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How would you place the ER-301 compared to newer similar-ish modules?

Hi there,
I’ve been looking at various “complex” processor modules, and as of today, I am considering a few interesting modules.

The ER-301 of course. I live in Japan, so it looks I can actually get a fresh module in a couple of weeks!!!
The Empress Effects Euroburo. Not released yet, but “very soon”. It seems to do a lot of what the ER-301 is doing/aiming for. Different interface and proposition though.
The ElectroSmith Patch. Just released, seems pretty simple/straightforward, and open-source hopefully will mean a few nice ways to use the module. No way to use it as a complex box (with menu selection) that I know of, but I’m thinking that it might be used as a “single unit” module (and it’s tempting to dive into dsp processing).

The obvious question I might have is… how do you think the ER-301 holds up to the newer modules (they have different approaches of course)?

The fact that the hardware of the 301 is a few years old makes me feel a bit hesitant, and the information on the wiki appears to be out-of-sync with the latest firmware developments. Is there a crash course on what the 301 is about (as of Sept. 2020)? Excuse my newbiness, but it seems that the 301 is able to do so much it’s a bit confusing…

(I’m interested in a complex effects unit, mostly for end-of-chain processing, but I’m also very excited by having a crazy sound generation unit as well.)

Fair point. That was not my intention to belittle the ER-301 at all. It was indeed about how, not having done the needed homework (apologies), you might sell it to me… Now to be fair, I hope you can agree that the presentation of the docs (right now) is not very inviting, mostly because it is a very deep module.

I was just finishing watching the first couple of videos by Neil Parfitt and I’m very much impressed (then I watched the same “intro” video this time, updated to 0.4, because… I did not read the huge “pitfall” written on the wiki page).

So what’s the approach I should take here? I’m confused because it’s a very deep module. The Euroburo is a very deep module that also confuses me. They both seem to have the same concept of chain(s) of units, with similar functionality. At my level of understanding, I believe the ER-301 has more depth. I also believe I might prefer the interface of the Euroburo/Zoia. I might be wrong, because my only experience with the two modules is having watched a few videos for each.

I can probably watch a lot more hours of content and surely understand the differences between the modules and make my own mind. But it would be educated guesses at best.

I can also ask people that have far more experience with the module and have followed the development of it. Like for years since the module is out. People that can look at the wiki, see the FAQ/getting started page and not freak out in front of the wealth of information available.
There is no manual. The guide is not at all beginner friendly because it says from the beginning that the info pertains sometimes to older versions of the firmware. (The info that I was able to find was that 0.4 was released two years ago maybe, the latest stable version last year, and 0.5 beta is somehow available.) Does it matter? Maybe it does, maybe not, but how would I know?

You might probably know, so that’s why I asked here. I’d rather have the advice of the people that went through those steps before and are willing to share. Sorry for not taking the time to go through all the info. I’m usually in the camp of “rtfm”. But there is not. I understand that this is a heavy task to create the documentation for every part of such a complete module.

You can also not deny that the presentation of the Zoia is far easier to understand.

I’ll continue to watch more videos to do my homework (apologies again), but if in the mean time, someone could tell me what they see in the ER-301 when they look at the Euroburo/Zoia and vice-versa, I would really appreciate it. If you also know that things are changing fast (with 0.5) and that most info might not be relevant any more, please let me know as well.

(Edit: I’m concerned about the “age” of the module, because it seems that one limiting factor is the CPU power for both the Zoia and the ER-301; in my beginner’s mind, CPU power is something that evolves very quickly. I’ve also found Empress Zoia that helped a bit.)

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If you look at what the ER301 was capable when it was first released and compare this to what it can do now, then your head will surely explode.
:smiley:
It’s like saying that as the Buchlas are “old” they can no longer be used.

I guess we (I include myself) spend much time thinking about gear itself than creating music …

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I disagree a bit here, yes “older” modules can still be used, but I think (especially for a digital module that constantly evolves) that it’s only fair to compare their value proposition to newer modules.

I love my ERBE-VERB, I’ve been using it for years, and will surely use it for many more. But I do wish it had a stereo input, as I have added more stereo modules to my system, and I really enjoy playing with the stereo field. Now any new reverb that has only a mono input does not appeal as much to me.

So… I’ve been only reading more and more about the ER-301 these past few hours (and positively impressed). Will continue to do so.

The workflow on the ER-301 is an order of magnitude better than every other “complex virtual patching environment” outside of a computer, and it keeps improving. I would say that the biggest risk associated with this is that the patching is SO GOOD that it is easy to go overboard and stress the CPU.

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I just picked up a 301 and I must say. Easier to use than you think.
The layout and workflow very intuitive. I’ve never had a problem operating complex digital modules/hardware.
I’ve rocked Elektron for years. A lot of the elektron community boards are full of people that don’t have the slightest idea on how to work them, creating a narrative that they’re difficult to use. Same could be said about the 301 I guess. If you know how to work a computer, you’ll know how to operate a 301. Sure it also helps having a solid foundation of synthesis knowledge. But the 301 itself is a beautiful piece of equipment that I don’t at all regret buying

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Yes, probably the new digital era forces us to think like this. For me the ER301 is the heart and the center of my whole system. All the VERBOS, MANNEQUINS, MONOMES and so on end there. To be mixed, processed, and recorded. And all the sampling, looping, and several synths are also created in the ER301. To be honest, I think that there is NO other module right now capable of all this things:

  • Recording 12 tracks internally.
  • Have 12 CV IN’s, 4 AUDIO INS (with individual gains to match external audio inputs), 4 GATE INS, 4 AUDIO OUTS.
  • 2 Visual screens to see what’s going on (oscilloscope, patch structure, … etc).
  • I2C implementation to control the unit from other modules (TELETYPE, ANSIBLE, SWEET SIXTEEN, … )
  • Being able to mangle and process samples with granular units, feedback loopers, … etc.
  • Being able to create your custom synths or audio generation units … (Thanks a lot @hyena for the PUCK :grinning:)

And besides all this @odevices still does not even name the current firmware as version 1.0 … I can’t even imagine what he’s working on …

During the past months I’ve sold several modules (MORPHAGENE, RAINMAKER, LOQUELIC ITERITAS, SHAPESHIFTER, CLOUDS) because I wasn’t using them so much as the ER301 is giving me all of those things in a slightly different way. I purchased with the money analog Verbos and Mannequins modules, and I have now probably a system to be used for a whole life …

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this is the main point here. Music computation has rather specialised needs from interfaces and workflow , and almost every manufacturer in Euro has missed that point. I mean, you cannot reduce everything to switches and knobs. Musical Expressivity needs more.

ER301 is the best I have come across in that context, along with Monome devices and Cirklon

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I really love the loquelic. What techniques have you been using to get that vibe?

On the current firmware I was able to load up 24 simultaneous Varispeed sample players. So that’s 24 voice polyphony playing samples from RAM with the ability to change their pitch/speed, plus enough mixer units to mix them all to a stereo out. Which is really just kind of a finger in the wind benchmark to give you an idea as to CPU capacity. The CPU usage completely depends what Units you use in your patch.

The ER-301 is such an open ended module. What you can do with it is probably more limited by your imagination than the processor. You’ll do something completely different with it than I will.

Like @desolationjones said, the biggest thing with the CPU is that once you start to realize everything you can do, it’s hard to stop yourself from continuing to add things until you finally hit the wall. The best solution I’ve found to that is to remember you have more modules in your case. It’s good to step back from a patch and ask yourself “what do I have the 301 doing that some other module could do equally well or better?” And let that module do that, while the 301 does what it does best for you.

I don’t know that there’s a current crash course that covers everything. It does do a lot. It doesn’t have to be confusing though. Just let it do one thing at a time until you’re ready to make it do something else. After a few something else’s, it’s not a big stretch to make it do a few things at once.

Hope that helps some.

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Neil’s 0.4 videos are still mostly, if not totally, applicable. Not much has changed in terms of UI or functionality since v.0.4. v.0.5’s main angle was to make the whole thing more efficient, and now the CPU can be pushed even harder!

I share the sentiment that the 301 is easy to use. In fact, using it is an absolute pleasure. Orthogonal Devices is making design history as far as I’m concerned.

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I think it really depends.

I can’t say the ER-301 is a better choice than the other modules you mentioned overall because they have completely different aims, but one quick thing I can say is that if you were primarily looking for an end of chain effects processor, I think Euroburo might be a better choice. Effects seem to be its primary concern.

The ER-301 compared to The ElectroSmith Patch, well. Do you want to write firmware every time you have an idea or do you want to compose building blocks together immediately?

Let me put it this way:
Do you like Ableton Live? MaxMSP? Supercollider? Have you ever used Pure Data?
Well, you obviously like Eurorack, am I right?

I look at the ER-301 like this: its user experience IMO is the perfect level of abstraction - somewhere between the user experiences of Ableton Live and MaxMSP. MaxMSP is low level DSP programming without writing code. You can do pretty much every thing, but you have to do it ALL from the ground up, it is hard, and time consuming. On the contrary in Ableton Live you pretty much can’t even do audio rate modulation of anything, shit you can’t even do ring modulation unless you learn Max4Live! But if you want to trigger a sample, all you have to do is drop your sample into a sampler and give it a note.

I can go on for days about this topic, but my point is I think it’s better to compare the ER-301 to tools that it was meant to be a substitute or make up for in an environment where those tools don’t make sense. I don’t think I’m speaking out of place, here, either.

But I’d like to add that as a user of electronic music software for many years, the ER-301 is the best user experience and level of abstraction I have ever worked with. It works like a modular synth, really, but without the stupid skeuomorphism many modular emulations suffer from. I personally also NEED that kind of MaxMSP level of control over my signal, but I want Ableton’s ease of use (the difference is Ableton needs MIDI, the ER-301 works on CV). The 301 delivers. I need to create every hi hat, bass drum, indeed every sound, from scratch. It has to be mine. This is why I went Eurorack in the first place. The ER-301 is pretty much just cheating in that sense. It literally gives you the same toolset - VCAs, EGs, Clocks, Oscillators, Filters and you make your own patches (that you can SAVE :exploding_head:).

My 2C, relate to your own experience. If things like Pure Data have never even interested you (and don’t get me wrong - the ER-301 is LIGHT YEARS easier to use than Pure Data) than I don’t know, it’s still IMO the best sampler you can get in Eurorack (ok someone check me on that :laughing:).

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Thanks a lot for all the insights!

Some more info: I’ve used pure data somewhat in the past (to create a custom hardware synth + 4-track sequencer using a weird interface) but my focus was on designing ways to control the parameters of the synth (the usual osc->vcf->vca with a couple of envelopes, one lfo), not really messing around a level down. The interface and flow of the ER-301 do talk to me a lot: following Neil’s videos was not an issue. (I also write a lot of code, so I’m fine with any abstraction above that level! And when the sdk is released, that’s added value for me.)

My original interest was (and still is), to have an end-of-chain effects unit.
The effects section of the Zoia feels indeed more mature in the sense that you already have a lot of units/modules that do the usual Chorus/Flanger/OD (and what not). From my understanding such effects are not available as core units on the ER-301 but they however seem to be available as user-made custom units (it seems that @Joe is really the front-liner here). That is fascinating and challenging at the same time: do I know how to create a chorus from scratch? No. Do I want a chorus effect? Yes. Do I want to learn how to make one? Kind of yes?

I’ll spend more time looking at the community-made units.

I think the zoia is probably better purely for effects. The 301 has a few built in effects but many familiar effects have to be made using component units. It is really excellent as a learning device. The primary thing effects wise I have not been able to achieve is a lush sounding reverb. I have gotten pretty nice choruses, flangers, phasers, etc.

The benefit of this building block approach is you can structure your effects however you want, or make really weird ones.

Generally speaking I have found the 301 to take a bit more work to make something sound great, but it is so hugely flexible you will get things you can’t do on those other devices.

This is a good idea. This might help to give you a clue:
https://forum.orthogonaldevices.com/tags/c/er-301/10/custom-unit

And while you’re at it I’d also recommend to think about the community it self.

  • how will it respond to your uneducated maybe even stupid questions of yours?
  • how often will you have to face rtfm arguments? :wink:
  • or “see elsewhere in the forum” reactions? :face_vomiting:
    In case you’re going down the Deep deep er301 rabbit hole, you’ll Find these questions more or less important, but community matters here.

Think about how the wizard of OD is asking for and responding to feedback, while he’s basically following his own dreams. You’ll find The history of firmware development in this list. The particular threads i mean start with a ‘V0.’

https://forum.orthogonaldevices.com/tags/c/er-301/10/feedback

@odevices: why is it that the thread for 0.5.x is not listed there, I.e. it’s not tagged with feedback?

It is now :wink:

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Thanks again for the feedback.

If I were to go down the rabbit hole (and honestly after doing my homework better, I’m very much tempted), the first thing I would offer back to the community is to maybe work out on the wiki, at least at the foremost level, so that the most visible info does not completely overwhelm new-comers. A lot of stuff that is obvious to experienced users might be actually challenging when dealing with a new UI paradigm and patching system.

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now i sincerely hope you’ll follow us into the rabbit hole :laughing:

absolutely! however, “elsewhere in the forum” there’s some crucial information about the state and the plans concerning the wiki. and though @odevices already granted admin wiki-access to some of the forum members (including me) and to particular parts of the wiki: we’re all pretty much on hold for that admittedly important documentation project. for various and good reasons i must say…

at this point, let me just say that most of the reasons revolve around possible ‘major changes’ that could (also will) render any current work and information on the wiki moot.

personally, i’d be pretty much interested in learning about the details of your proposed work out.
but first we should be concerned with the right reasons and expectations of yours concerning the purchase of your er-301 :wink: .

for the moment, just keep bugging us with questions conerning the purchase aspect and we’ll come back to wikimania later…

i think with that range of expectations you’d be spot on with an er-301. BUT:

i think it’s important that you can straighten out at least those last question marks to be on the safe side with your music computer.

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As for computational restraints

You are spot on about figuring out those question marks.

I think the key to the ER-301 is you do have to be somewhat interested in the underlying structure of whatever you are doing with the device. You don’t always have to be interested in that, as you can save units and reuse them, but the primary joy of the ER-301 comes with implementing odd concepts, and seeing where the rough edges are that are usually hidden in commercial hardware and software. Also I find it helps you learn concepts better than most other devices.

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