Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Et tu, Microbrute?

It all starred innocently enough; an Arturia newsletter came in around the Sunday night with a link to some kind of teaser page hosted at their site. It wasn't until I had a look at some of the comments, most notably from Portishead's Adrian Udley, that I realised that these quotes were in relation to a new hardware synth to follow up on the Minibrute.

Instantly, I felt a pang of regret for hastily buying my Brute earlier last year, despite absolutely loving it for leads and basses. Was this some kind of upgrade to the Minibrute? More options, more sonic possibilities? Is my pretty bass machine out to pasture? And then I realised in starting to write this I might come across as someone with product justification syndrome, eager to persuade others that they have made the right purchase. I'm sure this is how it might seem, but I'm pleased to see another analogue effort off of these guys.

Aside from the deliberately obfuscated comments and photos, the timer indicates that all shall be revealled come Friday morning. However, all the usual news sites were awash with coverage of the new Arturia Monosynth come Monday morning, though one particular site cheekily crashed the party by posting to-date the only known image of the unit; a very small render of the top side of the synth. So much for the big surprise, but sadly not enough to make out most of the time detail. Either way, there's plenty to keep tongues wagging until review sites (like Sonic State) are allowed to post their reviews.

In a nutshell, it looks like a smaller, cut-down version of the Minibrute, sporting mini keys as on the MicroKorg. I quite like mini keys given that my fingers are quite small, but I know this will divide some people. The octave jump on the arpeggiator has been replaced by an appeggiator sequencer function knob - hopefully this will make diving in to the sequencer an easier affair than before. This isn't the only replacement, as a series of mixer knobs have replaced the dedicated mixer, whilst a second envelope generator, noise generator and notch setting on the Steiner Parker filter have been removed entirely. The LFO has only a basic set of three waves hapes, omitting the S+H options of before, and limiting the routing options, though this may have been deliberate to either save money or provide it as an option in the CV patch bay on the top right corner.

Combined with a lack of accompaying controls (as far as I can see), I expect that the keyboard won't support aftertouch, though as a cut price machine designed to fit into a traditional DAW or modular setup I am sure the keyboard will be eschewed in favour of other forms of control. Speaking of which, the small patch bay is intriguing - perhapd this is designed to work as a semi-modular, such as the MS-20 Mini, or whether it is just to improve connectivity with other modular gear, I am not sure and the current image is not detailed enough to reveal this. Though there are no photos of the back of the unit, I fully expect this to include both MIDI in/out/thru and USB as with its bigger brother, so external control negates the need for a "proper" keyboard. Sizing the unit up against the Akai LP25 keyboard, as this also has mini keys, I expect that the unit's size will be similar to an A4 piece of paper, so it lends itself even more to a budget DAW setup where space is an issue.

Quite simply, until Arturia actually present some full specifications and more than just a low-resolution render, a lot of this is purely speculation. In theory, I do like the idea of a cut down Minibrute, but there are some great functions on the Minibrute that I don't think I would give away lightly, so I'm still happy with my purchase (for now). This is all aside from the idea of Arturia more or less reinventing the wheel, as I am sure that people are holding out for a polyphonic version or more diverse offering in the future.

Either way, it's Christmas come early if you are in the market for a budget price, all analogue monosynth at $300. Until the Microbrute is released to the world, I am going to reserve final judgement. Looking forward to 25th October!