Soma Labs Rumble of Ancient Times Review
Soma Labs Rumble of Ancient Times: what is it?
Hardware can be more than just a performance and recording tool, but also a means of exploration. The Roar of Ancient Times, or RoAT, from Soma Laboratories might not sound too inspiring, but spend a few minutes exploring its lo-fi possibilities and you’ll soon discover there’s a lot to offer.
The device itself is quite small and has a somewhat unfinished look. We imagine some users will spend several hours designing interesting cases, while others will be happy just playing as is.
Make no mistake though, RoAT is solidly built. Yes, this is a battery-only device and that seems like a slightly missed opportunity to us, as a power input, or better yet, a modular Eurorack compatible version would make the RoAT a much more attractive proposition for many. Maybe Soma has a modular version in the works? We hope.
Soma Labs Rumble of Ancient Times: performance and verdict
But back to the synth itself. It’s a simple affair with volume, output, sync jack and power switch on top. Although the buttons are small, they don’t warrant any lack of confidence in use, feeling sturdy enough in the hand.
The same can be said for the controls found elsewhere, which include rotary controls to adjust voices and buttons to activate them, or to select options from the matrix menu.
There are also touch pads, one for each voice, used to trigger notes. The labeling is clear and, although small, the matrix is easy to read.
The matrix is where a lot of time is spent, as the seven four-voice frequency rows are where you check to modulate your output. Access to these is via a combination of buttons, labeled 1, 2 and 4, making it easy to add any combination up to the seven required.
It feels weird for the first few minutes then becomes natural and doesn’t need to be redesigned. Essentially, you have access to one of four options at a time, controlled by the four knobs.
We thought this might lead to headaches and slow browsing, but the reality is quite the opposite. No menu-diving here, as everything is readable from the front panel, with just a few keystrokes needed to get where you need it.
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RoAT has four voices with 16 tunable waveforms. Each of them has its own LFO which can be used to modulate the tone or pitch.
The way these are controlled is also different from most other devices. Turn the knob counterclockwise to select the frequency range and clockwise to adjust the amplitude.
This way of working is typical of RoAT but fortunately, in addition to the matrix, there is a key for the controls on the back of the device, so finding your way around while acclimatizing is not too difficult.
The vocals themselves sound somewhat lo-fi and it’s full of character and charm, which makes sense to us, seeing as it harkens back to the days of 8-bit game sounds, and has been based on controller chips from long-obsolete home appliances like refrigerators.
Waveforms range from standard sine, saw and square to random and random cycle, so plenty to play around with.
The single filter is resonant and similarly retro sounding, but covers a decent range of tones and, like so much of this synth, oozes character.
We also like the idea behind the placement of controls for each page, as they make a lot of sense. For example, dialing in a tone means using Row (or Page) 5, where Filter Cutoff and Resonance have been mapped to Attack/Release controls.
With only four commands available, it all makes sense. Thoughtful design may be understated, but that usually means it worked as intended.
Now, one of the standout features here is the Chaos button. We are very much in favor of these types of features on synths, creating happy accidents, taking the user into areas of sonic experimentation that they might otherwise not have discovered.
Pressing the Chaos button will randomize all of the synth parameters except on the parameter page and the currently selected page, giving some level of control over the result.
It’s so easy to waste time clicking on the Chaos button, but beware – if a good random setting is found and another click is made, it’s lost forever, as there are no random options. ‘cancelation.
Page 7 also offers some randomization, but in a slightly different and more controllable way. These act as ramps, so the random parameters of each control build up over time.
This is done by turning the third knob to set the number of registers performed, while the fourth sets the speed. Speaking of which, RoAT can run off an internal clock or be synced to external gear, a huge feature when this thing goes into sequencing mode.
A single press of the record button establishes a one-bar loop, using the trigger pads for each note (so 4/4), with subsequent notes being layered. Clearing the pattern is a simple matter of pressing clear.
RoAT creates its output by mixing the four channels, which it does using a variety of algorithms, of which there are eight. The channels are linked to different intersections and it is the algorithms that define the interaction between the channels.
It sounds complex but in use it’s easy to grasp and that’s where the character of the synth stands out, as well as its versatility. It will also sound a bit lo-fi and retro (in a good way), but quite a variety of tones can be mustered from very little input or from extensive learning. Unlike a DX7, the RoAT is simple to use and understand.
All of these features come together to create a wonderfully exciting synth, with a huge range of tones that excel when modulated in rhythm. Algorithms that blend all four voices can generate some truly unique yet unmistakably retro sounds that work great with other devices and are a joy to play with.
MusicRadar Verdict: Limited in tone but excels where it counts: as a cleverly programmed little synth that’s retro-inspired and fun to experiment with.
Soma Labs Rumble of Ancient Times: Hands-On Demos
Soma Labs Rumble of Ancient Times: Specifications
- I/O: 4 oscillators, 4 LFOs, FM, Ringmod and bitwise modulations, resonant low-pass filter.
- CONTACT: Soma Laboratories (opens in a new tab)