PHENOL is a new type of electronic instrument from Kilpatrick Audio. Inspired
by modular synthesizers, PHENOL offers the creative potential, sound and hands-on
experience of a modular synth, in a sleek, compact and affordable package. And
best of all, PHENOL is compatible with modular systems because it uses
the same voltages and banana connectors as the Kilpatrick Format and similar
Whether you already love modular synthesizers and want a smaller instrument for
portability, or whether you've heard about modular synths and want to get your feet wet,
PHENOL offers an amazing instrument at a great price.
Features and Specs
Banana patch system with colour-coded jacks and voltages compatible with Kilpatrick Format and other modular systems - PHENOL Panel Layout
Two analog VCOs - triangle, ramp and pulse outputs
Two analog filters - low pass and band pass (formerly labeled high pass)
Two analog VCAs with level control
Two envelope generator / LFO combos with many unique features (digital)
An LFO with sine and random output (digital)
Internal MIDI to CV converter with DIN and USB MIDI interfaces
Built-in MIDI sequencer / looper
Compact mixer with digital delay (330ms of delay time)
Digital pulse divider - divide MIDI clock, LFOs or audio signals into useful musical divisions
Buffered analog mixer / mult / inverter with level control
Two external audio inputs buffer and amplify line-level signals -
process drum machine or other audio sources through the system
Rear panel connections / controls:
USB-B port for USB MIDI connection to a PC / Mac
Headphone and line outputs (1/4" jacks)
DC power input - 2.1mm coax - centre positive 24VDC
Ground banana jack
External input (1/4" jacks)
Power input: 24VDC @ 250mA (500mA regulated supply required)
Operating temperature: 15C to 30C (59F to 86F)
Storage temperature: -10C to 45C (14F to 113F)
Dimensions: 15.8"W x 8.8"L x 2.5"H (including feet and knobs)
Weight: 5lbs (2.27kg)
Universal input power supply (100-240V) included with plugs for most countries
Designed and made in Canada using high quality parts
Warranty: 1 year (30 day warranty on cables)
Comes packaged with 10x banana cables.
Price and Availability
Price: $799 USD
Enjoy using your PHENOL anywhere with the PHENOLgo! USB to 24V power supply
Converts 5V USB power to 24V required by PHENOL
Works with USB power banks, solar panels, etc.
Over-current protected and >90% efficient
Includes integrated 8" USB cable and 6' 24V cable with 2.1mm plug
Price: $99 USD!
Banana Cables - 10 pack
Each 10-pack includes:
2x black 12" cables
2x blue 12" cables
2x red 18" cables
2x green 18" cables
2x yellow 18" cables
Price: $48 USD!
Banana to Minijack Adapter Kit
This kit allows you to connect PHENOL or another banana jack synth to
Eurorack or other synths that use 3.5mm minijacks. Available in three colour combinations!
Each kit includes:
5x banana (M) to minijack (F) signal adapters (150mm / 6")
If you have a Kickstarter Edition or a PHENOL purchased from a US dealer, your
PHENOL came supplied with a 100-240V input power supply with a US-style plug. We now
offer a high quality power supply that comes with US, UK, EU and Australian plugs.
Avoid having to use a plug-changing adapter.
Price: $25 USD!
All PHENOL documentation is available online. Click here for the full PHENOL manual with links to demonstration videos.
Although PHENOL doesn't have a dedicated sample and hold circuit, you can create some of the same effects with the LFO Random output. If you want those stepped random filter cutoff sounds, or just some crazy pitches that go all over the place... this is already possible.
Another common use of a sample and hold is to make stepped voltages from LFOs. Don't worry, because we have you covered here too. Both envelope sections have a Steps mode where you can quantize the output. You can go from 2 steps (lowest voltage / highest voltage) all the way up to a perfectly smooth linear ramp. There are 16 distinct settings.
How do the Envelopes work? They look like they have a lot of modes.
The envelopes are some of the most powerful features of PHENOL. They have three dedicated control
buttons which select from three modes each as follows:
This setting affects the overall behaviour of the envelope.
Attack / Hold / Release - Envelope mode mostly for regular note amplitudes. The envelope will ramp up to the maximum level, hold as long as the gate is applied, and then fall back to the minimum value when the gate is release. The up and down times can be controlled separately.
Attack / Release - For percussive sounds or snappy bass sounds, when triggered the envelope will ramp up to the maximum value and then immediately start ramping back down to the minimum value. Holding the gate has no effect.
Oscillator Mode - This mode works as a low frequency oscillator. The first control affects the speed, and the second control affects the amplitude. When the mode is switched on the gate is latched so that it runs all the time. If you apply a gate you can operate the oscillator in a momentary mode.
This setting affects the function of the third control pot.
Steps - The third control affects the smoothness of the envelope or oscillator shape. The control can be set from 2 levels (lowest / highest) all the way up to the smoothest value. Various useful divisions can be made.
Arp - The third control affects which arpeggio is applied to the output. Instead of equally-spaced intervals like in steps mode, a number of different musical arpeggios are selectable.
Gate Delay - The third control affects the delay of the gate when turning on. This allows effects such as a filter envelope or modulation to start after a delay.
This setting affects the output signal.
Normal - The output ramps from the lowest to the highest value.
Invert - The output is inverted and ramps from the highest value to the lowest value.
Absolute - The output ramps from the centre point and goes positive only. The range is reduced to half.
More Tech Details
PHENOL is based on the Kilpatrick Format modular synth released by Andrew Kilpatrick
in 2012. Specs for this system designed for DIY and commercial makers to use are freely
available: Kilpatrick Format Technical Specifications
The use of banana jacks makes it really easy to interface PHENOL with other gear, even
your own projects. The jacks are inexpensive and easy to build into nice looking weekend
DIY projects. If enough people are interested we'll dedicate a section of our site to feature
interesting things you can build to add on to your PHENOL!
Gate / Pulse Signals - A gate or pulse signal is 0V when off and 5V when
on. These are output on red banana jacks and input on white jacks. Input trigger when
the voltage rises above about 1V.
Audio / CV Signals - Audio and CV signals range from about -5V to +5V.
These signals are output on grey banana jacks and input on black jacks. Envelopes and
VCAs use the full range of control from -5V to +5V. All signals are intercompatible.
Pitch CV Signals - Pitch signals calibrated to musical pitch are specified
as 1V/octave. When disconnected (0V) oscillators should be in the centre of their range.
Impedances - As a general rule: CV outputs are 1K impedance (100 ohms for pitch CV)
and 20K or more input. (100K for pitch CV)
Voltage Compatibility with Other Systems
Many people have asked about the compatibility between PHENOL and other modular formats. As
was stated above, PHENOL uses the same voltage standards as the Kilpatrick Format modular system
which will hopefully be adapted as an industry format within the coming years. It solves a number
of existing problems with most modular systems both electrically and mechanically.
Specific compatibility notes:
All CV and audio signals range from -5V to +5V. Pitch uses the industry standard 1V/octave.
Pulse and gate signals use 0V = off, and +5V = on. This is pretty much the standard on most
systems. PHENOL pulse/gate inputs will activate with voltages above about 1V.
The main difference with Kilpatrick Format / PHENOL is that envelopes and VCAs use the entire
voltage range, instead of simply positive-only voltages which are often used on other systems for
envelopes, VCAs and some digital modules like MIDI to CV converters. You might need to boost
an external signal (with the ADDER section) or attenuate a signal leaving PHENOL (with the
input control on the other module) to make them interface perfectly.
The use of fully bipolar voltages for all CV signals means that every output and input is
compatible and you never have to wonder if the range of signal will be right. Additionally,
always using bipolar voltages means that the local control such as tuning, cutoff, etc. is
generally at the middle of its range and the CV input simple adds or subtracts to the existing
setting. This makes logical sense and works better when patching and unpatching on the fly.
Conversion to/from other cable types such as minijack (1/8" or 3.5mm) or 1/4" can be
easily accomplished by making a small breakout box or just making cables that have a banana
plug on one end and the other type of plug on the other end. The only important concern is that
you must connect the ground of your other system to the front panel ground connection on PHENOL
before patching. You can use a minijack / banana cable plugged into an unused jack on your other
system to ensure the ground is connected all the time. PHENOL provides a dedicated ground jack
for this purpose.
We often get many of the same questions from people, so here are some of the most common questions and answers.
How can PHENOL be connected to other synths?
PHENOL uses voltages which are compatible with most synths including Eurorack as well as stand-alone synths. For synths which use banana cables such as Buchla, Serge, Fenix, etc. you can simply use the included patch cables. For Eurorack and synths which use minijacks, we make convenient adapter cable kits which are available through dealers or through our online store.
Tell me about grounding PHENOL with other devices
Because PHENOL uses banana patch cables, if you are going to patch the CV or audio signals from the top panel to other gear, there needs to be a common ground between them. This can be accomplished in a few different ways:
In our banana to minijack cable kits, an extra audio cable is supplied, Connect it to any of the rear panel audio connectors (we recommend one of the EXT IN jacks) and plug it into an unused port on your other synth.
If both synths are connected to the same audio mixer or sound card, the ground is probably already connected. In most cases this will be enough.
If you run audio through another synth or vice versa using the audio connections, the ground is already connected.
There is no need to worry about ground when dealing with the rear panel 1/4" audio jacks, USB or MIDI connections.
Can I process audio signals with PHENOL?
Yes, PHENOL has two external audio inputs that can be used to bring in audio from line level sources such as mixers, drum machines, other synths, etc. Simply patch in a 1/4" cable and the signal will appear on the top panel in one of the oscillator sections. You can patch it just like any other signal in the system. There is no need to ground your audio source to PHENOL other than using the audio cable.
The sound is gritty / noisy, how can I make it cleaner?
Just like with audio mixers, in a modular synth there are many places where the audio signal can be amplified and attenuated. It's important to keep a hot signal throughout as much of the signal path as possible. One common mistake that people make is by running the VCA too low. When you are controlling the VCA with an envelope signal or LFO, the proper setting for the AMP control is at about 12 o'clock. The general rule of thumb is that the input LEDs on the mixer should be blinking periodically or steadily on. If you never see them, check your settings throughout the patch.
When using PHENOL with headphones, the MASTER level setting will be determined by the type of headphones. However in a setup with a mixer, you should run the MASTER control so that the master LEDs are blinking as well. If the signal is too hot for your mixer, adjust the input gain / trim knob to accommodate the hotter signal. Running the hottest signal throughout the entire signal path will result in the best sound, regardless of whether the equipment is analog or digital.