The Mochika XL is an analog synthesizer and step sequencer combo hand built by Atomosynth in Peru and is available for $249.00 US. There is a lot going on with this deceptively simple looking device so I’ll break down each of the major components one by one and I’ll start that off absolutely superficially… with it’s looks.
Yes… before I say a word about the sound this thing makes I just want you to take a look at the image of the Mochika XL again and drool a bit. This thing is mad sexy looking. I’m the guy that lost my shorts and started humping the synth rack when I first gazed on the grotesque orange monstrosity from Waldorf, the Microwave XTK and I’m also the same guy that drooled over the brushed aluminum body of the Kawai K5000. So clearly when a green glowy transparent box shows up in the ether with flashing LED’s you can bet I’ll be the guy wanting to buy it regardless of how it sounds. Well, ok… I DID check out the available sound samples and YouTube videos and well… they mostly suck horribly and you know what? I STILL BOUGHT IT. I had faith that something that looked this cool would still sound rad in the correct hands and it totally does but before we talk about the sound… LOOK AT IT. IT IS TRANSLUCENT GREEN AND THERE ARE LITTLE ELECTRONICY THINGS TO SEE!!!! This is the stuff that creates gear porn. The laser cut acrylic case seems thoughtfully laid out and despite the plastic body the construction seems fairly sturdy though I am sure very susceptible to scratches and things like, well… falling. So you know, don’t drop it. I don’t think it’ll crumble under regular use but don’t use it for a football. The knobs, sliders and switches are all very tight and sturdy feeling and obviously meant to be used. The rear of the synth has one jack for your standard three prong AC cord (NO WALL WARTS!), one 1/4″ out for the audio and a MIDI in jack for clock signals. So how does it sound?
The Mochika XL has a single oscillator that can produce either a square or a sawtooth waveform. You can control the pitch and level of the oscillator and there is a noise generator that can be mixed into the signal path or used as a modulation source for the oscillator which can produce some nice and crunchy results. The Mochika is also equipped with a switchable filter (low pass or high pass) with cutoff and resonance controls and a simple filter decay envelope with a variable release. The LFO is switchable between square and sawtooth waves, has variable depth and rate controls and can modulate either the oscillator pitch or filter cutoff. The immediate tonal characteristics of the synth are predominantly nasal with an extremely squelchy filter that is reminiscent of a 303 filter type. The filter can EASILY eat over the oscillator and become it’s own tone source. With some careful tweaking you can push out some pretty good bass tones or melt everything into a blissful squelch of noise. It isn’t the most flexible synth in the world but I’ve had fun tweaking it and pushing the oscillators into lower than musically useful octaves and letting it burble into cascading piles of neat sounding analog mush. How useful any of these sounds really are rest heavily on the sequencer section of the Mochika XL.
The sequencer is how you will coax any sound out of the Mochika. You can’t trigger notes from any external sources so your sole method of controlling the Mochika is with the variable 8-step sequencer. The sequencer can function in 4, 6 and 8 step modes in a looping or back and forth fashion, it can jump randomly between the 8 steps or it can drone endlessly on a single step. In all of the modes except the “drone or osc” mode there is a tempo knob that will adjust the tempo of the sequencer during play back… in the “drone or osc” mode, the tempo knob allows you to manually shift from one step to the next either forward or backward. Each of the 8 steps has a on/off switch and a slider to vary the pitch of the note. There is a “Range” switch that will limit the range of the sliders allowing for a potentially easier tuning of a step… albeit having half of the tonal range available. There is also a GATE knob which allows you to dictate how long a note sounds in between each step. This is a very simple analog sequencer and setting up musically cohesive steps can be challenging but that’s all part of the fun when using a tool like this. This isn’t a modern analog despite it’s package… it’s all pretty antiquated tech and need to be “massaged” into place. In use? Flick the toggle switch to play… the sequencer steps through whatever notes you have activate… adjust pitch and tweak the synth. Done. Super easy and a lot of fun. Chain some FX behind it and yer cooking with some fun tones.
The Mochika XL also has CV and Gate outputs on 1/8 inch jacks allowing you to use the sequencer with external CV equipped gear. I’m not sure what voltages it is using but I tapped the sequencer into the CV in on my Moog LP and rocked out a cool filter sequence so at the very least it works with that. The Mochika XL comes with no documentation so feel free to experiment!
Almost cool but not quite cool goodies…
MIDI CLOCK!! Wahoo!!! Oh… wait… ALMOST cool. KINDA fucking irritating actually. A BIG selling point for me was the fact that the Mochika XL can supposedly sync to MIDI which is great because I have a ton of gear I want to use with it. Well, the good news is, it DOES sync to MIDI clock… the BAD news is that is doesn’t respond to START or STOP signals. What this means is the second your drum machine or sequencer is turned on while your Mochika XL sits waiting in MIDI mode, the Mochika just starts playing. How is this a problem you ask? Most devices, when MIDI clock is enabled, transmit that clock continuously. Devices receiving that clock see the signal but don’t react to it until they receive a START or STOP command. This allows multiple devices to.. well, start and stop at the same damn time. The Mochika however, just starts… and keeps on going regardless of what all the other gear happens to be doing. That my friends is a giant suck. Work arounds? You can leave the Mochika in STOP mode, start your sequencer and then manually toss the MIDI switch on the Mochika at the top of the measure and hope your timing was spot on. That doesn’t work so well for me. My current solution involves the DAW “Reaper” by Cuckos. Unlike every other sequencer on the market, Reaper doesn’t transmit clock continuously when idle. This is a frustrating behavior BUT in this particular instance a real attribute. When starting playback on Reaper, MIDI clock starts along with previously mentioned START commands and in effect, allows me to synchronize the sequencer, drum machines and whatever else along with the Mochika XL. Using a laptop and a DAW and an extra MIDI interface to resolve shitty MIDI implementation sucks though. To advertise MIDI sync this broken is, in my opinion, practically lying to the consumer and is intensely frustrating. Which brings me to one other bit of negativity…
The slightly nasty aftertaste…
I don’t like saying negative things about people or companies or gear but in this case I feel like I need to. Atomosynth is HORRIBLE with communication and did not deliver the unit anywhere NEAR the advertised time frame (7 to 10 days). As a matter of fact from order date to receiving the Mochika XL I waited 70 days exactly. That’s a hell of a long time. I received no order confirmation and when emailing to inquire if payment went through I had to wait two weeks just for a response that told me there was a slight delay with orders. I followed up again two weeks later and received no response. I wrote again ANOTHER 2 weeks later and was told I’d receive a tracking number in the next few days. Three weeks later I still had no Mochika XL or a response from Atomosynth. Knowing that the company also sells on Ebay I decided to see if anyone had reported similar issues. What I discovered was that bids for Mochika XL units had been purchased AFTER my order AND fulfilled weeks before mine. I purchased directly from Atomosynth which in retrospect seems to be a mistake. After writing one last email threatening to retract payment via PayPal for non-delivered goods I magically received a tracking number for a shipped package. I’m an easy going guy but dealing with Atomosynth was horrible. I finally received my Mochika XL and it’s a fun instrument but I really have to warn anyone considering a purchase to do so at your own risk. I was convinced my money was lost. I’m glad I have the synth but if I had to do it again, I’d buy from a company that cared a little more about the consumer. I’m fully aware Atomosynth is small and boutique but this isn’t the first small company I’ve purchased from and hands down, Atomosynth has been the worst to deal with.
So now what?
So what to do? I’ve managed a work around for the bogus MIDI sync, despite delays and bad communication I DID receive The Mochika XL and in the end I’ve had a great time playing with it and will continue to do so. Should you do the same? Ultimately I’d feel bad recommending anyone to go through what I did so probably not… but if yer still drooling at the cool glowy green translucent goodness… well, maybe you already have your answer. The Mochika XL is far more about “feeling” out cool sounds, rhythms and textures than presenting things in a “tidy ready to sound perfect” package. So it’s an instrument you’ll have to play with your instincts and unfortunately one you will also have to purchase with your instincts. I really hope Atomosynth get their act straightened out because they make cool stuff.