It amuses me a little how little musical instruments are valued for music. Sorry, let me try that again. Of all the things that matter in a sound making device, surely sound should be the most important – but it’s not. Case in point – I now have here an Alesis Ion, posted from a hock shop in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. Even with the exchange rate and considerable postage costs, it still worked out about one fifth the price of the MKS80, and yet offers at least five times the sonic capability of that old elephant. If it was just a matter of Alesis being a dodgy brand, their own Andromeda keyboard would not be also stupidly overpriced by the collector market. Everyone is buying paintings for their walls. You should be smarter than that.
Some things you buy and they end up like a reheated meal the moment they get in the door. You can put hot sauce on it but it’s still a week old taco. Others, like the Micron, inspires sonic clambering like a kid on a climbing frame. Owning a Micron and regretting that it has too few controls, I decided it was high time to grab the full sized Ion. (Also some regret that I didn’t grab one locally when it showed up for a few hundred bucks in Sydney a few years ago. I had no room).
You can get an idea of the sound from my Micron review but there’s a great difference when the sound is within reach of the controls. It’s not exactly one knob per function but it’s close to that. The knobs, unlike the old MKS elephant, are delicate. Three oscillators are pushing noise through two filters. The filters are expansive and vivacious, they emulate many different kinds of filtration from moogs to arps. The filtered sound and raw sound goes through a three channel mixer to an overdrive unit and a small range of effects – something that the later Micron improved. It is a warm, burning sound. You can make grumpy noises, you can make weird sounds, particularly with the fine cross modulation. There are 8 voices which can be stacked fourfold. The modulation matrix, as I have said before, is a thing of wonder, and reminds one of the Xpander of lore.
All of this map is good, but not really the gist of it. Below the Ion is my Nord G2 Modular. It’s possible to design exactly the same signal flow on the Nord and it still sounds like the tacos need hot sauce. The Nord cannot provide that burning sensation, no matter how it twiddles its red bow tie, it is cowardly. The American machine hollers.
Unlike the Micron you store sounds in normal banks called Red, Green, Blue and User, and they stay where you put them which is a blessing. Some people speak of ‘ghost editing’, where the Ion saves changes to the patches – not seen so far. But I have had some problems transferring my sounds between the machines when using the software editor, I’ll be trying a direct connection next.
I must say here that this Ion, unlike the Micron, does not smoke Camels, and I am amazed at how well it’s been kept in its own original box, maybe never used, no sound problems at all. Others have not been so lucky, so beware.
Let this be the last purchase for a while, I will take my pills.