While the Modal 002 and Modal 008 where high-end synths, the craftSYNTH (original version and 2.0) and Skulpt where more low budged priced (but sounding remarkable good). And the Argon8 is in size, price in between. But feature wise very close to the 00x series. The concept of this 8 voice all digital synth is like a full size grown Skulpt with many extras built in:
It features a full size 3 octave Fatar keybed with velocity and aftertouch, the same joystick as used in the high-end Modals synths, encoders for all main parameters, up to two shift parameters for the encoders to use knobs and not menu, 500 patch memory slots, build in 500+ step sequencer, distortion, tweakable triple stereo FX section (Chorus, Phaser, two Flanger modes, Lo-fi, Tremolo, Rotary, 3 different Stereo Delays, Reverb), full size MIDI DIN in and out, and class compliance MIDI via USB.
And the MODALapp for Mac, Win, iOS and Android to see all parameters and shuffling and renaming sounds easily.
You get two oscillators on the front panel. You can transpose as well as detune them against each other. And by using the SPREAD parameter, you can detune both of them against their invisible two twin oscillators. So you get 4 oscillators per voice.
The oscillators can be used with the typical classic VA waveshapes as well as some digital ones featured on the Modal 002 and some new creations. These are stored in many wavetables. And each wavetable is made from several waveshapes. You can modulate the wavetable position to change the oscillator waveshapes over the length of a played note by LFOs or an envelope. But there are on top of this 32 static wavetable processors. These let you choose a way the wavetables and the waveshapes within these are changed globally per oscillator. Included are the for example also the DeRez function of the Modal 002 in 3 depth. And 8 types of oscillator modifier change the sound of the two oscillators by applying things like hard sync, windowed sync, phase modulation as used in FM synths, Ringmodulation, audio rate Amplitude modulation and more.
The filter is all digital. There are 2 filter modes in two flavours each:
- Standard notch
- Classic notch
The Classic filter got a more gentle sound. More typical VA like, while the Standard got a more Modal Skulpt like modern, edgy character.
And as on the Modal 002, you can morph the filter with a parameter. But here it allows to change the filter from lowpass to bandpass (or notch on the notch filter versions) to highpass characteristics. Of cause, this parameter is also available as modulation destination.
There are three ADSR envelopes:
- Filter EG
- VCA EG
- Modulation EG for free assignable modulations
There are two different LFOs: LFO1 is global. So it is a single LFO used for all voices together. This is useful for all LFO modulations that should be alike and simultaneously on all voices. LFO2 is per voice. So it can be different in phase and even different in speed and depth individually per voice if set up to do so. Retrigger, single cycle modes are available for for LFO2. Of cause all the most often used waveshapes sine, sawtooth, square and sample & hold are all included.
If you turn the LFO rates to the CCW end of the parameter range, you set them to MIDI clock synced note length values.
The modulations are set up by pressing the source buttons next the LFOs, Modulation Envelope, the lower left row of note, velocity, aftertouch, expression pedal (if connected), joystick axis (4x) etc. and then assign the modulation destinations by turn the parameter representing it. Some combinations are not possible due to logic restrictions: for example LFO2 is not allowed to modulate FX parameters. This is because the FX are not per voice, but for all voices together. So one voice would try to do a different things as the others at the same time to the same parameter. This would be like having 8 people tweaking one knob at the same time. This is also why note, velocity and other modulations sources that are per voice are not allowed to modulate the FX. But the global LFO1, Aftertouch, Expression Pedal and the Joystick are able to do modulate the FX parameters. And FX parameters available as modulation destination is not standard on other synths. Not even the big Moog One. I am only missing to modulate an envelope time parameter by mote or by the envelope itself. The first allows for example the decay of the envelope to get shorter on higher notes, just like on many plucked instruments. The later is useful to change the envelope slope characteristic from logarithmic to exponential.
But don't get me wrong: 11 modulation sources and 52 destinations is plenty to choose from. And most likely many users will never really explore the possibilities.
The display let you edit modulations and see the filter shape when morphing. Or the envelope shape. You can see the numerical values of the turned encoders. And you can see the patch numbers and their alphanumeric names. You don't need to stare on the small b/w display, as the main things are all easy accessible by the knobs or a shift-button hold (or latch) and a knob twist. The MODALapp is very recommended for the beginner to see what is actually doing what in a sound. Or for very complex sounds with many modulations. And the MODALapp is the easy way of importing and exporting sounds via MIDI SysEx data without the need of other software or a sound librarian software.
The keyboard feels good. The aftertouch is well scaled and with user selectable response curves. As I am used thumb wheels, the joystick was a bit strange to me in the beginning. But it is easy to get modulations by moving the stick up and down with the thumb without getting into some unwanted left and right pitchbend trouble. The housing is very solid with the thick metal panel and bottom and the sturdy end checks. The encoders wobble a bit like on the pricy 00x series, but they are very working perfect. OK, bolding them all onto the front plate would add to the price for sure more than just 5% of the retail price. The keyboard action, the housing and the joystick are more important to me then the axis of a knob moving a bit. And of cause there is the main point:
So how does it sound?
Well, this depends on what sound you dial in or call from patch memory. The factory sounds are mainly more modern (I am 50+ of age) sounding patches. But there are some nice mild pads in the factories too. When you explore the synth, you get digital sounds (think more 002 like than PPG waves) with different grades of user selectable sonic aggressivity. On the other hand you get the typical VA like basses, pads and brass sounds too. And you can play edgy analog lead line sounds too (Classic filter mode and the classic waveshapes recommended).
The Argon8 is a compact and flexible synth with a well designed, easy to tweak UI and a very flexible sound.