The eternal question, Theremini or Etherwave?

Posted: 8/22/2020 12:17:28 PM

Joined: 8/22/2020


I know posts like these come around a lot, but I had some specific questions for people with experience with both the Theremini and the Etherwave. 

I've been interested in theremins for a long time, and recently got enough extra cash to justify buying one. However, I'm at a bit of a roadblock, that it seems most people in the market come across -- and for obvious reasons, I can't exactly physically travel to a bunch of stores to potentially test them out right now. (It seems no music stores near me stock them at all, anyways.)

Mostly, I'm just curious as to the viability of the Theremini. It seems like a great option for me personally, as someone who loves synths and feels a little cramped with a limited number of voices on an instrument, but I'm worried it's gimmicky garbage. 

 I'm aware that it has issues with responsiveness and stability -- but in your opinion, are these quirks that are only really noticed by professionals, or dealbreakers entirely? As someone unfamiliar with the instrument, it's hard to glean whether criticism renders the Theremini "a cheap toy" or "a flawed, but viable instrument". 

The Etherwave on the other hand, has some of the most gorgeous, haunting sounds I've heard (especially compared to the lackluster "classic theremin" sound from the Theremini) -- but those sounds are limited, as pretty as they might be. I do own a microKORG, so I feel like if I purchased an Etherwave I'd probably end up trying to use the theremin as a MIDI controller for that to get some extra variation -- but it seems like a hassle for something the Theremini just has built in. Same for pedals -- they add spice, but are extra work to set up, and much more prohibitively, expensive to collect. 

So both devices have their flaws for me. I don't want to regret buying something cheaply made and poorly functional a few months down the line, but also don't want to start feeling the lack of versatility from the more classic instrument. I'm less interested in classical Theremin music anyways, so I'm leaning Theremini, but some reviews have left me wary. 

[On a completely petty note -- I also think the Theremini is ugly as hell. This is an unflatteringly large part of my considerations.]

Thanks for any help!

Posted: 8/22/2020 12:58:56 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 2/17/2012

I've owned both.

Albeit before the Theremini SW update appeared - you know something's wrong when they had to add a "Theremin" mode after the fact!  The Theremini seems to have been designed by a committee that never actually encountered a Theremin in the wild.  The fields can be very non-linear in weird ways, and too much of this is cryptically dependent on the awkward and time consuming calibration routine.  The voltage swing at the antennas is minuscule, so hello small C fields and interference.  The gestural response is quite sluggish - if you play slowly you might not notice it right away.  The voices are OK but most seem to exist only to impress the total noob and distract from the lame fields, so I don't know how many you might find musically useful.  The tiny built-in speaker is a very nice thing to have in a pinch.  Unlike the EW, which must be on a mike stand, you can actually just set it on a table and play it.  There's a lot going on inside, but it's crippled by bad oscillator design, stupid physical design, and really bad SW.  There aren't enough knobs & buttons, and the tuner is worthless for real-time use.  I think the whole point was to make something with an initial "wow" factor, but beyond that they clearly didn't put any time nor effort into making it a real, serious, musical instrument.  So it's an expensive toy / fantastic conversation piece that nicely (initially) showcases what Theremins can do, but can't really do them very well.

The EW is quite limited in terms of sound, and you will likely need pedals and stuff to keep it interesting.  Calibrating it is a PITA.  There isn't much inside for what you are paying, but it isn't terribly designed as these things go, and it is a real, actual Theremin with big C fields (the main event IMO).

My suggestion is to try to find a used EW that hasn't been monkeyed with too much, and go from there.  Don't add a buffer module until you really know the thing, and even then I'd suggest holding off perhaps indefinitely, as it really blands out the low end (my DIY module has a jumper to return it more or less to factory mode).

There is no ESD protection on either of these, though I imagine the Theremini is more prone to damage in this regard, as the antennas are directly connected to CMOS gates.

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