bipolar Mix control where things really get interesting. There’s plenty to play with here, and this thing has the ability to sound huge…really HUGE. It’s kind of a take on the classic three-VCO monosynth a la the Minimoog, but a slightly different variation in that instead of altering the tuning and waveshape of the VCOs to get phat (or whatever you’re looking for), you’re phase shifting. And who doesn’t love phase shifting?
The obvious use for Triphase is to get something fat right out of the gate, and I gotta tell ya, it ain’t too hard to do. Just mess with the mix of each wave to taste and you’re off and running. Patching in a sequence to the 1V/Oct input and putting some slowly moving CV into each of the phase inputs (P1M, P2M, P3M) to hear each instance of the sawtooth morph was intensely gratifying. That comb filter-y thing it does is mesmerizing. Triphase really does have the ability to get gargantuan and throwing a VCO in to hard sync it, using it for bass cut through everything in my patch; it felt so powerful and succinct. Ditto as a lead line, where there was no problem determining who was in charge, even with a dense patch full of complex percussion, noise, and some drones. I really wanted to test it and created a ridiculously thick patch and, except for where I had something competing in the same frequency, it was never an issue making itself heard, and whether you patch in FM or not (I prefer Hard Sync with just a touch of FM coming from another complex oscillator), Triphase stands firm without needing much help.
After playing with it for a bit I wondered how Triphase would work as a modulation source. You can slow the frequency down to the top end of LFO range and use it this way, and with the separate outs have four different, but related, instances of modulation, with one being the sum of the three outputs in the Main Out, so I patched all four outputs into various CV inputs on SSF’s Ultra-Perc which I’d pitched high, using the Main Out of Triphase as the trigger signal to see how it would go. I can’t say that what I got was super useful as a drum track, or that I was able to really discern the relationship of the Triphase’s four outputs in relation to Ultra-Perc’s output signal as thoroughly as I’d hoped, but in terms of a rhythmic anomaly, it was pretty interesting and reminded me of a Smurfy version of the famed Buchla bongo sound, like a cartoon drum circle with three small toy drums.
While you can’t tune each phase separately, as there’s only the one main 1V/Oct, by adjusting the phases for each wave and adding or canceling certain harmonics you can get some synchronous tones to the main tone. They’re more like undertones, not at the same volume, or as clear cut as the main tone, but it can thicken or thin out the sound as desired, and then by throwing in some CV to modulate the phases you can destroy all of that sync work you just did to make it sound less harmonious and “pretty,” though pretty is a pretty relative term. The CV for each takes any rate of input, so patching in audio rate to modulate the phases can get a blown up saw wave of some sort. While this was interesting, after a certain point it just sounded like an FMed saw wave and not the best way to use Triphase. Really though, I’m just partial to the slower rates of modulation for the phases. Fault me if you must, but it just sounds so good.
With the mixer on the back end being bipolar, you’re able to not only pick and choose how much of each phased instance you want in the final mix, but also remove it from the final mix, which is a cool feature.
Again, Triphase really does sound BIG. I know you can do all sorts of sound shaping, and exploring and such with it, and that’s fun, but really, those comb filter-ish super-sawy waves that come out of it sound so good as a bass or lead with each waves phase being oh-so-slowly modulated (and with some sync and a smidge of FM thrown in), that’s all I really want to hear from it. I could listen to it all day long and I think you’ll probably feel the same once you hear it.

18 HP +12v 50mA -12v 50mA
Price: $385