Arturia’s MiniFreak is a weird-but-powerful digital synth at a great price

When people ask what they should be, I often recommend Arturia’s. If you don’t necessarily have your heart set on an analog instrument, I think it offers the most versatility and value for money. It has over a dozen different synthesizer engines, a multimode analog filter, a mod matrix for assembling complex patches, and new features. Sure, it really needs external effects support, and its touchplate keyboard is a bit controversial, but there’s no denying that it offers a lot for just $349.

The little digital maniac proved so successful that Arturia decided to build an even more powerful synthesizer based on the same core. The MiniFreak has twice as many oscillators, six voices instead of four, built-in effects, and a more traditional keyboard. It’s a robust mid-range offering with a relatively low price of $599. That pits it against other offerings like the ($599) and the Korg Minilogue ($530). But as is usual with music devices, there is no one around To the right choice here. So let’s explore who might want the MiniFreak and why.

If you’re familiar with the MicroFreak then you already have a pretty good idea of ​​what to expect here – only bigger and more complex. The MiniFreak’s oscillators are the same, only now there are two per voice, so your pads can be a little thicker. And you can add some evolution by layering two different engines on top of each other – let’s say for some upfront punch and a virtual analog voice that comes after.

Just like its predecessor, the MiniFreak is a hybrid digital/analog synthesizer that combines digital oscillators with an analog filter and digital effects. Solid as the virtual analog engine and filters are, they won’t fool well-trained ears. You can extract some decent warmth and instability from it, but it’s decidedly digital. For some, this could be a deal breaker – these people are frankly wrong and missing out. But if you’re 100 percent convinced that analog alone will do, now’s the time to get out.

Arturia MiniFreak

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

The MiniFreak’s multi-engine synth core is incredibly versatile, covering everything from basic FM to Karplus strong-string modeling to vocal synthesis and rave-ready Superwaves. However, there are a few notable omissions on the MicroFreak that will hopefully find their way into a firmware update. No vocoders or custom wavetables are currently available on the MiniFreak.

That being said, it can handle other instruments by connecting them to the audio input jack on the back and passing them through the built-in filter and effects. There is also a wave folder and a bit crusher specifically built into the incoming audio “oscillator”. Oscillator Two also has a handful of unique digital filters and effects you can use to shape Oscillator One sounds, including destroy, ring modulation, a comb filter, and more. This makes the MiniFreak not only a versatile synthesizer, but also a pretty solid effects processor. You could easily plug in a Moog, guitar, or even a microphone and create entirely new textures that weren’t possible before. You can also go completely overboard by using the Bit Crusher on the incoming audio, then using the Destroy module to further bit crush your signal, and then stuffing all three effect slots with more Bit Crushers!

Arturia MiniFreak

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

The digital engine has its strengths and weaknesses. It handles bass and leads well, but it really shines on keys, plucks, and crazy sound effects. The MicroFreak was a passable pad machine, but it always sounded a bit thin. By adding a second oscillator, the MiniFreak can spice this up and pads become one of its strengths. It can get a bit muddy at lower frequencies, but overall it sounds great, especially if your tastes lean towards cold and grainy textures.

The new digital effects section really helps to complete the package. While the MicroFreak often sounded a little lonely without some external effects, its big brother is capable of pumping out thick epic atmospheres right out of the box. There are three independent effect slots with 10 effects to choose from including multiple reverb types, multiple distortion styles, chorus and compression.

In general, Arturia plays things fairly conservatively here, sticking to bread-and-butter effects. You won’t find crazy pitch shifting delays or super sparkling reverb. But that’s okay. My only wish is that there be some sort of equivalent to the hydrasynth’s lo-fi effect. You can create something similar by connecting a random LFO to the chorus and/or pitch and messing around with the EQ, but it would be great to have it as an easy to use one stop effect. Arturia’s MiniFreak is a weird-but-powerful digital synth at a great price

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