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Analog synthesizer

Studio Electronics SE-3X

Published 9:08 am on Thursday 25th August 2022 by Beat Magazine

At the end of the 80s, Studio Electronics first appeared with the Midimoog, a modified Minimoog in rack format. In 1993, their first in-house development followed with the SE-1, but with a clear reference to the classic synth from Moog. A few years later, the extended SE-1X followed. Then, for many years, it was rather quiet around the American company, until their cooperation with Roland resulted in the SE-2 in compact Boutique format.

Extended SE-3X

To be honest, we didn‘t really expect a further development of the SE-1X after all this time, even though there was a sign of life in the form of the SE-02 in compact Boutique format and a few Eurorack modules found their way into the stores. But now, this powerful analog rack synthesizer has actually made it into our studio rack in a new edition. You should not expect any serious changes, because the classic Minimoog structure still forms the basis of the sound synthesis. Three identically constructed oscillators each offer the sawtooth, triangle and square waveforms.

Not a pure Minimoog clone

Already with the oscillators, it becomes clear that the SE-3X does not slavishly follow the model: In contrast to the Minimoog, the pulse width of the square wave can be continuously adjusted and modulated (PWM) via a controller, and in addition, all three waveforms can be activated simultaneously (as on the Roland SH-101 or the Sequential Pro-1, for example). Even a single of the analog oscillators can, therefore, create a massive sound; all three oscillators together let the house shake if desired. But even more complex sound progressions, up to atmospheric drones, are possible due to the different combinations. The oscillators have a relatively distinct sound of their own, which is already familiar from the other models in the SE series. They are not as warm and round as an old Moog, but have a more modern analog sound: dry, tuning stable and with a lot of harmonics.

Sync and ring modulation

Oscillator synchronization is also a welcome enhancement compared to the Minimoog and provides additional harmonics and the metal-cutting sync sounds in combination with pitch modulation by LFO or envelope. In addition, there is white noise and a ring modulator on the oscillator level, but unfortunately neither can be activated directly, only by way of a menu.

3-part paraphonic

With different tuning of the three oscillators, chords are also playable with only one key. But it gets even better, because the SE-3X is paraphonically playable, unlike the previous models. This allows not only more flexibility when playing chords, but also playing a two-part lead sound over a held bass note. Unlike a fully polyphonic synthesizer, however, the three voices have to share a filter, a VCA and the envelopes, which is why paraphonic playing requires a bit of practice. In return, however, unusual things can be implemented, such as different waveforms and tuning for each note of a chord. Oscillator synchronization for Oscillators 2 and 3 can be activated individually, which then also has corresponding sonic effects when playing paraphonically: Different notes then no longer have a direct effect on the pitch, but on the sound and harmonics, which can lead to exciting results.

Four filters to choose from

The integration of different filter models has long been a trademark of Studio Electronics. The colorful bird of paradise, the ATC-1, offered interchangeable filter cartridges, inspired by the synthesizer classics TB-303, Oberheim SEM and ARP-2600. This concept has been adopted by the SE-3X, but the filters can be switched directly and without the need for a cartridge change. Of course, a 24dB ladder filter modeled on the Minimoog is integrated, and the 12dB multimode filter with lowpass and bandpass, for a creamier sound that was modeled on the Oberheim SEM, was already present in the SE-1X. New to the SE series is the ARP filter with its 24dB slope and, as a final highlight, the Roland Jupiter and Juno filters, switchable between 24dB and 6dB and when both are in mix mode, are even combinable!

Moog, SEM, ARP or Roland?

In view of the development history of the SE-3X, there‘s not much to say about the Moog filter; it has the typical fat Minimoog sound with lots of bass. In contrast, the Oberheim filter sounds almost unspectacular, but the creamy and rather demure sound is nicely done and the bandpass variant is a welcome addition. The ARP filter, based on the 4072/4075 filter from the ARP Odyssey and 2600, expands the sound spectrum with a very full and crisp sound and has become our favorite in the test. When combined with ring modulation and hardsync, this allows the SE-3X to realistically recreate some characteristic Odyssey and 2600 sounds.

This is not to devalue the equally well-done Roland filters, which can provide the classic sound of the Juno, Jupiter and SH series. The characteristic sound change at high resonance, including thinning of the bass range is very well done, as is its crisp behavior for punchy basses and arpeggios.


The filter section is, without question, the highlight of this synthesizer; hardly any other analog synthesizer in this range has such a variety of sounds to offer. The filters, however, only make up a part of the sound, and the very distinctive oscillators can always be heard through a mix. Depending on the setting, the changes of the sound when switching the filters can also be minimal. The SE-3X, therefore, does not sound like a complete ARP-2600 or Roland Jupiter, but retains its own special sound.

The different and unique characteristics of the filters, especially at higher resonance values, can be heard very well in combination with the downstream overdrive effect. There are two options here: a rather round and warm vintage distortion in the style of the 70s and a more modern and harder sounding fuzz distortion.

4 envelopes, 3 LFOs

The SE-3X is also very well equipped in the modulation area. In addition to having one ADSR envelope each for filter and amplifier, there are also two additional envelopes that can be routed to different parameters. The envelopes can be switched between exponential (nicely snapping for basses and kicks) and linear course, as well as inverted; there is hardly a wish left unfulfilled here. The same applies to the three LFOs, which can be synchronized to the song tempo, if required. Portamento can also be switched between exponential and linear, and Auto-Glide can also be activated. This makes sense, especially in conjunction with the various filter types, in order to recreate the sounds of the various synthesizer models as faithfully as possible.

The filter section is the highlight of these synthesizers, almost no other analog synthesizer in this range can offer such a wide variety of sounds.

Robust rack mount

The hardware is beyond reproach; the rack housing is very robust and the controls feel high quality and durable. Whoever decides to buy an SE-3X will probably be able to enjoy it for a lifetime - both in terms of the durability of the hardware and the scope of the sound palette that can be produced. This justifies the rather high price, at least in comparison to the very cheap replicas of those analog classics from Behringer and others.

Menu and double assignments

Despite the many control elements, some things still have to be controlled using shift functions and the menu. This not only applies to deeper programming like the assignment of source and destination in the modulation matrix. Even commonly directly accessible parameters, such as volume and fine tuning of the individual oscillators, can only be reached by holding down the shift key and turning the double assigned knobs for coarse tuning and PWM. Since these are simple pots and not encoders, the values do not match afterwards, of course. We would have found it more sensible the other way around: Fine tuning and volume in direct access, PWM and coarse tuning as a shift function. Envelopes 3 and 4 are also only accessible via shift function. This makes it impossible to adjust the pitch envelope while simultaneously adjusting the filter envelope, for example. And we also found the operation of the menu a bit fiddly and not very intuitive.

Storage, MIDI control

One advantage of the SE-3X over the aforementioned cheap clones and generally most analog mono synthesizers we have so far concealed: The synthesizer is completely storable. Eight banks are available, each with 99 memory locations, four of which are permanently assigned with ready-made presets and the other four banks can be assigned with your own sounds. In addition, the SE-3X is extensively controllable via MIDI, so automation in your DAW, such as a filter sweep before the chorus, is no problem.

Audio input, no CV/Gate

Accordingly, you will find the MIDI trio IN/OUT/THRU as DIN jacks on the back, but no USB MIDI. In addition, there is an audio output in mono and, fortunately for us, also an audio input for sending external sound sources through the very good filters and distortion. Power is supplied by an internal power supply and standard IEC cables. Unfortunately, CV/Gate for direct communication with other analog equipment has been completely omitted.

You can get matching sounds of the SE-3X here:


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