ARTURIA MICROBRUTE ANALOGUE SYNTHESISER
The Microbrute is all bite.
Review: Brad Watts
Oh, I do say! A fabulous little analogue synth has crept into my man-cave, and I’m all the happier for it. It’s the courageously cute, the decidedly diminutive, and marvellously minuscule MicroBrute from Arturia. While some manufacturers are busily redesigning the analogue synth wheel, some are simply maintaining designs with one foot firmly planted in the past — this second category is where I believe the MicroBrute takes a seat.
The MicroBrute is a scaled down version of Arturia’s MiniBrute, and consequently loses a few features such as the separate filter and amplitude envelopes, full-size keys and dual LFOs, yet gains features such as a step-based pattern sequencer in lieu of the arpeggiator. Like Arturia’s website suggests, the MicroBrute looks tiny, yet sounds massive (it really does). It measures a mere 325 by 221mm and sports a mini, 25-key keyboard, so it’s quite back-packable. Yet, the little beast must be mains powered. Arturia confesses the analogue circuitry couldn’t possibly attain the sound it achieves from battery power.
Initial impressions are of a scaled down Roland SH-101 with the single envelope generator, yet this is primarily a cosmetic comparison as the synthesis smarts are far beyond what you’d glean from any SH synth from the 1970s or ’80s. Let’s investigate the more objective aspects of Mr MicroBrute.
For starters, the audio circuitry is completely analogue — from head to toe. It’s a strictly monophonic device with a single ADSR envelope generator and five mix variable VCO waveforms — that’s if you include the external audio input as the fifth waveform — yes it receives external audio as an oscillator. the synths waveforms include saw, square, sine, and ‘overtone’ — which is a sub oscillator. Each of these have their own level control so they are freely mixable, and ‘Signal Enhancers’ let you vary pulse width and add harmonics to the existing oscillators. An LFO offers sine, saw and square waveforms, and can be synced to an internal sequencer, sync to external MIDI clock, or set to run freely via a panel switch. LFO retriggering via keys is switchable via a MicroBrute control application downloadable from Arturia (more on this shortly).
Filtration is also analogue, and follows a somewhat unique design first used (and designed) by the American synthesiser manufacturer Steiner Parker in the Synthacon monosynth marketed from 1975-79. I’ll admit to not having a clue about the instrument until investigating this filter, but apparently only “several hundred” were ever produced. It’s a pretty versatile filter, and includes low, high, and bandpass modes (the MiniBrute includes a notch filter as well). The filter itself can inflict some damaging force over a waveform — it is indeed, brutish, with the resonance going utterly mental at full mast. Plus, for extra sauce there’s a ‘Brute Factor’ knob which adds further harmonics and saturation. I could throw in the predictable reference to the notorious Aussie antiperspirant here, but I’ll spare you the groaning. Instead I’ll give you an idea of the sound of this filter; think OSCar — it rips. Guttural and rough through to fat and smooth. Quite unlike your traditional 12dB/octave LPF with resonance, you can ride from polished and plump through to super gritty and harsh in a single sweep.
What’s also rather unique about the MicroBrute, and this is absent on the MiniBrute, is the delightful little modulation matrix patchbay. This includes CV and pitch out (additional to the dedicated CV and Gate out on the rear of the unit), along with LFO out and inputs to the filter cutoff, pulse width, saw wave, sub and ‘Metal’ sections of the oscillators. Arturia supply a couple of dandy little 1/8-inch patch cables but you could always use these sources for modulating destinations on other analogue synths.
Getting back to the software control app, the application takes care of MIDI receive and send channels, pitchbend range, sequencer control, and the ability to load and save sequences into the eight sequence memories of the MicroBrute. All software control parameters are pretty much only those you’d need access to when using the MicroBrute in conjunction with a computer based sequencer or DAW, so I don’t foresee this aspect ‘hobbling’ the unit in live use. As for control, the unit connects to your DAW via USB (bidirectional MIDI), or you can use the garden variety MIDI input.
Would I own one? Yes sir-ee. The MicroBrute punches well above its weight in terms of sonic performance — as I mentioned; think OSCar due to the multi-mode filter. I was also especially fond of the plastic patch overlays — so very retro. A brutal darling indeed.