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Midicake Arp

Midicake Arp

Midicake have reinvented the arpeggiator.

As the first product of Bristol company Midicake, Arp is somewhat specialised — you might even say idiosyncratic. It’s billed as a four‑way arpeggio generator designed to control multiple MIDI layers and produce patterns that are neither boring nor random. Without further ado, let’s arpeggiate!

(Cake)Walk Through

Housed in a compact aluminium box (available in either black or white), Arp is covered in squishy rubber buttons and has a small but serviceable colour display. Its patterns are generated from notes made available from either the eight chord buttons or from an external MIDI controller, with a single octave keyboard provided for quick transposition and for programming the chords, which are initially set to major, minor, etc.

Although I’ll stick with the term ‘chord’ throughout the review, it’s helpful if you don’t think of regular chords but, rather, of a pool of notes Arp can draw from. This pool can be any combination of the 12 notes of Western music and encompasses scales, modes or any grouping of your own — all relative to a root note. Incidentally, a long list of chords and scales are provided, with scales written in upper case so you can easily differentiate between a C min triad and a C MINOR scale.

There are 16 banks of 12 patches in which to store your work and all arrive populated with useful and instructive examples. Once you set each generator’s MIDI channel you can begin working your way though the many parameters, copying patches to other locations as you go to create variations. Saving is done automatically, so operation is both fast and fluid.

Arp weighs 1.2kg and features 5‑pin MIDI I/O, plus a 5V Type‑B USB connection handling MIDI and supplying power. USB and MIDI cables are provided but, when working computer‑free, you’ll need to source a suitable USB adaptor plug. A USB Type‑A host is also present and suitable for controllers such as the Arturia KeyStep, which it can also power.

Round the back, things are pretty straightforward with USB A and B ports, MIDI I/O sockets and a dedicated button for software updates.Round the back, things are pretty straightforward with USB A and B ports, MIDI I/O sockets and a dedicated button for software updates.

As the company name suggests, Arp talks MIDI only. It’s therefore a willing partner for hardware synths, VSTs or a combination of both, although the 5‑pin and USB MIDI ports are not separately addressable. Unusually, each of the four generators may be assigned to any MIDI channel and configured for Arp, Chord, Drone or Pad modes on a per‑patch basis.

Pressing the Set button turns the note and chord buttons from green to blue, indicating you’ve entered the menu system. Menu pages are labelled on the panel and where a page has several entries, the display shows the current location. Getting around involves repeatedly pressing the button or combining it with the Up or Down buttons to go back and forwards. Parameter adjustments are made via the tempo encoder, with single increments more easily achieved with the Up/Down buttons.

Four assignable encoders that operate globally provide a direct connection to your favourite parameters without a need to enter the menu system. Call me greedy but it would have been fabulous if these had been assignable on a per‑bank basis — and even better if they could have sent MIDI CCs.

When in Play mode, the display reports the active chord, bank and patch number as well as the octave selected for the button keyboard. However, much of the display is hogged by the tempo, which I didn’t find terribly useful, particularly when externally sync’ed. Arp’s insistence on flashing up the bpm became quite intrusive when tweaking the four macros and left me with weird flashbacks to my tempo‑obsessed Roland SP‑404 MkII.

The four generators are driven by a single start or stop action but each may be individually muted should you wish to thin out some of the mayhem. In addition, Follow buttons instruct the generators to play after the previous one, so if all Follows are active, the four will run in series. Right now, this process permits just one bar of each generator to play before it moves on, which, as we’ll see, is rarely...

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