In the past few weeks, we asked two of our collaborators to test the Arturia Microbrute, a new and compact analog synth, with an attractive feature/price ratio. Here’s what they found out (and why they both ended up wanting to keep it, despite some shortcomings).
A short description The synthesis part is rather intuitive even for those who have no experience with subtractive synthesis. The oscillator source can be mixed in four waveforms: triangular, square, saw and overtone with their relative symmetry control. The fundamental frequency can be tuned over 6 octaves with the possibility to reach very low oscillation at the edge of the audible range. Three types of filters are available on the filter module: low pass, bandpass and high pass. Other controls in this section are envelope amount control, resonance and a “brute factor” control, i.e. something like a feedback loop which can boost lower frequencies. In the lower part of the dashboard you can find the LFO module, the envelope module, the sequencer, glide and two expression wheels. On the bottom of the dashboard there is the 2-octave keyboard. The keys are, well, tiny as you would expect them to be, but given we’re talking of a monophonic 2 octave instrument and you won’t play Wakeman-style solos on them, they definitely do their job.
Sound The Microbrute gives users the chance to get a great analog “vintage style” sound, even though it may require some work to achieve what you have in mind. While playing with waveforms, it is really easy to enrich the sound with higher harmonics. Here is the first limitation: the filter. In order to balance bass and high frequencies one must cut off higher frequencies with the filter, it is the basis of subtractive synthesis. The problem is that by doing this, the filter saturates quickly and the result may be a bulky sound with a nasal character. This means that it may not satisfy the most demanding users, given it is not comparable with the ‘classic’ ones. Also, it may be not that easy to achieve a pristine sound full of bass frequencies and crystalline high harmonics, but once you have a good knowledge of the Microbrute, things will be much easier. The situation changes a lot when you use the LFO or the sequencer to lighten the sound: the cumbersome character becomes less evident. Of course, the problem disappears when playing the mid octave or upper octave range. An obvious remark about the sound, don’t forget to tune it. As every analog instrument, it has to be tuned. Wait one minute after switching on the power supply, the tuning is not stable during this time. Another minor issue is that if you tune the Microbrute transposed in another tonality, the tuning is not precise over the 2 octave (about ¼ tone).
Live and the sequencer. If you are looking for an analog sound extension for Ableton Live, well, you should know a few things first. Microbrute only receives notes via MIDI. That means that you cannot change the sound with Ableton. Microbrute works exactly like other pre-MIDI synths: no storage, no setting banks and no automation. It receives only notes (CV) and bpm (gate). The same remark is valid for those looking for an analog synth to play live with their band, get ready for some waiting time between songs (it can be a good chance for your singer to interact with the audience)! Sound settings can only be stored in your mind or written on the cards which Arturia provides with the Microbrute. These cards can be placed on the instrument. Old school rules! The Microbrute also offers a new cool feature (not found in its bigger brother, the Minibrute): a sequencer, which is actually more or less like an arpeggiator that can store only notes and rests. It has 8 memories that you can program on the fly or load/save via USB. Playing with the sequencer is really fun and inspiring. It is easy to program and always in sync with MIDI if you are using an external drum machine. LFO sync is switchable.
Interfaces/communication The Microbrute offers MIDI(in), MIDI via USB, CV/Gate. The modular matrix can be used to redirect voltages between Microbrute modules, but also to redirect voltages to external CV/Gate compliant machines. That means you can easily use the Microbrute along with your favorite original vintage synth or drum machine. How cool is that? Last but not least, we should also mention the analog input, which allows users to feed the Microbrute with any kind of line-level instrument signal(guitar, bass, etc..) and filter it together with the oscillators.
Conclusion We both had good fun with the Microbrute and its features and the price makes it definitely a GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) item! We would suggest it to those who want to add an “analog spice” to their 100% digital setup or who want to approach the world of modular synthesizers: the modular matrix is comfortable and intuitive, even if not as extensive as those found in bigger and way more expensive machines. The LFO and the sequencer are fun to use and always in sync with other instruments – like a drum machine. The expert analog synth user could use it as a portable solution. It could also be a cool new “toy” for guitar or bass players who want to experiment with different sounds. It sounds great, and it sounds even better if you plug it directly into your guitar or bass amplifier.