Sonic LAB: Arturia Minibrute Review

Analogue Mono Synth for the masses      02/07/12

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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.
 

 Basics

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.

Available now
£429/ $549


 


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30 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
SteveFromBerlin    Said...

Great Review!

02-Jul-12 08:13 AM


Koshdukai    Said...

Loved the review. I think it covered everything I wanted to know or confirm.

Thanks Nick! :)

...now all I have to do is, erm... wait -.-'

02-Jul-12 08:39 AM


PaddyFromDublin    Said...

Another great review though I wish he'd start including prices in Euros.

02-Jul-12 11:00 AM


J.J. The JayMan    Said...

Excellent review. The problem for me?

I hate this synthesizer. The word "Brute" is appropriate. The thing sounds bad to me.

02-Jul-12 11:06 AM


Sean Dynan    Said...

Nick. Brilliant review as always. Brilliant little synth too. But why are sonic Lab videos of late all blurry? What's the point of a 720p video if it's full of motion blur or whatever that is?

02-Jul-12 12:55 PM


Robin    Said...

Minibrute.. I hate it. I'm sorry I do. I have not heard any demo that would help my interesst in this synth. This synth is made for noisy bleeps and beeps of what I can hear, somewhere between a Nintendo 8 bit and crap. And it is butt ugly. It's a big suprise though. I would wait for the Waldorf Pulse 2. It looks more interessting, if it keeps the sound quality from the original Pulse.

02-Jul-12 01:11 PM


Gustavo    Said...

I personally find it awfull compared to the DSI Mopho. I own a Mopho module and I think that as a stand alone synth it sounds better and is capable of so much more.

Yet if I was looking for a synth to integrate to my analog rack, I´d definitely get this one.

02-Jul-12 02:02 PM


GTRman    Said...

What is with this keyboard or should I say lack of keyboard?

02-Jul-12 03:01 PM


moss    Said...

Greate review Nick! I feel a gearlust coming up :-)

02-Jul-12 04:22 PM


Blake    Said...

Excellent review! Want!

02-Jul-12 05:26 PM


al_bot    Said...

Thanks Nick for the review!

The synth just doesn't do it for me. It just sounds plain bad. I don't feel the warmth. Not sure what Arturia is doing. I wish Arturia origin was more like Creamware scope modular or something.

02-Jul-12 11:54 PM


Peter K.    Said...

Thanks for the review, Nick!

I've had mine on order for several months. I can't wait for it to arrive.

It is the size that it is, and it sounds the way it sounds. I think it's got a rough, raucous quality to it that makes a nice contrast to the warm, smooth sound of my Moogs and DSI stuff. And it has a multi-mode filter!! Finally!!

Two questions, Nick: 1) How did the keyboard feel to play?

2) Was the pitch bend able to go all the way up to a full octave? I've seen it not quite make it there in a few other videos... Just wondering if they've gotten that calibration sorted yet.

Ok, I lied, one more question: Do we know why there has been such a delay on the Minibrute?

03-Jul-12 02:06 AM


JJ    Said...

i was really excited about this synth when it was announced, almost preordered it, but now after hearing some demos I'm glad I didn't. It's too brutal for me, I was wishing it could also produce mellow and soft tones, but it seems it only does brutal to überbrutal... ;/

great review and a nice concept, I wish arturia would make a sibling that does softer tones.

03-Jul-12 02:24 AM


Jeremy    Said...

JJ: I dunno, it's got the sine wave and the ability for really long envelopes, I bet it could do soft sounds just fine. It's just, sort of more suited to the harder stuff.

03-Jul-12 12:54 PM


CCQ    Said...

Nick- Any chance of doing a tour of the Arp? Thanks, CCQ

03-Jul-12 01:39 PM


Nick B    Said...

Sorry CCQ, unit had to go back, only had limited amount of time with it. What do you want to know?

Perhaps I can answer

04-Jul-12 05:30 AM


Blue Monster 65    Said...

I had some time on the MB at the recent Gear Fest and was more impressed with it than I thought I would be. I'm generalizing here, but I found that turning the Brute Factor and Metalizer off were key to getting "smoother" sounds (obviously) and without those, it was a pretty capable synth, though still an aggressive sounding one. It's not as fat as a Moog, but would layer quite nicely with one (the rep told me about hooking up a Minitaur to his and how massive the two sounded).

The arp was fun, being both programmable and preset, with details on both escaping me at the moment. I did like playing a chord and having the arp add/run the notes as I pressed them, the being able to adjust the amount of swing as it ran. Big fun! Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to sync it to Spark, as others wanted to have a go on it.

I'm in the camp that thinks this thing is going to sell serious amounts (when they get their supply line up and running), but I can't say whether or not I'll have one. I think anyone sitting on the fence (as I am) will have to spend more time with it in the store.

04-Jul-12 07:46 AM


Pro musician 1    Said...

Why do companies continue to design these toy like synths. Useless keyboard , no patch storage, cheap plastic knobs and cases, single voice. Musicians need tools not toys. Give me a real useful Instrument that I can use in the studio and on stage. Thanks for the demo guys, it really shows the limitations of this cheap plastic toy. I will wait for the MaxiBrute.

04-Jul-12 10:20 PM


Juicy Audio    Said...

This hits all the right notes (ahem), as far as im concerned (another stellar review by nick..thank you) as :-

a) it has cv/gate, midi and usb

b) a useable keyboard

c) a VERY rich sounding, unique and hence characterful steiner-parker esque filter

d) some quirky mod routings, which means lots of scope for sounding a bit different

e) a tasty looking arpeggiator, which according to spec is programmable, with swing et al.

couple that with the price point it should (hopefully) be available at, and even with ONE oscillator, i reckon itll sell by the truckload, production volumes meeting order levels notwithstanding.

It looks and feels like a modern day SH-101, but with added guts and steroidal assitance.

05-Jul-12 08:09 PM


CCQ    Said...

Thanks for the reply, Nick and Blue 65. I guess my main question about ARP behavior is ‘what happens when you change the step size or the play order?’ Does it handle the change gracefully or is it a hard reset?

Also, I had hoped for an ‘order played’ setting in addition to up/down/random – no luck I guess.

While I’m at it, I’m predicting a run on the Korg Monotron market as folks hack CV connections into them and add them as a second oscillator. Your demo with the modular was right on point.

07-Jul-12 12:22 AM


Blue Monster 65    Said...

From what I remember (it's been a couple of weeks and I only had a few minutes - less than 15 - with it), it seemed to go right into the next chord or when I added a note to what I was holding down with no problem.

08-Jul-12 08:12 PM


sharp tube    Said...

there are several problems with this toy why i don't want it: a) only 25 keys b) some important parameters like midi, vel, aftertouch,lfo-trigger mode and ... can only be edited via computer. c) the bass is too weak

arthuria would maybe produce someday a better professional version, so it is better to wait.

09-Jul-12 03:42 AM


CCQ    Said...

A guide for those playing at home: "Instrument" == "Features I'm looking for" "Toy" == "Features I'm not looking for"

09-Jul-12 02:07 PM


Derek    Said...

>> The synth just doesn't do it for me. It just sounds plain bad.

It's the MIni*Brute*... Moog Headquarters is _that_ way. :-)

It certainly gets your attention. I'll say it again: this is a complete 180 degree turn from the Arturia Origin--you know, the one Tom from MusicThing labelled "boring". Do we want Arturia making cool hardware or not? Make up your minds ;)

11-Jul-12 11:49 AM


Ben    Said...

Nick,

I read somewhere you can change the aftertouch via the computer/software. Maybe worth the research?

As always nice review, thanks!

11-Jul-12 02:38 PM


gaz    Said...

thanks for an extraordinarily deep and thorough review. You have a knack of coaxing great sounds out of any equipment you get your hands on. enjoyed watching even though i have no need for an analog monosynth.

11-Jul-12 03:29 PM


CCQ    Said...

Something crazy happened and I got a call this morning to come pick up my new Minibrute. In reading the manual for the USB editor, re my comment above about the play order of the arp, you can indeed set it to play either in the order the keys are pressed or pitch order.

14-Jul-12 12:14 AM


Blue Monster 65    Said...

Glad to know you're diggin' it, CCQ! When you want to take a break from it, though, you could always send it my way for a week or two! :)

14-Jul-12 10:13 PM


@The_JoESilva    Said...

Great review! Hang on...there are Sonicstate t-shirts? :-O

18-Jul-12 12:45 PM


Bjarne D.    Said...

I like your t-shirt, Nick! Is it available somewhere?

23-Jul-12 12:50 PM


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