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Venus Theory review of the Kodamo Essence FM mkii

Kwerky
I Really Wanted To Like This Synth...

After seeing his streams with he EFM I'm really impressed with how Venus Theory has approached this review.
He makes a lot of valuable points & suggestions starting at 29 min. 👍
Teomi
I appreciate his in depth review indeed but I actually commented about a lot of his "cons" comments.
I found most of them to be non issues...

My commends there are under "HandheldSound".
Strider
There's a special place in hell for those synth youtubers.

edit : exept for Jexus, please send one to Jexus, video would be all killer patches and zero whining or coffee ads... 🙄
Teomi
I honestly feel that his comments didn't come from a bad place but rather from inexperience. That's why I felt compelled to put a few posts on his video since maybe 90% of his comments were strange and basically pointed out to workflow errors.
ForlornSynths
My biggest issue with his review was that he was fixated on the "voice" mode instead of the "patch" mode. In the EssenceFM, voices are the building blocks for patches and patches are what you play. I hadn't even bought my EssenceFM at that point, yet I understood that. I even tried to point that out in the comments and he didn't understand.
Jazz Paladin
Considering I find the Essence easier to design than traditional subtractive synths , I really gotta wonder how deep he bothered diving into things. Easy to mix internally, too , if you get your balances right
VenusTheory
Edit: May have also been worth clarifying that the unit was sent to me by Perfect Circuit, and not by Kodamo directly although I did contact Kodamo previously. Perfect Circuit didn't offer the unit to me for free, and purchasing it would have only been with a small discount.


This is probably the last hardware review I plan to do for the foreseeable future, and this is exactly why. The whole 'internet man disagree, internet man bad' approach has made it pretty clear to me that people mostly just want an echo chamber when it comes to gear reviews on the internet. I'm not here to pander and provide confirmation that you did the right thing buying X thing, I wanted to provide my review (and a review, by nature, is a subjective thing) and give my thoughts on this unit after being asked by many subscribers to check it out.

It's interesting that even working full time as a professional musician and sound designer, by simply being a youtuber it discounts all else by somehow proving you're an inexperienced, fake, and useless jackass.

Although I tried to provide a fair review (and as noted and even timestamped in the video: all these things are opinion, and therefor subjective) it seems drawing up any form of criticism means you are wrong and just 'didn't get the point, man'.

All criticisms are drawn based on several weeks of testing the unit, reading the manuals of comparable products/viewing demos of their features (opsix, iridum/quantum kernals, modx/montage, TX81Z, dexed, phaseplant, etc), and demoing a few comparable products (not all are available in my area) before putting things together for the video. I spend a pretty good amount of time preparing notes/scripts for the video, so it's not like this is filmed off the cuff 15 minutes after unboxing it.

This (and similarly triggered 'bad man obvi dumb' threads elsewhere) is exactly why I almost didn't publish this review. However, again as noted in the video, I felt compelled to at least tell my audience about the EssenceFM as it's one of the most powerful and unique products on the market from a relatively unknown company that's actually doing some interesting stuff for a change. I really was looking forward to checking out the Essence, and had the money set aside to buy it. I had VERY little expectation I'd be sending it back.

The fixation of the 'voice' mode really stems from the fact that a synth is little more than it's fundamental components. Saying 'you're missing the point' and calling up a defense of 'you didn't go up a tier' is a flat argument I would say, as it means I shouldn't provide any criticism of a feature of the unit because 'that's not how I use it and you're wrong'. Voice mode is exceptionally important, as what this provides is a massive part of what the upper tiers are capable of.

This is what makes for bad YouTube reviews, IMO. Since it came to mind, I figured it was worth mentioning. As nitpicky and niche as some things may have seemed, they stem from somewhere either during my experience using the unit or based on the features or functions of other comparable things. This, again, is how a review works.

In terms of 'inexperience' I designed several dozen patches with the unit, and probably spent around 30-40 hours in total using it before filming the review. I'm not really able to borrow units for extended periods, but I try to integrate things into my workflow during that time to test them out as accurately and 'in practice' as I can to put them through their paces. I actually even created a sample pack using this unit. I'm sure people don't want to watch all that.

Working as a professional sound designer and having worked with dozens of different recent FM based synthesizers (both hardware and software form), I would like to think that my opinions and time/experience with the unit at least count for something. When a unit is described as 'the ultimate FM synthesizer' it would be prudent to treat it as such to provide a fair review. I'm not accusing Kodamo of hyping here, but if that's what you pitch it as then that's what I'm going to treat it as.

Given hindsight, there are certain things I would perhaps like to have shown more of in the video (MPE, a few more patch design sessions, some quick comparisons), but the original cut was over 2.5 hours, and that's just not watchable based on what I usually see from YouTube's analytics for longer format videos I've done.

As mentioned, I very much look forward to what's next from Kodamo with this unit and future updates and am extremely keen to see the new VFM units as those progress but this is exactly why I don't think I'll be reviewing anything again anytime soon as there is simply no winning other than throwing 'honest review' in the title and keeping things 100% positive all the time. This is exactly why creators feel pressured to give glowing reviews to everything all the time, and that's exactly what's led to this innate distrust of YouTube gear reviews.

Not really sure what my goal was with this post, but hopefully this at least clarifies a few things. I actually almost just took this video down because of all the associated freakouts about this video, but it seemed important to leave it up.

I can't seem to find the part of the video where I said that getting good results with the Essence isn't possible, and if you enjoy it then you're wrong. In fact, I'm pretty sure most of the video is me talking about how much I liked it. However, any form of critique seems to efface anything preceding it.

Of course though, coffee ads and bitching mean I'm an idiot.
ForlornSynths
Venus Theory:

First, I believe that I owe you an apology. I'm sorry.
I was actually thinking of a different video of yours - the New Synth Time video exploring the EssenceFM and not your review.

To your credit, in spite of your criticisms of the instrument, you have no reservations of bestowing compliments when you see things "done right." Furthermore, I acknowledge that you recognize the value and potential of this synth and brand and that is why you took the time to create not one, not two, but three separate videos with a combined viewing time of over four hours. If I understand your intent here, it was because you recognize the potential and wanted to share what you experienced and wanted the brand to improve from your observations.

Your critiques were not malicious. I get that. And this post, if you will continue to read, is meant in the same spirit.

First, to set the record straight, I think highly of most of your insight regarding instruments. I have been designing sounds (although not for sale - they're for my own projects) for over 35 years and I have quite a bit of experience with FM going back to my original Yamaha TX7 and Casio CZ-101. (I count the Casio because Phase Distortion has certain similarities to Yamaha's FM which is actually Phase Modulation). I've enjoyed more modern instruments that have approached FM in different ways including my Clavia Nord Lead 3, Roland System-8, ASM Hydrasynth, and over the past year, my Waldorf Iridium with its engaging Kernals engine. I've also toyed with FM in my modular rig via ALM's Akemie's Castle. I only mention these for clarification that I've enjoyed dabbling with FM for a while.

I saw some great potential in the EssenceFM and its interface. Granted, it's not perfect and they would do well to take note of some of your observations. My frustration watching your "New Synth Time..." video was that it wasn't until the video reached 47:30 that you had the epiphany that the instrument was structured hierarchically. Up to that point, you had referred to making and editing "patches" while you were in Voice mode (two examples 26:25 & 26:45). At that point you spent about almost 20 minutes doing some incredible work on an algorithm in Voice mode and made a truly beautiful sounding voice. You then jumped into Performance mode and started singing "layering, layering, I love layering..." (46:12). That layering probably would have been better handled in Patch mode. In patch mode, you can layer up to 128 different voices, control the volumes of each, and even designate to what key ranges each voice is limited (if required).

Though you can assign different patches to the same MIDI channel in Performance mode, this is where many would take advantage of the multi-timbral capability of the EssenceFM and assign up to 16 patches to the 16 different MIDI channels.

Again, I am not stating any of this with malicious intent. I hope you hear that in my tone. Furthermore, I realize that I was looking at a two hour first-time exploration video as opposed to a review, so you were discovering things in real time while recording that. I know that many of us identify with the instruments we choose and we want "our" choices to be popular so that manufacturers will continue to support these instruments. However, that should never mean that those of us sharing information should candy-coat observations in place of honest insight and discourse.

Peace to you and yours in the New Year!
KODAMO
Please keep doing reviews! You already had an impact on the EssenceFM: envelopes now defaults to an ADSR shape 😉
You're welcome to try our next products, maybe even pre-production units so we can take your feedback in account right from the beginning.
geode
Hi,
I credit Venus Theory's "sound design session" video as the one that actually caused me to repurchase the Essence MkII this week after previously returning it. His exasperation is painful, and I felt it too when using the synth, but it is really capable and compact and makes sounds that I can not easily make using other synths. I am not an FM expert but own a Kronos and an opsix and have bought and sold other FM synths like the digitone to see if I can deal with them. I have not tried the Montage but I dont really have room for it, and despite sound capabilities its just not an option right now unless I drop my polybrute or my Kronos which I cannot do.

Venus Theory also gained me as a subscriber, I was really impressed by his style and approach in this video.

There was mention of "cannot multiply down which makes bass patches really hard" - is this something that can be clarified or elaborated upon? My new Essence is in the mail and I cannot look at the UI to see how this seemingly important point might affect things, and if it has been addressed in FW updates?

I am going to hold on to this synth this time, and I hope that Kodamo can find a balance between competing user requests. I do tend to over-weight the complaints of professional sound designers, and I think (as a programmer in another area of specialization) that you need to cultivate a relationship with your most informed, and your most unhappy users. The intersection of those two groups is where you will achieve super-linear progress in improving your product.
KODAMO
The EssenceFM can multiply down, it's in the V6.0 firmware the feature called Fractional Multipliers. Instead of using multiplier=0 and various quartertone settings (which was quite tedious) you can use 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 etc. multipliers.
We're quick to improve things, so very often you'll find criticism that isn't relevant anymore on various forums and reviews
Soarer
The fractional multipliers are such a welcome addition! Much easier and faster to check what lower frequencies are doing to a sound.
But that didn’t stop you from making bass patches before. It was possible to go really low using the coarse frequency.
pete.m
I'm considering buying an EFM, and have been looking at the forum and at quite a few videos to research it. I've joined the forum to say how sad it is to see Venus Theory's review being attacked in the way that some have. They need to show a little more respect to their fellow musicians. I've seen the video too, and I'm grateful for his honest, knowledgeable and detailed take on it. As Kodamo say themselves, it's also helped to change the EFM. Full credit to them for listening properly.
It isn't possible for everybody to agree with everything that anybody else says, but it is possible to allow them to express an honest opinion without being slagged off for it.
The truth is that we all use our gear in different ways, and that not all aspects of a synth are as important to some people as they are to others. For example, my main keyboard is a Korg Kronos, and I simply don't need to use some of the stuff on there, but the stuff that I do like makes it perfect for me to work with. When I do buy an EFM, it will partly be as a result of the VT review. It's helped me to understand it from his perspective as well as mine, and so I now have a better idea of what an interesting and powerful synth it is.
Teomi
The problem with Venus Theory's review isn't about honesty. I'm sure he's a cool dude that has good intentions. But he made several comments in his video that showed a lack of technical understanding and several people (myself included) felt compelled to call him out on it. Additionally, the video, at times, felt like a bait and switch and that also pissed some folks off. Not me personally.
geode
There is no problem with Venus Theory's videos.

Thanks Kodamo for the clarification about multiplier changes in FW 6.0. I am aware that you make frequent updates, it is very cool. My new Essence FM came today I will update FW tomorrow.

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