SCI Trigon-6 Analog Polyphonic Synthesizer

desktop-module
studio-view

Last Update 11-25-2023

My Memorymoog set a pretty high bar in my arsenal with its sound/voice modulation.  It was the machine where I learned a lot of sound design and I got a lot of mileage out of it.  I had wanted to reduce the size and weight of my stage system and I had to have those sounds.  Plus I wanted something with much better MIDI implementation (the only really good retrofit is the wonderful and $$$$ LAMM upgrade), and without the headache of frequent tuning calibration. 

Since ~1990 I have been looking for something more portable (hardware) that could get me those sounds.  It was a long long search - most products with similar feature set did not make the cut.  Some had three VCOs but lacked the vintage sound I wanted.  Some had decent modulation options but only two VCOs.  Some had three VCOs and good modulation options but not the vintage sound.  Very high standard to meet.  I acquired my Alesis Andromeda in 2001 which could emulate most but not all the MM sounds I programmed.  It was a compromise with only two VCOs but it delivered that vintage sound and had an extensive modulation feature set.  Alas after 20 years of use, it was starting to show its age as it would occasionally crash in the middle of a song on stage.  So it was time to retire the Andromeda from the stage.

But there was no way that anybody was going to make a hardware clone of the Andromeda especially with its extensive modulation options (I refuse to use a laptop or mobile on a stage).  The Andromeda benefitted from the custom ASIC talents of the late Keith Barr which packed a lot of features in a small package.  I built a library of synth sounds using the Andromeda and desired to duplicate them, so I decided the only replacement was multiple synths.  That meant the replacements have to be very compact for stage use, as I didn’t want my stage rig to get too big.  SCI had been building very good sounding polysynths.  They often follow a new product release with a desktop model, which I saw as a compact solution (I really preferred a rack mount model).  Mind you they’re not going to clone the Andromeda, but starting in 2013 SCI was gradually getting closer to that “vintage” sound - they got really close with the P-6 introduced in 2016, but not quite.  Then the Trigon-6 was introduced in 2022 and knocked it out of the park. 

The Trigon-6 not only emulates the Memorymoog really well and delivers that vintage ladder filter sonority, it has a lot of other tricks it can do. Very welcome additions are much better MIDI implementation (including patch sysex and polyAT), filter feedback, overdrive, velocity control, sequencer/arpeggiator sync’d to internal or MIDI clock, and digital effects.  For those who are curious how the Memorymoog features compare to the T-6, I tabulated them in these tables.  The differences are in red text. 

I know the hardware engineer on the SCI staff and he confirmed that the Trigon voice card is designed after the Memorymoog voice card (he also owns a Memorymoog).  With a few exceptions it’s not hard to duplicate Memorymoog patches, but the T-6 does better than my Andromeda.  The majority of the pots are rotary with a few endless encoders.

The user interface is a generous panel full of single-function knobs and buttons, with no “menu-diving”.  I had been moving away from user interfaces with an LCD display as these are proving to have a short life and will become harder to replace, especially the graphic displays.  For a long time I have hated user interfaces with only a single control (or plus/minus buttons) and an LCD “menu” system as they are too hard to manipulate patches and they destroy that precious moment of inspiration.  And editing software for computers were never a good solution (computer OS often become obsolete within five years, along with the software editor).  Those button/LCD interfaces were designed for maximum bang for the buck to outprice competitors but ultimately proved unpopular with musicians, and a single control for editing suffers far more use which will wear out much sooner (good luck replacing a slidepot control).  Many menus were “user hostile” with poor organization.  Musicians started demanding full panel single-function control user interfaces starting in the 1990s when the vintage analog synth renaissance started, and SCI responded to that.  Adding controls with associated components costs more, and it is amazing that SCI provided that user interface while keeping the price reasonable.

Yes my studio contains some devices with these "user hostile" interfaces.  However they are devices with shallow menus, or are devices whose libraries I had built long ago and no longer need to edit them.

I'm not normally a fan of on-board effects but these are well thought out selections, very suitable for an analog synth.  Effects like the phasers have an uncanny vintage quality to them that surprised an analog diehard like myself.  For too long, digital emulations of analog effects like phasers, flangers, and chorus lacked the “dirt” of the real analog device.  Digital effect emulations relied on an abstract textbook model which resulted in an effect that sounded too clean; it wasn’t until now that designers built in “imperfections” in the model that added the “dirt” that can really spice up a synth patch.  The T-6 offers two delay effects - digital and (again, for that “dirt” that musicians like) a BBD type that isn’t “perfect” but many claim it sounds “warmer” - and the delay time can be sync’d to the sequencer/arpeggiator or MIDI clock.  The Ring Modulator is more useful than most synths that feature one.  Digital reverbs are limited to Hall, Plate, Room, and Spring.  They may be rudimentary but we’re not trying to emulate the Boston Symphony Hall.  The reverbs I often use on analog synths are ambient or room algorithms with very short tails - I seldom use reverbs with long tails.  Plate reverbs work well with brass sounds, Hall reverb with string sounds.  I would had preferred more controls for the effects, but the user interface is intuitive and I have other resources for those rare occasions where I need better effects.  SCI made a good move providing TWO digital effect generators with FX “A” feeding serially into FX “B”, and when they are disabled the audio path bypasses the digital conversion processing of the digital effects, keeping the audio path true if one wishes.

The patch library holds 1000 patches, in 10 banks of 100 memory slots each.  Memory slots 500 to 999 are factory patches which cannot be overwritten; the first 500 patch slots 0 to 499 are user memory and contain duplicates of the 500 factory patches when the T-6 is delivered new.  The majority of the factory patches are targeted to the EDM genre, there’s not many traditional “bread-n-butter” sounds or classic synth sounds associated with popular songs.  Thankfully SCI uses the same Schadow momentary button switches found on their classic Prophet-5 synth for patch selection.  These have a far longer life than the minuscule tactile momentary buttons (placed under panel mounted actuators) used on too much gear, which have a history of wearing out and cannot be restored.

I bought the desktop module - it is solidly built and the controls/buttons aren't too crowded for stubby fingers.  Besides wanting a compact package, I wanted to reduce the number of keyboards in my stage rig.  MIDI is heavily utilized in my stage system and I wanted to control as much as my gear remotely over MIDI as possible.  This is an addition to my two OB-X8 desktop modules that comprise my stage rig and this set will fill my gigging needs nicely (and replaces my aging Andromeda).  So with these modules, my stage system is reduced to just two keyboards - my Kurzweil MIDIBoard (the master MIDI controller) and my Hammond XK3, which can also function as a second MIDI controller.  I also have a Moog Taurus II Controller with MIDI retrofitted for those songs where I need to play parts with my feet.

I have found that the Oberheim filters and the Moog ladder filters co-exist nicely together without a lot of overlap.  The T-6 traditional (-)24dB/oct ladder filter sounds amazingly like the vintage Moog filter.  While the T-6 filter does offer a (-)12dB/oct response, it will not sound like the Oberheim (-)12dB/oct state variable filter.  Between these two, thery cover a lot of synthesizer timbres.  The ratio of two Oberheim voices to one Memorymoog voice follows the convention I used often on my Andromeda - most of my Andromeda setups were two Oberheim-styled patches and/or one Moog-styled patch.  The OB-X8 sounds excellent but has some gaps that the Trigon fills - IE voice modulation, VCF EG to modulate PW (the SEM had it but omitted on the X8), aftertouch opens or closes the VCF (X8 only opens the VCF, can't do brass sforzando effects). 

Do I miss the omitted Memorymoog features like EG Keyboard Follow?  Well I'm having a hard time recalling ANY of my MM patches where I used that feature - so I'm not crying over them.  I liked the MM Contoured OSC3 Amount feature omitted from the T-6 although I have that in the OB-X8 (see - the OB-X8 fills some gaps on the T-6).  The one enduring feature I am pushing SCI is VCF Keyboard Tracking - they implemented off-half-full, while the MM is off-1/3-2/3-full.  I feel the MM implementation is more flexible and really makes a difference with some patches being playable across the entire keyboard range.

The best thing about the Trigon... no calibration or tuning foibles (anyone who owns/owned a MM knows this too well).  Calibration is painless using the firmware.

SCI is building really good products - they may not have every feature of other products, but they are enough and they fill a market need.

Check back for updates as I continue exploring this new toy.

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