Cicada Acoustic Synthesizer Lets You Physically Interact With Modular Sound

Physical Synthesis, a new hardware startup, has introduced Cicada, a sound design tool that lets you physically interact with sound in a modular way.

Cicada is made up of five primary components: AMP, PRE, Actuator, Bridge, and Soundboard.

The Actuator acts as a voiceless speaker, and generates signal vibrations supplied from up to three amplified input signals (carrier modulator and DC offset) produced by the AMP module.

These vibrations are carried across the Bridge and transformed into nonlinear tip surface interactions with the Soundboard, containing a piezoelectric pickup, where the sound is modulated.

The signal from the pickup is then attenuated, filtered, and pre-amplified via the PRE module.

By experimenting with different materials and shapes, you can use Cicada to explore interacting with sound in a tangible way.

Audio Demos:

Technical Details:

Cicada is an expandable modular system, comprised of five primary components: AMP, PRE, Actuator, Bridge, Soundboard.

The Cicada Actuator generates vibration through two voice-coil motors, supplied from up to three amplified input signals (carrier modulator, and DC offset).

These vibrations are carried across a steel Bridge and transformed into a nonlinear tip-surface interactions with a Soundboard containing a piezoelectric pickup.The signal from the pickup is pre-amplified, filtered, and compressed to +5dB level output to either direct (speakers) or back into a DAW or effects chain.

In addition to audio, the Cicada Soundboard has four force sensitive resistors (FSRs) located beneath the four corners of the unit. When the soundboard material is compressed, the FSRs transmit CV voltages (0 to 5V+) from each of the four FSRs.

Pricing and Availability

Cicada is available now to pre-order, with a deposit of $230. Note: The pre-order deposit represents 10% of the total unit price of $2,300 USD.


24 thoughts on “Cicada Acoustic Synthesizer Lets You Physically Interact With Modular Sound

  1. i don’t understand anything that’s happening- it looks amazing but in the video when the wings are touched i don’t hear a single difference than from before they were touched. would love to know what is actually happening… which even though i read the description meant nothing to me in terms of the real world…

  2. It should be noted that that $230 preorder “starting price” represents 10% of the $2300 total price of the package that they’re actually charging.

    I was really wishing that they actually showed what these things do and how they operate until I realized the reality of the pricing and found myself very much priced out.

  3. Hi @IOSISdrone Alex here from Physical Synthesis. We’ve adjusted this information to make it clearer and thank you for pointing it out. Also just shared a thorough walk-through of how Cicada works on our socials if you’d like to take a look.

    Thank you for the write-up @Synthtopia! Very much appreciated.

    1. “Also just shared a thorough walk-through of how Cicada works on our socials if you’d like to take a look.”

      no you didnt.
      or its hidded pretty well, maybe because your web platform dont allow walk-through videos? allso no videos on your twich unlike you told on facebook to someone yesterday.
      but i will not be mad about it, since you have inclusive “women in synthesis” blog article up there that i can read instead.

  4. I feel exactly the same as the previous commentor. I was honestly disappointed and shocked at the really rather deceptive advertised price as this. I don’t feel it will do them any good at all unfortunately misleading people like this. It’s a pity to alienate your possible audience at the front door!

    1. Thanks for your concern! We’ve reached out to Synthtopia to revise this note at the end and updated our site to reflect more direct pricing. Our current platform doesn’t allow pre-order sales, so we had to create a store element this way. All deposits are 100% refundable.

    2. “Physical Synthesis” clearly state the full price. They also explain well how the devices work. You just have to read!

      Guess the article here on sythopia is missleading about the price – easy to add the full price tho.

      1. here it’s a mistake, on the Cicada website it’s not. it’s like a car sell late 90’s commercial,
        “and 10 more easy payments”

      2. If have to click through to another screen to see that the $230 I’m paying is actually only 10% of the full cost of the product I would not consider that to be “clearly stated.”

  5. The concept is simply very beautiful! Certainly not for everyone.
    It is expensive because it is on a high technical level and probably not mass produced.

    Going new ways in sound synthesis is always refreshing to see!

    1. Thanks for the comment Schubert!

      Yes, that’s correct! These units are a limited edition made by hand in Brooklyn, NY. There are a lot of similarities to turntable design (acoustic isolation, damping, etc.) that make it more expensive to make as well. In the future we hope to release a more affordable unit so more people can enjoy.

      1. That beeing said i also miss a video that shows the “raw” sound it can produce and how you can interact with it.

      2. good to have you on board,
        It looks very unique and the demos sounds interesting.

        but why do you do this “trick” with the full price? even synthtopia editor missed that at first,
        just say what is the total cost clearly, not below the pre order button on your website. write it right next to the preorder price.

  6. The spacing on the front panel layout is so wonky not only can no one with OCD handle this, but those without OCD may wish to pause for reconsideration.

    Plus the whole $2300 thing another commenter pointed out is whack.

  7. Intriguing, but very few of these mutants stick around for long, with a few exceptions. When they do, only fanatics like us even know what they are when one appears in a rig. I pity the poor listener/viewer who knows nada about it all, trying to figure out where the sound is coming from. Its not $2300 worth of wonderful for me, but it has BT or Trent Reznor written all over it.

  8. Wow $2300, I can think of lots of things I can buy for that kind cash but this is not one. I have to say it looks like a smoke screen, the video is like some thing for a life channel not this is how it work so you want to spend your money. I think the smoke screen life style videos is because it does not deliver the goods and I believe that one could make this, in reality it is nothing specials, all soft and pretty video well for $2300, I could buy the life brand
    Moog Sound Studio one of each and have some real sonic fun….

  9. So… is this a set of contact microphones that ship with a physical modeling synth and a eurorack interface? I think you would have more people embrace this if you dropped the woo woo stuff and just talked more directly about what this actually does.

    1. Unless I’m mistaken – it’s not a physical modeling synth at all. It’s just an audio processor. I think this is basically the transducer / contact mic components of a plate reverb – minus the plate, plus some acoustically dampened bits of wood and plastic you feed the audio through. I… truly don’t know how it actually sounds. I’ve done similar experiments with transducers / contact mics – I’m imagining it just sounds like a band pass filter, that the “manipulation” you do just dampens it further. To get any sort of interesting audio effect, I had to send the audio through more resonant surfaces – like the strings of an acoustic guitar.
      Example –

      I feel like I’m kind of the target audience for something like this – the price is steep but doesn’t scare me off – I would pay $2k for a studio effect. It’s a cool idea and the design is very slick but they need to demo this like a piece of musical equipment, not a lifestyle accessory. I need to hear a before / after of different audio sources, I want to hear what the different material plates sound like. We need like a 10 minute loopop style vid walking through it.

      1. Good questions!

        A traditional transducer directly attached (or placed) on a surface will, for the most part, transduce vibration directly into the material. The result is a very linear coupling with the surface. If transducers (or surface exciters) are weakly placed on objects (or overdriven), some modulation occurs but is often haphazard and not controllable.

        Our system differs through the utilization of a driven cantilever (we call it a bridge because cantilever is awkward to say and write). When the cantilever is driven, it generates a phenomenon resulting in intermittent and time-varying interaction with a receiver (i.e. soundboard). When additional signal(s) are driven through it, you get parametric acoustic modulation. This was the basis of our patent and over 5 years of research, and it allows for a true hybrid acoustic-electronic instrument like Cicada.

        Like any electromechanical system, the challenge is to address vibration and noise at every part of the system. We utilize materials such as neoprene, Delrin, and other vibration damping materials to isolate the transducer from the pickup, so that the majority of vibration is transmitted through the bridge. As a result, there is a lot less messy convolution (unless you want it) in this system as a default than other pickup-based synth offerings. The amplifier and pre-amp circuitry is also all custom designs, along with customized transducer components, so that the system can operate at the highest efficiency levels. The result is what we believe is a very expressive and useful instrument that certainly has lineages with devices from the past, but extends their capabilities significantly.

        Anyhow, reach out to us via our website if you want a 1:1 virtual demo. We are working on posting new content that’s more illustrative of the working system, part of what we didn’t anticipate when we shared artist content since we gave them broad range to create music with it first and foremost, but we certainly see the demand for it.

  10. Reminds me of the wavedrum, which is a wonderful experience to play. I think a potential drawback of the wavedrum is that it works most easily with headphones. Wonder if this has that issue.

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