Review: Squarp Hermod

Squarp is a strange company. They make sequencers – hardware sequencers. Their product line as of today contains two products: the Pyramid, and the Hermod. Among those, the Hermod is a Eurorack device. I needed a sequencer for the Doepfer setup. And after comparing available products, I decided to get it.

General Features

At its heart, the Hermod is an Eurorack-standard hardware sequencer. With a width of 26TE and a depth of up to 30mm, it is relatively small for a sequencer.

The device has a double row of CV/gate output pairs on its left, and to the right of it, four CV/gate inputs. The bottom of the front panel holds MIDI in and out and two USB connectors (called “Host” and “Device”). And yes, this allows you to connect one of them (the “device” one) to a host (like a computer running your DAW), and the other one to a device doing USB over MIDI, such as the Minilogue, or the BopPad (which only has a USB output).

Above those, we find two double rows of four buttons each. The lower pair is numbered 1 to 8, while the remaining ones are called “X” and “Y”, then there’s a record and play button. Above that, there’s the final group of four, used to bring the sequencer into one of its four user interface modes: Sequence, Track, Effects and Step.

Still above, we find a small LCD display (backlit, but lores and black on white), and a rotary encoder next to it.

And yes, this is on a surface measuring 26TE and 3HE, so you can imagine that it’s rather cramped in there.

20180730_225112_Roßtalerweg.jpg
Installed in a smaller system with minimum patches

The Four Modes

In Sequence Mode, you select one of the eight sequences you have in your project. Accessible are also file management duties, like loading and storing projects. By the way, the device uses a microSD card (included) for both your projects and the OS; to access it, you need to remove the Hermod from the rack. In this mode, you use the number keys (1-8) to select those sequences.

Track mode is where you work with tracks, the next smaller hierarchical unit.  Each sequences holds eight tracks (there’s always eight – but you can leave some blank). Here, the number keys are used to turn tracks on or off (a “mute” functionality if you will), while track selection is done with the encoder. Additional functions here are related to the track layout: here, you set how sequencer tracks connect to the outputs (more on that later).

At the bottom of the hierarchy are the Step and Effects modes.

Step is what you would have guessed: a step sequencer view and editor. Here, the number keys are used to turn notes/events on and off (or add them), and notes/events can be edited by a multitude of button press, press-and-hold, and controller turn and turn-and-press operations. While I don’t know about an upper limit, those tracks are polyphonic – for tracks that go to gate/CV out, the upper limit is obviously eight voices for the entire device.

Effects finally gives you a total of seven slots for kinda-plugins to process your sequencer data (actually, there’s eight, but slot 1 is always held by a MIDI input). These range from your standard arpeggiator to complex random or algorithmic event processing. There’s also an LFO, so you can use any unused tracks as additional LFOs with beat-sync option for your system. This is also where you look for quantization, transposing etc. This time, the number keys are used to turn each slot on and off, while you select it with the encoder.
There’s also a so-called ModMatrix in this mode, where you can map CC and CV inputs to various parameters, from effects parameters to sequence change etc.

Great Things

I start with this: connectivity! In addition to being a sequencer, this device is a thing with lots of connections, which all connect rather well to each other.
So let’s start with the option to have MIDI to eight CV/gate pairs: all other solutions I know of (either using a single device or assembling more than one module) cost more than the Hermod. But you also get the same for USB. And USB to MIDI. And the other way round. And CV inputs.

Then there’s the effects section. Having seven slots with a choice of effects, some of them quite advanced, puts this on par with full-fledged premium DAWs from not too long ago. Using the number keys to turn them off also makes for some very interactive performance options, as you can add arpeggio, random, transpositions or whatever in the midst of a performance, even while controlling some parameters from a CV source. And they don’t only work on an existing sequence, making it a powerful realtime processor. Again, I’d like to know what you’d pay for a standalone processor for this functionality.

One property of the workflow/sequencer logic I’d like to point out how beats/steps are organized: there are up to 64 steps per sequence, while you can zoom in up to 8x into each step. Steps typically correspond to MIDI beats, but by using the complex sync options, you can also make steps two (or four) beats, giving you still 16th (or 8th) resolution. This way, you end up with a total of what other sequencers would call 512 steps per pattern. Also, there is no concept of bars, so your patterns could be a maximum length of 32 bars of 16th in 4/4, or also 9 bars in 7/4 with 32nd resolution.

Finally, both size and price is great compared to any competition in the market.

All in all, the most stunning options here are those which aren’t strictly sequencer options.

Not-so-great Things

This device is small. While this is nice from a Eurorack-real-estate-management point of view, it automatically means that the front panel is rather cramped. And considering this as a given, some of the design choices were not exactly wise. Why do we need standard DIN MIDI connectors on the front panel? Why is there a free area that could hold a second rotary encoder, a display twice as big and five additional buttons? Why are only the mode buttons backlit in colour (where you don’t need it), while this option is not used for other buttons? I could go on…

PICT_20180826_220157.jpg
Adjusting track length on the fly: not enjoyable.

The second point of criticism relates to the actual sequencer, as there are some important shortcomings. It starts with the fact that you can’t set individual sequence lengths for each sequence, only for all sequences within a project. Which means that you’ll have a hard time unless everything is the same length (or at least the same meter). Also, you can’t record more than one track at once. This may look rather acceptable, but it makes getting a few sequencers from another sequencer into this thing really a tedious task. And finally, this device has rather basic sync options: what I’d like to have is to have the option to receive start/stop separately from syncing to clock. The way it’s done, once you’re syncing to something else (which you need to do if you want automated tempo changes), you can’t individually start or stop this device.
And while we’re at it, a total of eight sequences in a project is not enough. Yes, you can load another project while the sequencer is running, but that brings you into the encoder-pressing-and-looking-at-small-display territory again.

The manual. There’s a total of eight (there’s the eight again) web pages. That’s it. And it’s not organized in a fashion that’s easy to grasp.

The Competition

Looking at something with a similar feature set, the only alternative that comes to mind is XOR’s NerdSEQ. Judging from the specs and manual, the NerdSEQ outperforms the Hermod with regard to output options (and also offers special expansion modules for that) and has a by far more powerful data structure. It also offers a much bigger screen. Then again, the tracker-based workflow may not be for everyone, and let’s not forget the NerdSEQ is both larger (32 vs. 26TE, that’s 23% more) and more expensive (street price of 589€ vs the Hermod’s 475, that’s 24%). Plus, it doesn’t offer the same flexibility in the effects and connectivity/routing department.

Apart from that, all the other devices (Eurorack modules) I’m aware of follow a completely different approach and for that, can’t be really compared.

Summary

There’s some truly stunning features on this one: mainly connectivity and effects.

On the other hand, there’s also some lows, which directly or indirectly (user interface) have to do with its application as a sequencer.

I consider the UI issues the most grave ones, as the issues with the sequencer could most probably be remedied in a software update.

But the way it is, my verdict ends up something like this:

A great and affordable platform, that can unfortunately not outgrow some of its limitations, while others can easily be fixed.

I guess if you’re in the market for this one, you most probably will choose either this or the NerdSEQ.

As an interesting alternative, you could get it even if you don’t need a sequencer – as a central connectivity hub with added realtime processing for your entire setup.

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3 thoughts on “Review: Squarp Hermod

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful review. Have you successfully used a Boppad with a Hermod? Trying to figure it out now and not getting any signal connection.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I have to admit that my statement of using the BopPad came from something I read “somewhere”, not 1st hand experience. What I know is that the Hermod works nicely with several devices also in both directions. Are you able to try if the issue with the BopPad is related to power suplly, as all the devices I have tried use a separate PSU?

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