The Elmyra 2 an impressive modern semi-modular ideal for desktop experimentation. It’s an update to the first version (the Elmyra) which was smaller and sold as a drone synth. The ELMYRA 2 it’s a fully fledged desktop semi modular that goes beyond just drone and way beyond a standard desktop subtractive synth. It’s a semi-modular, with patch bay routing, effects (like wave shaping and bit-crushing as well as delay and reverb), switchable filter types, touchpad controllers (like the Lyra 8), digital wavetable oscillators, analog distortions, sequencers (4 of them actually!) and more built in. It is handmade in Germany, you can also buy a Eurorack version at a slightly cheaper price and a DIY version for even less.
You can find out more about it from the official website here which has a guide on how to build the DIY version too and links to buy.
We speak to Martin Neutral Labs to rundown all you need to know…
Interview with Martin from Neutral Labs, creator of the ELMYRA 2
Congratulations on making this synth, and for making it as a DIY kit too. It looks great with so many features…
Firstly, what’s the best Youtube video that demonstrates Elmyra 2 sounds?
This one gives an overview of the features:
And this one has some more advanced patches:
Can you tell us about yourself? What made you get into making synths/modules? How did you get into it?
I’ve been tinkering with electronics since I was a kid, I mean like opening up old turntables and stereos for parts, and building weird circuits. I had no idea what I was doing at the time, but my parents didn’t seem to mind and I’m thankful that I wasn’t electrocuted. Music has been a part of my life since an early age. I was trained in classical guitar, and later took up playing electric guitar, double bass and finally piano and synths. My first contact with modular synths was mind-blowing. Luckily by that time, I had acquired some solid knowledge about electronics, so it was a natural progression to build synths and modules. Initially, just for myself. Then in 2020 I was sitting at home during Covid lockdown without much to do and developed the original Elmyra. I open-sourced the schematics and code, and soon after that, people were requesting DIY kits and assembled synths, so I set up a small company and went to work.
What’s the inspiration behind the Elmyra 2? It looks great.
It’s what version 1 should have been. When the original Elmyra came out, it was basically just a hobby side project, so I didn’t put much thought into perfecting it. Over the past years, I’ve thought of many ways to improve on it, and got lots of feedback from users as well. All of that went into Elmyra 2. Of course, the original inspiration for the previous version was the Soma Lyra-8, but apart from both using metal touchpads to trigger the voices, there is hardly any overlap between the Lyra and Elmyra 2. This is not to say the Lyra is in any way worse: It’s an awesome instrument, I’ve owned one ever since it was released and use it a lot. In fact, I often play both the Lyra and Elmyra 2 together. They just have different design philosophies and each one is valid in its own way. It’s all about what inspires you, in general or in the moment.
There seems to be so many features packed into it, can you run us through some?
The main concept is that it has 4 voices with up to 3 oscillators each. They’re wavetable based, and there are a number of per-voice effects and modulations. These vary from actual effects, like filters, waveshaping or sample rate reduction, to modifications to the voice itself, like sub oscillators, detuned oscillators or blending in white noise. There’s a resonant filter that offers several filter types (ladder filter and state variable filter in 3 modes: lowpass, bandpass and highpass), a delay and an optional lo-fi reverb. Finally, the mix of the voices is run through a unique analog circuit that combines destructive distortion, waveshaping and filtering. There are also 4 pitch sequencers with up to 128 steps each, and they allow polymetric operation, so each one can have its own custom step length.
What are the most unusual or your favorite? I love the touch pads, they make the synth seem more of an instrument…
To me, the most important ones are the ability to play chromatically or in microtonal scales, as well as CV control over almost everything. Being able to easily tune the voices into chords or getting those sweet harmonics using something like 7-EDO opens up a lot of possibilities. And the large amount of CV inputs and outputs, combined with the onboard LFOs and utilities, means it’s essentially a small self-contained modular system, if you that’s what you want it to be. It’s even hard to justify simply calling it a drone synth.
How much experience do I need to get the DIY version?
All of the core components come presoldered to the circuit board, so you’ll basically only have to solder potentiometers, buttons, LEDs and sockets. There are a lot of them, so building will take 1-3 hours depending on the level of expertise, though it’s not very complicated. I wouldn’t recommend it for a total beginner, as some of the presoldered components can be pretty close, so you’ll have to work with some care. But if you’ve ever successfully soldered before and have some patience, you should be fine.
Any tips for someone using the Elmyra 2 for the first time? Where should they start?
There is a section at the start of the manual on how to set up the knobs for first use. This is to avoid any harsh and surprising sounds, or no sound at all. Going from there, I’d recommend just triggering the voices and playing with some settings to get a feel for it. Once you understand what a parameter does, try modulating it via CV. Eventually, have a look at the different per-voice modulations and see how you can put them to good use. There are surprising sweet spots to be found everywhere. I like the sample rate reduction in combination with very short delay times and lots of feedback, for example. And it’s always good to crank the resonance up to maximum and play with the filter.
Can you tell us more about the preset cards?
The sonic character of the analog OUCH circuit can be modified with these cards. The same concept is used for the Neutral Labs Scrat VCF and Nijel distortion Eurorack modules, and the cards can be used for those modules as well. They contain analog components which alter the response of the circuit in various ways. Depending on the audio coming through, it may make it more aggressive, create phasing effects, emphasise a certain frequency range, or make it more mellow. You can also use individual components directly, such as resistors, capacitors or diodes. Just plug them into the slots in the front panel. There’s a detailed description in the manual, but you can also just go and try it out: The circuit is well protected, so as long as you’re not using electrolytic capacitors or active components like transistors, you won’t break anything.
What plans do you have for the future?
Right now I’m fully focusing on Elmyra 2. To be honest, I didn’t anticipate that level of success, so I have to devote some time to streamline logistics and production. But I always have some potential upcoming products either in my head or on my workbench in the lab, so more things will definitely come in the future. I like the Elmyra 2 form factor, about the size of an 0-Coast and USB powered, and I can see this work for other types of machine as well. People have been asking for something granular, and a drum machine, we’ll see… And I’ll also be working on firmware updates. Elmyra 2 offers a lot of advanced functionality that can be accessed by entering a code, which means it’s easy to add more functions without being hindered by a lack of dedicated user interface components. And I already have a long list of feature requests for future versions. It can be easily updated via USB too, without the need for any special software. Just plug it in and it’ll appear as a USB drive that you can copy the new firmware to.
Anything else you’d like to say?
There is a lot of emphasis on consumption, in the synth community and in the world today in general: Consuming products, social media posts, endless scrolling and always chasing after the next best thing. I think it’s great that the world is connected in this way, and Neutral Labs would never have existed otherwise, but whenever I get the chance, I want to spread the message that no one should forget to create! After all, that is what people are designing, building and/or buying those wonderful instruments for. And yes, I am aware of the irony that people are “consuming” this interview and that they may even think about buying Elmyra 2 as their next best synth. I’m not saying this is bad, but after you’re done with it, make sure to go and make some awesome sounds as well! 😉
You can find out more about it from the official website here.
You can find all our other interviews here.