Review – Sonic Charge Echobode: A Swedish-Army Knife for Interesting Audio Effects
Looking for a way to expand your sonic palette, at a very reasonable price, and have a lot of fun doing it? Then check out the offerings from Sonic Charge, and especially their latest offering, Echobode.
by Warren Burt, May 2015
Sonic Charge is a Swedish software company that makes very interesting and unusual plugins. From the highly unusual Synplant synthesizer plugin, which uses genetic techniques to evolve patches, through sound modification plugins like Bitspeek and Permut8, which started off as homages to older equipment and then got decidedly creative, their work tends towards the unusual side of sound design. Permut8, in fact, is billed as an “Imaginary Vintage Digital Processor,” which means that it emulates sound modification capabilities that existed with the digital chips of the 80s, but which was, in fact, never built, although it could have been. (In fact, I had sketched out a sound modification box similar to this during the 80s, but never got around to building it, so I was delighted when I saw that they had done it.) Their latest offering is Echobode, which combines a digital delay, feedback, a phaser, a “smear” (another kind of phase modification), a high-pass/low-pass filter pair, and a faithful emulation of Harald Bode’s classic Frequency Shifter, a kind of specialized amplitude modulation module, along with a highly controllable LFO, which can modulate either the delay, the phaser, the Frequency Shifter, or the low-pass filter to make things more interesting. All of this power is placed in a feedback loop, which gives even more power to the combined modules. In short, this is a very versatile effect unit, one that more closely resembles a collection of modules patched together in a very interesting manner than a single effect.
Here is the circuit diagram for the module:
Echobode started out life as a Rack-extension for Reason, but it proved so popular with Reason-users that Sonic Charge decided to release it as a separate plugin. (VST/AU Mac/PC $44US + VAT if applicable). I’m glad they did. In the few days that I’ve had it, and been playing with it, I’ve had a lot of sonic fun. It comes with over 200 factory patches, and at least half that number are required just to show the basic capabilities of the machine, there are just that many possibilities in the basic setup. Flanging, filtering, reverb, phase shifting, frequency shifting, and panning effects are all possible with the module, as are any number of combinations of these. Echobode may be a software emulation of one hard-wired effects patch, but it’s a very powerful and flexible patch with many possibilities. I’ve had an emulation of the Bode Frequency Shifter in my Arturia Modular V for a number of years now, but by adding all these new capabilities to the original Bode design, Sonic Charge have moved the use of a frequency shifter to a whole new level. The old-school interface design is elegant in its simplicity, but clearly shows the power contained behind the faceplate.
Frequency shifting itself is a subset of amplitude modulation. When two signals amplitude modulate each other, you get the sums and differences of the frequencies involved, plus the original signals. So for example, if you had a waveform with harmonics at 200, 300 and 500 Hz in it, and you amplitude modulated that signal with a sine waveform of 30 Hz, your result would be 230, 330, and 530 Hz (the sums of the frequencies) as well as 170, 270 and 470 Hz (the differences of the frequencies). A waveform with harmonics of 200 300 and 500 Hz is going to sound pretty consonant, because the harmonics are in simple whole-number ratios to each other. A waveform with harmonics at 170, 230, 270, 330, 470 and 530 Hz will not sound consonant – the harmonics are not in simple whole-number ratios to each other. In fact, these kinds of inharmonic, often bell-like sounds were one of the main-stays of electronic music in the 50s and 60s. If you have only the sum frequencies, or only the difference frequencies, then you have what is called “frequency shifting.” If both of these are mixed together, that is called “ring modulation.” Echobode has a control that allows you to have either the upper or lower sidebands or any mixture between them, with ring modulation in the middle. Additionally, there is also a mix control, where you can tailor the balance between the original and the modulated sidebands. A 50% mix of both original and sidebands with this control will give classic amplitude modulation, which consisted of the original frequencies, plus both upper and lower sidebands. Echobode also has another control for the frequency shifting, which is called “Anti-Refl.” This will either turn on or off the presence of reflected frequencies in the mix. These are frequencies where the difference between the two input frequencies falls below 0 Hz. These are then reflected back into the audio spectrum and create further inharmonicity. And the Anti-Refl also eliminates frequencies which are shifted above the Nyquist frequency (which is half the sampling rate), which would also be reflected back down into the audio range. But of course, if you want the reflected frequencies, turning Anti-Refl to “Off” and you’ll have them in all their inharmonic glory.
As well as the “normal” controls, there are also a number of unusual controls. The Smear control displaces the phases of the signal spectrum through a series of all-pass delays. The smearing range ranges from 0 to 121 milliseconds. In its most conventional use, it can act as a kind of reverb. Wilder uses, in combination with the other effects, abound. The delay, LFO, and frequency shifting can all be synced to tempo, or free run. There is a “Cross Channel” switch which will reverse the routing of the delay channels (left to right, right to left) for ping-pong and other effects. The LFO has a “Stereo” switch which will reverse the direction of the LFO’s effect in the right channel allowing stereo panning and phasing of the various targets. The LFO can be directed to any of four targets – Frequency of the shifter, phase, low-pass filter cut off frequency, and delay time. Here is the one thing in the module that I would like to see added in a future update – the ability for the LFO to modulate more than one target at a time. Then again, any of the controls on the front panel can also be modulated by MIDI or other automation controls, so that problem is taken care of with the use of an external program or the automation facility in your DAW. I made a very nice patch, for example, in AudioMulch, using its automation controls to change delay, feedback, and sideband balance, while the LFO, on “Random” setting, controlled the frequency. The input was simply three sine-wave oscillators at 400, 700 and 900 Hz. The output was complex, ever changing and quite lovely.
Echobode, for all of its power, is light on your CPU – on a tiny ASUS Vivo Tab netbook, average use was between 10 and 20% of CPU. On a larger Pentium i5 dual core ASUS laptop, usage was about 2-4% of CPU. There is a very good demonstration video of some of the many capabilities of this machine at soniccharge.com. In short, if you’re looking for a way to expand your sonic palette, at a very reasonable price, and have a lot of fun while you’re doing it, take a close look at all the offerings from Sonic Charge, but especially Echobode. You’ll be glad you did.
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