by sam chittenden
Dan Wahlbeck, the one-man force behind DPW Design, has created a steadily growing line of solidly built, well thought out, and extraordinarily useful Eurorack modules, and the Shape SH-1 Spectral Enhancer is no exception.
Checking in at a svelte 8hp the SH-1 nevertheless retains a spacious and ergonomic front panel that is easy to use and encourages manual adjustment. The front panel graphics are both attractive and functional–pointing out [somewhat subtly] the interactions and relationships between different sections of the module.
At its core, the Shape takes a compressor and combines it with a circuit that performs a kind of harmonic manipulation. The manual describes the module as consisting of "mainly two parts. A compression part and a calculation part." The SH-1 takes the upper harmonics that are created as a byproduct of its compression of the incoming signal and calculates two different signal outputs, designated Tran and Tail.
At the top of the module are controls for the compressor's Drive as well as a knob labeled Trim. Just beneath, there is a mixer section which controls the relative levels of clean, compressed, Tran, and Tail signals that are sent to a Mix output. The bottom of the module contains the main In jack, an Aux input, and four outputs: Comp, Tran, Tail, and a Mix.
The Drive knob controls the level of compression [up to 10x] and the compressor will brick wall limit at +/-5v and keeps any harsh clipping at bay—no matter how hot the input signal or how hard the compressor is driven. The Trim knob is utilized by the calculation circuit and affects the Tran signal produced. The Tran output can vary widely depending on the signal input to the module and is also subject to the relationship between the Drive knob of the compressor and the Trim knob. Depending on how they are set, the sound produced can be anywhere from a kind of airy distorted version of the original signal to a very short, almost transient [eh!] signal which consists only of the new upper harmonics produced by the compressor. The Tail signal [depending on what is sent in] is akin to the tail end [ah!] of a very transient sound—think the decay of a snare drum hit–and again depends on the Drive setting of the compressor.
There is a complex interplay between the input signal, the compression, and the spectral enhancement circuit that defies presumption but absolutely encourages experimentation. This relationship was conceptually a bit tricky for me to wrap my head around but immediately satisfying to use. What exactly is going on doesn't matter too much as there is little need to fully grasp all of the whys to reap the benefits and explore the sonic possibilities of this module. If it sounds like I'm simultaneously confused and gushing, that is an accurate assessment.
The Tran and Trim outputs allow for a sort of splitting of an incoming sound into different parts and gives you the ability to shape the tone of a signal in quite interesting ways. The Tran signal at some Trim settings can almost create a phase cancellation type of effect–reducing the fundamentals of the incoming signal almost completely. When processed by other gear it can lead to some interesting and unexpected–but always complementary to the original–tones. Sending the Tail signal out as an aux send to a reverb or short delay is a great way to add some space to a drum loop without losing any of the attack or muddying the sonic waters. Take the Tran out to distorted filter and you can create a modulated distorted filtered sound to layer on top of your signal. With the way that the SH-1 allows you to separate out a signal into disparate parts, the possibilities are only limited by one's imagination.
The Aux input offers another sonic avenue to wander down. The signal present at the Aux input is added in to the circuit post compression but is combined with the clean signal and fed to the calculation section [for Tran and Tail]. Plugging a heavily processed version of the same signal into the Aux input is a great way to experiment with some tonal madness and can add some satisfying variation–be it subtle, extreme, or anything in between. Of course, you don't have to input a related signal at all into Aux. The Aux signal will get picked up and incorporated and will affect the original signal in unexpected ways. I had some fun combining an ambient bit of café and street noise on the main input with a melodic sequence coming into the Aux input. Depending on the frequencies present in the two signals they would combine in interesting ways, sometimes sum together, giving a laugh or a bit of conversation an extra boost of grit or some subtle tonal resonance.
The SH-1 reveals itself most readily when used with complex and sharply transient sounds–anything percussive or plucky–and signals containing at least a little harmonic bandwidth will all yield satisfying results. This isn't to say that you can't run whatever you'd like through it, but the most immediate results can be found in drum loops, percussive sounds, street ambiance, plucked strings, etc. But there are great tones to be discovered by running anything in to Shape.
Parallel processing with other modules is great, but the SH-1 performs just as admirably on its own. It works particularly nicely as a way to add some gravely width to a mono signal. By selectively panning the Mix, Tran, and Tail outputs, depending on your settings, you can add a warm and sandy stereo feel to a mile-wide crunchy tonal plane.
The SH-1 doesn’t have to be complicated, and works great as just a straightforward, fairly transparent compressor. You can easily ignore the Tran and Tail signals and just use it to fatten up some drums and its mix section gives you the ability to really dial in what you need to cut through a patch.
The SH-1 is a sonic sculptor's secret weapon that will have you crafting sweet sounds in short order.
8 HP +12V 40mA -12V 20mA