by ELLISON WOLF
The Lil' Erebus, from Greek manufacturer Dreadbox, is an all analog, paraphonic synth, and a direct descendant to their beloved Erebus desktop synth, which had 3 iterations and is now discontinued. Unlike the big Erebus, the Lil' Erebus can be used as a Eurorack module as well as a standalone desktop synth, and comes both pre-built and as a DIY kit. The desktop version comes with a power supply board and can be housed in its cardboard container, which is way nicer than it sounds, and helps keep the cost down.
The Lil' Erebus sports 2 oscillators: a saw wave and a pulse wave, each with individual level and tune controls that you can choose to pitch either separately or simultaneously. Those are routed to a 2-Pole low-pass filter, which features a CV input for cutoff modulation, and are then hardwired to the internal ADS envelope generator, which has its own output for utilization elsewhere. There is also a PT2399-based echo with feedback control and CV in to modulate the echo time, a voltage controlled LFO with both a triangle and square wave output, 16 patch points, 13 sliders, 4 knobs, and a built in MIDI to CV converter. You can polychain with up to 2 Lil' Erebus, so you can have a little crew of Lil’ Erebi at your disposal, and there’s a DIP switch on the back of the PCB that selects between using the Lil’ Erebus as a paraphonic or monophonic device and also handles MIDI channel selection.
As for the build quality, you couldn’t ask for much more for the price. The sturdy multi-green metal faceplate is attractive, and the knobs and sliders feel sturdy enough, if not bulletproof. The jacks and pots are all PCB mounted and, though not enough to concern me, when patching you can see the circuit board flex ever so slightly. I think one more standoff in the right location, solidifying the faceplate to the PCB, could stop the flexing altogether.
The demo unit I received was pre-built, but a look under the hood to see what DIY’ers would be up against revealed a lot of components in that 42HP space. It’s recommended by Dreadbox [and I agree] that if you go the DIY route, to study their construction manual before purchase to make sure you’re up to the task of building it, as they offer no support. If the prospect of doing so without a safety net seems daunting, there are a few forums/websites around to give you some tips, a pep talk, or just to talk you off a proverbial ledge if need be.
I used the Lil’ Erebus as a Eurorack module as opposed to a desktop, and once I cleared out some space in my rack and got it settled into its new home, I was ready to make some noise. But before I could do so, I had to figure out one of its quirks. Since the VCA is not normalled to the envelope, but to the gate input, you will need to give it a gate signal to get some sound to your ears. It took me a minute to figure this out, but once I patched in the gate signal I was up and running.
It was surprising how much fun I had with just this module and my Arturia Keystep, patching it to itself, utilizing both LFO shapes, and messing around with the envelope generator. It’s got that classic Dreadbox sound, and the built in echo, which sounds cool and vintage-y, can get downright dirty and lose itself pretty easily, though it’s not untamable. While there are obvious differences between the Lil' and big Erebus [only 2 VCOs as opposed to 3, less patch points, etc.], the character of the original Erebus is still retained. The Lil’ Erebus is nobody’s diminutive sidekick; it stands firmly on its own.
The Lil’ Erebus is styled in the grand tradition of vintage analog synths as there are no menus, no hidden features, and no encoders to select anything with, so once you learn how it works–a pretty easy proposition–you can get down to enjoying making music/noise with it and never look back.
My only hesitation with the Lil’ Erebus would be whether or not I’d want to commit to the 42HP space that it takes up if I chose to keep it in my rack. But the fact that this can so easily–and inexpensively–be built and used as a desktop synth as well as a Eurorack module, makes this a no-brainer if you like how it sounds and what it does. For the price, it’s one of the best deals out there, whether you opt for the DIY or pre-built version, and the more time I spend with it, the more I dig it. If you can make some space, either in your rack or on top of your desk, do so, and show the Lil’ Erebus some love.
42HP +12V 80mA -12V 80mA
Price: From $180 - $295