Sonic LAB: IK Multimedia Uno Synth Review

US Compact analogue mono synth      25/09/18
    MP4 21:39 mins    

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A bit of a surprise when this was first announced, after all IK Multimedia, while makers of useful kit for MIDI and audio connectivity for PC and mobile devices as well as plenty of software, have not ventured into the world of analogue synths in hardware up to now.

Uno Synth came about with the input of synthesist specialist Erik Norlander, who has a pedigree (including the fabled Alesis Andromeda). Uno Synth sticks with the budget styling and ethos of IK’s other products, but brings analogue synthesis into the frame.

Uno Synth is a 2 oscillator monosynth, with an OTA 2 pole filter, twin envelopes, LFO and delay, plus an board note sequencer which will also record up to 20 channels of parameter tweaking (yes 20!).

While reasonably basic in architecture and somewhat slight in robustness, it does actually have a decent basic sound. The Oscillators have plenty of fundamental harmonic to them which means you get a decent amount of low end. Both oscillators have variable waves with TRI/SAW/SQ/PULSE. You can modulate either the PWM or the Wave shape via the LFO and Filter envelope too.

The interface is simple, with a parameter matrix and touch sensitive buttons with additional parameter accessed via up/down keys, sadly there’s no dedicated parameter knob which makes it a little more fiddly to operate.

You can power via micro USB or 3 AA batteries, USB also handles MIDI control which lets you connect to the editor for full parameter access - not all are available from the front panel - eg: AD for filter env (ADSR via editor) Amplitude AR again full ADSR via editor or indeed MIDI CC control. MIDI is provided on MIDI Din to microjack  - thats 2.5mm connectors, though it does use the new MIDI Association wiring scheme, the connectors are non standard.

So to get the most from the synthesis engine the editor (mac/pc/ios)  is a must - no PWM or wave od without it and it does sound pretty good.

Strangely there’s no oscillator sync, which is a shame. The filter is an OTA 2 pole resonant multimode type, though not a completely self resonant filter, with an additional drive circuit, you can get some huge low end harmonics with the HP and BP modes especially when combined with the drive control - though I would have liked to have seen a little more extreme drive. Resonance does not loose low end, which results in some huge sounds.

Envelopes  - two of them are OK they aren’t super snappy but I guess that because they must be controllable via MIDI CC, would have liked to have seen one or both of them loopable, but they don’t.

The LFO offers syncable sine, triangle, ramp up/down, square, random and s&h, though not massively high rate it's respectable. There’s also a delay built in, with control over mix and time, sadly not feedback.

The big feature here is the sequencer, sure the 16 note sequencer per patch is not particularly exciting, but the fact that you can record up to 20 parameter automation lanes into the sequencer makes it a very powerful modulation matrix, as yes you can record parameters without notes. Also of note is the fact that it's an absolute recorder - meaning you don’t have to record the initial state of the parameters - if your patch has a closed filter and you open it on step 2, step 3 returns to its initial state - which I personally find way more intuitive - more like Elektron’s p-lock system.

There’s also an Arpeggiator with all the usual modes and ranges, including played order.

So, how does it stack up soundwise?

Uno Synth’s simple appearance is somewhat misleading, with the ZX81 styling, you’d not expect to hear such deep low end, but it's actually pretty decent. I like the filter, it's can get quite a lot of burn and fruity harmonics in all modes. The only real down-side is the UI, parameter access (not on the matrix) is somewhat clunky and more than once I inadvertently changed presets while trying to record parameters - grr!

But it's got a pretty decent sound together with MIDI control and total recall - at £199/$199 it's more costly than the Volca’s but I think it sounds a lot better, the next tier up would be the Arturia MicroBrute which gives you more real synth controls, a keyboard and some patchabile options, though only 1 oscillator and no recall. Or, and I confess I missed this one, a Korg Monologue which is in the same price range, but has more control, but the clincher is the 20 lanes of parameter automation.

I think this could fit a niche for people who need analogue and recall and though not a complex synth, it sounds pretty good.

IK Multimedia Uno Synth - Available now £199/$199/€229

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