by Brandon Ivers
Vongon is a small company based out of Oakland, California run by an engineer and musician named Ryan McGill. McGill got his start making things like MIDI controllers for the Moog MF-104m, and has since branched out into both analogue and DSP-based designs. The Paragraphs is his first commercial attempt at a low-pass filter in the guitar pedal format, and it’s a really impressive entry point. Based around the AS3320 analog chip, a modern take on the filter chip used in synths like the Sequential Pro-One, the Paragraphs can be used for everything from an overdrive effect to a crunchy envelope-modulated filter. There’s some really clever design choices with this pedal, especially with how it can handle external modulation, that make it pretty unique.
The Paragraphs is solidly built in a steel case with tough knobs and an easy-to-remove front panel should you want to modify it. It feels lighter than you might expect, but I have no doubt it will stand the test of time. While the front panel is bursting with controls, it still feels and looks spacious and intuitive. I’m a big fan of the inputs and outputs being mounted on the top of the panel as well as it saves space and it’s just easier to deal with when paired with a gigantic mess of cables, which is usually the case for me.
An aptly-colored red knob controls the input gain into the pedal with a 3-color LED that tells you if your signal is clipping. There’s also an LED for a ‘trig’ switch as well as an LED for whether or not the pedal is bypassed. Elsewhere, you can find the usual controls for filter cutoff, resonance, and output level. For modulation, there’s a knob for ‘amount’, with a triggered, held, or cyclable AD envelope that can be switched to linear or exponential mode. A cool bonus is a cycle multiplier control, which lets you internally modulate the filter amount parameter at up to FM-rate. For a guitar pedal, this set-up is very reminiscent of how you might use a filter in the modular world, so it’s cool to see these extended controls here.
There are mini jacks for both MIDI and CV input, both of which can trigger Paragraph’s internal AD envelope. This means you have a lot of options for creating rhythmic sweeps and FM effects with this filter, and the inclusion of MIDI actually sets this apart from most Eurorack filters of this type as well.
I absolutely love the sound of the Pro-One’s original CEM3320 filter chip, so I was eager to see how the modern replica used in Paragraphs stood up to it. It ended up having a strongly similar characteristic to its predecessor with a more modern edge, particularly noticeable when driven hard. My first test of this was to run a Roland tr-808 straight into Paragraphs and see what happened. I love overdriving drum machines, so I immediately set the gain way too high and was greeted by the characteristic sputtering distortion that I know and love. There seems to be a LOT of gain on this pedal, as I tried both the instrument and line outputs from the 808 and had no issues driving the signal into the red in either circumstance.
Paragraphs is especially fun when triggering the AD envelope, so I experimented with patching the trigger out from my 808 into the CV input of the filter. This allowed for some triggered sweeps sequenced by the 808 itself. Pair this with the internal ‘multiplier’ rate on Paragraphs, and you can get all sorts of rhythmic effects including FM sputters, triplets, slow rises, and more. I tried this on the full mix from the 808 and individual 808 voices and got cool results both ways.
At this point, I’ve begun to see Paragraphs almost like a preamp because the coloration it gives to signals is so nice, and the gain has such a large range. I can imagine in a crowded pedal board, this would be an effect you’d put at the beginning of your chain due to how well you can gain stage after it.
For the harsh noise crew, another good thing to do with Paragraphs is place it in a feedback loop. By triggering the AD envelope, you can very easily get a squelching mess of high resonance spikes and dive bomb swells which are important tools when covering your favorite Whitehouse songs.
I hope to see more pedals that further blur the lines between modules and guitar pedals as Paragraphs does. I still really love the guitar pedal format, but I’m frequently frustrated by little things like inputs and outputs being side-mounted rather than on the top, which Paragraphs smartly re-imagines. While I wish there was a dedicated input for controlling the filter amount directly rather than being coupled to the envelope generator, that’s a minor gripe. Paragraphs can be simple or complex, it sounds fantastic, and it has surprising versatility for being “just” a filter.