Alesis Micron: has finally quit smoking

 

The Ion arrived late – five years after the main Japanese virtual analogues. But boasting millennial processing power it reached 8 voices each with three oscillators compared to the 4 or 5 on the competition. The Micron is a later, portable, version, designed to catch up to the success of the microKorg. It must have disappointed – a version came out under the AKAI brand 7 years after the original Ion, and it too faded way. The old 4 note microKorg rolled over the world, which is a lesson in something I don’t know.

 

Sensible Review.

 

The most distinctive feature is the filter section, which models American designs from Moog, Oberheim and Arp, alongside Japanese types. I’ve owned an Oberheim Xpander which has a lovely tone, but stays in tune for about 1 minute at a time. Some of the people that worked on the Xpander then worked on this descendant so I took a punt. What I hoped to hear was that same buzzy, harmonious filter sound but in a digital machine. The answer is; sorta. It’s nearby, it’s going to take some time to get there.

 

The oscillators are better than the Xpander, they can make a wide variety of shapes and can cross modulate and FM each other in multiple ways. It’s taking a bit of time to get anything but sausage sizzle out of that much cross modulation but it’s got potential for DX kinds of sounds. Also like the Xpander there’s a comprehensive matrix where most things can modulate most other things whether it makes sense or not.

 

There’s a phrase sequencer as well. You push one key and get an auto accompaniment like a home organ, which sounds stupid until you find some of them are pretty good starting points for your own phrases. The synthetic drum patterns are pretty retro cool.

 

So I risked the grand sum of $250 and actually got what I hoped for. More than I expected – when I turned it on I thought it was short circuiting or burning somehow. A few hours of this I realised that whoever previously owned this very American synthesiser must smoke Camels. Or maybe the keyboard smokes Camels. It’ll have to quit.

 

Ion Chef

 

First thing I did was find an editor.

 

I tried a few and went with the one by Hypersynth. Took a long while to work out the crazy patch saving system, which is quite astoundingly worse than the terrible one on the keyboard itself. Make a patch, save it, but then reload it before saving the bank or goodbye. The Micron can’t do a few things by remote control so you will have to make modulation patches and name files on the machine.

 

Once you have listened to the presets and start to create your own patches you quickly realise the horror of dynamic voice storage. As you make sounds they are filed alphabetically – seemed like a great idea, is in fact totally fucked, as your work disappears into the crowd of bad sounds, and is never in the same slot so that external MIDI gear can’t call it up.

 

Having tried all kinds of solutions I have to say this is the best way:

 

  • Delete all the presets except the drums and the SFX. Go on, clean them out. Most suck anyway, otherwise copy to the editor. The bad news is there is no short cut for this, you will have to do it 1 at a time. Push the big knob. Hold down the little Program button, and tap the last piano key. That takes you near the end of the menus. Scroll quickly to the last menu, then back one. Push the big knob twice to say yes, delete. Do it again x1000
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  • Now understand that you have to save a copy of a sound to make a new one. There is a blank in the SFX presets. In the menus, right next to the Delete you have used 1000x, there’s a Save As, which will make a copy with a slightly altered name. If like me you have an external editor, you can dump a patch into the new slot, but you still have to edit the name on the machine. Save it.

 

  • The Micron has six real time controls. One is the bender. There are two sliders and three black knobs. If you are careful with how you set these up you can have quite a lot of twiddle room. Because the M1 slider is associated with the LFOs it’s best to make this your vibrato. Then M2 should usually be your filter cutoff, because you can assign that to both filters at once.

 

  • The black knobs are supposed to be for editing and will alter the patch but if you don’t save, no harm done. Find three aspects of the patch that change the sound in interesting ways, for each, push the big knob and twiddle the black knob you prefer. Leave the settings at a sweet spot, and save.
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If you do this you get a clean machine with a few good patches that can be tweaked as desired. At this point the Micron is a pleasure to use.

 

So does it sound like a Xpander? Funny thing is that Arturia have just issued a software version, and without knowing how closely that matches (it does seem to be close to my memory), the Micron is from the same realm. Perhaps is bit more smooth, but can do the same job.

 

FLEACORE

THIS TOY IS ANNOYING TO USE WITHOUT AN EDITOR

 

IT MAKES AMERICAN ANALOGUE SOUNDS

THE SOUND QUALITY IS GOOD

IT WAS CHEAP AND IS COMMON

 

ITS RATING IS CAMEL FILTERED

It was either this or a red car and I think I chose wisely.