I routinely state that the Arturia MicroFreak is one in every of my favourite budget synths. However actually, I’m doing it a disservice. I believe the MicroFreak is without doubt one of the greatest synths on the market at any worth. That has as a lot to do with the flexibility of its sound engine because it does with Arturia’s relentless updates. Since being launched in 2019 this little synth has seen countless updates, most of them including pretty significant new features.
The forthcoming replace to firmware model 5.0 is arguably one of many greatest. It provides a pattern playback engine and three totally different granular engines. That brings the full variety of synth engines on the MicroFreak to a frankly absurd 22. Certain, not the entire engines are as usable because the others, and a few are comparatively comparable to one another. However nonetheless, it’s a whole lot of versatility in a small $350 bundle.
When the brand new firmware drops round Could thirtieth (sadly there are nonetheless some kinks being ironed out) there can even be an replace to MIDI Management Heart that may allow customers to add their very own samples (as much as 24 seconds in size) for playback via the 4 new engines. The overall variety of preset slots on the MicroFreak will develop to 512, and there will probably be two new modulation choices added to the utility menu – random per-key and snap.
Because the MicroFreak had a wavetable engine to begin, and in 2021 Arturia added help for custom user wavetables, pattern playback must be easy sufficient for the reason that wavetables are simply .wav information. And if there’s pattern playback and wavetable help, then granular isn’t an excessive amount of of a stretch since that’s simply chopping up a .wav file and taking part in it again in little rearranged bits. Nonetheless, granular synthesis is fairly arduous to come back by in a hardware instrument so it’s value celebrating right here. (Aspect word: I’d count on to see extra within the close to future as granular appears to be gaining reputation and processors are highly effective sufficient now to make constructing them trivial.)
The pattern engine is comparatively rudimentary. You may change the beginning and finish level and set a loop level, however that’s it. There’s no time stretching or something (that I’m conscious of), pitch adjustments are achieved just by dashing up and slowing down playback. However there’s one thing about the best way that’s dealt with on the MicroFreak that sounds unbelievable. It’s obtained an virtually late ‘70s, early ‘80s digital vibe that speaks to my love of grit. And lots of the included samples at the least stay usable over a large variety of octaves. Actually, I’d say that on the decrease excessive’s they’re not simply usable, however improbable sounding – particularly that PGTS Keys pattern. After which, clearly, you’ve obtained the remainder of the synth at your disposal so as to add filtering and modulation.
One trick I shortly fell in love with was utilizing the brand new per-key random setting to barely alter the pitch. Combining that with the lo-fi piano pattern will get you one thing that’s by no means fairly in tune, however by no means thus far out that it sounds dangerous. It does require some minor menu diving, however it’s value it. After which the important thing/arp row within the mod matrix turns into one other supply of randomization. And actually, I didn’t actually assume I wanted extra randomization on a synth that has each sample-and-hold and random choices for the LFO, plus the Spice and Cube parameters for injecting chaos into your arps and sequences, however right here we’re.
I assume that as a substitute of 1 granular engine, it’s damaged down into three separate engines partly due to the restricted controls on the entrance. Scan performs a pattern from begin to end (principally), however it lets you management the velocity at which the grain strikes via the file so you will get actually lo-fi time stretching results. However in the event you modulate the velocity at which it scans and set the density (variety of grains) moderately low and the chaos moderately excessive, you get this kind of warped vinyl tremolo sound. I particularly love the best way it sounds on the Braam brass pattern. The most important con right here is that samples received’t loop within the scan engine, so you may’t get good drones out of it.
Cloud, then again, is constructed for drones. It performs again a number of overlapping grains, looping across the file to create alien textures good for scoring a retro sci-fi level and click on journey. That is the kind of factor that individuals instantly affiliate with granular synthesis. It has an odd character that may’t be mistaken for anything.
Lastly, the Hit engine is all about percussion. That is the place you go to create clicky sound results and stuttering glitchy rhythm tracks, even when the supply materials isn’t a drum pattern. Actually, I’d say the outcomes are sometimes extra attention-grabbing when working with what was initially a melodic pattern. Although, I received’t faux it’s not a great deal of enjoyable to pop an 808 kick in there and simply let it create relentless, skull-crushing avalanches of bass.
It’s uncommon to see an organization proceed so as to add this many options to a product years after its launch. Whether or not we’re speaking a couple of synth, a cellphone or a digital camera. However Arturia deserves credit score (Novation too, only for the document) for persevering with to dedicate time and assets to even its entry stage merchandise. Maybe probably the most stunning factor in regards to the MicroFreak 5.0 replace is that we haven’t seen its huge brother, the MiniFreak, obtain a single vital replace. Regardless of costing practically twice the worth, it now has six fewer synth engine choices, at the least by my rely.
Whilst you anticipate the free replace to drop on Could thirtieth, take a couple of moments to ogle the brand new MicroFreak Stellar restricted version pictured on the prime of this put up. It swaps the unique’s birds and floral thrives for an area themed design and swaps out the white keys for a monochromatic all black deck. The MicroFreak Stellar is accessible now for $399.
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