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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