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Synths and Similar - an electronic music gear thread


Rowan Morrison
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41 minutes ago, Blunted said:

I know the TG33 is pretty limited FM wise, but the dirty samples appeal to me somewhat along with the joystick. I'll be keeping an eye out for a very cheap one though, not desperate to spend much on it.

 

They're not that dirty tbh - it's not like an SP-1200 preset box or anything like that. I think for 12 bit to be much use you generally need to be doing the sampling yourself. With boxes like the TG you get 12 bit samples but they're professionally produced, so the grit is often missing or heavily suppressed. Drum sounds can be OK, but the drums in the TG are universally lame (except 'rap percussion', which is guaranteed to put a smile on anyone's face - but that's technically an SFX set rather than a drum kit). I also find the joystick a bit flabby with sizeable dead zones (at the edges of a sound you can hear it cut in and out of the mix), but I guess these units are getting on now. It does better controlling modulation rather than mixing waveforms.

 

I'm probably being a bit hard on it, you just have to play to its strengths - drones, cheap strings and choirs and high-register stuff. And orchestra stabs, it can definitely handle those. Maybe I should hook it up to my Keystep and see what that can wheedle out of it.

 

The Preen should be great, though, as it goes up to 6 op fm and is DX7 compatible - a proper FM experience.

 

I picked up a Digitakt last week, which I'm hoping to keep plugged into the turntable for the most part. The workflow is great - sampling and trimming is quick and painless - and it does a great job of making its simplicity its strength; you never get bogged down in menus or options. It can't compete with the Octatrack as a full-on sampler, but as an instant results machine it's a winner, and the sequencer is typically brilliant - there are demo patterns that pretty much generate structured tracks from 16-step patterns, and the options expand hugely when you're controlling it yourself.

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3 hours ago, Rowan Morrison said:

I'm probably being a bit hard on it, you just have to play to its strengths - drones, cheap strings and choirs and high-register stuff.

 

It was this video that made me think I'd quite like one:

 

 

3 hours ago, Rowan Morrison said:

The Preen should be great, though, as it goes up to 6 op fm and is DX7 compatible - a proper FM experience.

 

Yep, had my eye on one for a while but thought I'd go with the DX200 for full DX7 compatibility (the preen doesn't do operator feedback, so it's not going to be a 100% match for DX patches). Really struggling to find one that isn't a bit broken or overpriced though, so back to the original plan. I'm really looking forward to having a proper play with it, although god knowns when I'll actually get time.

 

On the subject of time, is there anything that goes more slowly than waiting for a new bit of music gear to arrive? HURRY UP FINNISH POST TWATS.

 

The Digitakt looks great, was quite close to picking one up instead of my MPC. Think I'd rather the octatrack though and it was a touch too spendy for me.

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I just had a look at TG33s in eBay. Christ! They're selling (successfully) for £200 and more. That's crazy money, I was expecting around £60.

 

The Digitakt was a 50/50 toss-up with a Moog DFAM, but in the end I decided the Digitakt would add more (fast sampling, mainly). The MIDI channels make it a great fit with all kinds of gear. The Octatrack is a superb piece of kit but the workflow and display really take a kicking from the Digi. I guess less so for the Mk2 OT, but Elektron are in a bit of a mess at the moment.  The Digitakt box had a big sticker added to clarify that they were no longer charging for the pro version of Overbridge, but no mention that Overbridge isn't actually out for the DT yet, a year after release. We've been waiting for proper sample transfer on the Rytm for years, which has eternally been just around the corner. They have some great ideas, but they must be starved for software engineers. And instead of delivering what they've promised - and sold stuff on the promise of - they release a slew of new machines. Fortunately when they do deliver, they always deliver well. You just have to hope they can do it before they go bust.

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28 minutes ago, Rowan Morrison said:

That's crazy money, I was expecting around £60.

 

Yeah that's about what I'd been hoping to snipe one for.

 

29 minutes ago, Rowan Morrison said:

You just have to hope they can do it before they go bust.

 

Hah! Every time I read about their gear there seems to be at least one "it's on the way/due to be fixed" major issue, but they still have people foaming about their stuff. Must be doing something right.

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Went round to someone's house earlier to pick up my reel-to-reel tape recorder from a friend of a friend. We had a brief chat about analogue technology, before he ducked behind a stool and pulled out a worn black briefcase, which looked oddly familiar. I held my breath- surely not?

Yes, it was a Synthi A and I was immediately in love with it. He played a little bit of the filter with the joystick and it was an instant ambient soundscape. It made such beautiful sounds with relatively little effort and I've had my lust for one reignited all over again. Sadly they seem to sell for £10,000+ now!

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13 hours ago, Blunted said:

Hah! Every time I read about their gear there seems to be at least one "it's on the way/due to be fixed" major issue, but they still have people foaming about their stuff. Must be doing something right.

 

Well, since I posted that comment yesterday they've released a new Digitakt firmware that fixes assorted bugs and adds a master compressor, so it just goes to show the power of having a cathartic moan. I do think that once you've got your head around their sequencing approach, it's very easy to get sucked in, and I guess they're still a small company at heart. Dave Smith had similar issues with the Tempest, as I recall - complex software features must add a whole load of extra hassle. But at the end of the day they're all happily taking money, so they need to be reminded to deliver.

 

10 hours ago, DeciderVT said:

Yes, it was a Synthi A and I was immediately in love with it. He played a little bit of the filter with the joystick and it was an instant ambient soundscape. It made such beautiful sounds with relatively little effort and I've had my lust for one reignited all over again. Sadly they seem to sell for £10,000+ now!

 

You can still order them new, but I think the waiting list is basically 'how long is a piece of string'. People are still receiving them, though - someone on Muffwiggler had one posted out earlier this week. Definitely a dream synth. The official iOS app is good fun, and as close as I'll ever get. There's something special about the Synthi, similar to the Music Easel. You can replicate some of the magic through modular, but it's the cohesiveness and synergy of the various components that's impossible to pin down.

 

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2 hours ago, Rowan Morrison said:

 

You can still order them new, but I think the waiting list is basically 'how long is a piece of string'. People are still receiving them, though - someone on Muffwiggler had one posted out earlier this week. Definitely a dream synth. The official iOS app is good fun, and as close as I'll ever get. There's something special about the Synthi, similar to the Music Easel. You can replicate some of the magic through modular, but it's the cohesiveness and synergy of the various components that's impossible to pin down.

 


That person was Chris Carter of Throbbing Gristle- unfortunately he's also confirmed that units in future will be supplied in second-hand cases or whatever the customer provides, instead of a new one. Not a dealbreaker but a shame nonetheless. I'd love to spend some time with one, as well as the Music Easel. Considering putting a deposit down- I should've saved enough by the time my turn comes around to pay it off.

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19 hours ago, DeciderVT said:


That person was Chris Carter of Throbbing Gristle

 

! I hadn't noticed that. I would have assumed he had an original model in the shed or something.

 

I think the Easel is the one I'd take, recordings of it always mesmerise me. I should really shift some of the cruft and buy one. According to Modulargrid I've already spent the equivalent on Eurorack.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I find myself listening to a lot of synth videos on YouTube at work, and I'm tempted to get my feet wet and pick up a cheapish analogue synth. I listen to a lot of Yellow Magic Orchestra, Kraftwerk, Devo, Ladytron and others of that ilk, plus some modern analogue synth revival stuff. Not 100% sure what I'm trying to achieve, but I'd guess a mixture of picking out lead parts, and setting up loops.

 

I know that dicking about with software and a midi keyboard would probably be the most sensible place to start, but I'm at a computer all day and I quite fancy having a stand-alone unit to play with at home, without having to fire up my laptop.

 

Having done a quick scout around, it looks like the Korg Monologue might be a good bet for me - I don't need polyphony, the built-in sequencer seems cool, and the built-in oscilloscope looks very useful for learning how to shape sounds. Size-wise, it also looks like you could dick around with it while sitting on the sofa, which is a plus. I thought perhaps I could add a Korg Volca Beats at a later stage (which CEX seem to have in stock, so I can probably get one by trading old gaming trash). I have a full 88 key electric piano (Casio Privia 330) with a DIN midi socket too, so if I need more than the 25 keys the monologue gives me, I think I should be able to hook that up to it.

 

Anyone got any direct experience with the Monologue, or can comment on its suitability as a beginner's synth?

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While I don't have a Monologue, I'm confident in saying it's very good for the price, and improves on the Minilogue in a few ways. It'll do YMO / Kraftwerk duties no problem. The four-track motion parameter sequencer looks really fun, and it's largely based around the sequencer, which is important for the kind of stuff you mention. It definitely sounds good.

 

Chief downsides, I'd say, are the lack of a sample & hold / random LFO source, and the limited envelope options. Both will limit the range of sounds you can create and knock some points off the 'beginner synth' score, though the motion recorders might compensate to a degree. Also the sequencer is limited to 16 steps, which is a shame but does, I guess, keep things simple (and you can transpose it from the keys, which is always nice to have). In terms of setting up loops, the sequencer plus the motion recorders should keep you busy for a long time. Oh, and I guess the lack of a built-in delay compared to the Minilogue is a shame, because even the simplest built-in effects can have a significant impact.

 

There's no shortage of competitors - I guess the chief one in terms of price and features is the Arturia Microbrute, which also has a good sequencer and also offers a little bit of modular access - this plus a Korg SQ-1 sequencer would be a strong combo, but I think the Korg will offer more as a single unit. I really can't justify buying one myself, but the sequencer and the oscilloscope make it a constant temptation. I think it's probably the most interesting modern compact mono. If you have the extra budget, the new Minibrute 2S is worth considering.

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I don't know what to get.

So i'm using reaper so arguably i don't need a sequencer (i've got midi out ones within reaper - like the HY VST). I can send Midi control messages (i think) to control the parameters of a hardware unit much like those freeze controls on the monologue. And i can use either evevelopes/lfo/sequencers to control those.

I (think) i want something analog but one that can give me the broadest range of sounds. But are they honestly much better then Avenger/Serum/Synthmaster/Diva/Repro? 

 

I use all of those and many say they're pretty much as good as proper analogue - tactility aside (although i get the impression you lose harmonics with VSTS - not sure).

 

I quite like the Roland SE-01, but then thats kinda based around a moog and i can buy the Beringher for £200 or so less. But will it last???

I like the Korg's too.

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On 24/05/2018 at 16:22, Alexlotl said:

Anyone got any direct experience with the Monologue, or can comment on its suitability as a beginner's synth?

 

No direct experience of the monologue, but are you sure you want a monosynth? For a first synth, I'd personally be looking for something with the capability of playing chords.

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7 hours ago, Blunted said:

 

No direct experience of the monologue, but are you sure you want a monosynth? For a first synth, I'd personally be looking for something with the capability of playing chords.

 

Fairly sure - as I say, I'm looking at a mixture of picking out leads and setting up sequences, and something compact and cheap would be a good starting point. I want something analogue so I can understand how the sounds are formed, and have fun brewing up my own sounds.

 

The Korg Minilogue could be an option I guess (4 voice polyphony), but it sounds like the Monologue improves on it in a lot of ways, and is smaller and cheaper.

 

This isn't a purchase for life - if I outgrow it, I'll flip it and replace it with something else. That said, I can imagine the monologue remaining useful for setting up sequences / playing second parts even if I'm playing lead on a larger polyphonic keyboard.

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@Alexlotl Monologue seems like an excellent shout then, should be good fun for playing around with while learning the basics of subtractive synthesis. Every hardware setup should have some sort of mono too imo.

 

As far as alternatives, the Microbrute has already been mentioned, the Novation Bass Station 2 might be worth a look as well but I think I'd probably go for the Korg.

 

*Edit* there is always the Moog Mother 32 as well seeing as you already have a decent controller.

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I started out in synthesis fairly recently  with the monologue, and whilst it was lovely in lots of ways I sold it for a minilogue. The lack of polyphony just felt too limiting given that it was my only instrument at the time. The only thing I've really missed is the ability to transpose a sequence with the keyboard.

 

That was about 6 months ago and I've since gone full modular, so be careful!

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It's cheap, noisy, plasticky and of limited capability but I think I've fallen in love with Korg's £35 Monotron Delay. I've taken to picking it up and noodling away with it when I browse forums and coupled with a reverb unit, it makes some lovely little arid soundscapes. Can't wait to transfer some of it to tape and start looping and layering parts of it.

I really like the way that the synth industry has veered toward making cheap little analogue desktop synths. Some of my favourite things on YouTube recently have been people working with just a Volca Keys and some cassette loops.

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On 25/05/2018 at 09:45, Rowan Morrison said:

While I don't have a Monologue, I'm confident in saying it's very good for the price, and improves on the Minilogue in a few ways. It'll do YMO / Kraftwerk duties no problem. The four-track motion parameter sequencer looks really fun, and it's largely based around the sequencer, which is important for the kind of stuff you mention. It definitely sounds good.

 

Chief downsides, I'd say, are the lack of a sample & hold / random LFO source, and the limited envelope options. Both will limit the range of sounds you can create and knock some points off the 'beginner synth' score, though the motion recorders might compensate to a degree. Also the sequencer is limited to 16 steps, which is a shame but does, I guess, keep things simple (and you can transpose it from the keys, which is always nice to have). In terms of setting up loops, the sequencer plus the motion recorders should keep you busy for a long time. Oh, and I guess the lack of a built-in delay compared to the Minilogue is a shame, because even the simplest built-in effects can have a significant impact.

 

There's no shortage of competitors - I guess the chief one in terms of price and features is the Arturia Microbrute, which also has a good sequencer and also offers a little bit of modular access - this plus a Korg SQ-1 sequencer would be a strong combo, but I think the Korg will offer more as a single unit. I really can't justify buying one myself, but the sequencer and the oscilloscope make it a constant temptation. I think it's probably the most interesting modern compact mono. If you have the extra budget, the new Minibrute 2S is worth considering.

I’ve still (currently) got a Monologue. If you like acid I think it’s the perfect synth, the presets definitely help this argument with the Aphex Twin input. The sequencer is quick to use. Ultimately I’d definitely recommend if you want a Bassline synth in a similar vain to a 303. It’s a bit too much for my stuff so it’s currently on my list to sell with its power supply if anyone’s interested.... I’ve also just bought a Digitone and need to recoup some of that!

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4 hours ago, BedroomBusinessman said:

I’ve still (currently) got a Monologue. If you like acid I think it’s the perfect synth, the presets definitely help this argument with the Aphex Twin input. The sequencer is quick to use. Ultimately I’d definitely recommend if you want a Bassline synth in a similar vain to a 303. It’s a bit too much for my stuff so it’s currently on my list to sell with its power supply if anyone’s interested.... I’ve also just bought a Digitone and need to recoup some of that!

 

I’m interested! Drop me a PM. 

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I just ordered a Digitone, too, mainly as an incentive to sit through an interminable day of training yesterday. I was underwhelmed by the spec when I first read about it, but having dived into the manual I've concluded it's actually a very thoughtful implementation of FM, with a couple of concessions to form factor (which works for me). I could have gotten sniffy about having six operators, but the sad truth is I'll never have time to properly use a full-on DX7-style implementation - and if for some reason I do want to explore that avenue, I can go operator crazy in Max without any interface hassle or other limitations. Getting something that's creatively useful is more important, and more of a challenge, and I think they've probably pulled that off with the Digitone. I also think Elektron are probably more effective in the digital domain - the A4 and Rytm can sound amazing, but it also takes some perseverance to clear the mud sometimes. They're not always happy with sharing frequencies, so while they always perform well in solo situations, it can be tricky to fit them into a broader system. The Rytm in particular will happily chew up and spit out any bass synths you might pair it with.

 

Anyway I'm hoping, as with every single piece of gear I buy, that it'll help me streamline my setup into a usable core. It won't, obviously, it'll just make things worse. But what can you do?

 

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Well, this week I've gone from "definitely a Monologue" to "perhaps an MS-20 Mini" to "maybe a Volca Keys + Snare Modded Volca Beats, perhaps add an Arturia Keystep later".

 

There's a lot to think about in this hobby.

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Watch the MS-20 Mini if you're thinking of expanding later, as it doesn't use the 1v/oct CV standard found in Eurorack and most semi-modular gear. There are workarounds, and there's gear that does support it, but you don't have the same plug & play security as, say, a Minibrute.

 

I wouldn't pick the Keys / Beats over the other options, personally - even with an external controller, it's fiddly and noisy work, and in terms of cheap drums I'd have a look at the Pocket Operator series (or possibly the Volca Sample over the Beats).

 

Despite these wise words, I do have a Beats, Keys and Bass and they don't get any use at all, so if you are interested in those, by all means get in touch. I'm a motivated seller because I've stubbed my toe on an Akai S950 that's leaning against the doorway three times this week.

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Volca Beats isn't great, nor is the sampler, but Volca Keys is a wonderful instrument. Very much a workhorse in my studio - neither fiddly or noisy. Volca FM is also first rate. I'd be tempted to pair a Keys/FM and one of the silver series Pocket Operators as you'll be able to achieve an awful lot (either the sampler or the dedicated drum machine). A single monophonic synth will be very limiting. The Pocket Operators are more flexible than they'd appear (especially the silver series latest ones) but you may find them difficult to grasp and somewhat toy like. Something like the Keys will grow with you a lot more. 

 

It might also be worth getting a tiny mixer and an external FX unit of some sort. An old cheap multiFX (like an EMP10, or some of the old rack mounted Zoom stuff) can transform fairly mundane output into something significantly more impressive. Prioritising a nice reverb would be where I'd look. 

 

A slightly more leftfield option might be starting with an Arturia Keystep (which you mentioned) or the like and attaching a more conventional sound module to it. You can then expand into other CV triggered stuff later. I have great fun with a Wavestation SR and JV010 being triggered alongside my other gear and there's a plethora of old multitimbral sound modules you can pick up for peanuts these days.  

 

It's worth saying that the Keystep is a high quality, but deeply odd bit of equipment that takes a lot of work to get results out of. I like it, but it can make itself hard to like at times. 

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Yeah, poking around YouTube I've been very impressed by what the Keys can do, and it seems to be something that sticks around in the mix even when people are using vastly more expensive hardware.

 

Regarding the Beats, I thought it sounded pretty good, apart from the crappy snare, which is fixable by soldering in a missing cap. Can be made to do a fairly creditable impression of an 808 kick, and the UI seems pretty straightforward. This video impressed me, but then I am a sucker for Kaiju.

 

 

Part of the appeal of the Volcas to me is the portability - I don't have a fixed office space at home at the moment, so this is going to have to be stuff that lives in a cloth box on an IKEA Cube shelf until the kids go to bed, whereupon I'll commandeer the dining room table. Although the possibility of noodling away on the sofa is also appealing, as is the potential of letting my daughter join in on one (despite being 5¾, she's a big Kraftwerk fan).

 

The Monologue has that portability too, but it's hard to find anyone using it for anything other than setting up an techno loop in the sequencer then twiddling the filter, which is a bit dull for me, and I've heard people say the output is a bit limited (of course, the Keys is even more limited, but it's half the price).

 

Conclusion: I dunno. Probably best to just buy something cheap and see if I actually use it.

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Beats is fine - just slightly underwhelming. It was in the first phase of the Volcas and would probably be significantly better now in terms of the UI and features. It can wallop out a decent approximation of an 808, and is tactile and immediate. I've never sold mine, but I wouldn't say I love it with all my heart.

 

The Keys is an odd one. I really didn't like it for a long time, but then had an evening where I consciously decided to sit with it and really explore what it could do. After that it won me over. It's quite unassuming, and perhaps not the most characterful of synths, but it can create some lovely tones, and some nice squelches. I really like ti now, and as you say it can hang a mix together, and also cut through quite nicely.

 

One thing worth remembering is that for portable play you'l be relying on the internal speakers of the Volcas. Which are, to put it bluntly, shite. Unlike the Pocket Operators you can't chain the audio into a single headphone jack. So you'd need a little battery powered mixer if you were using more than one. One benefit of the POs is very much the fact that you can pick up 2 or 3 of them, and chain them into a single headphone output. And the latest ones are excellent - but won't really give you some of the tactility the Volcas will. 

 

 

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Reckon i'm going to have a splash on the Behringer Neutron.

Looks pretty damn cool. Just hope they've improved their build quality.

 

I still really fancy the Novation Peak or SE-02 as a second synth but so hard to justify cost over VSTs.

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I'm hugely tempted by the Neutron too, really like the look of it.

 

I'm also swithering over a fairly reasonably priced Korg Poly 800 at the moment, modded with filter cutoff and resonance knobs. Anyone got experience with it?

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I'm toying with the idea of building a fun little hardware-based setup. Where do I pick up all of yesterday's cool gear people are selling off cheap to fund today's cool gear? I want to take advantage of people's desire to always have that brand-new plaything.

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On 01/06/2018 at 11:35, Rowan Morrison said:

I just ordered a Digitone, too, mainly as an incentive to sit through an interminable day of training yesterday. I was underwhelmed by the spec when I first read about it, but having dived into the manual I've concluded it's actually a very thoughtful implementation of FM, with a couple of concessions to form factor (which works for me). I could have gotten sniffy about having six operators, but the sad truth is I'll never have time to properly use a full-on DX7-style implementation - and if for some reason I do want to explore that avenue, I can go operator crazy in Max without any interface hassle or other limitations. Getting something that's creatively useful is more important, and more of a challenge, and I think they've probably pulled that off with the Digitone. I also think Elektron are probably more effective in the digital domain - the A4 and Rytm can sound amazing, but it also takes some perseverance to clear the mud sometimes. They're not always happy with sharing frequencies, so while they always perform well in solo situations, it can be tricky to fit them into a broader system. The Rytm in particular will happily chew up and spit out any bass synths you might pair it with.

 

Anyway I'm hoping, as with every single piece of gear I buy, that it'll help me streamline my setup into a usable core. It won't, obviously, it'll just make things worse. But what can you do?

 

I'm lusting after a digitone,  sounds so good.

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1 hour ago, Vimster said:

I'm toying with the idea of building a fun little hardware-based setup. Where do I pick up all of yesterday's cool gear people are selling off cheap to fund today's cool gear? I want to take advantage of people's desire to always have that brand-new plaything.

 

I lurk on eBay, gumtree and Facebook marketplace mainly, hoping to spot underpriced stuff before anyone else. Sound on Sound readers ads are worth watching too.

 

Off to see/probably buy that Poly 800 tomorrow evening. Ended up down a YouTube rabbit hole  in bed last night and have now convinced myself I need a Cazio CZ101 too though...

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