Introducing the Arturia MicroFreak
Usually when writing hardware reviews we lazy writers can start by making comparisons with similar devices in the market. But with the Arturia MicroFreak we simply can’t do this. As far as we’re aware there is no similar device. But why is that?
For some years now there has been a huge trend towards analog synths. From (dare we say it) ‘entry level’ analog synths like the Arturia Microbrute right through to some of the most expensive synthesizers you could almost be forgiven for thinking analog is all anyone wants to buy.
But the Arturia MicroFreak is a hybrid analog / digital synth. In fact it’s mostly digital; the filters are mostly analog, but almost everything else on the MicroFreak is digital.
So why have Arturia launched a keyboard that appears to be railing against the apparently market trend? Well you’d have to ask them for the exact reasons, but we can see from the consumers’ perspective you get a ton more for your money than you would with a pure analog synth.
Why would anyone want to buy the MicroFreak?
There have already been many very in-depth reviews written about the Arturia MicroFreak that dive deep into the many, many layers of functionality. So for this ‘review’ we’re going to look at why anyone might want to buy this little synth.
It. Does. So. Much.
It might seem a little strange to offer a conclusion to this review so early on, but the fact the MicroFreak is such a capable device for so little money probably is it’s greatest selling point. Before we go any further lets compare what you get with what you get for a similar price point from other manufacturers (and from Arturia!).
Arturia MicroFreak comparison table
|Arturia MicroFreak||Arturia Microbrute||Korg MicroKorg||Novation MiniNova||Modal Skulpt|
As I write this I can almost hear the waves of disapproval from the analog purists. But it’s not pure analog etc etc. Yeah it’s not, but why would that make the MicroFreak something to disregard? Would you disregard a higher end synth like the Elektron Digitone because it’s a digital synth? Nah, if you’re honest you probably wouldn’t.
Arturia MicroFreak vs Elektron Digitone
Let’s stick with a little comparison with the Elektron Digitone. I’ve owned the Digitone and one of the features I adored was the very hands-on and simple way to affect parameters. None of the Digitone settings are hidden behind complex layers of menus.
Cheaper synths are often stymied somewhat by the curse of excessive menu diving. It’s a simple matter of economics – the fewer knobs involved in the build process, the cheaper the end product. While there’s undeniable a bit of menu diving involved in manipulating the MicroFreak, the vast majority of functions are assigned to knobs. This fact alone almost puts the MicroFreak in the same realm as synthesizers that will do much more damage to your wallet. That kind of simple control makes an astonishing amount of difference on stage.
I can’t get past what great value the MicroFreak is. In fact, you could easily buy two MicroFreaks for the cost of a single Digitone. But enough about the Digitone…
Could the MicroFreak be the perfect first synth?
It’s possible a little subjective for a simple review like this one to declare what your first synth should be. If you are in the joyus position of buying your first ‘proper’ synth then take a look at the comparison table above and decide what you actually want.
As someone who has bought a ‘few’ hardware synthesizers I’m going to give you some reasonably subjective reasons why the Arturia Microfreak could be your perfect first synth.
As much as I adore the Arturia Microbrute new users need to wrap their head around the rules of synthesis before taking full advantage of what is on offer. With synths like the marvellous Korg MicroKorg you can hammer through thrilling presets easy enough, but you’ll be missing out on the brute power offered by twiddling knobs on devices like the Microbrute.
The Microfreak offers the sound design power of the MIcrobrute with the boundless flexibility of the MicroKorg. Where you might reach an upper limit of manipulation with some other synths in a similar price point, with the Microfreak the more you learn the more you realise the power of the device.
I fully believe that anyone can walk up to the MicroFreak, start prodding it, and then realise several hours have passed them by. The last time I played with such an accessible device it was the Arturia Matrixbrute. You can buy four or five MicroFreaks for the average price of a Matrixbrute.
But what if you want to learn ‘proper’ synthesis? Yup, the MicroFreak has you covered. The genius of the MicroFreak is that it’s perfect for complete beginners, and yet folk with a ton of experience and synthesis knowledge are also unlikely to get bored.
Arturia MicroFreak Review Conclusion
So what’s the catch? At a price point as low as £233 (at time of writing) surely some corners have been cut? If corners have been cut we have no idea where. The Arturia MicroFreak is a solid little beast with study pots (knobs), a robust chassis and an incredibly kinesthetic appeal.
So have corners been cut with the sound? Hell no. I simply can’t state strongly enough just how astonishingly good this little synthesizer sounds. Depending on what you choose to do, the MicroFreak is as warm as a hot bath and as clear as crystal cut glass. It can do downright filthy, but it can also sing like an angel.
The Arturia MicroFreak punches damned hard for the money it costs. It comes with functions that you simply won’t find at the same price point from any other manufacturer.
The MicroFreak also comes with abilities that you won’t find outside of Eurorack Modular Synths. Most notably the device includes the wildly popular Plaits oscillator by Mutable Instruments.
In conclusion I can’t think of a single reason why everyone reading this shouldn’t own an Arturia MicroFreak. But do you really need a hybrid synth that isn’t quite one thing and isn’t quite another? Yes. Yes you do. Now.