As part of their 2021 NAMM livestream, the good folks at Arturia released the version 3 firmware for their ground-breaking Microfreak (and version 4 came just a few months later, in October of 2021). As part of the roll-out, they did a really great live stream and solicited input from the masses as to what the future of the MicroFreak should look like. I took it upon myself to synopsize the responses (and add a couple of suggestions of my own, which were a somewhat couched in my knowledge of the realities of actually manufacturing products) and sent an email to Sebastian at Arturia as our “wishlist.”
Today, Arturia announced and shipped among other things the MiniFreak. And, it ticks a whole lot of the boxes. We didn’t get everything and a couple of features actually look like they went away, but we got a lot that was on the list and a few more tricks to boot. Here’s today’s live stream for those who may have missed it.
6-voice polyphonic hybrid synthesizer_Arturia website
37-note velocity-sensitive Slim-key keybed with aftertouch
2 sound Engines with 22 oscillator modes in total
Engine 2 can be used to process Engine 1
1 envelope per voice
1 cycling envelope per voice
2 LFOs per voice
Polyphonic analog filters and VCAs
6-voice polyphonic, 12-voice paraphonic, unison, or mono configuration
3 digital FX slots in insert or send mode, with 10 FX to choose from
User-customizable LFO curves
Mod Matrix with 7 sources and 13 potential destinations
OLED display for real-time visual feedback
Intuitive 64-step sequencer (4 pages of 16 steps)
4 lanes of automated modulation
Performance Arpeggiator controls including Ratchet, Octave Randomize, and more
Sustain, audio in, and clock in/out connectivity
256 factory presets
256 user preset slots
The big gains are that the MiniFreak is a true six-voice polysynth with dual digital sound engines, analog filters, an expanded modulation matrix from the MicroFreak, a unique sequencer/arpeggiator, a 37-note mini keyboard with aftertouch (channel only, though), and three slots of stereo effects. I think there are a couple of new voice algorithms, and it can also process external audio through both its internal effects and through one of the sound engines. MIDI is now on 5-pin DIN connectors and there’s a MIDI THRU port. The audio connections are now all 1/4″, with stereo audio output, and there’s a jack for a sustain pedal. Plus, there’s an included software version of the synth that functions like the Korg “native” series. And, it all comes at a sub-$600 price tag. Pretty impressive.
So, what’s “missing” from the wishlist?
- Well, while the MiniFreak gained an LFO, there are still only the same two envelope generators from the MicroFreak, and it would have been nice to at least have one additional envelope. With that said, the LFOs are pretty special, in that you can actually define a custom waveform for an LFO.
- While the keybed does have aftertouch, it has mini keys and the aftertouch is not polyphonic. I think I might rather it have a bigger version of the original capacitive keyboard, quirky as it was, or at least a keybed with polyphonic aftertouch like the one on the ASM Hydrasynth Explorer. Full-size keys would have been really nice.
- The Vocoder and User Waveform engines have been removed. While I never found the vocoder to be all that useful, the user waveform engine was really nice.
- Finally (?), the CV outputs have been dropped, though there’s still an option for analog clock. I’m not sure how much I really care about that. Retrospectively, since this is a polysynth, CV may have been a little trickier to implement.
Arturia also announced today an upgraded version of their MiniLab keyboard controller, a new software instrument called _Augmented Piano, and announced that the Audiofuse 4 USB audio interface is finally shipping. More on those things in a later post.
So, I’m sure that at least my lovely wife Donna is wondering if I’m going to have to buy one of these, and I’m afraid the answer is yes, but not before 1) the studio remodel gets done, (2) a couple of other items get paid off, and/or (3) some items that I’m not using as much as I thought I might are sold off. One thing that I will not be selling, though, is my original MicroFreak. I still love the original for … reasons (in fact, I still might want a second MicroFreak).
Of course, I have a YouTube playlist with a whole slew of videos for your enjoyment:
And here’s the text from the email I sent to Sebastian back on January 20, 2021: