by Ellison Wolf
There is a certain mystique given to distortion/fuzz/overdrive pedals [usually vintage; i.e.: expen$ive] in the guitar world that just doesn’t exist in the land of modular synthesis. For the most part we’re not tone chasers the way guitarists are, and yet, who among us doesn’t love a good kick-ass, nasty distortion? Or some subtle drive to color a patch? Distortion modules seem to be coming out at a pretty dizzying pace recently, and there have been various manufacturers with modules that use traditional vacuum tubes in one manner or another to achieve this; however, as far as I know, nobody has utilized Korg’s NuTube yet in a distortion module. Enter M T2D, and its two channel NuTube’d distortion, the first foray into the modular market by new company, Sonocurrent.
If you have yet to glance at Korg's NuTube, this is an entirely new [or, rather, Nu] style of tube altogether, so if you’re thinking you’re going to bask in the subtle orange glow of an AX7, you’d be wrong. The NuTube is a small, flat and, [taken from the Korg website:] “dual-triode vacuum tube based around vacuum fluorescent display (VFD) technology.” It’s hard to tell that it’s a tube by looking at it: it's flat, blue, and small. But look at it you can, thanks to the grill cutouts on the M T2D. While the NuTube’s blue glow is cool, something I really like is that you can see changes in illumination levels depending on how hard you’re pushing the tube, something traditional tubes don’t do quite as easily.
Overall, the M T2D's look reminds me of vintage Pultec compressors and other austere 50s/60s studio gear, with its flat, muted gray and black color scheme. The chosen aesthetic works perfectly to highlight the subtle blue luminescence of the NuTube. Each of the two distortion channels on the M T2D has an input, a Mix knob with CV in [and attenuation to control it], Drive knob, Feedback knob, Tilt control, and Bias control with CV in. There’s also a voltage switch directly above the tube to choose between smoother distortion or more severe clipping. The layout of the knobs and jacks is very sensible, and there is plenty of room to roam and tweak. The M T2D contains a nice mixture of understated knobs in various sizes, which is something I notice because I sometimes feel that manufacturers use the same knobs for everything, and this variation helps break up the visual aspect of the M T2D as well as the physicality when playing it.
In practice, it took me a bit to find my footing with the M T2D, and at first all I wanted to do was watch the tube to see how it would react to the changing of various parameters. Soon enough though, I found myself not really paying attention to the blue glow as the sound of the unit commanded my attention. I was looking forward to see what kind of tube characteristics this module had to offer and if I could feel some of the warmth and presence that’s so prized with traditional tubes. I found the sound that the NuTube imparts to have a wide dynamic range, going from some subtle tonal harmonic addition to full on stuttered choking —sometimes to the point of no sound coming out—to full on screeching.
When I cranked everything, the incoming signal wasn’t so much distorted as it was layered upon by a blanket of squelchy fuzz. Altering the feedback changed this, and stacking the two channels [channel 1 is normalled to channel 2] as opposed to using this as two single channels revealed a lot more complexity to the overall distorted sound, and turned out to be my choice mode of operation for the M T2D. I did find that I could lose sound easily—something not too uncommon in the land of synth + distortion—and especially so with a literal flip of the switch. Soundwise, The M T2D rendered through my SE Tonestar 2600—via a Zlob Modular Entropy for S+H duties—brought a very 80s sci-fi chase-scene-through-a-dystopic-city-with-flying-cars type of bass sounds that sounded pretty incredible through my speakers. It was a tightly controlled and buzzy distortion, and it was BIG.
If there’s something on the M2TD that really is the driving force, I would say it’s the Tilt function given to each channel. It can do a lot to alter the highs and lows and can really add a lot of grittiness and change the sound in drastic ways. Adjusting this first, and then adding in Bias and Drive and you can sculpt your tone in ways that the many guitar distortion/overdrive/fuzz pedals I’ve previously used with my rig just couldn’t do. I liked CVing the Mix, and when using a pretty slow square wave LFO to alternate from fully dry to fully wet, I enjoyed hearing the random drastic change of a nice pristine sequence to the full on breakup growl, then back again. It was a kind of Jekyll and Hyde/Good Cop-Bad Cop situation, and throwing in a little LFO randomness to add unpredictability made for some drama. It did alter the output volume quite a bit, making the distorted output [when the LFO voltage was high] louder than the unaffected output, but I was able to do some creative LFO/VCA routing to match levels; that too was cool to modulate so that I would have the clean sometimes be quiet, sometimes loud, and with an envelope applied, crafty shifting of volume before the mix returned back to fully distorted. I'd mounted a Teenage Engineering PO 12 Rhythm in my rack a while ago to have access to some quick drum patterns, and crushing that through the M T2D was a lot of fun. With the PO 12 you have the ability to quickly add and/or subtract built-in FX, and hearing those and how they were altered by the M T2D's distortion yielded some pretty cool results, especially when the bias and the mix of the M T2D was being modulated by an envelope/LFO respectively.
There are a couple of things that would have been nice to see. A bypass switch would have been great, so that bypassing the M T2D [without unpatching, of course] could be done without having to turn the Mix knobs all the way counter-clockwise—producing just the dry signal at the output—and having to remember your desired Mix setting when wanting the distortion to come on again, though it’s obviously possible to bypass any module by utilizing a switcher, mult, VCA, etc. Also, realizing that space is definitely a consideration, I still wish there was a CV for the Tilt function, as I enjoyed the span of changes that function produced and would have loved to have it automated by a random LFO or something. Still, these small wants are just that—small, and if you’re looking for a distortion module, this has to be on your list.
I spent a good amount of time with this module and have to say that I’m thoroughly pleased with the what the M T2D brings to the table. Yes, the NuTube is well, new [I mean, of course, Nu], and tubeheads will either love it or hate it in terms of its physical makeup and lack of obvious lineage to its atomic era looking forebears, but it sounded great in the M T2D. I have a true appreciation—nay, soft spot—for that Nu blue glow, and definitely the killer range of distortion/s and control over the tweakability of said distortion that the M T2D is able to coax out of that flat, weird tube.
18HP 111mA +12V 65mA -12V