Sonic LAB: Arturia MicroFreak - Hybrid Synthesizer

With four voice paraphony      26/04/19
    MP4 19:44 mins    

Buying Choices

Arturia are upping their release schedule, like many synthesizer manufacturers. This time they have gone with something a little different to their analogue fare. The MicroFreak is unashamedly digital at it's hard, but with the analogue part in the filter and VCA.

With a digital oscillator - there’s only one, you can do a lot more and recent developments by clever people has meant that the algorithms have become more interesting and high quality.

They’ve also gone for a metal touch style keyboard, which has no moving parts, but does have sensor pads on each key - the more finger you use, the more pressure control is applied. It also poly pressure which can be routed to synth parameters polyphonically - though not the filter obvs.

There’s also an arpeggiator and a poly, two pattern (16 steps each A+B) sequencer with parameter recording. And yes you can record control only for additional modulation action.

Additionally there’s a touch strip - which is not assignable to anything other than pitch and several mode buttons for sequencing, arpeggiator, hold and Spice and Dice which are for randomising sequencer parameters.

Connections:

  • MIDI io on mini jacks (adapters supplied)
  • Clock in/out (minijacks)
  • CV/Gate/Pressure outputs
  • USB MIDI
  • 1/4 inch mono output
  • 1/8th Headphones

Power - comes with an inline PSU which has a clover leaf mains input - apparently the earthing is really important for the touch sensors, but why they went with this over an IEC (Kettle lead) baffles me. I bet no-one will have many of these lying around when you forget to pack yours.

At it's heart is the single oscillator - with 11 different models, 7 of which are using Mutable Instruments Plaits code - which is open source, as much of MI code is.

There are plenty of sounds in there, with each model having three tweakable parameters, depending on what the model is, these are fully routable via the 35 slot mod matrix too and though it looks like a 1 row, 1 column affair, you can actually fill every single slot with a routing - nice!

It's also a four voice synth (up to) with 4 discrete VCAs but a single filter, so paraphonic, sort of and makes it capable of some lovely pads and chordal work - in fact the Chord Oscillator model expands that so each can have up to three fixed intervals.

The analogue filter is based on a SEM 2-pole - Low pass, Band Pass, High Pass - though only switchable, not sweepable through filter types. It does not have full resonance but does sound pretty good. Though Arturia have dropped the Brute Factor from this, no additional drive or distortion, oscillator has a fixed level into it.

First up, the oscillator models are really interesting and capable of regular synth waves as well as some really unique and wide ranging other tones. It's feels like the digital aspect has been really well integrated and doesn’t feel like a poor emulation of anything else. Large basses, interesting harmonic stuff - yes to all of that. Patch creation is a breeze, it's one of those synths where you can’t help yourself.

Models:

  • Basic Waves - Sawtooth, Triangle and Square plus a Sub
  • SuperWave - Saw, Tri, Square, Sinus with detune and interval
  • WaveTable - 16 tables with position, plus chorus
  • Harmo - Content and Sculpting plus chorus
  • KarplusStrong - Bwo level, Position and decay
  • V.Analog - wave, shape, and detune (for intervals) 
  • WaveShaper - Wave, Amount and Asymetry
  • Two Op. FM - ratio, feedback and amount
  • Formant  - interval, formant and shape
  • Chords - Type, inversion and waveform
  • Speech - phrase selection, timbre (formant) and word selection
  • Modal - inharm, timbre and decay

My only wish would be that we could have an effect in here somewhere, even just a delay would have worked wonders for those rich harmonic sounds, but lack of space and price point means it just wasn’t viable, but I highly recommend a reverb or delay .

Modulators
Two envelopes: the second is routed to the VCA (switchable to gate) and the filter with an AD/RS (attack, decay/release, sustain) - space means that full ADSR is not feasible and to be honest it's nicely implemented so you dont feel too limited - plenty of snap should you need it to.

The CycleEnv is more like a function generator with Rise, Fall, Hold/Sustain. But it's also got adjustable curves (lin/exp) for the Rise and Fall portions and can loop at quite high speed in key sync or free running modes.

LFO multi-wave (sine, tri, ramp, square, s&h, s*g), syncable (to master tempo/clock) goes up to around 100Hz - only one of these, not one per voice.

We’ve also got the option of recording 4 additional parameter tracks in the sequencer (you can do this without note data)  so modulation is pretty impressive overall.

Enter the Matrix
This is where things get complex, with 7 destinations (three of which are assignable) and 5 sources, you can go crazy here. Dial in the point on the matrix with the rotary, press and now you are adjusting the depth. Easy-peasy and capable of some complex routings, including depth of other routings. Go crazy, because you can. It's a well executed piece of design and allows for very deep routing. Everything on the front panel can be assigned to one of the three assignable slots, including modulation depth of other slots, apart from the preset selection, master volume and amp mod.

Results
With 256 patch locations I suspect you will soon fill up the memory, patch banks can be backed up in the Arturia Control Centre via USB connection.

I enjoyed the MicroFreak, I think it's a great little instrument with some interesting features and sounds, for the money it's almost a no brainer, the routing really opens up the synthesis options and the sequencer and motion recordinamy only real gripes are clover leaf power cable and lack of any FX, but on the whole it's got a lot to offer for the price, and wont sound much like anything else you might have iin that price range.

Available imminently priced at £265/$299/€299 (street)

https://www.arturia.com/products/hardware-synths/microfreak/overview

z

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