Before anything else – thank Arturia for actually trying out ideas. Maybe not new ideas, but not the regurgitation practiced by Behringer and to a large extent Roland. They, KORG, and Novation are the leading brands of the moment because they are prepared to try, and to fail. I know there’s many smaller brands I could mention here but let’s move on to the Microfreak, which in some respects is the very failure that I’d like to celebrate.
It’s not a bad machine. It’s quite cute actually, about the footprint of an iPad and very light. It has an engraving of flowers and peacocks on the front – who could fault that? Even though it’s just a big KORG Volca it has elegance that KORG haven’t managed in their lifetime. It feels fancy.
The solid keyboard is clever but has an awful mistake. The white keys extend up to run next to the black keys. Why on earth would you do that? There’s absolutely no need for it and it causes endless mistakes. I will probably put sticky tape over the top. Or just play it on a real keyboard.
If this is your first synthesiser you’ve done well – you will find much to explore across a wide terrain of sound. If you got it second hand on the cheap, you’re on the path of profound fleacore – your future is bright. However, the sales pitch is that you’ve acquired a weird, freakish, mutant thing, a monster from outer space. Frankenstein himself has sewn together this confection. Sadly, like many Arturia products it can’t fly upside down.
Aircraft are made to do much more than they would expect to do in daily use – a 737 can fly upside down if it has to – but no one expects it. Arturia products do what only what you expect – does it very well, but no more. My Origin, or my V Collection are solid and dependable beasts but not in any manner freakish – and that’s the case here.
The multiple oscillator types are interesting. But not exciting. Superwaves are not exciting. Detuning virtual analogues is not exciting. And Speak and Spell voices that speak numbers and colours and who cares what else – are meh. Some of the other modes have potential but you just can’t fuck them up the way they need to get fucked. You can modulate them very quickly, that’s kind of useful, but they don’t range anywhere near exciting. I don’t hear freak.
The four digital voices share an analogue filter. That promises that the filter is going to do wonderful things that four digital filters wouldn’t offer. The reality is I’d prefer the filters on the Korg MS2000 any day. I’d like to drive the signal to cause heat and pain. That’s usually the only reason for analogue anything – but it’s not there. Four voices drop the level to politely avoid that happening. No, that is not freakish.
The modulation matrix is an excellent piece of work for a small machine and makes up for many disappointments. The sequencer is also fun, but not anything that you haven’t seen before – it resembles that of the Roland JP8080. Solid, good, not freakish.
I compare it to the Bass Station 2. This was introduced as a simple analogue bass keyboard, no great claims. Novation have since added in all kinds of bitter and twisted features – the latest of which allows every single key to make a different noise. It burns, it feels pain, it is very much analogue where it’s needed.
I compare it to the Virus TI – much more expensive but you get a lot more freak (yes really) with the abilities you pay for. Or the Volcas – they are a pain in the arse, it’s true. No table is big enough for a stable of these one-trick ponies – but imagine if KORG ever decided to wrap them up into a slightly larger Frankenstein’s monster – look out.
Arturia are good at upgrading. There’s a SHIFT button. They’ll improve it. Give us some real honest freak. Fly upside down.