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Norand Mono

Analogue Synthesizer / Sequencer By Rory Dow
Published June 2021

Norand Mono

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.

The Synth

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 self‑oscillation and will optionally track pitch, allowing you to use it as a third oscillator. It’s important to note that this isn’t a Roland modelled filter. It doesn’t sound like a 303, nor was it meant to. It does have its own charm. The oscillator and filter combo remind me more of an SH‑09. There’s a chunky, no‑nonsense, early ’80s, analogue vibe to the setup which sounds great.

The only remaining piece of the signal path is the final output. A master volume control adjusts the overall level and there’s an ADSR envelope dedicated to amp‑level. The same envelope can also be used for the filter frequency via a dedicated pot in the filter section.


The ADSR envelope isn’t the only modulation source. Every synthesis parameter has a dedicated duo of modulation sources called X‑Mod and X‑Env. Just to be clear, there are separate X‑Mod and X‑Env for all 20 synth controls (actually there are only 16 X‑Env destinations because modulating the ADSR controls with another envelope wouldn’t make sense). That is a lot of modulation possibilities.

X‑Mod is an LFO that can go into audio rates. It works in either LFO, sync’ed LFO, or audio‑rate mode and can be set to sine, triangle, sawtooth or square waveforms.

X‑Env is an AD envelope that always completes both stages when triggered. One neat feature is that you can unlink X‑Env triggering from the note triggers and input a separate trigger sequence purely dedicated to X‑Env.

Applying modulation is child’s play. Grab a control and give it a small tweak. This becomes the active destination, confirmed by a brighter LED. Now you can use the X‑Env and X‑Mod parameter and amount controls to apply modulation. The last control to be moved is always the active modulation destination.

With all this modulation going on, it would be easy to lose track of what’s doing what and which parameters are being modulated. There is a nifty solution. Pressing the Function key will cause the LEDs on all the synthesis parameter controls to pulse in time with their respective modulation. Slow LFO sweeping the filter cutoff? Its LED will glow helpfully in time. Given that the Mono has no screen this a great solution, although I did find that small modulation amounts didn’t make a big enough change to the LED brightness to be perceptible, but perhaps that’s my aging eyesight failing me again.

Its range is impressive: silky smooth leads, growling FM bass lines, glitched randomness, evolving drones, and even Kraftwerk‑inspired electro drums.

The Sequencer

Arguably the most interesting aspect of the Mono is its sequencer. Up to 32 Projects can be saved and each project can store up to 64 sequencer patterns. A pattern holds up to 64 steps and can run at various divisions of the master clock. Patterns always store the sound that goes with them but loading that sound when you switch patterns is optional. Up to eight patterns can be chained to create a ‘song’ and thankfully they don’t have to be contiguous.

The basics of pattern programming will be familiar to 303 owners. The single‑octave keyboard can be used to program a pattern with octave up and down keys giving you access to upper and lower octaves. Per‑step accents and slides are easily added. Thankfully, the more arduous aspects of 303 programming have been improved. Notes can be any length and editing a step is simple. Press one of the 16 step keys and enter a new pitch, accent, or slide. Gone are the days of cycling around a pattern one step at a time to get to the one you need to edit. If you prefer, patterns can be recorded live as the pattern plays using either the note keys or incoming MIDI.

Each pattern can be assigned a scale and root note, after which only the notes in that scale will light up making programming easier. Most of the randomise options (see the ‘Randomise Me’ box) will also adhere to the current scale.

In the Roland TB‑303, the Accent function emphasises volume, filter cutoff, resonance, and reduces the decay time of the envelope. Mono’s Accent is completely editable. By simply holding down the Accent button and tweaking synthesis parameters, you can create a custom Accent sound. Adding a touch of FM, a second oscillator, a completely different envelope curve, some LFO modulation, or any combination thereof had me grinning like an acid smiley.

Three further properties are available to each pattern step — microshift, ratchet and probability. Microshift allows you to move steps forwards or backward in time. This must be programmed as recorded notes from the keys or MIDI input are always quantised. Ratchet allows you to add up to 16 additional triggers per step and probability sets the chance of a step triggering. When ratchet and probability are used together, each ratchet trigger is subject to the probability calculation independently.

But the sequencer is only just getting interesting. Each step of a sequence can hold an offset value for multiple synthesis parameters. Holding down a step key and adjusting a few parameters will store those offsets into the step. Because these are offsets and not absolute values means you can still adjust the main parameter whilst the pattern plays. The offset will simply increase or decrease whatever the current value is. This offers the best of both worlds — deep p‑lock‑style programming for each step whilst maintaining fluid, hands‑on, control over all parameters. Furthermore, a step can trigger a note, but can also contain only parameter offsets which alter the timbre.

Each project can contain 40 ‘Mod notes’ which is essentially a full synth preset. All the absolute values of every synth and modulation parameter are saved in a Mod note allowing you to recall a full sound at any time. These mod notes can also be inserted into a sequence. Unlike the automation offsets, the mod notes effectively change the values of every parameter, like having lots of tiny invisible hands changing all the knob positions (weird!). This means you can have an entirely different sound on every step of a sequence. I was easily able to coax various drum sounds from the synth, save them into Mod notes and then arrange them into a pattern to create drum rhythms. It reminds me of AFX mode from Novation’s Bass Station II and AFX Station synthesizers.


At first glance, it’s difficult to see just how much complexity is packed into the Mono. Its synth engine is basic but capable. However, the magic is in the sequencer which has been carefully crafted to work not as a separate component but as an integral part of the synth.

I know this isn’t a 303 clone, but my first instinct was to recreate simple 303‑style bass lines. The Mono can glide in all the right places and although the filter doesn’t give you the same trademark resonant squelch, it is still very satisfying. But the real power is revealed when you introduce that second oscillator, a bit of FM, some sync, some audio‑rate modulation, custom Accents, pattern automation, probability, mod notes... and then carry on tweaking like it’s 1988.

As with most instruments that attempt to cram in features without adding a screen, the number of button combinations can occasionally confound, but overall the experience is smooth and logical. Programming complex patterns is as intuitive as it can be.

I suspect that the Mono will appeal greatly to the DAWless jamming crowd. It’s an instrument packed with performance‑orientated features. Switch patterns and projects. Randomise without bum notes. Temporarily loop portions of a pattern. Create non‑contiguous pattern chains. All without ever stopping the sequencer. And all whilst retaining the ability to just grab the cutoff knob and enjoy some acid tweakin’ fun.

Price may be a bone of contention. For the amount being asked, I wish that the chassis had been metal and perhaps the knobs surface-mounted, but overall the Mono still manages to exude a bit of class. It doesn’t feel cheap, but it’s not premium either. This isn’t a mass‑produced synth. We’re dealing with a small company selling their first product and with that in mind, I think the Mono is an impressive achievement.

Despite its 303ish looks, the Mono is much more than that. Its range is impressive: silky smooth leads, growling FM bass lines, glitched randomness, evolving drones, and even Kraftwerk‑inspired electro drums. There are no on‑board effects, so the output is always dry, but once you add a touch of reverb, a guitar pedal, or some gratuitous delay it sounds wonderful. A fabulous source of twisting techno loops. I had a ton of fun with it.

Round The Back

Norand Mono rear panel.Norand Mono rear panel.

As well as its 15V DC power socket (adapter included), the back of the Mono offers a good deal of connectivity. There’s a USB 2.0 type‑B socket for MIDI in and out (but not power), or you can use the standard In, Out and Thru 5‑pin din sockets. CV connections are a‑plenty with inputs for analogue clock and reset, and outputs for Gate, CV (1V/Oct), Accent and CV2 (configurable). The main audio output is on quarter‑inch balanced TRS.

Randomise Me

For those who embrace the unplanned, Mono offers a generous number of cleverly implemented randomisation options.

Page Randomize adds between 1‑4 notes on the current page (patterns can be up to four pages of 16 steps). Notes are added only in the currently active scale meaning you can use the randomiser live without the fear of bum notes.

Pitch Randomize readjusts the pitch of all steps in the current pattern without adding or removing any steps, again in the active scale.

Step Randomize deals with single steps. As well as adding a trigger and scale‑dependent pitch, it will also randomise a handful of synth parameter offsets (excluding pitch). The parameters chosen will change every time you randomise.

Parameter Randomize creates random automation offsets of a single chosen synthesis parameter on the whole pattern. Things are kept vaguely sane by limiting the chance of this happening to 50 percent per step and allowing the user to select the range of possible randomisation.

Accent and Slide Randomize adds random slide or accent triggers to the current pattern.

Mod Note Randomizer creates a random new patch for a selected Mod note. All synth and modulation parameters are included with full ranges, making this by far the wildest of the randomisation options. I found it didn’t always produce useful results, but it’s a great way to see what the synth engine is capable of when pushed to extremes.

External Sequencing & Synchronisation

Those who wish to sequence the Mono from an external source — a baffling proposal considering the excellence of the on‑board sequencer — can do so via MIDI. Control Change messages will allow access to all synthesis parameters. The internal sequencer will also send the same messages to the MIDI outputs if desired. Sadly, there is no way to trigger Slide or Accent via MIDI, which is a shame. Norand tell me they’ve put this on their feature request list for a potential future update.

Modular fans will have to make do with clock and reset CV inputs for the internal sequencer. However, the Mono does provide CV outputs for gate, pitch, accent and a configurable output (selectable from osc1 pitch, filter frequency, envelope, or clock) making it an excellent sequencer for your modular gear.

A vastly important aspect of an instrument like the Mono is how well it synchronises to other gear. The Mono can run under its internal clock or sync to MIDI or analogue clock. When using analogue clock, each clock pulse advances the sequencer one step and the Reset input can be used to reset to step 1. This means you can do SH‑101‑style irregular clocking of the sequencer for some funky, off‑kilter patterns. In my experiment with clocking the Mono’s sequencer to my Sequentix Cirkon (both with MIDI and CV), the Mono performed excellently. No perceptible jitter or lag. Bravo.


  • Next‑level 303‑inspired sequencing.
  • Lots of well‑thought‑out performance features.
  • My favourite implementation of Accent to date.
  • Chunky analogue sound.


  • Perhaps the price.


The Mono is a simple yet solid, analogue, 303‑inspired monosynth with a powerhouse sequencer that elevates it to the position of ‘techno monster’. It excels at twisting, morphing loops of analogue joy and there are plenty of performance tricks to keep live performers rocking the warehouse rave.


£749 including VAT.