Modern Sounds Pluto, Mini Battery-Powered Semi-Modular Synth

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Meet Pluto, a battery-operated semi-modular Synthesizer by Modern Sounds, which takes you playfully into the depths of inspiring modulations and rhythms

Modern Sounds is a new development company that merges two currently relevant key features into a new instrument: portable factor and modularity.

Pluto is a mini modular synth with two voices, two sequencers, some clever patch possibilities, and powered by an internal battery.

Modern Sounds Pluto

The design of Pluto draws from a legacy of portable electronic instruments, from the Buchla Music Easel to 80s Casio synthesizers. With a focused, approachable interface, Pluto invites exploration.

Modern Sounds Pluto

Pluto’s user interface is very simple and very well thought out. This consists of 16 knobs, 2 switches, touch keys as well as inputs and outputs. The Pluto engine has two digital voices, each with different voice modes. You have either classic waveforms (sine, sawtooth…) or wavetables blendable via one knob.

No filter, ADSR envelope, LFO…, the developer uses in Pluto a Buchla-inspired architecture. Each voice comes with a lowpass gate style VCA that can act as a filter without it being one. The advantage of lowpass gates is the significantly softer, rounder sound you get out of these. Both voices are optically separated from each other with the help of color-coded knobs. Lila/mauve for the first voice, and blue for the second.

Modern Sounds Pluto

Complex Modulations

Pluto unfolds its true beauty in the modulation and sequencing section. It features five channels of modulation that are named after the five moons of Pluto (Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, Hydra). The master clock (orange) is responsible for the timing of all 5 modulation (pulse) outputs. With the spread knob, however, you can modify the timing relationship in a musical way. To the right, you get greater and greater divisions, and to the left, you get randomized euclidean patterns.

Further, you have a width knob that controls the pulse width of each channel. This makes every output even more varied. Thanks to the shuffle input, you can boost up the outputs in the complexity once more.

Besides the modulation, each voice has a little, patchable 4-step sequencer (4 knobs lila/blue). Built-in patch points allow customizing each sequencer making it more complex and playful. For example, the second voice sequencer has a direction input with which you can change the direction with CV. 4 steps sound like little, in this case, they are very large 4 steps with many creative options.

An onboard delay unit with looping and glitch modes rounds off Pluto’s engine. In these, both voices travel simultaneously and are wrapped in a delayed sonic dress that makes the sounds wider and richer.

I/O & Battery Operation

On the connection side, Pluto has an audio input/output, 2 channels of CV out, selectable MIDI In/Out on TRS jack, sync in or out, and micro USB. The latter is designed for data, USB-MIDI, and charging the unit. Yes, it has a rechargeable 2500mAh battery onboard. It’s a shame it doesn’t have a USB-C.

Update: I reached out to the developers and they are considering throwing out the unreliable micro-USB and installing USB-C. Yes, that would be great!

At first glance, this mini modular synth cannot do much. Two voices, two sequencers… However, one has to take a second, deeper look at Pluto to see its complexity. This lies in the possibility of creatively setting the modulations upside down in various ways. The same applies to both sequencers, which look like little but have a lot to offer.

Modern Sounds Pluto is the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Pretty simple from the outside, once patched for a long time, it shows its wild and playful character. Lovely job. The price is TBA and according to the developer, the first limited batch will be available soon.

More information here: Modern Sounds

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  1. Wow! For such a minimal set-up it has a pretty big sound (from the point of many different complementary tones playing in a single sequence). Kind of reminds me of a miniature wes-coast inspired Impulse Command. (Hmmmm… an Impulse Command expedition to Pluto….)

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