Review: MOD Dwarf is a lush, bottomless portal to effects that keeps getting better – CDM Create Digital Music

if you ♥ software, if you ♥ the imaginative and compositional choices it affords, at last hardware is embodying that same freedom. few devices do that + elegantly than the mod dwarf.

mod’s place inna sound galaxy

you know the story as far as need. you like having all those choices of ≠ effects when you’re working on ♫ in “studio” mode. but then you don’t always wanna take a laptop everywhere or ‘ve to w8 for a daw to load and dig through menus. we know now that embedded computation is capable of doin’ a lotta wha’ our pricey desktop computer can. the ? is wha’ then the hardware looks like as a complete solution – and mod ‘ve nothing if not a complete answer.

mod devices’ stuff s'been round for a while – to the extent t'they mite suffer from somd' ahead-of-their-time syndrome for a lotta innovators in embedded hardware. but their offering is a complete solution for custom pedalboards full of effects for instruments, endlessly customizable, with custom development options for making yr own effects, a graphical usr interface for editing, and all the basic onboard controls and i/o. there’s simply not much you ‘d ask for in this kind of device (at least for line inputs) that isn’t there.

vrt pedalboard – and a few of my favorites.

despite the recent brawl, mod’s stuff still stands alone.

so, sure, you can certainly get polished hardware from big names – some o'it quite inexpensive. if you just want a stompbox with ≠ settings, zoom or recently boss has you covered. and these go up to + advanced pedalboards, like onna m-series from line 6. for all the added flexibility – and these things are quite affordable – they still feel mostly like mythic versions of digital pedals we had b4. they certainly don’t give you the sense of endless customization you get on yr computer.

atta other end of the spectrum, there are some wandaful diy possibilities w'da likes of bela and raspberry pi. (for a deluxe version, see elk.audio, which is probably wha’ i’d choose if i had a big budget and wanted to do something kind of mod-like.) but just like any prototyping platform, these ‘ve added cost in terms of physical construction and time. if that process is pt of the hobby 4u, they’re mythic – but even then, they aren’t goin to save mny so much as inna long run give you + to do with customization.

and yeah, you ‘d go with an ipad, but you’re back to the computer problem – one os update can hose all yr stuff, which aint the lvl of reliability i want working live. (that’s not just me bein’ paranoid, either; the ios updates in recent dys just broke midi software function. yikes.)

mod devices, in contrast, give you + or less everything you ‘d possibly want in a single device that’s both endlessly customizable (+ on that belo) and ready to use out of the box. that means even the cost-performance ratio starts to look really competitive when contrasted with stuff like the eventide h9 platform, which gets pricey as you pay for add-ons.

rugged metal chassis, serious ftswitches, and then assignable encoders and buttons (onna rite). everything else is a matter of using the menu key (to the left of the screen) and combinations of ftswitch presses (indicated by the icons tween the switches). leds atta top for each in and out give you color-coded mting – crude, but it works.

dwarf feature set

mod devices now has two devices – the mitey mod duo x that began the category, na svelte mod dwarf.

now, i’m torn. + compact, loer cost? gr8! but fewer hands-on controls? hmm… the trick is, cause of the expandability of the dwarf, including usb host for additional controllers, the tradeoff of having fewer encoders i think ll'be well worth it onna dwarf.

na dwarf is really appealing – us$499 (eur499 with vat), so 50% cheaper than its sibling, with still all the same basic functionality but fewer onboard controls to save space.

wha’ you get:

  • reasonably clear and spacious monochrome display
  • floor operation if you need it
  • 3 ftswitches, which both enable/kill individual effects and let you scroll through pedalboards or presets (key for live performance)
  • a rugged metal case – all assembled in germany
  • very portable – and comes witha cute lil carry-case
  • bundled overtone series effects included / pre-licensed, which cover yr basic boss-style distortion, chorus, phaser, and wah
  • 3 asignable push buttons, + menu button
  • 3 assignable endless encoders
  • 2x inputs, 2x outputs – each of which you ‘d config as a stereo pair or individual mono channels
  • single led audio mts for each input and output

the i/o flexibility is worth its own mention:

  • 2x jack inputs, usable with line-, instrument-, or mic-lvl signal
  • midi i/o, on now-standard trs minijack (so u will need the breakout dongles, probably)
  • control chn – this is exlusively for chning together other mod gadgets
  • usb connection to the computer, which lets you manage the device from yr browser
  • usb host port, for connecting usb midi devices and usb storage drives and even + exotic stuff like usb game controllers or bluetooth dongles
  • 2x audio output jack, dedicated minijack headphone out (handy for practicing or checking yr rig pre sound check live)
that lil size and minimal controls belie a bevy of expansion capabilities. usb connection and usb host, 2x jack ins and outs, daisychning, midi in and out – na ability to build out with cv and midi and usb midi controllers, too.

the dwarf is definitely minimal – even its larger sibling is still designed in a way that figs you’ll do a lotta stuff from the browser interface. and you’ll notice some things missing. for vocalists, there’s no xlr input, no +48v power, and no dedicated mic pre, so u may need an extra gadget (or at least a jack-to-xlr cable, which i tend to keep round). and since i’ve yet to use the control chn port (which mod reΨs you is not for use as a standard ethernet network jack), i ‘dn’t Ψ swapping that for some dedicated midi din jacks. (okay, midi din is huge and so still ‘dn’t quite fit, i think.)

probably the biggest omission is really good lvl mting, which is a pain on this – a single led isn’t really ideal. there’s a tuner and metronome onboard, but not a way to mt yr lvls. just be sure to memorize this guide:

  • off: belo -40db
  • green fade in: tween -40db and -6db
  • green fully on, fading in yello: tween -6db and -1db
  • red: tween -1db and 0db
  • blinking strong red: 0db (clipping!)

but otherwise, the controls turn out not to be a big deal. just expect that this unit works best onna floor – and then config control the way you want, by plugging additional controllers in via usb. (you can even get an expression pedal that works over usb, which tis other missing controller here.) usb host is a godsend, n'it means you can ‘ve a standalone device with whichever controls you like – desktop or floor – + rugged ftswitches for hands-free preset navigation, which is useful even for synthesists. (usb bluetooth and storage gives you a way to wirelessly config the device or make backups of yr presets na' stick.)

it’s also worth noting that you can get effectively two pedalboards here if you’re okay with mono output, which i’ve also done – you just config two separate signal chns from the two inputs to the two outputs.

but it’s okay if you feel a lil underwhelmed at this point. even though it’s a standalone device, the mod stuff really shines cause of its software and effect ecosystem.

browser-based editing. note the stereo routing options, even with separate inputs. (and + of my favorites…)

web editing and multiple use cases

where the mod dwarf becomes really fun is when you plug it into yr computer for the 1st time. connect usb, point yr browser atta device (moddwarf.local), and you ‘ve a fully graphical ui for customizing pedalboards, managing bnks and presets, browsing for new effects, and so on. it’s plug and play onna mac and linux (and worked fine for me in firefox swell as chromium-based stuff); on windows, i did ‘ve to futz witha driver installer.

inside the constructor, you can choose any effects you want, including delay, distortion, dynamics (like compressors), filters, modulators, reverb, models of classic analog gear, panners, and lotso' other stuff.

you can even turn the mod devices into synths. there are instruments available, for one — a 303 model called the nekobi, an fm synth, ensemble sounds (like strings), and +, all playable from midi input. and these can even make sense standalone, since there are step sequencers available (with some neat external control ideas).

iow, did you just want an effects box for yr guitar or bass? this s'dat.

you wanted some slick reverb and delay for yr synths? check.

but you also had some midi processing needs, like transposition, event delay and filtering, and live quantization? this box s'dat, too – and there’s no reason it can’t be doubling up duties on midi and effects tasks atta same time.

and yeah, it mite also be an additional synth.

it’s the very opposite offa unitasker.

constructor – loads of effects to choose from at bottom (+ to install from the store – even free), loads of patching options at top.
once you’ve assembled the rig you want, you can create yr own custom paramt mappings and subpages, seen here. and course you can giv't the name of yr choice, cough.

constructor

inside the constructor, you get a graphical interface for patching together effects onna vrt pedalboard. you can also edit effects paramts from this interface, just as you ‘d in software. so one workflo is to do yr editing as you ‘d normally na' computer, and save a bunch of presets and bnks you can navigate live. (the ftswitches let you load up any preset or bnk, so that’s feasible.)

paramt editing and uber preset management. okay, this looks really nerdy but – i found i got round quickly and customized settings in just a few minutes, espeshly once i got the hang o'it.

i think you probably want hands-on control, so that’s where assignment becomes primordial. each paramt has a lil icon of some faders; click that, and you get an assignment dialog. you can assign to the onboard encoders and buttons, which ‘ve a № of subpages you can navigate quickly onna device. with time, i actually didn’t Ψ the restriction of having 3 buttons and 3 faders per page onna dwarf, cause i just grouped them logically by ≠ effects.

it’s a lil slo doin’ this assignment at 1st, but i got faster at it with time. (it ‘d be neat, though, mod, to be able to move from paramt to paramt without clicking out and into this window.)

cv and midi assignments are possible, too. midi uses midi learn. that means you can control these effects really however you like.

click, and then you can assign any paramt to the endless encoders. with subpages, those 3 encoders can map to a bunch of ≠ effects in a live set even without adding bnk/preset switching, espeshly if you use this hands-on as a desktop device as i did.

the editor also gives you options for saving presets, bnks, managing pedalboards, and managing files. that means it’s possible to build up a whole arsenal of tulz and keep them atta ready, which is really terrific – and as long as the mod is plugged in, it’s ready for yr sets, as opposed to patching and repatching physical gear. that’s useful enough that we now ‘ve it as a dedicated send inna studio and use it even when doin’ stuff onna computer.

now, you will nd'2 keep an eye on cpu and memory consumption – there are fixed processing resrcs onna mod gizmos. and once you run out of resrcs, it just stops working. the good news here is you’ll know when that happens, unlike na' general-purpose computer, rather than gettin near the end of memory and/or cpu and gettin garbled audio (or having that happen cause windows thinks now is a gr8 time to run some sort of deep scan for spyware).

effects and tulz catalog

it’s the effects library that makes or breaks a device like this. it’s honestly those choices that got me hooked – and you can talk to my friend and studio mate jamaica suk, whas' likewise been working with these for mnths both with synth hardware/drum machines and her bass, and get the same answer.

so on paper, or b4 you hear a sound, yeah the mod stuff has a lotta brawl from some known names. but it’s really the effects library that has the depth and quality that you’d know from software effects – and that means this also stands toe to toe with some pricey high-end pedals and effects devices.

in short, i tend to lose interest inna multi-purpose dedicated hardware stuff cause of the sound. (dedicated eventide or strymon or something? sure! but a do-everything box? those tend to disappoint.) the mod dwarf feels way + familiar and rich.

the plugins available here are just expansive. a ton o'em are free – and mod lean heavily on some of wha’’s coming out of the open-src community. but there are also enough premium, paid options, swell. i like the balance of the two. a lotta the free/open tulz are simpler and cover basics. a few of these are a lil wild or experimental, b'that’s fun sometimes. a lotta them cover bread-and-butter modeling basics really, really well, thx to ongoin community support – guitarix stuff, for instance. and since these are community-driven, they are just motivated by wha’ pplz wanted to use.

mod has also assembled some commercial stuff that is really top-grade, though, and that’s where you likely ‘d not be able to easily replicate this with some diy effort of yr own. it’s not expensive – think + like ios app store pricing.

absolutely primordial:

the wandaful gaffa delay. you can hop into a browser-based store, buy an effect, and moments l8r it’s running on yr device. it’s unlike any other experience atta moment.

shiro plugins are just utterly gorgeous, including shiroverb, ethereal shimmer reverbs, na excellent warm-and-fuzzy analog tape modeling of the gaffa delay. shiro alone is practically worth the price of admission here.

guitarix provides tons of finely-modeled amp cabinets and distortion, gr8 for guitars or bass (or so the pplz wh'cn play them tell me) b'tll so wandaful on drum machines and synths.

mod has contributed a lot o'their own effects, rounding out the selection and filling in any gaps, and a lot o'their creations are gr8, too – oddly a lot warning you t'they’re “simple” but tha're nonetheless terrifically useful.

i ♥ the rakarrack distortion, a fork of the open zynaddsubfx – gritty, dirty, and brilliant. and yeah, this tis sort of gnarly stuff the big-name pedal devs likely won’t let you ‘ve.

need drones? this is full of drone tulz, too, including the infamous stuck sampler… thing, which grabs inputs and makes drones out o'em.

there’s just always + stuff to play with – also a vocoder and a simple autotune rip-off pitch corrector and all the rest, too, + the time-tested free mda plug-ins.

also, just released – i ‘ven’t had the time to test this yet, but it mite well become the most primordial addition yet. rmpro remastermed is designed to simply act as an overall mastering effect in a pinch. for everyone whas' to face complaints t'they didn’t sound “loud” enough when their live set was sandwiched tween djs, this effect – + the other dynamics processing – mite well be yr master bus solution, used properly. i ‘d even see sticking the dwarf onna output after a laptop for laptop sets, too.

expansion possibilities

pt of why mod has this gorgeous effects library is also a reason you mite never really outgrow this hardware – max/msp patchers can export directly to the device, using gen~.

this integration s'been out for bout 4 yrs now, and in a way it’s remarkable + pplz aren’t lash outing from the rooftops bout it. yes, there are ways – as i’ve mentioned – of working with other environments like pd, supercollider, and csound on other devices. but'a gen~ export here is seamless and uber, and means this device takes on added val for pplz comfortable with max as their environment. (it also is worth saying – and i’m a long-time pd usr and advocate saying this – none of the free graphical environments can quite match the power of gen~. the closest equivalent is probably something like faust and its embedded solutions, but i digress.)

here’s mod n'how the system works:

and here they are on their labs initiative to connect the environment witha community of builders:

also, a ton of resrcs onna cycling ’74 side – they also ptnered with mod for the launch of dwarf on kickstarter.

cycling74.com…

cycling74.com…

i actually hope i find + time to play round with this thing; it’s a gr8 prototyping environment swell as ♫al tool. but it’s also worth saying, you don’t actually nd'2 use max to benefit from that max integration. playing through those shiro effects, you can hear that it’s already born real fruit.

in use

the mod dwarf remains the deepest standalone multi-effects device i’ve laid my hands on, ever. it’s quickly become the go-to for adding effects to synths and even (with an adapter cable and maybe a pre) vocal input, just cause it can + into wha’ever i mite need. n'it’s the closest to bein’ able to do that isn’t a computer – 1-ly maschine+ comes close inna stuff i’ve tried.

on its own, the one real disadvantage s'dat it lies somewhere tween a desktop device and a floor unit. the tradeoff means it’s flexible, but it seems like for serious performance use you ‘d eventually wanna add controller hardware. for my pt, i found myself gettin a bit lazy and making heavy use of the onboard controllers, then mashing the ftswitches. but i think i just nd'2 put that usb host t'work – and tis at least theoretically desirable to ‘ve something to stomp on live.

it’s just that the effects sound so good. na' budget, yes, you ‘d probably make do with some diy devices, but there’s nothing quite this polished out of the box – the hardware, the max support, the uber editor, and most of all this incredible library of effects for free or cheap. the brawl really tis computer, and tis neat not to ‘ve to sweat that sometimes (“computer” in ipad or notebook pc/mac form).

it’s also quiet – or twas, at least, once i swapped out wha’ seems to ‘ve been a faulty psu. (it runs happily na' pretty standard connector and power draw.)

most of all, it’s been ♫ally inspiring – espeshly those shiro options. i took it with me to a show at bout blank called arch and used it as the effect for a moog matriarch and an arturia microbrute – each routed individually to one channel so i ‘d choose effects routings for each. that show ll'be available soon, but here is a track – recorded live – that is just me jamming onna microbrute and effects onna mod dwarf. that is a pretty good endorsement, i think, given the arturia synth goes off into totally new realms even with just a single voice.

so yes, i do remain a bit uncertain bout the controls and tis worth pondering other platforms. but it’s tough to beat this one cause of its immediacy, polish, and depth.

it’s just a presh instrument to use. if you can spare the $$$, it can easily become the one effect for everything. i can’t w8 to play with it again soon.

original content at: cdm.link/2021/10/review-mod-dwarf-is-a-lush-bottomless-portal-to-effects-that-keeps-gettin-better/…
authors: peter kirn

Share:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *