TestDrive: Eowave Ribbon Review
Eowave, an innovative French electronic instrument manufacturer, recently released a dynamic ribbon USB MIDI controller with a built-in, 8 bit, single-oscillator, digital synth. The well-constructed Ribbon is very attractive and features a neon-blue LED that illuminates the Plexiglass “stick” when powered.
The Eowave Ribbon MIDI - CV/Gate Controller and Digital Synth
After the dodgy delivery driver decided to keep the first unit shipped to us for themselves, we received a second unit from the company in short order and quickly handed it off to our first evaluator (the Ribbon was reviewed by four different evaluators for this test; their comments are below in quotes). The first reviewer, known for his experimental, circuit-bent performances, was a perfect choice to assess the Ribbon’s minimal, lo-fi analog synth. “For what I do, the Ribbon is the perfect performance synth!” The Ribbon features a 20.5″ pressure-sensitive, ribbon stripe that runs along the top of the clear plastic stick with a metal contact patch at one end for modulation. Playing the synth simply entails you to plug the USB cable in for power and attaching a 3.5mm minijack cable to the audio out. “Not only was the Ribbon great for creating great-sounding melodies with the quality ribbon controller, but it’s also a visual standout with its ‘What The Hell Is That??’ blue LED light.”
The Eowave "Light Saber" is just under 24 inches long
“Don’t let the simplicity of the synth fool you…processing the output with all sorts of sound-shaping pedals, effects and whatnot can create some mind-blowing sonics, especially with the ability of the Ribbon to slide up to twelve octaves.”
Our second evaluator, a jam band keyboardist, utilized the Ribbon strictly as a MIDI controller and found the unit was “simply amazing” for the band’s extended improvs. “With my multitude of virtual and real analog gear, I often find myself laying down the sound bed during our marathon jams. I found the Ribbon was tremendous at creating moving variations in the sub-sonic realms beyond what I could accomplish with a mod wheel…[additionally] the ability for the audience to see how I was manipulating the sound with the Ribbon, coupled with the lighted blue plastic made me more of a focal point during the set. I’m definitely going to explore how I can possibly wear the Ribbon and step out from behind my rig so I can interact more viscerally with the guitarists.”
» 50 cm position and pressure sensitive ribbon
» 8 bit digital oscillator
» Tactile resistive pad
» Audio out
» Dimensions : 63 x 4 x 1,5 cm
» Weight : 480 g (680 g with packaging)
Another one of the Ribbon’s strong suits is its ability to be used as a CV/Gate controller via an audio cable. Our third evaluator utilized what he dubbed, “the blue light saber,” for controlling his vintage Moog gear with great success. “The Ribbon CV control excels over MIDI thanks to its superior resolution and that translated into smooth developing octave slides.” He also noted the “brilliant” printed chromatic four-octave denotations on the ribbon.
Real Mojo Is Live Performance
As the final evaluator for the Ribbon, I pressed the device into a variety of services and found it to be a rewarding experience. However, I believe the Ribbon’s real mojo is live performance. Eowave’s attention to detail in regards to the construction and aesthetics, needs to be honored by placing the Ribbon front-and-center at gigs and events. Housing the ribbon atop a clear piece of lucite with a pleasant LED was a brilliant decision by Eowave and really brands the device. In fact, Eowave should leverage this attribute by laser-etching their company name on the side of the Ribbon so it glows.
The resistive contact patch, or what Eowave calls the “tactile pad,” is used for frequency modulation. Like the ribbon, it’s pressure sensitive and the more force applied, the more FM modulation occurs. You can actually do some additional sonic experimentation here by changing how “grounded” you are to the floor. Other factors, such as static electricity, will also have an effect.
The Ribbon's connectivity consists of a 3.5mm audio output and a Mini USB port
The Ribbon does come with an editor for both Mac and PC, although it’s not a seamless proposition. You’ll need to download Cycling ’74 Max 5 runtime, and then a zip file containing the editor from their website. However, once you get everything sorted, you are afforded the ability to save up to 16 synth presets, modify the range of the ribbon from four to twelve octaves (with or without half steps), select either FM or AM as the modulation mode, change the oscillator waveform (saw, square, triangle, sine or noise) and base note. Thus, “getting under the hood of the Ribbon pays off bigtime.”
You can even plug the Ribbon into an Apple iPad by utilizing the Camera Connector Kit ($29) for even more controller mayhem. I personally didn’t test this ability, but I think iPad aficionados would have a field day with this combination.
The biggest gripe that was conveyed by all reviewers, excluding myself, was the price, €200. In today’s economy, that’s a lot of Eurobucks for a ribbon controller and it’s bound to turn a few prospective customers off. That’s unfortunate, because you’re getting one of the most unique and inspiring controllers for the money, especially if you’re willing to get your hands dirty with the aforementioned Editor.
As stated before, we’d love to see Eowave tastefully etch their logo into the side of the Ribbon for enhanced branding. We’d also love to see at least one more LED added to the unit for even more visual punch. One evaluator suggested that the LED’s “pulse” or modulate when the ribbon is touched, swiped or caressed. And a lower price point would certainly open up the Ribbon’s market.
» FutureMusic Rating: 85%
+ Visual Appeal
+ Surprising Depth
+ Built-In Synth
– Editor Installation
“Loved everything about the Ribbon except for the price, but the more I used the controller, the more value I uncovered.” —Greg Geller
“An ‘out-of-the-box’ controller that should appeal to performers who are looking to make a visual and sonic impression.” —Tim Lauren
“I can see DIY fans incorporating the Ribbon into their own Franken-Controller creations.” —Nik Kaufman
“Superb construction and component quality rounds out a compelling controller proposition.” —Dan Brotman
The Eowave Ribbon controller costs €200 and is available now from Eowave.