Much more than just a bigger MicroFreak, Arturia’s MiniFreak is a six‑voice polysynth with a character like nothing else.
Arturia’s MicroFreak was a breath of fresh air, something different at a time when you could barely move for small analogue monosynths. The Freak’s pressure‑pad keyboard and eclectic collection of digital sound generators lent it an experimental, modularish vibe. In the last three years it’s probably been my most‑used synth, so I was really excited to get my hands on its new big‑not‑big brother.
It would have been easy for Arturia to have simply repackaged the MicroFreak into a larger frame with a ‘normal’ keyboard and some effects. They’ve done a lot more than that, taking the key ingredients and greatly expanding on them to make a new polysynth that can stand alongside new players on the scene like ASM’s Hydrasynth Explorer and Modal’s Argon8.
The heart of the Freak is the same: a multi‑mode digital oscillator offering diverse synthesis methods, including algorithms sourced from Mutable Instruments and Noise Engineering designs. But now there are two oscillators that can work in parallel or interact serially. The other big change is that the Mini has six voices of full polyphony, including the analogue filter and all modulators.
The MiniFreak is a similar size to Arturia’s KeyStep Pro (just an inch deeper) and appears to have the same 37‑key mini keyboard. The panel is graphite‑coloured plastic, but unlike the Micro the main housing is all metal. At first glance the control panel is the same as the original, but closer inspection reveals quite a few additions. All the same sections are present: oscillator, filter, envelopes, LFO and mod matrix, all of which are expanded, and there’s a wholly new section for effects.
A strip of 16 touch buttons operates the sequencer and arpeggiator, among other things. To the left of the keyboard you’ll see two touch strips. Even if you prefer mechanical performance wheels, I think you’ll come around when you see what these can do in their default macro mode. Around the back you’ll find a set of full‑sized MIDI ports, audio in and out, USB and power. Unlike the MicroFreak you can’t power the Mini from USB, but it does work with my mini 12V battery pack. There are inputs and outputs for analogue clock, and a sequencer reset out, but no CV/gate ports. This is another card that the Micro still holds.
Sometimes it’s fun when a synth arrives before its manual is ready, sending you on a journey of exploration. Predictably my journey started with playing presets. I noted in the original Freak review that some of the opening factory sounds didn’t do it justice, though that changed with later updates. The opposite is true with the Mini: if you play through the first 20 or so (or even listen to the sound examples on the web page) your credit card is put at risk. There are gorgeous crystalline poly keys and plucks, warm evolving pads, big dirty stinking basses, weird sci‑fi effects, massive rave stacks and hoovers, industrial/EBM sequences... I could go on but you probably get the idea.
The sounds are great in their own right, and are presented at their best courtesy of the onboard effects, but what makes them especially engaging are the macro modulators: the two touch strips that adjust multiple parameters or modulations with a slide of your left pinky. This and aftertouch (albeit mono) from the keyboard provides plenty of expression and movement before resorting to cutoff cranking.
The defining feature of the Freaks is their hot‑swappable oscillator section. There are currently 22 algorithms to choose from, and I’d be surprised if that number didn’t grow over time. These are compact sound engines employing diverse synthesis schemes, each with three tone‑shaping parameters (the orange encoders) in addition to pitch and level.
For example, Basic Waves gives you a morphing saw/square starting point, with pulse‑width control and a sub blend. Cosier dual‑osc analogue tones are served up courtesy of the VAnalog algorithm, where just three parameters (detune, shape and wave) somehow cover a large chunk of classic polysynth sounds. Other relatively conventional engines are Waveshaper, 2‑Op FM and Formant. Then there’s Karplus‑Strong for lovely plucked or bowed strings and SuperWave for big detuned stacks.
The second half of the list moves into more experimental territory, like the Modal and Speech algorithms from Mutable’s Plaits, and four synths from Noise Engineering with their trademark sonic range and wildness. The range of tones you...
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