Monday, February 18, 2013

Vermona PERfourMER MKII Review

Vermona is an interesting company, having been around since the 80s but certainly not as well known as some of the other names in the synth world (or at least, here in the US).  Interestingly, though, they have a full line synths and effect modules, and I happen to have a review unit of their biggest synth, the PERfourMER MKII, the quad analog synthesizer.  The reviews of the newer version seem to be scarcer on the net, so it's very exciting to be able to talk about this interesting piece of gear.  At $1,850, this synth is no lightweight, and screams "professional" and "boutique" at the same time.  Can a heavyweight synth from a lesser known company really make a splash in the synth market?  Read on to find out.


The PERfourMER MKII (I'll call it the Perfourmer for this review from here on out) is a bit of an oddity in its architecture.  It has four analog oscillators, each with its own filter, envelope, LFO, panning, and modulation settings.  The Perfourmer can be played monophonically, duophonically, or polyphonically with interesting results for each.  For instance, the two monophonic modes handle notes in very different ways.  The first setting acts as a standard monophonic synthesizer-- all notes are played at the same time, and you can detune the oscillators for a nice thick sound.  With monophonic setting two, each note trigger switches to the next voice.  While this is seemingly a nuisance if the sounds aren't the same, you can create some really cool effects by panning the sounds.  Suddenly, you've got this cool monophonic stereo imaging.  This can be especially cool if you were to use the Perfourmer live.  You can set the different voices (the oscillator, LFO, etc) to individual MIDI channels or set them all to one, meaning one oscillator per voice if used in polyphonic mode.  It's important to make this note of the different MIDI channels early on because this is one of this unit's strengths.  If you wanted to record this synthesizer as your main unit, you could set it to have 1 2-oscillator sound and 2 1-oscillator sounds, or 2 of 2-oscillator sounds, or any combination of the four voices, and giving you a wide range of uses for the synth in a track.  I find the polyphonic setting to be the weakest because you have to go through and set every sound to the same exact settings, and since this is a true analog synth, there can be a little variation between the knob's levels, so it takes a bit longer to set up.  In the demo unit I have, one voice's filter setting is a bit lower, so you can't just eyeball the sounds and know they all sound the same for sure-- you must use your ears to align the sounds.  The monophonic setting works best in my opinion, because you can get so many unique sounds with a four oscillator synth, especially when you account for the fact that voices are capable of frequency modulation.

The unit itself has fantastic construction value.  It's not too heavy, so it could easily be gigged, and the knobs are the sturdiest I've ever felt on a synthesizer.  Absolutely no wobble, and I bet you'd have to take pliers to them if you wanted to pull them off (but don't take my word for that!)  The knobs also have a really smooth glide to them, so slowly opening the filter cutoff for performance isn't hard.   The Perfourmer is also a unique looking synthesizer.  Some knobs are a darker color, and I'm not really sure if theres a theme to why but it offers a nice little contrast, or at least a way to quickly eyeball your favorite parameters in relation to those knobs.  It has a MIDI in and thru port, left and right mixed outputs, direct VCO output (plug in and you always hear the oscillator) and individual outputs of each channel of the synth, so you can put different effects on each part-- very nice if this is part of your studio.  There's also an edition of the Perfourmer that has CV, but this particular unit doesn't, so the ports are covered by plastic caps.


The oscillators on this synthesizer are fantastic.  Each VCO switches between sine, triangle, square, sawtooth, noise, and external, so you can rig up a different synth or sound to come through the thick filters.  Each switches between 4' down to 32' and also have HI and LO settings for using different oscillators to modulate the VCF or VCO of other voices, letting you use VCO1 as an LFO for VCO2 or for crazy FM sounds.  True analog FM is a bit hard to come by in this day and age, so this is one of the unit's crowning features, especially if you're delving into the less traveled parts of synthesis.  The FM sounds can get insanely gritty as well, so you've got a great range out sounds here, without even worrying about your filter, envelopes, or real LFOs yet.  The waveforms all sound nice, fat, and are harmonically rich, so you won't be let down with your open filter sounds.  Each VCO also has a glide, envelope amount, and an LFO INT which works on either the frequency, or the pulse width for the case of the square wave.  There is no place to set the pulse width to a static amount from this particular point, but you can edit it using the mod wheel.  Of course, each VCO can be tuned as well, and there's no "lock in" point, so they've included a 440 Hz lock to tune to, just like a true retro analog synth.

Moving along, we have the filter controls, with standard cutoff and resonant knobs, and LFO and envelope amounts.  There's also a tracking switch to be set between 0, 50, and 100%. Nothing revolutionary here, but the filter sounds great, and the resonance has a clear warmth to it as you sweep the filter.  Between the oscillator and filter, this is a very warm, organic, analog sounding synth.


The LFO goes into the audio range, and can be set to sawtooth (downward ramping), sine wave, square wave, or sample and hold.  The envelope generator comes next, and is plenty fast enough for percussive sounds.  The final controls are the VCA control (on, gate, and envelope,) volume and panning, and since you can output all the sounds to left and right ports or headphones, you can do some mixing.

On the right side of the panel, the playmode, sequence, master tune, master volume, and an array of additional parameters are located and edited using one knob.  You'll have to use the manual to figure these out, but they're very much secondary parameters that won't hinder your sound creation.  These settings (for example, pitch bend, mod wheel pulse width mod, legato) are only on and off settings.

The biggest thing holding back the Perfourmer MkII is its price.  At $1,850 for the standard MIDI version, or $2,075 for the CV unit, this is definitely one to look over carefully.  Vermona is a small company, and the unit itself has fantastic production quality, the price is understood, and being four VCO voices in a DCO-dominated world right now, it's competitively priced against something like the Moog Little Phatty.  If you're really interested in the Perfourmer and it's just not in the budget, you can opt for its less feature-laden brother, the Mono Lancet, which has the same filter and oscillators but limited to one voice for $619, which is even more competitively priced against the likes of the Moog Minitaur, Slim Phatty, Arturia Minibrute, and DSI Mopho.  The Vermona sound is a very different experience from these other synthesizers, due to its VCOs and user tuning.  It feels like you're using an organic instrument, whereas the competitors can feel a bit computerized by memory and menus, which is definitely something worth considering.  The CV version of the Perfourmer can be a stellar addition to a modular environment because of its flexibility of voices.

Overall, this is a very unique analog experience, and it's very different than offerings of Moog and Dave Smith Instruments.  The list of parameters and the architecture of the synth aren't quite as eye catching as some other products, but the Perfourmer is a perfect example of an instrument being greater than the sum of its parts.  Every time I sit down with this unit, I'm finding something new to try-- modulating the frequency of one VCO with an envelope while it modifies the frequency  of a different oscillator is the new sound I've tried today!  I'd recommend this for serious musicians looking for something outside of the standard synth world, yet still analog and managable.

To learn more about and to buy the Perfourmer MKII and other gear by Vermona, check out their website here, and be sure to follow them on Facebook as well.

Pros
  • Warm, retro sounding analog oscillators and filters
  • Unique voice architecture can create old school or modern sounds
  • Awesome FM and panning effects, especially for performance
  • Perfect build quality

Cons
  • Expensive ($1,850)
  • Some additional settings are only on-off
  • Poly mode isn't practical
Verdict
If you can afford it, a unique, modern analog experience well worth the price of admission.
5/5

2 comments:

  1. Hi Matt. Not that I shouldn't maybe just be getting on with the synths I've got, but I'm doing plenty of virtual window-shopping at analog synths. I already have a Virus C, Nord 2x & SE1X which has superb deep sound but which can pose a problem for the other 2 to sit with - that's my persuasive argument with myself anyway. From what I've heard, the Vermona Mono Lancet sounds beautiful, & while the lack of memory & the possible need for the added on modular dock thing are negatives for me, it seems soundwise & absence of menu-diving the synth most drawing me & my money towards it. I take it you'd not be discouraging me with that choice.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's awesome. If it sounds like what you'd want, then you will probably love it.

      Delete