Disting MK4 Review – Updated – Expert Sleepers Disting MK4
If you’ve ever looked into the Eurorack Synth Modules, you’ve probably heard of the Expert Sleepers Disting MK4 already. If you are new to modular synthesizers formats, we’ll go over what they are and what they essentially do in this Disting MK4 review.
As mentioned earlier, Eurorack is a modular synthesizer format. Moreover, it’s the most popular one, and it’s been dominating the industry for years now with 5000+ modules from hundreds of manufacturers.
Developed by Doepfer Musikelektronik, Eurorack has a compact design, and simple aesthetics, with regular 3.5 mm mono jacks patching all signals and connecting everything. As a piece of hardware, it can be compared to open-source software. You can build one with a few key modules and start patching everything together.
Why’s Eurorack Popular?
Artists and musicians loved the fact that they could easily customize everything up to their liking without a team of designers and developers telling them what they can and can’t do with synthesizers. Even though it’s not the easiest way to produce music, as the digital audio workstations have a lot of digital modulators, you can’t compare the two.
It’s crucial to know what you are doing. If you mess the wiring up, you can end up blowing something up. Besides modules themselves, you’ll also burn your hard-earned money. And don’t think that more is always better. You can achieve similar sounds with adding your own twist to an existing synth module instead of buying a new one.
One of the modules happen to be Disting MK4, and that’s the one we are going to review.
Expert Sleepers Disting MK4
Experts believe that Disting MK4 is a new game-changing concept to enhance the Eurorack performance dramatically. Why is that? Well, a tiny 4HP unit can fit an incredible amount of algorithms – a whole 76 of them. A lot of the times it’s hard to find the adequately priced module for 4HP. Well, Disting MK4 might just be solving this issue once and for all.
This synth module has been continuously updated for a long time now, adding new features and improvements over time. The fourth version has been an incredible step-up for Expert Sleepers Disting MK4 regarding new features and add-ons. The main features were the crisp dot-matrix display and an addition of a new MicroSD slot in the front panel.
MicroSD card has added infinite possibilities to the module users. Your options now include a wavetable VCO, audio recording and playback, and a lot more. The hardest part for every music producer would be the need to format the card and editing text files in the complicated folder hierarchy to guide Disting MK4 to the correct files. It gets easier once you’ve done it a few times, but the process is incredibly time-consuming at first.
Moreover, a lot of firmware updates have been happening. As a result, 16 algorithms were added. A few of them are high-quality choruses, pattern generators, and reverbs. The music producers were impressed with the fact that they’ve managed to fit everything into such a small, almost unnoticeable synth module.
However, the question remained – does such design prioritize the quality over quantity?
Disting MK4 – Multi Modes
The module offers users tons of modes of various quality and usability. Some of them are must-haves, and others are more of “Oh it doesn’t sound too bad.” Clearly, if you were to buy a separate module for each of the modes Disting MK4 has, you’ll have a completely different, superior sound. However, you have to think that the entire Expert Sleepers module takes only 4 HP.
Not everyone can afford to buy and store a huge Eurorack with a lot of space for various modules. Or they did invest in a big case, but as time passed by, they pretty much ran out of space. In both cases, it makes perfect sense to maximize your HP with Disting MK4. After all, it’s tiny. Sometimes you’re almost done building your patch and realize that adding another filter, oscillator, limiter, or some other mode would’ve made it “perfect” for your workflow. And guess who has gotten you covered? That’s right – Expert Sleepers Disting MK4.
Moreover, the module only has few flaws which are almost unnoticeable, especially considering the price, design, and functionality.
Disting MK4 – Design and Build
Concerning hardware, Disting MK4 has two encoders (both of them are clickable, one is just smooth, and the other is stepped). It features the MicroSD card slot on the front panel (as mentioned above), dot matrix display, and five input / output jacks. All the jacks are lit up with various colors depending on what function they are performing, thanks to LED collars.
This seemed like a stretch at the very beginning of Expert Sleepers introducing this feature, but music producers quickly fell in love with it. “Why hasn’t this been done earlier? It’s so simple yet makes the workflow so much smoother!” – mentioned Galluccio, a music producer from Los Angeles. While indicating the nature of the signal and its strength, LED collars also turn your module into a party light tool, which makes the entire Eurorack look a lot cooler and, clearly, more professional (at least to your clients and guests).
Disting MK4 – Controls and Jacks
Control and jacks act differently depending on what algorithm they’re set on. However, there is a general pattern that you can recognize after using the module for a while. A and B tend to be audio outputs most of the time, while Z input and bottom encoder controls specific parameters of an algorithm. If you press the bottom encoder instead of twisting it, you’ll be able to switch back and forth between the parameters.
As mentioned earlier, the LED collars act as a visual representation of what’s going on. In the beginning, you’ll likely have to use the Expert Sleepers Disting MK4 manual, as all algorithms are different. Therefore, there is no “one for all” rule of thumb here. Luckily, the developers of Disting MK4 have made a tutorial for all modes. It will take a decent amount of time to learn how to operate the module, but it’s worth it.
If you’ve ever owned Disting MK3, you’ll see how much everything has improved – from design and connectivity to performance and the number of features. Expert Sleepers went above and beyond with the new release.
Downsides of Using Disting MK4
As mentioned earlier, the process of using the MicroSD card is time-consuming and not very straightforward. If you get everything figured out, you can unlock the new Disting MK4 version true potential. It’s possible to use the module for a specific task and leave it as a limiter, oscillator, LFO, quantizer, etc. which most producers do.
It’s also possible to switch back and forth between a few algorithms and edit them on-the-go, but that requires a lot of expertise and focus. Even though menu diving is minimal, you still need to know what you are trying to accomplish, edit, or switch.
Expert Sleepers Disting MK4 Manual
The manual Expert Sleepers developers team provide is the most straightforward and most efficient guide to follow when connecting your module to Eurorack and setting everything up. The manual of current Disting MK4 is provided in PDF on their website and can be found by simply googling it.
It’s also continuously updated, so make sure to check it once in a while. Most of the time the Expert Sleepers Disting MK4 manual is being updated when a new Firmware version is released. As they add and remove algorithms, the manual is updated accordingly with the new list of algorithms, supporting videos and diagrams.
Since the release, the module went through over 10 major and minor updates already. That’s crucial to music producers and the developers’ image. This shows that Expert Sleepers haven’t just put something together and let it do its own thing. As a reputable company, they’ve been adding new modes continuously, with a new release coming almost every month.
Disting MK4 Algorithms
An incredible thing music producers love about Expert Sleepers developers is the fact that they don’t release a new product and forget about it. You already know that the current version of Disting MK4 has 80+ algorithms of various kinds. Did you know that the first one only had 16? Now it’s a whole lot more.
And as mentioned earlier in the review, lately firmware updates have been coming out every 1-2 months with new algorithms added and old ones improved. The algorithms have different purposes. Some of the examples are audio CV / gate processing and triggering, and audio / MIDI file playback.
You can find every algorithm in the manual. Each section is devoted to one and has videos, diagrams, and a lot of other useful material. Clearly, each algorithm of Disting MK4 will have different commands assigned to every input, output, and knob.
Let ’s be honest, remembering all of them is impossible. But guess what? Expert Sleepers Disting MK4 developers have also added the help function for those using the plugin for the very first time (and not only beginners). It’s not the easiest to understand, but definitely worth your time figuring everything out.
First of all, you’ll have to buy a microSD card. Then you’ll need to load the text files onto it and route your Disting MK4 algorithms to the files accordingly. Once you are done, the “Help” button will become selectable, so you’ll get every algorithm’s description and information (if rooted correctly). On the top of that, the running text on the screen will also remind you which control parameters are used with the particular Disting MK4 algorithm.
The list of algorithm includes, but not limited to sound source provision (VCO, wavetable), filters, effects, adders and multipliers, envelopes, LFO’s, and a lot more. Effects include delays, reverbs, shapers, phasers, resonators, crushers, etc. Considering the fact that the module has 80+ algorithms, it’s better for you to test each one yourself. However, we’ll speak of a few of them in this review.
Let’s talk about utilities Disting MK4 offers.
First of all, the primary pitch and frequency references are incredibly useful when working on a new track or deconstructing someone else’s. A tuner is crucial to check if specific modules of yours sound the way they are supposed to, as sometimes they can be out of tune. Even though no one would consider purchasing a module just for that, having this functions built-in already makes the “already appealing to most” Expert Sleepers Disting MK4 even better.
The voltage converter can assist those producers in need to switch between 1.2v to 1v and the other way around. Moreover, Disting MK4 is MIDI compatible with 2 ports (1 in and 1 out). In order to make it work, you’ll have to buy a breakout MIDI box or build one yourself. Expert Sleepers has released one themselves not too long ago.
Why do you need MIDI anyways? Well, Disting MK4 has a few MIDI-dedicated algorithms. If you happen to have a MicroSD card (the one we mentioned when talking about the “help” button), you can save MIDI files and convert them to CV. Moreover, you’ll be able to use MIDI clock and note conversion from MIDI to CV.
We really liked Andy Dollerson’s pick of algorithms, as instead of going all over the manual and listing the algorithms one by one he thought of the general concept of how the module essentially works. Some of his research will be used in this Disting MK4 review.
Shift Register – Random CV’s
F6 module selection lets you create various CV using the rotating shift register method. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, here is the Wikipedia link for you. Anyways, output A and B are a random pattern of CVs and trigger output respectively.
In this particular case, X input acts like a clock. SImply, the shift register rotates to a different CV outputs selection each beat. Input Y lets CV control of the change. “Z” will controls how much the element changes. It goes from 0 to 100 to 0 again. (0% to 50% to 100%).
To clear things up, the most significant change of CV outputs will be when “Z” knob is in the middle. The closer the knob to either end, the less significant the change is, with right and left “all-the-way” disabling it completely. Once you get a hold of everything, the fresh ideas will start coming.
Disting MK4 Algorithms – Parameter Change
Algorithms are made of different parameters, each set to a particular value. The default values are sometimes called preset. The developers pick either the most neutral or the “best” sound according to their judgment. Most beginners only use presets. However, once you learn a thing or two, you start wanting to tweak settings to make it sound the way you like it.
Regarding changing Disting MK4 algorithms’ parameters, it’s effortless. To access them, press the Z knob, instead of twisting it. The parameter will show on display. If you want to go to the next one, just press Z again. To alter one, start turning the S knob.
Let’s see what parameters F6 algorithm we spoke about previously has. Overall, there are 4 of them.
- The first one affects whether the register is rotating back or forth. It’s a basic parameter. However, you’ll notice the difference in the way the sample sounds if you listen closer. Way to come with more unique sounds!
- The second one dictates how long the shift register and repeating pattern will be. The minimum length setting is one, and the maximum is 16.
- The third one lets you pick a harmonic selection of your choice. If you’ve ever played piano, you’ll like this parameter and find it incredibly useful. But even a beginner will have fun learning how different each of the 15 harmonic selection sound.
- The last one gives you the ability to use an attenuator to alter the note range of CV output by cutting or increasing the amount of CV input. This parameter is a little advanced for those new to music production but is of great potential once you learn how to use it properly.
As you can see, even with this one Disking MK4 algorithm you can easily alter the sound up to your liking. Even though you can’t be nit-picking, such as choosing the exact notes, you’ll be able to use reference points such as key or octave range. You can’t control the outcome, but you can control the randomness of it.
Adding tiny changes with Z knob over a period of time will make the sound more interesting and appealing to listeners.
Wavetable VCO – Disting MK4 Feature
A lot of music producers and beatmakers (do you know how to make beats?) love the module’s audio file playback. It’s hard to wrap your head around it, but definitely worth the effort, as you can it like if it was a sample trigger – with controlled speed, sample’s transposition, and endpoint. Luckily, the manual makes everything a lot simpler and easier to understand. You’ll find useful advice about various aspects of audio files such as naming, format, and recording.
Wavetable VCO is one of a few oscillators developed by Expert Sleepers team. You can upload 60+ waveforms to your microSD and play with the various setting until you find the desired sound. Output A and B have wavetable output and square wave 12 tones below to make the sound denser and thicker.
Z knob does all the tuning, while X input is V / Oct pitch. All the Y input does is control the table lookup. If you press Z, you can switch back and forth between two parameters – wave type and octave selection. This will add a little variety to your sound and modular music. As Andy mentioned, the ability to control the wavetable lookup movement like morphing between tibres, for example, is incredibly impressive.
Dual Euclidean Patterns – Develop the Sense of Rhythm
Working on your rhythmic creativity is crucial for every music producers out there. You can make something catchy by creating various polyrhythmic patterns using Euclidean patterns. In its essence, you are able to pick the specified number of steps for one of the two different patterns, and its pulse. The pulse is merely the number of kicks (hits) over a period of time.
The dual pattern algorithm has 3 tweakable and customizable parameters.
- First one is also the first pattern, and you are able to pick the desirable steps count with it.
- The second one is pattern number 2. It lets you adjust the speed of pulse generation using the Z knob.
- The last parameter is meant to set and adjust the pulse length in time, from 1 to 31. The default preset is picked by Expert Sleepers and is 10ms, which tends to be decent in developing a sense of rhythm, but you are free to tweak it the way you want.
Most producers wouldn’t purchase a module with a sole person of generation the dual patterns, but considering it’s one of the 80+ MK4 algorithms, it’s a no-brainer it’s fantastic.
To sum this Disting MK4 review, the module is a fantastic bang for the buck for any modular geek out there. The developers have been improving the same product, Disting MK, since 2014, which says a lot about their dedication to the module and its users. Regarding the price, size, and functionality, the likelihood of finding one of similar quality is minimal. Therefore, it’s clearly essential for every Eurorack.
The coolest part is that you can spend years using it and still not discover all the features of this outstanding piece of gear. When you get a little tired of it, go and see whether a new firmware full of new algorithms has been released. Lately the soft has been updated every couple months, so you’ll likely never run out of things to learn and play with.
When you have the module in your hands for the first time, the only question that seems to arise is “How does this tiny thing can fit in so many elements and algorithms?” And that’s why it’s so popular among producers. It’s low-key, light, and full of surprises. If you include the fact that developers update the firmware before asked to do so, it’s a no-brainer whether you should invest your time and money into one or not.
Don’t forget to check the official website of Disting MK4 developers, Expert Sleepers, here!
loopop has made an amazing video review of Disting MK4 modules to clarify a few things up, so check his video below.