There’s been a wave of anticipation behind the release of Arturia’s first analog synthesizer - for a company built on it’s software emulation prowess, it's something of a major change of order.
The Minibrute is a monophonic synth with pure analog at it's heart, with a lot of input from French synth DIYer Yves Usson who has a passion for modular synthesizers and the in particular it seems the Steiner-Parker filter - an alternative to the usual Ladder filter types. Yves has has had a lot of input into the design of this synthesizer's actual electronics, with the fabrication experts translating his design into something that can be economically mass-produced.
First up - the Minibrute is a monophonic analog subtractive synth, it's architecture will be familiar to users of the Roland SH-101, a single VCO with Saw, Square, Triangle and Noise sources, blendable via dedicated faders. We also have a Sub Oscillator at -1 or -2 octaves switchable between Sine and Square waves for extra beef.
There’s a dedicated VCA envelope (ADSR type) plus a modulation envelope for the filter and a few other destinations. These waves sound fine - and give plenty of weight or fizz. But there’s more to it than that - each wave has a little twist to it which gives you more to play with, in the case of the Square, it's just the pulse-width - but as well as the LFO mod you can use the envelope, the Saw has Ultrasaw - a wave clone and modulation unction - think mini hypersaw with it's own separate rate control. Triangle has Metalizer - which warps the plain Tri wave into a metalic sounding wave - this too can be modulated via LFO or envelope.
Filter Another aspect which makes the Minibrute that bit different is the filter - a multi-mode Steiner-Parker filter (Low Pass, Hi Pass, Notch and Band Reject) with full resonance it's got a really driven, almost unstable quality to it - I must say I do like, although it would perhaps have been nice to be able to back off the drive a bit more. It is possible to ‘play’ the filter at full resonance, though the keyboard tracking was a bit tricky to setup for meaningful octave spreads. In addition, we have the Brute Factor - a knob which controls the amount of feedback drive - think Minimoog headphone out back in to the external input, from subtle to extreme clipping drive, it adds another extra dimension to the sound.
LFO + Arpeggiator Six waveforms - sine, tri, saw up, Square, random step, random smooth. It has a rate range of and can be locked to the Arpeggiator, which in turn can be locked to external MIDI clock.
Performance Of course there’s a 2-octave velocity sensitive keyboard with after-touch of all things - this can be routed to filter cut-off or vibrato - with it's own speed control and waveforms (sine, up and down) independent of the LFO. The mod-wheel also has three possible destinations - Mod-depth, Cut-off and Vibrato depth - allowing good levels of expression - although after-touch depth is fixed - so takes a little getting used to. Speaking of the arpeggiator - with a four octave range, multiple modes (up, down, up/down, random), 6 step clock division - including triplet mode and a swing factor for adding more swing to the pattern. The clock can be set to external MIDI via USB or MIDI for syncing to your DAW or sequencer.
‘Allo IO Connections: Audio out - 1/4 jack Headphones out - 1/4 jack Audio in - 1/8th jack CV out - 1/8th jack Gate out - 1/8th jack CV in Gate in VCFq in Amp mod in
MIDI in/out USB input - for use with USB midi and Minibrute editor - which lets you set basic option like MIDI channel, velocity and after-touch curves
I got our modular rig talking nicely and returning the audio in to the external audio input (controlled by it's own fader). This for me was where the Minibrute really shone - I was able to integrate our modular setup seamlessly into the Minibrute. With additional modulation options possible via the Filter and Amplitude CV inputs. Only real limitation here is the fact that it is purely 1V/OCT - so your Korg MS20 ain’t going to play well.
Verdict I liked the Minibrute - it has character. The basic oscillators are of a decent quality - not quite Moog fat, but at least as good as my Pittsburgh Modular Oscillator waves, the filter is unique and there plenty of nice touches that make it playable and tweakable. True, some compromises have been made, but intelligently so - the lack of range on the Oscillator is mitigated by the octave switch on the keyboard and the dual octave SUB oscillator. The single LFO supplemented by the dedicated Ultrasaw rate and vibrato modulation. In short, it's been thoughtfully designed to make it as flexible as possible without crippling its capabilities.
I really like the integration with other analog gear, just hooking up to the modular system we have, gave me an instantly playable, patchable setup. With the Minibrute, Arturia have made one of the first mass produced, affordable, analogue synths in a long while. I think they have a winner on their hands and deservedly so.