Sonic LAB: MFB Dominion 1 Synthesizer Review

3 Osc Analog monster mono from Berlin      09/03/15

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Buying Choices

So we finally got our hands on the MFB Dominion 1 - this synth is I guess MFB's (the Berlin based synth manufacturer) flagship model. It's a no holds barred three oscillator analog monosynth (with 3 voice paraphonic operation).

MFB have a history of making tightly focussed Berlin school flavoured analog devices, their drum machines and and highly portable monosynths have a good reputation amongst those who know, but the size of the company means that you they have remained somewhat under the radar.

The Dominion 1 is an ambitious project, it's been in development for some time, it's a digitally controlled analog synth - the VCOs take 5-10 minutes to warm up, but once there it stays solid.  Digital control also means memories with 127 slots available.

In addition to the front panel controls, there's also a pretty comprehensive 1/8" in patchbay for integrating external modular gear on the top panel. The Dominion 1 has ribbon controllers for Pitch and Mod, some may not dig this but I for one found it fine - and having CV out on the patch for each means it will play nicely with your other analog kit. The 3 octave keyboard has both velocity and aftertouch , with plenty of routing options for each.

So build quality? Yes it's got some funky DIY style knob tops and odd little buttons, but the wooden end cheeks, solid metal case with solidly mounted knobs and faders give it a sturdy feel - it's well built.

VCO

The three oscillators provide TRI/SAW/SQUARE plus RM for VCO 1 - an analog Ring Mod, VCOs 2+3 offer XOR operation which is a digital implementation of Ring Mod and provides a more edgy, digital sound -in addition there's an FM section for modulating VCO 1, 2  or 1+2 via the two LFOs 2 ADSRs and AD(Attack Decay).

Each of the waves are also variable via the PWM function, either manually or again modulatable. VCOs sound rich with a 32' to 1' range on each.

In practice, just stacking up three VCOs with a bit of de-tune gives you some massive sounds, adding intervals, PWM and or ring mod and or FM creates a huge array of starting points before we even get to the filter.

12 Mode VCF

Yes thats right we have four LP filter modes 24dB, 18dB, 12dB and 6 dB, ditto for Band Pass, two Notch filters and two HPF too - so there is something there for everyone. In addition it's possible to vary the amount of resonance going from zero to full and everything in between.

I don't think I've ever seen that particular function before and really lets you design your own filter for the sound you need. Another neat feature is that you can modulate the resonance amount via the LFO2 or AD envelope separate from the cutoff.

The mixer section, gives you clean signal to around 2o'clock position with extra drive into the filter in the remaining travel, it's not as pronounced as the Sub 37 but you do get some extra smudge particularly when adding resonance.

Modulation

We have 2 ADSR envelopes capable of snappy or long languid changes, each are switchable between fast/slow speed for fuller range, there's also an AD envelope which is hard mapped to the filter resonance but can be used to modulate FM amount. Additionally there are to multi-function LFOs with Sine/Saw Up/Saw Dwn/Square/S&H waves, ranging from 40s to 100Hz rate - with individually switchable speed ranges. The third LFO is simpler with a single fixed wave (TRI?) and is designed to work for the performance modulation.

None of the LFOs have a fade or rise time, but MFB say this is a planned firmware upgrade.

What I tended to find was that no matter where I was in patch creation, there always seemed to be at least one more modulation routing I could engage - plenty to play with.

SEQ/ARP

The arpeggiator has all the usual suspects Up/Down/UpDwn/Rand/Original plus a couple of extra modes which include UdE/Udi - first last notes repeating/not repeating, plus some modes can give you a 2x  note trigger . Scale is also adjustable from 32nd notes to 2 with triplet values. Additionally, you can shuffle the Arp with a dedicated knob, plus note length is adjustable.

Sequencer shares some functions such as shuffle and length, but allows you to record up to 128 notes per sequence, each note can have a modulation event, glide event and aftertouch event recorded. Additionally when in 3 voice mode (paraphonic) you can record chords.

Sequences and Arpeggios can be saved and recalled separately from patch memories and recalled in real time for performances. There is no pattern chain or song mode.

Final Thoughts

I'll make no secret about is, I love this synth, it's got so much actual synthesis, it's almost impossible to stop tweaking it. Sounds can vary from the usual bassline, lead etc to massively complex, off the wall cross modulation/ring mod sounds. Raw waves sound good, the patchbay means it's going to play nice with your other gear. It's hard to think of a reason why you wouldn't want to own one. I did find there were a couple of OS quirks which were mildly irritating - little things like shuffle being present on a sequence even though the shuffle button was not engaged, sometimes a parameter took quite a lot of travel to pickup the new value, but these are fairly little things to me.  Also and this may be more relevant to your workflow, the front panel knobs do not transmit CCs so you can automate this in your DAW.

But when you look at the price this is going for €1349/£995 (including tax) it seems like a bit of a steal to me. I guess in the US you will be paying import duty on top- I don't know the US price. Also, MFB are a small manufacturer, they are struggling to keep up with demand and so expect a wait. But on that note, they are also able to implement firmware updates which could mean more nifty features on the way.

But if you get the chance to play with one I think you'll be hooked - I am, it's a beast.

New: You can purchase the end track on Bandcamp if you feel compelled - it's a new thing we're trying.

z

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