Masses of modulation and an innovative sequencer make the Mono much more than just another monosynth.
The 303 paradigm is so well established now, one glance at the familiar synth‑up‑top, sequencer‑down‑below table‑top cigar‑box is enough to conjure memories of smiley faces, warehouse raves, dungarees, bucket hats, and... wait was that really 35 years ago? Anyway, Mono, from the new French company Norand, certainly doesn’t hide its influences. But neither does it attempt to recreate the same old experience or nail that classic Roland sound either, and it’s all the better for it.
The Mono — a name I foresee being tricky to Google if you can’t remember the manufacturer — is an analogue monosynth with two oscillators, a multimode filter, FM, oscillator sync and an individual LFO and envelope for every synth parameter (that’s 20 LFOs and 16 AD envelopes). The sequencer also builds on 303 foundations, but mercifully ditches the painful programming in favour of something far easier, with the added awesomesauce of Elektron‑like parameter locks. Norand’s take on 303 sequencing takes this synth to places other acid synths cannot go because it allows every step of a sequence to play a different sound if so desired.
As a desktop device, the Mono measures 320 x 147 x 35 mm, a similar size to the original 303. It is angled gently to tilt the front panel towards the user. The knobs are sturdy, although not panel‑mounted and the buttons are a combination of clicky retro and soft modern silicone. Almost every physical control is LED‑lit, even the knobs, which allows for some clever visual feedback when it comes to modulation. The casing is solid but plastic.
Let’s start by taking a look at Mono’s two analogue oscillators. Both offer continually variable waveforms with the shape control blending from Sine to Triangle to Sawtooth to Square. The main frequency control sweeps through six octaves and is quantised to the chromatic scale. For those of us with less than perfect pitch, the LEDs on the octave‑wide keyboard will light to show you the current tuning as you turn the control. There is a separate Detune control for finer adjustments.
The second oscillator adds hard‑sync and FM, both of which can be automated by the sequencer along with almost every other synthesis parameter. The FM control offers Thru‑Zero Frequency Modulation which is similar to classic linear FM but helps to keep the base pitch of the carrier oscillator stable. That stability isn’t always perfect at extremes but it’s still a great deal of fun adding FM to a 303‑like sequence.
Each oscillator has a level control in the mixer section. The mixer can overdrive easily by turning either level control past the middle mark. It’s a shame there’s no noise source here. The mixed signal then gets passed into the filter, an 18dB/Oct multi‑mode design with the state continuously variable between band‑, low‑ and high‑pass. It is capable of stable...