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This is another of Native Instruments meta synths - meta, in that it is a synth created using another synthesizer - that being Reaktor - the modular synthesizer construction software. It's not the first - we reviewed Razor two years back back and were impressed, so we know it's possible to create some good instruments.
Monark is different in the sense that it is purely focussed on emulating the Mini Moog Model D. It has the same architecture - apart from the addition of a multi-mode filter and a few other tweaks. But it's a monosynth with no velocity response - just like the Mini.
To use Monark you need either Reaktor Player 5.8+ or a full version of Reaktor, Reaktor player is standalone, VST, AU, RTAS, AAX so should fit into your existing setup with ease. I downloaded it right from NI and just followed the installer instructions - it just worked.
Firing it up for the first time, you can see the familiar Mini structure: 3 oscillators, all with a Lo mode, Osc 3 doubles as an LFO when in Lo mode or up into audio rate if you wish key tracking can be disabled too.
The waves sound pretty good, plenty of heft and buzz where needed, a single SAW wave is more than capable of creative a bass tone, but you have up to three.
Waves are TRI, SINE/SAW,SAW UP, SQUARE, PULSE1, PULSE2.
Though I always lke to see Pulse Width - but then the Mini never had that..
The mixer section should be familiar to Mini users, instead of rocker switches, you have backlit buttons - or rather software representations of them. Where it gets really interesting is the LOAD and FEEDBACK knobs, the LOAD emulates the way you could route the headphone out back into the external input to drive the filter stage harder for a warmer smudge to the sound, the FEEDBACK introduces a feedback loop internally from the output back to the mixer, sending the signal back through the filter and VCA. In practice this can dramatically affect the sound and introduce some extreme drive effects.
The Filter is of course modelled on the 24dB Moog ladder in MM mode, there are also 12dB (LP1), 6dB (LP2) and bandpass (BP) versions which offer some good variation on the theme. It's smooth as you like and very reminiscent of the original and will self oscillate for playing the filter.
There are two envelopes ADS (R) type - Attack, Decay, Sustain with the Decay portion switchable to Release discretely, they control Filter and Amplitude - hard routed - no pitch envelope. The good news is that they are both nice and snappy able to create clicks and drum type sounds.
Flipping into B-Panel gives you some control over how Monark responds, the not priority, Envelope retriggering, glide ramping and pitch bend curves. You can also tweak the mod wheel response and depth. Finally you get to the Oscillator behaviour, this is where you can really make Monark sound more analog - the octave scaling - and key tracking and drift. I must say these really do make it sound much more analog, perhaps not as much as a really badly out of tune Mini, but it adds lots of micro variation (+/- fractions of a Hz) and to my ear a lot more authenticity. You can store three discrete setups here to give you more clinical or analog responses.
Presets and User Memories!
One thing that NI have done with Reaktor Player 5 up is to add user preset saving and recall which I for one am glad about, but Monark does come with a bunch of presets, some of them are great. For me though it's getting stuck in yourself where the treasure lies, tweaking sounds yourself brings home how well emulated Monark is, you do get the sense of it being an instrument with sensitive controls where you can really micro tweak the sound even with what appear to be a limited set of parameters.
MIDI mapping is of course possible either MIDI or interestingly OSC for those of you using that protocol.
Conclusion I'm pretty impressed with the quality of sound and authenticity of Monark, it really is surprisingly close. I guess to appreciate it, you will need to be prepared to sculpt your own sounds, it is absolutely capable of producing any sound that the Mini can. At 99€ it's not the lowest cost, and somehow feels a little pricey, but if you want a Mini sound this one is very close.
Affordable workstation type keyboard