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Modal SKULPTsynth SE review

Modal is back with an update to its SKULPT synth. We take a listen to see if it can rustle up a big sound

  • £169
Modal SKULPTsynth SE
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

This is a largely cosmetic update to the original SKULPT, but the price drop might help sway new or prospective users.

Pros

  • Strong engine, with good modulation possibilities.
  • Onboard sequencer and arpeggiator.
  • Great cross-platform editor/librarian application.

Cons

  • Keyboard is cheap and cheerful.
  • Front panel could be more clearly laid out.
  • Effects limited, with only mono output.

Modal SKULPTsynth SE: What is it?

British synth creator Modal initially took an unashamedly premium-level approach to its range, but has since created hardware that fits a range of pockets.  In some cases this has meant dropping ‘real’ analogue circuitry for the DSP-based approach used in its mid-range and smaller portable synths, such as the SKULPT.

The latter has recently been replaced by the SKULPTsynth SE, and like its predecessor it is a 4-voice virtual-analogue synth. In terms of the synth engine itself, the architecture is based around two independent wave groups with four oscillators per voice. The two WAVE groups are independently tuneable, with each offering a range of continuously variable waveform shapes – morphing from one to the next in a manner akin to many wavetable synths. 

The multiple oscillators per WAVE come into play only when using the spread parameter, which layers the additional detuned oscillators for extra thickening (or even allocates them to a range of fixed chord types) without lowering polyphony. The spread parameter applies to both WAVES, the mix of which is shaped by the 2-pole (12dB/octave) multi-mode filter followed by distortion and delay sections. 

Modal SKULPTsynth SE

(Image credit: Future)

The final mono output is delivered to line and headphone outputs on the rear panel. Other connectivity is supplied in the form of analogue sync jacks, full-size MIDI ports and a USB port for providing power and allowing connection to the MODALapp editor.

Modal SKULPTsynth SE: Performance and verdict

The description above doesn’t quite do justice to the flexibility and sound creation possibilities of the SKULPTsynth as it does possess a comprehensive 8-slot modulation matrix alongside onboard sequencing and arpeggiator capabilities and MPE compatibility.

This all then begs the question as to what are the key differences between the SKULPTsynth SE and its forbear. The answer appears to be …not very much. In fact, the synth engine is effectively identical, with both sharing the same firmware.

This leaves the cosmetics, which are slightly different. Although the case, ports and controls are similar, the front panel has been overhauled with a more conventional keyboard colour scheme and different labelling for knobs and switches. 

Modal SKULPTsynth SE

(Image credit: Future)

The update to the keyboard is welcome, though its flat gloss design is unforgiving and only really usable for simple playing or auditioning. The wonky, angled text of the original has been replaced with clearer horizontal text, but the delineation of the synth’s functional areas has taken a slight backward step, with only faint grey lines indicating connected parameters. This appears to be another case of form over function, and certainly won’t help those new to synthesis (or even experienced users needing to make quick edits).

The excellent (and free) MODALapp provides a simple and clear overview

Luckily, the excellent (and free) MODALapp provides a simple and clear overview of the synth by employing a more logical layout.

The most radical change from the original is the price drop, which may allow many potential buyers to forgive the aforementioned weaknesses of this otherwise fun and highly-usable synth. 

MusicRadar verdict: This is a largely cosmetic update to the original SKULPT, but the price drop might help sway new or prospective users.

Modal SKULPTsynth SE: The web says

"The SKULPTsynth SE is an incredibly powerful synth for its size and offers a huge amount of flexibility. The combination of the hardware synth and the control app make creating sounds very easy."
MusicTech

"An excellent sounding instrument with a wealth of features at an impressive price."
Engadget

Modal SKULPTsynth SE: Hands-on demos

MusicRadar

sonicstate

Hands-on Tech

Modal SKULPTsynth SE: Specifications

  • KEY FEATURES: 4 voice virtual-analogue – 2 oscillators, 8 per voice in 2 WAVE groups with FM, PWM and Ring Modulation, Analogue-style 2-pole filter with resonance, 3 x envelope generators for Filter, Amplitude and Modulation, 2 x audio rate LFOs, 8-slot modulation matrix, Sequencer and Arpeggiator, Distortion and Delay with modulation and sync.
  • CONTACT: Modal Electronics