Intellijel modules: design, usability, theory, philosophy, etc

They’re such a technical brand that it’s almost odd to discuss their ethos, but that said, there is one! So thread started.

I’ve only owned Plog and Planar2 myself, but both were really easy to use and understand with solid documentation.

They’ve just formally announced Quadrax, so I figure that’s a good opportunity to open this thread:

I’ve been planning on a Quadra, but this is intriging enough that I decided to pre-order. The addition of unipolar and bi-polar LFO’s is nice, and the potential of having a burst generator built in is pretty killer if the controls are easy to feel out. And I’m glad they added the curve control to the main panel! CV in’s are obviously nice (and they way they are mapped internally is very very clever). Seems very considered.

If I had a 1u row, I’d also want at least one of these to fill space:

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I’m a fan of some of their previous analog modules, most of which were designed by David Dixon (uMod ii, uVCa, uVCF, Dixie, Planar v1). You’re right - they are all quite technical and precise, but very well thought out building blocks. The uMod ii really is a triumph in the way it takes the basic ring modulator and opens it up completely - letting the user determine how they want to use it by bringing everything out onto the front panel.

I’m not as convinced about these newer digital designs - not because I’m anti-digital (I have a number of digital modules) - but because they’ve taken some approaches to design that don’t gel with how I work. For instance, I don’t like knobs that change functions depending on the mode you’re in, which is a choice they’ve made with the Quadrax and the burst/lfo modes. I feel similarly about the recent Tetrapad and Steppy modules. I hope they don’t completely abandon their analog designs because some of them were quite special.

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I haven’t owned any Intellijel modules and have only spent a little bit of time with a number of them at an old job, but I’ve been intrigued by things like Shifty and Planar2 more than some of their other offerings. I will say that I really appreciated their decision to turn uStep and uScale into Steppy and Scales instead of keeping in line with a segment of the modular population’s obsession with micro modules.

Also, after reading about the Quadrax, I bet @mdoudoroff is not going to be happy about that Qx module.

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Have to say I really like their designs, contrary to for example Make Noise which just for the panel design I really cannot stand. The only Make Noise module I have is a Maths and I have been considering a grayscale panel for it quiet a few times.

I know some people don’t like it, but I prefer having all the cables at one side of the module and the controls on the other, keeps everything accessible and Intellijel so far has done a good job of still making it easy to understand which input controls which control.
Also the panel indications of what are inputs and outputs is something that IMHO all module makers should do.

And I love the attenuators that most their modules have, a dixie II+ is a relatively large oscillator in a small case but the added attenuators (and the octave switch!) make it a lot more useful when space is at a premium.

On the other hand I’m not sure I’m really onboard with the newer multi-mode stuff, like Plonk and Quadrax. Still I’m probably going to give Quadrax a try, again for a small case the (coarsely) attenuated CV control of potentially four envelope (or LFO, or burst, or…) parameters is quiet nice in such a small package. It’ll probably replace my Maths together with an attenuverter depending on if it’s easy to get on with or not.

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I think it’s interesting how Quadra, which was quite close to the relatively straightforward Buchla 281, has evolved into the Quadrax, which looks more like how Mutable Instruments would have designed a quad AR a few years back.

I’ve got a variety of Intellijel utilities (various 1U tiles, Shifty, Planar 1) that are perfectly fine and straightforward. I’m not so much a fan of the direction they’ve gone in their feature-rich digital designs: overloaded controls, LED color-coding, button combos and button sequences you must memorize. (Make Noise has caught some of these diseases, too.) I’ve been in no rush to swap my Planar 1 for a Planar 2, because Planar 1 is a well-designed classic, and Planar 2 is a digital gizmo I’d have to actually learn. Of course, I can tolerate a degree of this digital trickery—and I do—but if my case was packed with these multi-layered digital devices, I’d be in trouble. Everyone is going to have their own personal threshold.

I’m sure Quadrax will sell well for the same reasons that Quadra sold well. The form factor really appeals to many people, and Quadrax eliminates the need for the slightly weird Quadra Expander. Meanwhile, I haven’t any interest in Quadrax, myself, but I did recently purchase a Klavis Quadigy, which arguably goes beyond Quadrax in terms of digital splendor. Quadigy only has one button combo to learn, but the module is elaborate enough to have a screen, and menus, and worse: sliders that often don’t reflect the value of the parameter you’re looking at (normally a huge no-no for me). I can live with Quadigy because it solves a very specific, high priority problem for me: four modulatable ADSRs. If I have a personal budget for fiddly modules, that is one that made the cut.

At least they put some LEDs on there! I do find it a touch ironic how they’ve added this button-based linking feature in software that would normally be handled in a modular synthesizer with short patch cables from those EOF/EOR triggers. Is that really an improvement?

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I love the immediacy of the Quadra. There is a 2/4hp expander diy (thread in MW) and I’m waiting for a friend to build one for me. That’d pretty much fill my needs, given that I bought it a week before Quadrax was announced.
I have a few other Intellijel modules that I really enjoy, considering they make 80% of my recently assembled and first eurorack system. I was inclined to starting with Intellijel modules mainly beacuse I understood what they did (kind of). Now with a little bit more experience I’d go with more obscure eurorack makers to complement.

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I’ve always been impressed with the very rational, but elegant nature of the design on their panels. I had actually talked with someone through their facebook page when they did their panel redesigns of their existing module line a couple years ago. Whoever it was mentioned that the arrangement, color, etc. of the physical elements was very important to the overall design, and that very clear communication of what things do is very important.

Their cases are also really nice, I feel like using aluminum does a good job making (most) modules feel like they are part of a cohesive instrument, rather than a collection of circuit boards sitting in the case. The 4Us have a super nice texture to the aluminum too.

Also, probably off topic, but I just want to mention I’ve always had a positive experience with their customer support. I feel like they go above and beyond (for example, I had some issues with a module, we couldn’t pin down the problem, but they sent a replacement anyway)

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I love Intellijel. I’ve often thought that if I had to put together a single-manufacturer system it’d have to be them. They ride a fine line between creativity and utilitarian practicality that I really like.

I’ve had several of their 1u modules (Quadratt, simple as it is, is one of my favorite modules of all time), a Dixie II, and the original uScale. All of them are excellent and I particularly love the uScale, it’s capable of so much and is so easy to use. I have an 84hp 4u case, too, and it’s the perfect size for sitting it on my lap.

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Their digital offerings are not to my taste, but Rubicon II is a great oscillator and ridiculously stable through octaves.

I pair it with Dixie II and can get deep and thru zero fm alien sounds that I can’t get out of Verbos CO or Furthrrrr. Makes me think of vacuum of space and asteroid belts.

For a separate wavefolder for woodwind or string melodic timbres, I prefer other more saturating designs to uFold, though, which I find too clinical. Like Nonlinearcircuits Timbre. But I would say the most original sounds come without it.

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I now have two Intellijel cases (a Palette which I just bought, and a 2x104hp as the main system) and have only had good experiences with the cases, 1u modules, and also the Quadra which has been at the heart of my system from the start.

I also bought a Steppy recently (for the Palette case), and I have to say it is far less complicated to use than the manual might suggest.

In fact I’ve never found myself referring to a manual when using Intellijel modules, which I couldn’t say for a lot of the other modules I have.

@Joseph : A bit of topic… but could you expand on your use of wave-folders for string and woodwind type timbres?

A bit more info on your process/patching would be fascinating. I love woodwinds, and emulating them on the modular is something I’d like to have a few pointers towards.

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Put sine wave in to wavefolder, you get more clarinet and oboe-like timbres as waveform squares off. Combined with FM or AM, you can also get bassoon, doublebass and cello string sounds. AM sounds more earthy so I prefer it on string sounds usually. FM I like better for percussion sounds.

Use an envelope that can exp. to log. Pretty easy to do it with maths.

For plucked strings I prefer low pass gates. Exp attack.

Mix in noise for breath or more complex textures, or modulate vibrato. Initial pitch bend for brass using a second envelope.

You can also just buy a Mangrove if you want reedy sounds, or an Anti-Osc for cello sounds, ha.

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There are more Intellijel modules in my cases than any other manufacturer. So I guess I’m a big fan. I feel like there’s a lot of value packed into them, and so many ways to use them, without compromising audio quality or usability.

I really like the attention to detail in the design decisions. Everything that can be normalled to something else for convenience and flexibility is. Many of the analogue attenuators go beyond unity gain for some extra saturation if desired.

I guess the panel designs have always spoken to me as well. Even though they’re almost clinical looking compared to a lot of other manufacturer’s designs, there’s just something about them is really visually appealing to me.

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As someone who’s in the market for a quad envelope, I’m debating whether I really want a Quadrax because of all that extra complexity. The CV matrix is sufficiently complex that a preset system would be nice.

(steps away) … (thinks) …

Industrial Music Electronics’ (aka The Harvestman) Mk III modules have embraced a morphing preset system that seems consistent across the entire line. The mod matrix on the Quadrax is powerful, but it strikes me as a solution to a problem that could go farther if it had backing design philosophy that was more modular in character.

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I dunno. The manual kind of over complicates the CV matrix. You hold the first button for CV 1, then you tap which parameter you want it to affect in the other column (one button per parameter as labeled) and you tap multiple times to use it’s internal attenuation. Hold both buttons in a channel to clear it’s data. Hold the top left and bottom right to clear all. It’s surprisingly easy to remember, and I only read it once last night. Sequential menu presses get tricksy, which is the hard part about many of the Make Noise combos to my mind. This seems pretty flat.

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I may have stated my case a bit too strongly. For me, it’s less a matter of how complicated the feature is than that it is a complication that introduces hidden behavior. The at-a-glance elegance of the Quadra has been lost with the Quadrax, but only in regards to the CV matrix. That feels like a lost opportunity compared to IME’s Mk III modules and even the Klavis Quadigy.

That said, I’ll probably still buy the Quadrax once I get a few other module purchases out of the way.

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Really interesting thread. It’s always valuable to read what other people’s impressions are of our designs.

For the Quadrax we had some specific criteria we wanted to meet:

  • Same size, or only slightly larger than the Quadra.
  • 4 Channels
  • CV without an expander
  • A larger variety of wave shapes, including LFOs
  • Tempo-synced LFOs
  • No screen
  • Maintain a hands-on kind of interface without layers or menus

After some months of iterating on it this is what we arrived at. At first it did not have the full mod matrix and only allowed each CV input to be assigned to its respective channel, but we found it a bit too limiting when trying to create more complex patches or anything generative. We considered a bunch of different options including a CV expander but ultimately after some experimentation with the UI the mod matrix turned out to work quite well.

Ultimately it does move away from the fully hands-on nature of the Quadra, but at the benefit of providing more possibilities while also saving space as compared to the Quadra and expander. I feel like we struck a pretty good balance with keeping the things that are interesting to play with as knobs while adding the extra features as a simple programmable layer.

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I really dig Intellijel’s design. Fairly straight forward, even on modules like the Rainmaker which I used to own (and wish I still did). Menu diving did not seem like a chore at all. Unlike, at least IMHO, Make Noise labeling and panel imagery which were difficult to decode sometimes. Even when navigating both brands websites, it’s clear that each brands design philosophy permeates their digital space too!

To add on to what @jlmitch5 said about their CS, I could not agree more. They definitely stand behind their products!!!

Lastly, I want to add that I see Intellijel covering probably like 98% of Eurorack needs/wants. Sequencers, synth voices, utilities, fx, gesture modules, and even into cases and power. If I were to stick to a single brand to build an entire system (including case and power), Intellijel definitely sticks out as a top tier contender!

P.S. glad to see the 1U FSR. Definitely grabbing one or two of those soon.

P.P.S. I want to emphasize my design philosophy references are only to the front panel and labeling. The circuit design is utterly impressive when it comes to Make Noise. But from a user interface perspective, I value the intuitiveness of said thing.Just FYI :wink:.

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What I’d really love to see is a USB-powered Tetrapad + Expander as a MIDI CC controller. I’ve mentioned this in other threads, but I think that there’s room on the market for a creative hardware CC generator (Another Eurorack module that I want as a MIDI controller is the Emblematic Catalyst). I’ve seen the Soundmachines Arches, but it’s quite expensive and I’ve seen a lot of angry posts about an incomplete firmware.

Speaking of which… I wonder if the Tetrapad Expander will be released soon. Last I saw, they were assembling the modules and burning the firmware. @kisielk, any estimates?

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Tete 1.0 Firmware is pretty much done, production in progress, there have been some delays there. Should be going through our testing crew any day now.

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Just wanted to add a bit of praise for the uVCF - it’s really an under appreciated module IMO. I didn’t try it out for a while because I’d heard it was “boring” but clearly those people had never tried audio rate FM with it. None of the other filters I’ve tried can sound like the uVCF FM’d at audio rates. Totally bananas.

That’s what I like about Intellijel’s analog designs - their “character” comes from the way you patch them. The uVCF can be super clean, or if you drive it (with a little gain boost pre-filter) it can sound nice and smudgy. Or feed it back into itself, and suddenly you’ve got one of the wildest filters in euro.

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