Review: Modal Electronics Cobalt 5S
The Cobalt sound in a portable bus-powered package.
Do we really need another Cobalt incarnation? After all, Cobalt 8 already ships in three guises — 37- and 61-key version plus a rackmount version. The new Cobalt 5S cuts down on the polyphony, the size and the price (A$699) but maintains the same Extended Virtual Analogue synthesis engine, with 40 available algorithms and Modal’s morphable 4-pole ladder filter.
So at first glance, the bus-powerable Cobalt 5S is more suited to the on-the-go producer who doesn’t need all the at-the-fingertips editability of the Cobalt 8s. You might be right there, but Modal’s app patch editor is compatible, so your sonic peregrinations can be as long and and involved as any with the Cobalt 8.
But as far as the hardware control goes, the 5S keeps things streamlined: 16 encoders effectively run the show, along with a teeny-tiny, smart-watch-style display.
The number 16 isn’t an accident, of course, they also represent steps in the (512-step, four ‘animation’ lane) sequencer, which is lots of fun.
BIG TIME SOUNDS
The Cobalt sound is not the subject of this review — head to our review of Cobalt 8 or others for that. That said, it’s worth reiterating that Cobalt’s sounds are instantly impressive, likeable and ready for the big time. Modal has ensured the selected, preset mod sources get the best bang for the buck and tweaking presets is always very satisfying. Leads, basses, FX, sequences, polys, they’re all present and correct, while I think the lush pad patches probably remain my favourite Cobalt offerings.
The interface isn’t without its frustrations. I’m still undecided about the touchpad rather than a mod wheel and pitch stick. It feels a little dinky but does take touch pressure, which is handy. Meanwhile, the absence of a designated patch selection button is a really curious design choice. It means that, after tweaking anything, you’re forced to scroll back to the Preset page using the Page encoder every time you want a new sound.
Speaking of patches, there are four Quick Recall slots for easy recall of your favourite sounds, which is most welcome, especially if you’re plan to take the Cobalt 5S out live.
NEED TO KNOW
Is there much different under the bonnet of the 5S compared to the Cobalt 8 range? The Cobalt 8 has two independent oscillator groups with up to four oscillators making up a patch, while the 5S has two independent algorithm groups and up to eight oscillators per patch. There’s also the loss of an FX slot and, of course, the three notes of polyphony. Don’t panic, the big, lush, complex and satisfying sounds that inspire are all retained.
Portability and playability are the rationale behind the slimline design. With that come some UI idiosyncrasies which will take some getting accustomed to. But you will.
The Cobalt 5S is a neat way and a more cost-effective way of getting the Cobalt sounds you’ve been hankering for. It’s also a great hardware synth companion to a DAW and soft-synth setup.