Elektron Analog Keys Review

Swedish synthesis at its finest?      05/03/14

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Elektron's release rate has accelerated from the usually glacial (perhaps one new unit every couple of years) to three in 18 months. This new found need for speed has coincided with a new breed of Analog synths, where previously we've been in the virtual domain.

The Analog Four, then Analog Keys and also RYTM all have analog synthesis at their heart. With Analog Keys we have a 3 octave keyboard with aftertouch and a four voice synthesizer with a three effect engine (Chorus/Reverb/Delay).

There's also the famed sequencer which is at the heart of the Elektron workflow. With six tracks total - four for internal note sequencing, one for FX sequencing and 1 for CV/Gate. For the Analog Keys has CV gate output, four channels for multiple control and triggering of notes.

The synth engine has two oscillators, each with sub (-1, -2, -2 25% PW and 5th)

Oscillator waves are: Saw, Trapezoid, Pulse, Triangle (input L +R) and feedback - an analog feedback loop.

What is different about these oscillators is that each wave has pulse width modulation (via dedicated LFO). As you know, I'm a fan of Pulse Width, so I'm in heaven - I'm loving the Trapezoid and PW mod.

Osc 1 and a noise source too.

Additionally either OSC can work at fixed pitch and has a juicy sync (1>2,2>1, Metal)

Each voice also has a two filters - one a resonant 24dB Ladder Filter with enhanced bass response - this has been tweaked since Analog Four. The second filter is a 2-pole multimode filter with: LP1, LP2, BP, Band Reject, HP1, HP2.

These sound great, very interesting character and with the additional two mode drive circuit you can get a lot of character out of them. I approve.

Modulation is handled by three envelopes - one hard wired to amplitude, plus two additional - these can be routed to two destinations with positive and negative depths. There are also 2x multi wave LFOs with a very wide range from 1x  to 2k speed multipliers. These offer dual routing each like the envelopes.

The three effects are routed via a send effects for each of the four tracks. Plenty of editing options for these effects - they don't have multiple algorithms but do sound good and with filters and drive, it's possible to get some lovely rich tones. Additionally, all effects parameters are automatable by the dedicated FX track. Additionally there are two LFOs for modulating parameters.

Each of the four tracks holds a sound that is loaded from the sound browser, 16 banks of 256 banks A+B holds the on board presets. Selecting a track makes the keyboard active for that track. Additionally there is a Multi-mode which is a special way of setting up custom key mappings, allowing you to assign each key or range of keys to a sound. This is pretty useful when assigning some of the excellent analog drum patches and playing beats in. This also highlights the clever voice assignment logic that makes the Analog Keys appear to have more voices that it's four available.

Now we get into the sequencer, this has the Elektron engine - each pattern can be up to four bars long, can record note data and also feature the Elektron parameter lock - up to five parameters stored per step. This means extremely complex automation can be built up - if you've ever seen Cenk - the Elektron demo guy do his thing, you'll know what this can do.

Elektron School

Now this is all pretty impressive stuff. The Analog Keys can make some great sounds and sequence them in immensely complex ways. The thing is, the way you do it is very much the Elektron way. I have over twenty years of music tech experience and still had to really study the machine over a couple of days to get it to do what I wanted to do.The synth engine is easier to deal with, but still you have plenty of menu diving  to deal with.

During my learning process I did find myself cursing the way it worked and wondering why it was so. However, there is definitely a moment when it all begins to make sense and you find yourself jamming patterns with more fluency.

I can't deny that it sounds great - the patch designers have done a brilliant job of showing off the capability of the Analog Keys. Some of the demo sequences are insanely complex and impressive. I think that it's an instrument with character and depth you cannot deny. However, you do need to be prepared to work at it to get the best from this machine.

The Analog Keys is available now, but in short supply. You can buy it from Elektron's website for £1449,€1749,$1849.


 

 

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35 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
Mattsynth    Said...

I have an Analog Four and just love it. I can say it is one of the most inspiring synths I have played since the DS prophet 08. I also thought the screen was a bit too small but found out it works just fine. The effects make this unit, wonderful lush chorus, delay and reverb. I really did not need another keyboard synth so I went with the Analog Four with absolutely no regret. Electron has a winner here.

05-Mar-14 07:51 AM


tellmethetruth    Said...

Can you please, once and for all, compare the sound of the Analog Keys to that of the Analog Four?? What does "better ability to handle deep bass" really mean?? Some audio examples of the same patches on both units would be ideal.. Do bass sounds really sound that much better on the Keys?

05-Mar-14 08:06 AM


Koshdukai    Said...

I also question that design option of letting the keys so exposed :/

It would be a disaster waiting to happen if I had it on my setup.

05-Mar-14 08:22 AM


Blake    Said...

tellmethetruth: The Analog Keys and the Analog Four are the SAME THING. They share the same operating system. One has keys and one doesn't that's all.

I love my Analog Four and have it MIDI connected to a Mopho X4 . Best purchase I made in a long time. The A4 is so portable that the screen hasn't been a problem.

Great review as usual Nick.

05-Mar-14 08:37 AM


bc3    Said...

I purchased the analog four an the octatrack in the same month. Best gear purchases I have made in years. Very inspirational machines once you wrap your head around how they operate. I think of them just like an instrument which takes time and practice to master. Nick looks like he is getting in the "elektron zone" during the credits at the end of the video. Nice Review!

05-Mar-14 08:46 AM


tellmethetruth    Said...

@Blake: Not according to Elektron. I just want to know how different they actually sound.

05-Mar-14 10:48 AM


Blake    Said...

@tellmethetruth: Show me please. Where does it say that they are different. The OS is for both.

05-Mar-14 10:57 AM


tellmethetruth    Said...

@Blake

http://www.elektron.se/products/analog-keys?section=faq

Go to the question, "Does the Analog Keys and the Analog Four sound exactly the same?" in the FAQ on th Elektron website.

You shouldn't be so presumptuous, and should avoid jumping to conclusions; it'll help you make more informed decisions.

05-Mar-14 11:31 AM


tellmethetruth    Said...

"The Analog Keys uses the same means of analog sound generation as the Analog Four, but features circuits fine-tuned for delivering deep bass."

05-Mar-14 11:35 AM


Champ    Said...

Gotta have one

And a Rytm

And a OctaTrack

I do think Elektron should think about upgrading the newer babies with some high res displays. Not so much bigger but one can read more info of these things.

05-Mar-14 01:10 PM


Polly Chain    Said...

Can it be polychained with an analog four?

05-Mar-14 01:13 PM


Modern3    Said...

The LCD screen size is truly an unfortunate choice by Elektron. They have reasoned that cost was a consideration. That is absolute nonsense of course, as it would have been a nominal cost to have a screen about 3 to 4 times what they used! Otherwise it is a great synth.

05-Mar-14 01:17 PM


Legman    Said...

According to createdigitalmusic.com the difference between the keys and the four is:

•Joystick •4 stereo track outputs •Internal power supply – that does at least save some space. •Sound selection wheel calls up patches more quickly •Additional dedicated buttons – this is a big one, as we’d already heard some readers complain that the Analog Four required too many button presses. •Hold mode for latching notes •Circuits Elektron says are “fine tuned for optimal bass response.” (Interesting. And the A4 already sounded pretty darned optimal.)

05-Mar-14 03:09 PM


Joe Allen    Said...

Great review. Well done nick. For me the best thing about it is the sequencer hands down. I can't believe roland didn't update the 808 sequencer to compete with it. What some manufacturer should do (maybe elektron) is release a sequencer only unit for about £250-300 that has similar features. Arturia's new step sequencer is a step(pardon the punn) in the right direction here. There are loads of great analogue synths but only elektron are adding features for composers and for that we have to shell out over a grand!

05-Mar-14 03:56 PM


S R Dhain    Said...

Great review by nick there. I think i said this to a friend of mine recently, and in effect, with the analog four as it is in this review and i assume the street model, it's what i call "the way of the tiger" style working methodology; it's their way, you have to get to know it, and that's how it is, so get used to it . In effect, to get the maximum use benefit from it, you have to get past the slightly unusual UI, and then use it as a master instrument, with other bits latched onto it, via cv/gate and midi etc. It takes guts in this DAW/ipad/phone app based age to come out with such an "all in one" hardware based piece of kit, and at that price point. no doubt elektron know there's going to be enough takers for it, to get the tooling and manufacture into full gear.

Im in the undecided territory at the moment, which is probably based on its RRP as of now, even though it sounds beautiful. Swings and roundabouts, etc.

05-Mar-14 04:04 PM


Blake    Said...

@tellmethe truth: I'm not being presumptuous, I'm just asking a question. Quite frankly I think it's a marketing ploy. In that FAQ it says that the two are patch compatible and the share the same OS. Based on that, how different do you think the sounds are actually going to be? :-/ I'm guessing the addition of a stronger fundamental. Really?

05-Mar-14 04:35 PM


ACIIIIIIIIID    Said...

You dont have to do acrobatics to make a full filter sweep, just go to the setup and adjust the resolution. Very simple

05-Mar-14 04:51 PM


Synth_Fan    Said...

Excellent sounding synth. The user interface is hideous. you are far too kind to it Nick. The screen is about the same resolution as Yamaha's QY100; and the interface is, honestly, about as sophisticated as the worst of those '90s little boxes from the likes of Yamaha.

But there is no denying the excellent sound. Elektron need to release just the synth engine in module format, without the keys, without the sequencer, and with a proper subtractive control surface. That would attract a far wider user base.

The price is utterly outrageous.

05-Mar-14 04:53 PM


Nick B    Said...

Synth_fan I can see your point, and I must say I did feel that way for a while until I got into it, I think there is some kind of logic in there somewhere, its just not immediately apparent! But the screen yes it should be bigger

05-Mar-14 06:18 PM


apeirophobe    Said...

I too balked at the size of the screen before I got my hands on one (original desktop A4). In reality I can honestly say it has not been an issue ... and I'm bind as a bat. I'd say 90% of the UI was persisted to muscle memory after my first evening with it. Admittedly this is not my first Elektron instrument. The Octatrack on the other hand (with its larger screen) ... well that took me way too long to get my brain wrapped around. But man was it worth it!

05-Mar-14 07:55 PM


dv    Said...

"The LCD screen size is truly an unfortunate choice by Elektron. They have reasoned that cost was a consideration. That is absolute nonsense of course, as it would have been a nominal cost to have a screen about 3 to 4 times what they used! Otherwise it is a great synth."

Hm, who do I believe? The company that made the product or a random person on the Internet who "feels" like they're right?

It drives me crazy when people with absolutely no experience in making something think they know better than the people who have spent years ACTUALLY CREATING THINGS.

05-Mar-14 09:25 PM


dv    Said...

To be clear, I agree it would be nice to have a larger screen, but it ridiculous for you to act like it would have been really easy for them to make it happen. You have no idea what the cost would be. Changing one small part could have a domino effect on everything else.

05-Mar-14 09:29 PM


Modern3    Said...

"DV" Thank you for your comment. Actually, the only ridiculous part about this are you assumptions. I have worked for Access, Korg (KingKorg), TE, John Bowen and and over a dozen other Audio Professional companies as a DSP Engineer. And I am rather familiar with the engineering team at Elektron.

My comment was based on both intimate information within Elektron as well as public comments made at this year's NAMM 2014 NAMM show.

Elektron's supplier is Winstar by the way and the screen used on the aforementioned synth is $17 per module per 1K lot! A screen of 240 x 640 would have cost about twice that amount per 1k lot. That is a nominal cost, yet Elektron has always been peculiar about their cost benefit/feature ratio. Not to say the least about their OS.

So incidentally, yes indeed this random bloke does know what he is speaking of....

06-Mar-14 12:10 AM


Mattsynth    Said...

All this talk about the small screen. I was the first to put down that tiny screen and horrible resolution but I could not resist the sound that came out of this instrument. Now that I have been working with the Analog Four for many months I can say with certainty that the small screen is no big deal. At least it has a screen and anyway it is all about the sound in the end. Don't let the tine screen put you off from purchasing this unit it is a big winner in my book.

06-Mar-14 07:49 AM


LagrangeAudio    Said...

Nice review Nick, lovely sounding synth no question. Price I think is fair. I don't care about screen size but those overhanging keys are a real worry. Can you imagine how many of these will get broken on the road, I shudder to think. And all that to save dust collecting, seriously? There's a damn good reason why that shelf is there underneath the keys and it ain't to collect dust.

06-Mar-14 08:11 AM


Urgento    Said...

Hi Nick,

Great review though another five min vid focusing on the sequencer capabilities would be good...

Ok so the screen is a let down, but can you give me an idea of the viewing angles are like for that screen? Do you need to stoop right over all the time or can you rest your neck a bit by standing away a little?

Cheers and keep up the good work.

06-Mar-14 08:52 AM


Extraborg    Said...

What I like about it? The sound. The sequencer.

What I don't like about it? The 'non inclusive' user interface. That weird thing with the keys.

06-Mar-14 10:11 AM


SUBTRACTIVE NOBODY    Said...

Hey my Sonic State family! I played one at NAMM this year and it was clear that Elektron has it's own language of operating and creating. I am sure that it makes sense at some point but I didn't accomplish too much in the time I spent at the booth. I did enjoy the sounds I heard though. The keyboard felt pretty good too, no complaints. Overall, I don't think it's for me, but Elektron have got a great brand with quite a following of faithful advocates. Cheers Elektron! Cheers Sonic Staters!

06-Mar-14 12:55 PM


Coz    Said...

It was good to see a regular person using this machine, rather than the usual demo guy who's like Michael Flatley on crack when he gets going!

The tiny monochrome screen looks out of place on such a premium priced instrument. They wouldn't get away with a Teenage Engineering style cartoony OS, but they should definitely look at a small colour OLED display like the OP-1 for their future machines. It's much more engaging than the 90s calculator screen they've put on this.

Sonically this is a great synth though (loved the little demo at 1.44). I think there's a serious argument for a standalone software editor to help ease the initial pain of the undecideds like myself. It would also be a really useful thing to have to switch up the workflow when required. The Pulse 2 editor is a godsend at only 10 Euros.

Good job Nick.

06-Mar-14 06:49 PM


Q    Said...

I just wanted to say - I really enjoyed the beatdown that Modern3 laid down on dv here.

08-Mar-14 04:58 PM


Synth_Fan    Said...

Just felt the need to add to my 2-penny's worth above, but a bit more positive having watched the demo a 2nd time.

This is a stunning sounding synth. Elektron surely have something VERY special here in the sonic department.

It remind me of both a Moog and an ARO - but smoother, stronger (better sounding ?? ).

So I hope this is a success, but hope to see it in a more controllable subtractive-synth module some time.

10-Mar-14 11:53 AM


Niall.    Said...

The discrepancies between the oscillators' nominal waveforms and their visual representations are quite striking - especially the pulse. The few times I've used the A4, the oscillators more or less sounded as expected, but they seemed buzzy in this video. Maybe that's a cognitive bias from looking at the scope. I expect you can dial in the nominal waveforms with judicious filtering.

And it's still fun as hell to play with.

24-Mar-14 08:58 AM


Niall    Said...

Coz, you may already be aware of Elektron's "Overbridge," but if you aren't, then rejoice! Your wish for a software editor came true, and then some:

http://www.elektron.se/news/announcing-overbridge-computer-integration-for-analog

24-Mar-14 09:02 AM


abc47    Said...

Elektron - if your listening. I would love to purchase your products but if I need to invest time into learning your workflow (with Id be happy too), I need a bigger or higher rez display.

Please create an A4 SE with improved screen and I'll purchase.

09-Aug-14 08:20 PM


Jaaps    Said...

I have used Analog four for some time and I don't feel I need a bigger screen. The screen already has all the relevant information and after learning the Elektron workflow I have absolutely no complaints..

15-Nov-14 06:23 PM


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