SOUND ON SOUND REVIEWS
SOUND ON SOUND magazine Vol.10 No.4. February 1995
Review by Chris Carter
EDP WASP ANALOGUE MONOSYNTH
The Wasp has to be one of the most unusual looking synths ever made, with its shiny black ABS plastic casing with bright yellow knobs and legends and the infamous flat, yellow and black keyboard. It looks so cheap and cheerful that you would almost think it was disposable. Containing a single PCB with a hybrid digital VCO and analogue VCF design by Chris Huggett and Adrian Wagner it was released in 1978 for £199 by UK company EDP and was distributed by Rod Argent's Keyboards. Advertised as being 'One of the biggest advances in synthesiser design-an ultra low cost, high performance instrument unmatched by synthesisers several times the price', it quickly gained cult status. Pro musicians regarded it as no more than a toy but many more saw it as a godsend and anyway who cares what it looked like, it sounded bloody great! Admittedly the Wasp can sound as waspish as you like when it is played through the awful internal speaker but put it through a few effects and an amplifier and it transforms into an awesomely capable sounding beast that can really move speaker cones. The Wasp is capable of producing some classic Acid, Techno and bass sounds and is often overlooked in favour of the Roland BassLine, which is the current darling of the dance track. The Wasp deserves some exposure now as sonically it outshines the Roland BassLine in many ways.
The heart of any (analogue) synth has to be the coupling of decent VCOs and a VCF and the system in the Wasp is very impressive with a full bottom end and a glass shattering, shearing top end that really doesn't equate with it's looks. The VCF sounds very distinctive and is superb when filtering a sawtooth wave especially if modulated by the LFO random output and Envelope Generator.
In a blindfold test you would be hard pressed to pick out the sound of the Wasp as coming from anything other than a decent Korg, Roland or dare I say it a Moog from the same period.
Along with the Roland SH101 the Wasp must also be one of a very few 'genuine' synthesisers that runs off batteries. I can remember buskers around Covent Garden in the early 80's with a Wasp, a Boss Dr. Rhythm, a couple of FX pedals and a hat full of money doing a roaring trade.
It must be said that the Wasp doesn't have one of the best reliability track records and finding one that still works these days is becoming a very rare thing. I've known a few bands over the years who have used the Wasp for gigging, which is probably the one thing they were never really built for and has got to be one of the quickest way of trashing one. Most clubs have very high humidity and this plays havoc with the keyboard sensitivity. The first signs of trouble are that no matter how much you adjust the keyboard sensitivity and no matter how much you keep fiddling with the controls the thing just keeps droning on and on, this is called 'The Droning Wasp' and of course there is the classic 'Flying Wasp'. This occurs when you dash across the stage doing your Pete Townsend impersonation and you trip over the Wasp's lead. The weight of most synth's these days would mean either the lead would come out of the socket or you would trip arse over elbow, but with the Wasp weighing about as much as a bag of sugar it just takes off (probably still droning) and follows you across the stage and effortlessly smashes to the floor or hit's a slumbering roadie. A dead Wasp either way. The best way to secure it is to lash it to
something heavy using lots of gaffa tape. The plastic casing is unsurprisingly very fragile and the screws holding it together can fall out just by looking at them. This includes the underside battery compartment which is held in place by six (yes six !) tiny self tappers. Try unscrewing them on a dark stage in the middle of a gig.
I'm on my second Wasp and that has only lasted so long (12/13 years) because I have had it from new and it has never left my studio. It's had a couple of new pots and sockets over the years and finger's crossed it should continue working perfectly for a few more.
Although the Wasp front panel is divided into six basic sections a detailed explanation uncovers many unique features in a synth of this type and price. Taking a deep breath, here is an explanation of them.
ANATOMY OF A WASP
This contains a BEND control for the VCOs that can bend a note by one semitone in either direction. As there's very little physical depth to the Wasp a proper pitch bend wheel couldn't have been included and anyway it would have added too much to the cost. To get around this problem an ordinary potentiometer is used with a 90 degree dead band. For it to have any effect on the VCOs you have to turn it almost fully clockwise or anticlockwise so that while playing it you don't have to worry too much about making sure the knob always returns to dead centre for everything to remain in tune.
Next in this section is a GLIDE (portamento) control with an adjustable 3 second, 2 octave sweep. One quirk is when you apply GLIDE to the VCOs they don't track the keyboard as accurately and a side affect of this is when you jump from one end of the keyboard to the other one VCO will always lag slightly behind until they reach the correct note. This is quite a good effect and could normally only be done on a regular synth by using a MIDI delay or DDL.
Lastly in this section is a recessed pot for overall tuning of both VCOs by one tone up or down. This can be adjusted with a screwdriver.
OSCILLATOR SECTION (VCO)
VCO 1 has a five-position 'FT' (range) control that can be switched from 32 to 2 (spanning 5 octaves). There is a WIDTH control for the changing the shape of the square wave output and a three-position WAVE SHAPE selector, with Off, Sawtooth or Square wave available. The Deluxe version has one more position labelled EXT which allows you to plug in an external instrument and feed it through the VCF.
VCO 2 is slightly different in that the WIDTH control is replaced by a PITCH control (variable over one octave ) that can be used in combination with VCO 1 for tuning two note chords and intervals, while the Deluxe version also includes a volume control for each VCO. The VCOs are pretty stable as far as tuning goes and are usually only let down by noisy or worn out pots which can make tuning the Wasp a problem if it's old or well used.
CONTROL OSCILLATOR (LFO)
This section has a FREQ control (rate) with a range of about 1 Hz (not really slow enough) to about 100 Hz. Next is a PITCH MOD control for adjusting the depth of VCO modulation. And a six-position WAVE SHAPE selector switch, with sine, ramp, sawtooth, square, noise and random waves available. Interestingly the GLIDE control can additionally modify any of these waveforms.
Finally there is a NOISE SIGNAL knob, this is just a volume control for the white noise output and feeds the VCF audio input.
FILTER SECTION (VCF)
This consists of a very musical sounding 12 dB per octave VCF that has a range of about 3 Hz to 16 Hz. There is a FREQ control to adjust the filter cut-off and a Q control to adjust the resonance. Unfortunately there is a built-in overload limiter to stop the VCF going into oscillation (shame !). A very useful mode selector is next for choosing Low Pass, Band Pass and High Pass filter types (hurrah!).
Lastly there are two modulation controls. One for varying the LFO modulation depth into the VCF and the other to adjust the output from the CONTROL ENVELOPE GENERATOR into the VCF. These are unusual in that if they are set to the mid position they have no effect. However rotating them clockwise will increase the amount of modulation, but rotating them anticlockwise will give a similar effect but the modulation is inverted. This is a very versatile arrangement and works particularly well with the ENVELOPE GENERATOR. If no modulation is applied to the VCF then it will track the keyboard.
Although the VCOs and the NOISE GENERATOR have their audio signals routed to the VCF, only the Noise generator has any sort of level adjustment. The VCOs are either on or off (unless you have the Deluxe version).
ENVELOPE GENERATORS (VCA)
The VCA ENVELOPE GENERATOR has a linear ATTACK control with a rate variable from 3 ms to 2 seconds and an exponential DECAY control with a rate variable from 3 ms to 15 seconds and a switchable Sustain level control. The fastest ATTACK/DECAY settings are very short, just a click really and great for Kraftwerk impersonations. If you turn the sustain knob anticlockwise (past the click position) it turns on an envelope repeat function (LFO 2). The speed for this repeat is then adjustable by a combination of both the ATTACK and DECAY knobs, but only as long as a note is held down on the keyboard. The down side with this is you do loose some fine adjustment of the ATTACK/DECAY times. Also the speed of the effect is at it's fastest when the ATTACK/DECAY control's are turned fully anticlockwise (not clockwise as you would normally expect), strange that!
The CONTROL ENVELOPE (which modulates the VCF) has linear ATTACK and DECAY control's with rates variable from 15 ms to 6 seconds and a switchable DELAY level control that can apply a maximum 1. 5 second delay to the control envelope.
Like the VCA Envelope Generator the DELAY knob on the Control Envelope Generator can switch on a repeat function (LFO 3) with it's speed adjustable by the ATTACK /DECAY knobs. The combination of these two additional LFOs means some very complex modulated patches can be set up. Great for complex percussive loops and helicopter effects.
This has just one dual purpose control that adjust the volume and acts as an on/off switch.
The flat two octave keyboard works by sensing skin capacitance, so playing with gloves on is out of the question. It was originally advertised as being "Touch Sensitive" but the only touch sensitivity is that you need to touch the keys to play it. The keyboard is surprisingly easy to play and is great for fast arpeggio's, trill's and fancy riffs as all you need to is rub your fingers over the surface as fast as you like. The keyboard always gives priority to the highest note played and if you hold your finger on a low note while your other hand is trilling about at the top end you can get an impression of a duophonic Wasp.
The main drawback with the keyboard (apart from not being remotely touch sensitive) is that the envelope generators won't re-trigger unless you release your fingers and touch the keys again, but after using the Wasp for more than 12 years I have learned to live with this foible.
You may be interested to know that the design of the Wasp keyboard has a very similar look to the EMS Synthi AKS keyboard, which is also flat. The AKS keyboard is blue and black and together they make a lovely pair.
THE REAR PANEL
On this are two 'seven-pin' DIN sockets that a lot of people mistake for being MIDI sockets. They are not! These socket's transmit and receive 5-volt CMOS logic signals for linking Wasp's together (up to a maximum of 50) or for connecting with other EDP products. So don't try and connect a MIDI lead directly to these socket's or you could damage your Wasp or your MIDI gear. Most MIDI to CV converters have the option of adding (or include) a Wasp seven-pin compatible output.
The HEADPHONE and LINE OUT jack socket's are switched types and turn off the internal speaker if either are used. The LINE OUT produces a -10 dBm/600 ohm signal, and is adequate for most amps and mixing desks. The Wasp's noise level is said to be -65 dBm in it's "quiet state". I've always found the output to be pretty clean and loud with very little background noise. The same can't be said of the internal speaker which has a tendency to hum loudly unless a very stable external PSU is used (or six 'C' type batteries). Talking of batteries, it's best to avoid them as they tend to get devoured fairly quick.
As you can see from the description above, 24 knobs can go a long way. The Wasp has some very useful features and even a couple of fairly unique innovations (at the time) and while it's not really a classic as such it certainly has cult status. I would definitely recommend trying one out if you get the opportunity.
Designed by Chris Huggett and Adrian Wagner
Manufactured by EDP/Electronic Dream Plant Ltd.
Original Price in 1978: £199
Specification and features:
17" wide by 13" long by 2. 5" deep @ rear and 1" deep @ front
Keyboard-two octave, monophonic, touch sensitive !
Two Digital VCOs - with sawtooth and pulse.
LFO-with six waveforms.
Digital Noise Generator.
VCF-with low, high and band pass modes, and Envelope Generator with repeat LFO.
VCA-with Envelope Generator and repeat LFO.
Separate Line level output and Headphone output.
Two 'LINK' sockets for connecting other EDP products.
Built-in 4"x2" monitor speaker.
Powered by 6x 1. 5v 'C' type batteries or an external 9v PSU.
OTHER EDP PRODUCTS AND CURIOS
EDP also produced a number of other products to supplement the Wasp. First there came the Deluxe Wasp with all the extras mentioned above, plus nice wooden end cheeks and a real keyboard. This was obviously meant to appeal to people who wanted a Mini Moog but couldn't afford one.
Then there was the Spider digital sequencer with a 252 note capacity in step time and 84 notes in real time. This also had useful CV and gate outputs and the ability to sync to tape. This was followed by the Caterpillar 3 octave keyboard. It was 8 voice and up to 8 Wasp's could be connected and played polyphonically and was powered by a single PP3 battery. EDP also produced another synth called the Gnat which was basically a smaller, even cheaper, single VCO version of the Wasp.
Most of these products are quite rare now and worth checking out if you come across them at the odd car-boot sale. Another rare type of Wasp is the repackaged rack mount version produced a few years ago by the now defunct Groove Electronics and although it had no keyboard it did have built-in MIDI. Personally speaking I always found Groove to a bit untogether so I don't suppose they actually got around to making that many, but it does sound like a good idea and worth checking out if you want a Wasp for playing live.
Funnily enough in an EDP press release when the Wasp was launched there is mention of more products to come. These are listed as :
Millipedes, Eagles, Cockroaches, Beetles, Grubs, Moths and a Playing Mantis. God knows if these ever got off the drawing board and what they would have been if they had.
Signs to look for when buying a second-hand Wasp (if you can find one).
A heavily scratched or worn away keyboard is an instant way of identifying one that's had plenty of use.
Test ALL the pots and knobs, including the two pre-sets, for crackles and weird effects, as dodgy pots can make the Wasp very unstable and unpredictable.
If the speaker is distorting it could mean the output circuits are damaged but if it sounds OK through an amp or mixer then the speaker could just need replacing.
Look for cracks in the casing and missing screws and give it a gentle shake for signs of anything loose or floating around inside.
If you find any problems weigh this against the asking price and bear in mind that there probably aren't that many workshops around these days that could fix one.
One of the first times I heard the Wasp was in 1978 while I was with TG and Industrial Records and we heard some demo's by Robert Rental and Thomas Leer (who later signed to ZTT). They were writing very individualistic 'electronic' songs using just voices, guitars and two Wasp's. The Wasp's supplied all the keyboard and percussion parts and we were just amazed at the sound they were producing with these, especially as they were using no drum machines (I think they may have used a Spider sequencer(see below)). We signed them to our label and released their first album, The Bridge (now re-released on MUTE/Bridge1CD). I was so impressed by what they had achieved that I went out and bought a Wasp of my own.
Copyright © 1995 Chris Carter / SOS Publications.