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Arturia MicroBrute Analog Synthesizer
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- 100% Analog Audio Signal Path
- Steiner-Parker Multimode Filter (LP, BP, HP)
- Voltage Controlled Oscillator with new Overtone Sub-Osc, Oscillator Mixer (Sub, Sawtooth, Square, Triangle)
- Ultrasaw generating shimmering sawtooth waveforms
- MIDI Inwith 5-Pin DIN connector, USB MIDI In/Out, 1/4-Inch Audio Output and 1/8-Inch Headphone Output
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Arturia MicroBrute Analog Synthesizer
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This is a fantastic product with immense potential for any musician who loves live synth performance. The Microbrute has always been a tiny beast, and the new transparent red look doesn't change any of that.
First, for folks who really don't know what they're looking at, the Microbrute is an analog monophonic synthesizer - there's no little computer inside telling it how to sound, and it plays only one note at a time. This is all good. To compare it to other types of products in a similar price and versatility range, the MicroKorg and Novation's Mininova are *digital modeling* synths - they're very sophisticated computers that mimic the types of sounds analog synths do by their very nature. The differences are many: The digital synths can play whole chords, and have robust effects processing right on-board, and have extensive software packages available if you connect them to your computer. But the modeling synths have significant shortcomings in comparison to an analog synth like the Microbrute. In order to change settings on the Microbrute, you just turn a knob or move a slider - they always do the same things because they're connected to a specific function. The modeling synths use fewer knobs to do a LOT more, so you have to make sure you know what each knob does in each context. Additionally, the Microbrute can more easily produce authentic analog sounds because it *is* an analog machine. There's tactile, sonic, and emotional value to using one of these.
For those who know a bit more about analog but maybe haven't followed Arturia, the Microbrute and its bigger brother the Minibrute were big surprises when they came out - proof that an outstanding analog synth could be had for a small amount of money, and proof that everyone wanted an analog synth. The Microbrute is in most ways superior to the Minibrute - the Micro has a small patch bay and more options for CV, plus an excellent 64-step sequencer (that's *sixty-four* steps. 8 bars of 8th notes.). On the con side, the Microbrute has had to forgo the filter-specific envelope, noise channel on the oscillator, and a few other options for the LFO. The keys are smaller, too, and the lack aftertouch. They're awfully spongy, too. For my money, though, you won't see me wishing for a Mini. This seems to be the consensus among players.
Some general observations: The build quality on this is great. The 'brute is hefty and solid, the knobs are pleasing to the eye and to the touch. The zero notch on relevant knobs is easy to feel when you hit it. The pitch wheel is quick enough. The patch jacks feel tight and secure. The sliders are great, very precise, and the envelope is nice and snappy. The transparent red shell is really, really cool. If you missed out on the Microbrute SEs, this is one to grab. The sequencer tempo has a very wide range, and is quite precise. It's easy to dial in to the tempo of any other sequencers you might have going. I haven't tried to sync it with anything else though. The tempo tap button works great, too.
On the sound: You have one oscillator that can pump out multiple waveforms all at once, creating a pretty amazing versaitility of sound. By comparison, the Volca Keys (at $150) has 3 oscillators, but they only output sawtooth waveforms. If you watch reviews of these two synths, you'll see what you get and what you lose with each. The rough account is this: More versatility with the Microbrute, but the Keys can play 3 separate notes at once. Both create fantastic lead sounds, but the 'brute can do things the Volca Keys only dreams about. The reverse is also true.
This thing is amazing for the price. You need to know, though, that if you're going for cleaner, more classic synth sounds, that you have to keep the waveform selectors at or below halfway or they start to drive the filter and you start to get distortion. This is a pretty awesome feature, but apparently some folks miss out because they think the 'brute just sounds dirty. Turn the knobs down and turn the volume up!
For people who've been following Arturia, you need to know that this is a Microbrute in a new shell, not a Microbrute SE. Unlike the Microbrute SE models, it doesn't have fancy stacking patch cords, just the standard ones. The SE came with a gig bag as well, which this lacks.
If you poke around the hardware synth scene for long, you'll see people talking about the new, inexpensive analog synths as though they were "toys." A few of them (the Korg monotron line) certainly are. But many more - like the Microbrute and Korgs Volca lines, just to name a couple - are versatile enough to feature in any performer's lineup. Don't get me wrong - if I had the money for a massive modular setup or even a Moog Sub 37, they would already have that money. But do not discount this synthesizer for its size, price point, or cute red shell.
If you want proof of how well these new, smaller synths can be used, take a look at Burg's youtube channel (where he goes by the name ollilaboratories) or some of the stuff by Sequentonal. This is a great piece of hardware.
If you're in the market for an analog synth, this should get a first look. If you like the look of the Microbrute Red, I'd grab one while they're hot.
After using this for a few months, I'm ready to add some additional comments. I've been borrowing a Moog Sub Phatty lately, and playing with the Moog, the Volca Keys, and the microbrute all together has given me some very interesting results that are worth sharing.
First, playing the microbrute alongside the Moog reinforces the challenge of playing the minikeys. A quality keybed and full-size keys makes the microbrute even more fun to play, and I've often enjoyed playing the 'brute using the Moog as a keyboard controller. I have narrow fingers, so the width of the keys isn't the greatest issue. It's the length of the keys. Minikeys force the player to play arpeggios with the fingers in a more constrained position, whereas the larger keys let you play much more naturally.
Second, and on a very positive note, I tested my claims about the ability to get warm, classic synth sounds on the 'brute by running the Moog through the left channel and the microbrute through the right channel on my mixer, then attempted to create similar sounds. The basic waveforms sound very similar when the filter is wide open and the waveform mixers are kept below 50% on the microbrute. The 'brute's oscillator is very, very good. However, when you start introducing multiple waveforms into the oscillator, you end up with a very complex sound that can't be reproduced on the Moog. On the other hand, most of the sound combinations on the Moog CAN be created on the microbrute. They're more difficult to accomplish, mainly because the Moog's got 2 VCOs and a sub-oscillator, whereas the microbrute has a single oscillator with complexity out the wazoo. But it's surprising how much you can do with it. One other thing to note, and this should be a surprise to nobody - the microbrute's "ultrasaw" wavefolder thingy that sounds sort of like detuned sawtooth waves is less expressive than either the detuning capabilities of the Moog (with two true oscillators) or the Volca Keys (with 3 true oscillators). Playing with the envelopes on both synths helped me realize that there's a tiny bit of popping with the microbrute with long attacks that you don't get with the Moog, but what do you expect for $300?
Third, the LFO on the microbrute has much more interesting characteristics when you push it into the audio range than the Moog does. This is a subjective claim. However, the limitation of assigning the LFO to a single parameter is a huge disappointment after so easily assigning waveform *AND* filter amount to the LFO at the same time with the Moog. I'm told that the stackable patch cables that came standard with the microbrute SE enabled one to do this, but the microbrute Red comes with the standard cables, as noted in the original review.
As noted in the original review, the microbrute forgoes the filter envelope and a few other options that are present on the minibrute. Two of those options are a random LFO waveform and white noise. The white noise is still not something I miss, but after playing the microbrute and the Moog together, the random LFO waveform and filter envelope really are a big loss. With the microbrute, I can set VCA to gate and use the single envelope to control the filter, but it's obviously more difficult that way. And there's just something astonishingly beautiful about a randomized filter on your lead with swelling supersaw chords in the background.
Finally, I found that there was a bit of truth to the idea that the microbrute is a little bit of a "dirty" synth. It seems to want to make complex, crunchy sounds. The filter isn't smooth as glass like the Moog's, but it also shouldn't be. This isn't a mark of the cheapness of the product, but an important positive characteristic for the 'brute. Pitch bends and long glides don't quite have the same polish on the 'brute. What they have, though, is buckets and buckets of sass. In my original review, I said that if I had the money for a Sub 37, Moog would already have my money. I was implying that I would have chosen the Moog over the microbrute Red. I'm now ready to amend that statement: I would not now want to part with my microbrute in exchange for a Moog. I would miss it more than I would enjoy the Moog.
There is also a sequencer that allows you to record progressions and while they play back you can adjust knobs to change the sound. I don't use it very much but if you check out youtube there are people doing some really cool things with it.
It also comes with templates. About 7 or so premade and a bunch of blanks. You can lay them over the knobs to get pre-created sounds. I use these but usually as a base to make a new sound. When you make a new sound that you like you can take one of the blank templates and mark all the knob positions.
I also bought a Behringer Reverb machine pedal and it added another dimension to the sounds that come out of this thing.
All in all a great, fun synth. You will have a blast making full songs or just fiddling with it.
Please note this Synth is monophonic so you can only play 1 key at a time.