New “Smart VCO” Synth Module From TipTop Audio

Tiptop Audio has introduced the Z3000 Smart VCO, an all-analog, voltage controlled oscillator. It offers four analog waveforms, wide-range tracking, a built-in tuner and some interesting modulation options.

The z3000 retails for $245.


The z3000 is an all-analog, voltage-controlled oscillator that gives you the ability to implement synthesis techniques in a controlled and planned manner, turning your modular system into an even more powerful musical instrument.

The z3000 is bilingual – equally fluent in the language of sound (frequency) and music (notes and octaves). its intelligence comes from its built-in arithmetic processor, which allows for relevent data to be displayed constantly, taking the guesswork out of tuning your modular.

The z3000’s analog core generates four waveforms with substantial character, giving you the sound signature that can only be created by a true analog vco. the z3000 unique circuitry allows for high levels of synthesis complexity such as frequency modulation, all while maintaining excellent wide-range tracking and without falling into chaos. the z3000 brings a world of new possibilities that will give rise to a whole new sound spectra within your modular synthesizer.

Frequency Mode:

The z3000’s first mode is frequency mode. the oscillator’s frequency is measured and displayed constantly, covering low-frequency ranges to the upper end of the human hearing range. 

Setting up frequency ratios is important to any sound synthesis technique, the z3000 now brings this capblity to your modular synthesizer. you can easily tune and detune vcos, space them apart in equal or unequal intervals as well as tune a bank of vcos in complex patches for the creation of either harmonic or inharmonic relationships.

If you have multiple z3000s, each will indicate its pitch, showing each individual tone in a patch, sound structure or musical passage. it only takes a glance to stay informed.

The z3000 allows for unprecedented control of the most important modules in your synthesizer, your vcos. analog sound design is now more interesting, controlled and calculated then ever before.

music note mode:

the z3000’s musical note mode is a mix of frequency and musical notes. this mode is ideal for musicians and sound designers who want to more easily enjoy the benefits of using analog modular synthesizers.

the capabilities are immense, set up vcos with note intervals for either dissonant or consonant, setting whole notes or semi tones, transposing, tuning to a root, building chords or just spacing octaves apart. use it to implement synthesis techniques based on musical note rather than frequency. the same benefits sound designers have using the z3000’s frequency mode are available to musicians too, allowing them to easily create tonal music. it has never been easier or more clear for musicians to work with analog vcos.

the z3000 does the math for you by converting frequency data to music notes with the click of a button, building a bridge to the world of analog sound design.

octave mode:

Octave mode is a essentially a modern implementation of the mechanical octave switches found on many vcos, freeing the module to sweep full scale using the coarse frequency knob but still allowing for easy octave switching.

knowing the octave range of an instrument and setting a c note is one of the basic needs of any one using a keyboard, sequencer, quantizer or midi to cv interface to play vcos. setting the c note in any of the eight octaves is easy and fast and far more precise than what can be achieved with mechanical switching. just set and play.

the octave mode also serves to compliment the musical note mode when it is necessary to set a c note of a high frequency octave. in this situation the frequency intervals between notes is large and the octave mode offers a range of settings to within +/-50 cents of the c note, making the note easier to dial in at high frequency.


frequency modulation (fm) is a widely used synthesis technique for creating harmonically rich sounds. as the core synthesis technique found in variety of digital synthesizers, the z3000 brings true analog fm to your modular synthesizer.

in addition, the z3000 offers a traditional hard sync along with a new approach to synchronization called hard sync modulation (hsm). this feature is a new type of sync circuitry which locks and rectifies modulated vcos, allowing an extended degree of frequency modulation in a harmonically controlled manner. this special feature combined with the ability to precisely set frequency and note ratios makes the z3000 a powerful synthesis tool capable of generating a wide variety of sounds and timbres.

using the hsm you can create a long chain of modulators and carriers to build highly complex, harmonically rich sound structures that will still track to your playing and maintain a sound over a wide frequency range. the z3000 gives you the power to go beyond standard additive synthesis and build your own true analog fm operators.

tuner/frequency counter:

the z3000’s external input allows access to the internal arithmetic processor, turning it into a multi-function chromatic tuner and meter for your regular vcos. because it is integrated into the module, it will save you space in your studio, so forget about long cables and plug adapters running to guitar tuners.

using the z3000 as a tuner is simple, just plug in any other vco (from most manufacturers and formats) and use all three modes, frequency counting, note conversion or octave switching to set up and monitor that vco, all while the z3000 functions normally. this powerful feature allows you to bring more power and control to any vco in your system

Here’s another demo, via Matthew Davidson, of the Z300 in action:

More info at the Tiptop Audio site.

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