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Analogue Systems TH48

Article from The Mix, June 1995

Analogue sequencer

The re-emergence of classic synths has been with us for quite a while, and now it's the turn of the analogue sequencer. Peter Forrest gets voltage controlled by the Analogue Systems TH48...

For those of you who are not familiar with the lost art of analogue sequencing, it might be instructive to begin with a history of the technology.

A matrix of controls, usually knobs, but occasionally faders, are used to produce a series of control voltages, which in turn control another module or synthesiser. These knobs are usually arranged in rows of eight, 12 or 16. The control voltages are most commonly used to produce a repeating series of notes — what we usually mean when we talk about a 'sequence'.

All sequencers have a clock, to control the speed of the sequence; how long it lingers on each step before moving to the next. This can usually be varied from very slow, with several seconds on each note, to very fast, where the notes follow on so fast from each other that they blur into one sound.

Often, there are one or two extra rows positioned beneath the first row, which can be used to produce other control voltages, either simultaneously or in series, after the first row has finished its run. When they are used simultaneously, they can either create another melody line, or their control voltages can affect a different aspect of the sound of the first line — perhaps the loudness or brightness.

The voltages can also be used on most fully-fledged sequencers to alter the timing of the original line, so that the riff isn't just a succession of notes of the same length, but can have longer beats or syncopations. Some sequencers also have quantisation of notes, so that as you turn the knob or move the fader to set the note, it jumps in semi-tones, so that you're (more or less) always in tune.

Perhaps the doyen of analogue sequencers was Giorgio Moroder — whose 70s hit factory produced the gloriously sexy, 'Love to Love You Baby', by Donna Summer. Tangerine Dream also made extensive use of them, on for instance, Rubycon. The sequence on the Who's 'Won't Get Fooled Again', is another classic example.

Here's just a few of the most widely available analogue sequencers:

Moog 960: Classic (and massive) — three rows of eight chunky knobs, lovely big lights, and a huge number of patch sockets. Used on 'Karn Evil 9', from Brain Salad Surgery. Current price: £1000 or so — and you need a power supply for it.

ARP 1027: The beautiful little 3 x 10 step sequencer for the 2500 modular system. Elegant and neat, but it needed other modules — the 1050 mix sequencer, and maybe the 1026 preset/voltage module, to get the most flexibility out of it. Current price: Astronomical — and you need a 2500 to go with it.

ARP 1600: The classic stand-alone 2 x 8 step 1600 Sequencer, which pioneered sliders in place of knobs, and more importantly, patchable quantizers, so that all your notes can fit in a chromatic scale if you want. It also has a random mode, where the sequence picks notes in a random order. Current price: £400£600.

Korg SQ10: A 3 x 12 knob sequencer — a maximum of 24 steps, but 12 further control voltages available. Portamento on the top two rows. Current price: £250£450.

Roland System 100 module 104: 2 x 12 (or 1 x 24) steps. Definitely the most desirable of the boxes that made up the 100 series. Current price: £200-£300?

Roland System 700: Even bigger than the Moog, with sequences up to 36 notes possible, as well as three-note chords, or other simultaneous uses of the control voltages in the bottom two rows, for tone colour, or length of note, or whatever. Current price: Probably only available as part of a System 700, so astronomical.

Roland System 100M module 182: A 2 x 8 step sequencer: neat, tidy, and efficient, like all of the amazingly ballsy 100M series — and correspondingly expensive. Current price: £300 plus.

"If you want to experiment, to feel, to improvise, then this has more going for it than any digital sequencer I know"

Electro-Harmonix Drum Sequencer: Actually a very funky little 1 x 8, 1-VCO self-contained sequencer, with decay control, trigger and clock in and clock out sockets and a CV out socket. Also able to have shorter sequences than eight notes, by connecting up the CV out to the trigger in, and setting the slider after your sequence to maximum. Current price: £100-£160

Yamaha CS30 synthesiser: This has a 1 x 8 step sequencer onboard, whose fun potential is out of all proportion to its size. Current price (with one of the most complex monosynths ever as a free bonus): £300-£500.

Back to the future

Which brings us, at last, to the all-new (but totally retro) Analogue Systems TH48. If you don't have an analogue synth or two with CV/gate inputs, and have no intention of ever getting any, then you might as well stop here. It's also hideously expensive, but with good reason.

It comes in a very solid 2U rackmount, and the first impression is one of compact quality. If you're into classic modular synths, you'll be amazed to find that Analogue Systems have even remanufactured the beautiful little colour-coded knobs from the ARP 2500, together with the lovely old metal toggle switches. They may be tiny, but they have a satisfying little click as you change their position.

The build quality is excellent as well, internally and externally, with superb attention to detail. One problem I had with the very early unit for review was that the back casing was too tight a fit in my 19" rack, but Analogue Systems say they've already rectified that for the main production run.

It has three rows of 12 knobs, with quantising available on the top two rows — and a far greater reliable pitch range than the ARP 1600 sequencers. All you have to do to get started, is hook up the CV and Gate Ins of any synth to the TH48 Row A CV out socket. This is done via the mini-jacks (which work just as well as the standard jacks that Moog used to use). Twiddle a few knobs on the sequencer, switch the clock to 'internal', and you're away.

Even with the quantising circuitry, the results aren't predictable. If you want to set up a specific riff, then there are far easier ways to do it — for instance with a MIDI sequencer and MIDI-CV converter, or with something like an MC-202 or CSQ-100.

Down to business

But if you want to experiment, to feel, to improvise, then this has more going for it than any digital sequencer I know. Each row has an associated 'range' control, which stretches the intervals between the notes. Move it, and they'll still be quantised, but in a totally different tuning and range of octaves.

The third row of 16 doesn't have quantising, so you can set up your own temperament if you want, in a far more intuitive way than is possible on digital equipment. But it's more often going to be used for making other control voltage changes — varying the length of notes, altering attack, filter cut-off point, or whatever your imagination dreams up, and your synths have inputs for.

What you can't do on the TH48, which you can do on a lot of other sequencers, is chain the rows together, to make a longer sequence. But at least with 16 knobs in the row, it's a lot more generous than most — and a 16-note sequence is really quite enough for most purposes.

You can also have shorter sequences, from two to 15 events, by setting the next switch to 'reset'. As with all the functions on the TH48, this can be done in real time, for a genuinely improvised feel. The other positions for each step are 'trig', in which a trigger voltage is sent out for that step, and 'run', where a gate is sent, but no trigger, so envelopes don't start again. That means you can develop rhythmic patterns where the strong beats are set to trigger, and the others not.

The TH48 seems at first like a simple machine (and in essence it is), but it has such a lot of possibilities when you start exploring it, that I wish I'd had the review model for longer than ten days. You can tap into the quantise circuitry, for a start; or transpose sequences on the fly from your CV keyboard; or put a VCO output into the TH48's input, and use the sequencer at high speed to generate a new waveform.

You can also modulate the clock speed with an LFO, change the clock pulse length by hand or voltage control — a sort of syncopated effect — and of course sync up to an external drum machine or sequencer. You can also sync up to any audio which has a pulse of any kind, so the fact that there's no MIDI is pretty much an irrelevance.


As you'll have guessed by now, I liked the TH48 a lot. It manages to bring together almost all of the best points of the vintage sequencers into one little package, which can give you not just instant hard techno/electro with no analogue-to-digital converters getting in the way, but also the sort of freedom to improvise in real time which made the TB-303 so popular.

Connected to some interesting monosynths, the TH48 has massively more potential for creativity than the TB-303, is far more solidly and beautifully made, and already looks like a retro classic only months after its release.

The essentials...

Price inc VAT: £699
More from: Analogue Systems, (Contact Details)

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Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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The Mix - Jun 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Mike Gorman

Control Room

Gear in this article:

Sequencer > Analogue Systems > TH48

Review by Peter Forrest

Previous article in this issue:

> Machine head

Next article in this issue:

> Loop scoop

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