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Minimal Audio Current

Minimal Audio Current

Minimal Audio’s Current is nothing if not ambitious, and not just as an instrument...

Minimal Audio are a Minneapolis, US‑based company that have carved a niche for themselves as developers of distinctive plug‑ins and sound libraries. Current, their most recent and complex product, is also their first virtual instrument. But actually it’s more than that: it’s a flagship that brings with it the rest of the Minimal product fleet, so to speak. In investing in Current you also get a whole suite of goodies that interrelate as a kind of mini ecosystem. It’s an intriguing idea, but with so many capable soft synths out there already, is it enough to make you jump ship?

High Voltage

Current is an über‑synth in the style of Arturia’s Pigments. It’s not based on any one thing from the past, and instead almost every aspect of it is ultra‑flexible and configurable. It’s still essentially a subtractive design, but of the most lavish, well‑equipped kind.

Constituting the oscillator part of the signal chain is a handful of sound generators running in parallel. Two wavetable oscillators encompass everything from typical analogue waveforms to complex digital and sample‑like timbres. Literally hundreds of wavetables are built in, and they’re all of the real‑deal, multi‑frame, smoothly morphable type. Two additional parameters, Wave and Warp, dial in waveform distortion with over 20 modes each, emulating the sound of oscillator hard sync, bit reduction, filtering, formant and frequency shifting, and a lot more with just the turn of a knob. Also, like Xfer Records’ Serum and Vital Audio’s Vital, Current can synthesize wavetables from audio you drag and drop into it, and import existing wavetable files from other synths too.

With their own tabbed interfaces the granular, sub and sample oscillators are no poor relations: they underpin many of the more experimental presets for one thing.With their own tabbed interfaces the granular, sub and sample oscillators are no poor relations: they underpin many of the more experimental presets for one thing.

Minimal Audio CurrentThe granular oscillator here is a nice implementation of this sound‑generating tech, with parameters for playback position, spray/jitter, grain rate/density (sync’able to clock), flexible grain envelope shapes, and embedded filters. Finally there’s a sampler with a sub‑oscillator that will do classic chipmunk‑susceptible re‑pitching or time‑stretch your samples to keep their original duration, and more plausible formant content. There’s no pitch‑ or velocity‑driven sample switching but samples can reverse, loop and crossfade, and there’s an embedded multi‑mode filter and (like the wavetable oscillators) a unison feature offering as many as 16 detuned voices/layers and stereo spreading. The sub‑oscillator is unusually sophisticated, with parameters that redistribute the intensity of its harmonic spectra, and detune upper harmonics. All five of these oscillator types can play at once, though in practice you’re more likely to use a smaller combo.

Next along the signal chain we get two filters, which can operate in series or in parallel. With identical capabilities they offer filter responses grouped into categories called Basic, Morphing, Creative, Formant, Comb and Phaser: well over 50 different types. Together with the inevitable cutoff and resonance parameters there’s also Spread, which decouples left and right signal paths for stereo widening effects, and Morph, which for the Morph filter responses provides that wonderful continuous low‑/band‑/high‑pass transition typical of the Oberheim SEM, and for others dials in complex slope/peak distortions or variable spacing.

Further expanding the harmonic treatment options is a whole bank of audio modulation paths. Any oscillator can be frequency‑ or amplitude‑modulated by itself, by any other, by a noise source, or by the output of either filter. Audio‑rate sonic shredders, fill yer boots...

Alongside, the modulation scheme is similarly open‑ended. We could be here all day, so I’ll summarise it. There are 10 modulation sources: one AHDSR envelope that’s hard‑wired to amplitude, and nine others freely assignable. They can be further envelopes, LFOs, curve generators (an LFO/envelope mix on steroids, with a variety of preset shapes), or envelope followers (tracking oscillator or filter outputs). All are superbly equipped: for example, envelopes have variable curve shapes and can be looped. LFOs are sync’able, key‑triggered or free‑running and morph between classic analogue waveforms.

Further modulation comes from the keyboard: key‑tracking, note‑on and ‑off velocity, pitch‑bend, mod wheel and aftertouch. If you prefer an MPE controller you can switch these to become Strike value, Glide, Slide, Press and Lift instead. All with variable value limits and response curves. Four macro knobs look conventional at first but turn out not to be. They can modulate multiple destinations, and can themselves be modulated by anything else.

Assigning modulation is done in one of two ways. The first is to right‑click on any parameter and choose ‘Add Mod’. The second is to drag a ‘token’ from a modulator and drop it on top of a parameter, which will then be equipped with a little horseshoe‑shaped knob that both indicates it’s being modulated by something, and lets you dial in the modulation depth you want. Right‑click it and you can set unipolar or bipolar response, and also choose a further modulator to control modulation depth. Then, moment to moment parameter values are shown by animated rings around knobs, and in the case of the wavetables oscilloscope‑like waveform displays. There seems to be no limit on the number of parameters that can be controlled by a single modulator, but apparently individual parameters max out at three simultaneous incoming modulation signals.

Minimal Audio Current

All told, Current’s synthesis scheme is an embarrassment of riches. Anything you can’t achieve with it, in pure harmonic terms, is probably not worth doing. But as is the way in the 2020s, it’s only part of the picture. Effects are arguably at least as important an element of sound design these days, and Current does not mess about in this area either.

I mentioned Minimal Audio’s existing reputation for effects plug‑ins, and it turns out that their entire line‑up is built into Current (barring the flagship Rift distortion processor, which appears here as Polar Distortion, a sort of ‘Rift‑lite’) and can...

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