So what’s all the hoopla about analog now a days? At one point it was all anyone could do to grab a more stable, less expensive, more flexible analog modeling synth with loads of patch memory, USB connectivity and various bells and whistles. But with all that comes the digital vs. analog debate. This one has no soul. this one sounds sterile. one is not warm. the other is too cold and on and on.
Well, Arturia, known for their top notch software models of classic analog gear, recently changed the game by bringing to market the Minibrute. The Minibrute’s stunned us all with small footprint, 25 full sized keys, Steiner-Parker Multimode Filter, very unique oscillator section, one to one knob to feature ratio, and the feedback loop aptly named the “brute factor” plus CV, traditional midi and midi over usb… all of this makes the Arturia Minibrute a modern day classic in the sub $500 category.
To Brute or not to Brute? That is not the question. The question is; which Brute should I get, the Minibrute or the MicroBrute? The answer is NO! Let me explain…
Obviously, a huge hit at all levels of producers from novice first time hardware synth owners to seasoned vintage analog synth vets, the Minibrute spawned a baby brother just two short years after its debut. Enter the MicroBrute. Confusing at first, the Microbrute seemed to be a smaller Minibrute with a similar and overlapping feature set and sound. Not so fast there grass hopper. The Microbrute is a great little / big synth on its own but if I may say so, the MicroBrute could serve as a killer complimentary piece to it’s big brother, the Minibrute.
Let’s check it out
The MicroBrute’s 12 1/2″ wide and nearly 9″ depth has a smaller foot print than most laptops. The desk space that it occupies is larger than a DSI Mopho but certainly smaller than it’s big bro, the Minibrute. To my surprise, fresh out of the box the MicroBrute was sort of weighty for such a small piece. Not that the MicroBrute is “heavy” at just under 4lbs (3.85lbs to be exact) but the weight is substantial for its size and it caught me off guard when I first put hands on it. That speaks to the build quality a bit. Arturia has great build esthetics in general and they don’t slack on their new line of synths. The MicroBrute does not have the traditional wood sides that Arturia is known for with their controllers. It is more in line with its counterpart the Minibrute with its cold grey hard plastic cloak and steel bottom plate. It’s worth mentioning though the new Keylab line is built a bit more solidly with its metal chassis.
The back panel has a fine-tune knob and a input level knob, both are fashioned as push-in sort of hide away knobs. There is also an impressive amount of I/O
- External Analog Audio Input
- CV In jacks: Pitch, Filter, sub-harmonics, pulse width, metalizer, saw animator
- CV Out jacks: pitch, envelope, LFO
- MIDI In with 5 pin DIN connector
- USB MIDI In/Out
- 1/4” Audio Output and 1/8” Headphone Output
I am not so sure about how I feel about the 1/8” Headphone Out connection just yet. Maybe it doesn’t matter since most headphones are 1/8″ anyways. I’m just used to seeing 1/4″. Maybe it makes more sense given its size and portability.
The MicroBrute keys are minikeys and there are 25 of them stretched across 2 octaves (obviously). It’s been a while since I’ve played with a microkorg but they strike me as similar in size and playability, if memory serves me correctly. The synth action is nice. There is a good balance of spring back and travel there. Fair warning though, if you aren’t used to small minikeys you may stumble over your own fingers until you get used to this boy. Still, I’d be willing to bet that most folks who’d end up with a MicroBrute have had some experience with a mini controller of a microkorg or two prior to nabbing one of these. Even if not, its comfy enough that you’d be used to the playability in no time. If all else fails, the MicroBrute is small enough that the keys can be ignored altogether so that you can think of this thing as a module and control I via an external midi keyboard controller.
The MicroBrute knobs are firm enough but very slightly wobbly. Nothing to squawk much about but compared to something like Moog’s craftsmanship it may be noticeable. Beyond that, the knobs are smooth and glide around nicely from one end to the next. Spacing is comfy as one would expect. Considering the small size of this synth the comfortable spacing is a feat in itself. The mod wheel is smooth but a bit less firm than the knobs. The pitch bend wheel on the other hand is firm and snappy as it should be.
Arturia found a way to fit so much in this small form factor with the octave (+/- 2) buttons in the upper left corner above the mod and pitch wheels but beneath the name badge.
Other key MicroBrute features include Mod Wheel Controls for effecting how the mod wheels react to certain parameters such as Glide, LFO amount and cut off. There is a good amount of control for the LFO with it’s amount and rate knobs and it’s selectable wave (triangle, sawtooth & square) and sync (to sequence or free) switches. The MicroBrute has one ADSR envelope as opposed to a filter envelope and a amplitude envelope like its big bro. Still this is not a short coming so much as it is a design choice and sacrifice for the lack of real estate in the smaller form factor. But honestly, is the additional ADSR envelope missed? Not really. As a wise man once said “what It is, is what it is!” (James Brown) …and it still sounds great.
The MicroBrute ‘s Oscillator section is a single oscillator design. In the now classic Brute fashion, Arturia gives us a very unique bit of kit to mix as much or as little of the various waves together to make a wide range of sounds from big nasty basses to high pitched effects and sharp leads. New to the Brute line that is not included on big bro MicroBrute’s oscillator section are the overtone and sub > fifth knobs. It’s easy enough to mix the included sawtooth, square and triangle waves and adjust the amounts of the Ultrasaw, Pulsewidth and the famed Metalizer, respectively. That’s what gives the Microbrute and the Minibrute its ability to sound as if there is indeed more than one oscillator.
The MicroBrute ’s oscillator (unlike the MiniBrute’s) benefits from the option to mix in as little or as much Overtone as you desire. The Overtone knob adds sweet bits or large chunks of harmonics and / or sub tones to the mix. That is correct. The “Overtone” is according to Arturia a “sub oscillator / 5th generator” and my ears can confirm such a claim. The Overtone is such a cool added feature for the richness that it provides to the sound of the MicroBrute. If you want more sub girth and tone, simply turn up the overtone knob then turn the “sub>fifth” knob to the left. The further left you turn it the more subby the tone. Conversely, if you want to add more 5th flavor to the tone, turn the Overtone knob up and then turn the “sub>fifth” knob to the right. The further right you turn it the more fifth harmonics you will hear in the tone. Sounds simple enough while reading this but the brilliance of the Overtone feature is something you have to hear to understand. The sound can be as rich and big or as dirty and wild as you want. Brilliantly done, Arturia.
The MicroBrute ‘s Filter section is comprised of the well known Steiner-Parker 2 pole Multimode Filter. The filter modes can be switched between Low Pass, Band Pass and High Pass. All of the typical suspects are here. Cut Off, Resonance, ENV amount (negative to positive) and KBD tracking (up to 200%) all have dedicated knobs. Also, in attendance is Arturia’s trademarked “Brute Factor” which is their version of a feedback loop. The Brute Factor gives a really mean and girthy flare to the sound of the MicroBrute . It gets pretty ugly (in a good ugly way) and wild if pushed above say 80 or 85%. Arturia describes it as “delivering saturation and rich harmonics.” Well yeah, I agree but they should also say that it gets nasty (in a good and tasty way) when you push that knob to its limits.
The MicroBrute ‘s Mod Matrix is your very own little gate way drug to modular synthesis. Getting to know the MicroBrute is loads of fun and the sonic capabilities go beyond what you may imagine given it’s small stature but once you add the sonic possibilities of the Mod Matrix into the mix you are bound to lose hours or even days exploring the MicroBrute’s mighty palette.
It sits on right of the synth’s top panel above the volume knob. There are two little cute CV outputs (Env & LFO) and there are 6 CV inputs (Metal, Saw, Sub, Pitch, Filter & PWM). The MicroBrute comes with two perfectly sized patch cables but if you really want to get nuts and route the Mod Matrix’s CV Outs to multiple CV Ins, you can buy stackable patch cables from some place like Analogue Haven
The MicroBrute ‘s sequencer is a dope additional feature. As simple as it is with its 4 parameters. Namely 2 knobs (Pattern & Rate), tap / rest pad button and play/record switch. The sequencer has 8 memory slots or patterns, which means you can program up to 8 sequences each with “up to 64 steps per memory.” Using the Pattern knob you can switch between sequences for live playing. These sequences can be further manipulated by changing the many various parameters of the MicroBrute including the filter cut off, resonance, LFO – rate, amount, synch and wave. If connected via midi to another sequencer (Spark, MPC, Maschine or DAW) the tempo can be synched or you can simply use the tap tempo button to do so. You also have the options to program “rests” in your sequence which comes in handy because the sequencer will record every note you play sequentially regardless of if you stop between notes or not. Adding a rest will allow the sequencer to skip a step or steps within the recorded sequence. You can also have a bit more control over the sequences via the software editor.
With the MicroBrute ‘s unique Steiner-Parker multimode filter and cool sculpting capabilities, it would be a huge missed opportunity if Arturia hadn’t included the line input. The line input is on the back panel (along with other CV goodness) as mentioned above and it has a recessed level / volume control knob next to it. With this feature you can run your other sound sources through the MicroBrute’s filter just to see how nicely you can funk it up.
Yes! You should absolutely use this piece to process your Spark, Maschine, and MPC beats through it. If you are a iPad synth app head (like I am) this is a great way to put a bit of an analog hardware touch to your iOS synth apps as you record them into your DAW or resample them into your MPC, Spark or Maschine. The possibilities are truly endless and for a mere $300 I cannot say enough how epic this really is.
So the answer to the question posed towards the beginning of this review is “get both” unless of course you are on a budget like most of us beat makers then I’d say get the MicroBrute instead. or at least until you can afford both (this is so irresponsible of me to encourage the breaking of thy bank). The long and short of it is that if this is a matter of sound, the MicroBrute is on par with it’s big bro but there is a bit more to the oscillator so it is indeed different. The “Brute” sound has been criticized as being a bit harsh at times and that may be exactly what you are looking for in a analog mono-synth. My take on that is that the warm and thick Moog sound is the sound by which many analog synths are judged but this is not that sound. Some may expect that out of any analog synth but the “Brute” sound is something different onto itself. It’s a bit edgy, sometimes sharp and even a bit dirty and raw when adding the Brute Factor or Metalizer into the mix. The range is vast. The MicroBrute can accomplish those deep sub bass sounds, big ultrasaw sounds, the searing lead sounds and even the wild efx sounds but you have to understand that this synth is something very different from a Moog or even a Dave Smith synth. I think it can add a really dope dimension of sound and color to your palette.
As a comparison to the MiniBrute, the MicroBrute may be just different enough in it’s tonal abilities that the “Overtone -Sub/Fifth” generator and the flexibility of the Mod Matrix could make the winning argument that the MicroBrute is a better choice for some. At this price point, I find that it’s tough to say don’t get the MicroBrute. Sure it doesn’t have patch memory but you have a smart phone, so take a pic of the top panel’s settings and refer back to it when you want that sound again (warning… if you do NOT have a smart phone, step away from the computer at the neighborhood library where you may be reading this review, forget about a synth and buy a smart phone. Save enough money to buy another smartphone and go buy the damn MicroBrute instead.)
But seriously, the MicroBrute is a dope piece. Beatmakers with a little modular synth curiosity and certainly those of us that may have never owned a real hardware synth (especially an analog synth) should seriously consider exploring this MicroBrute. You will learn a bit about dialing in the perfect sound and creating your own sounds while enjoying the entire process. I really think a synth like this forces more creativity on you as a beat maker. Not to mention it is more portable than most controllers. I’ve easily thrown it in my backpack with my iPad, books, laptop and a host of other “cant live without it on the go” type of stuff. I had a complete blast with the Microbrute midi’d up to my MPC. I created sequences, added effects and sampled back to MPC to free up the MicroBrute for more parts. Day break has met me at my MPC several times over the course of my getting to know the MicroBrute in a hip-hop context with my MPC.
So, the Microbrute weighs in at 4.5 stars. I considered a 4 stars rating for the lack of metal chassis and slightly less firm knobs. But because of the added features such as the Overtone, Sequencer, Mod Matrix and great sound I sincerely consider the MicroBrute a great piece of analog kit at a mere $299 (totally unheard of…). Plus you get the added bonus of having the capability to use your Microbrute with your iPad as a controller per Ben over at Arturia “The MicroBrute send velocity via MIDI and is polyphonic MIDI. it works great on iPad with USB + camera adapter.”
The MicroBrute is certified BBoyTechReport Dope! Click on any image to cop yours now.