Features Games IK Multimedia Made to Stick Make Music Synthesizers

A contender for the budget synth crown

A contender for the budget synth crown

iOS peripheral producer IK Multimedia has stepped into the synth hardware area with the launch of its finances analog instrument, UNO. Scott Wilson finds out if this $199 synthesizer has what it takes to face out in a crowded market. 

Finances synths are having a little bit of a second proper now. Ever since Korg launched its reasonably priced Volca vary in 2012, producers have been locked into an arms race to see who can create an analog synth for the least sum of money. Whereas that’s given us a number of low cost mono synths, it’s additionally pushed the boundaries of what could be squeezed out of a sub-$500 synthesizer, similar to Korg’s polyphonic Minilogue and Behringer’s $299 Minimoog clone.

In reality, the market has develop into so flooded with price range analogs over the previous few years it’s troublesome to see the way it can help any extra of them (Behringer alone needs to create its personal cottage business round clones of basic synths). The prevalence of reasonably priced analogs additionally raises the query of whether or not we really need any extra, particularly when software program choices are cheaper and sound virtually nearly as good. A studio can solely maintain a lot, particularly the bed room setups this gear is usually aimed toward.

Regardless of saturation level quick being reached, IK Multimedia thinks its new UNO synth can discover its personal area of interest in a crowded panorama. It’s not a lot to take a look at in comparison with current analog choices from Roland, Korg and Arturia, nevertheless it stands out for a couple of causes, mainly the truth that it’s a two-oscillator actual analog synth with a sequencer that runs off batteries for simply $199.99 – with specs that, on paper no less than, trounce the Volca Bass, which might be its closest rival.

Nevertheless, IK Multimedia is an unknown amount as a synth producer. The Italian firm has made its identify largely off the again of widespread iOS music-making peripherals such because the iRig household of audio and MIDI interfaces, with the Syntronik VST and app assortment its essential try at making synthesizers. It’s in all probability why it’s enlisted modular firm Soundmachines and Alesis Andromeda designer Erik Norlander to assist, and you may hear it – regardless of a small footprint, the UNO sounds massive.

The UNO’s sound is someplace between plenty of totally different synths – the resonance and cutoff make it able to the sort of squelchy, acidic sounds of Roland’s TB-303, although the two-oscillator structure appears to be extra drawn from the varsity of ‘70s mono synths that features Korg’s MS-20 and the ARP Odyssey. It’s nearer to the latter, as a result of the UNO, just like the Odyssey, has two unbiased oscillators that may be tuned in another way, permitting it to make some pretty dissonant patches.

The synth part doesn’t look terribly inviting at first, however it’s truly a number of enjoyable to tweak, even when the identical 4 knobs are used to regulate the oscillator, filter, envelope and LFO by switching between them. The 2 oscillators are able to a a lot wider vary of analog sound than one thing like a Volca Bass, which solely has sawtooth and sq. wave choices; the UNO provides triangle and pulse waves to that with the choice of pulse width modulation, which provides extra motion to your patches.

Past the wave shapes there’s quite a bit to assist make your patches deeper and extra dynamic. Alongside a primary delay is a filter that features a band cross along with typical high and low move choices, overdrive and resonance. The most effective half might be the LFO part, which can be utilized to modulate pitch, filter and amplitude and additional wring dank, squelchy sounds out of one thing that weighs about the identical as a 250-page paperback. It’s loopy how good it sounds given its tiny measurement.

It’s this portability the place the UNO actually excels. Whereas plenty of small analogs have a small footprint however a comparatively heavy weight, the UNO is concerning the measurement of a medium pill and is so mild you actually can carry it anyplace. And whereas the flat contact keyboard and relative lack of knobs means the UNO seems to be very very similar to a finances instrument, it lets you throw it in a backpack with little or no danger of by chance tearing delicate elements off in transit. It makes use of 4 AA batteries however the USB energy lets you run it off your telephone charger or laptop computer.

Nevertheless, for lots of skilled customers, the UNO’s key power will probably be its largest weak spot. Regardless of the way you attempt to spin it, contact keyboards largely suck, and whereas the UNO’s is about as responsive as one thing like this may be, it’s not velocity delicate. There are devoted buttons for efficiency modulation like vibrato, wah and tremolo, however they felt like a poor substitute for a easy pitch and modulation wheel.

Though the UNO has a built-in sequencer, it doesn’t completely redeem the keyboard. It’s truly one of many extra user-friendly sequencers I’ve used on a synth at this worth level, with a number of 13 pre-defined scales to select from with the intention to all the time keep in key. The sequencer reminiscence, nevertheless, has solely 16 steps with no choice to chain patterns – sufficient in the event you’re trying to make a 303-style sequence for techno, undoubtedly not satisfactory to benefit from the synth engine’s implausible depth.

Whether or not the disappointing keyboard and sequencer – which, to be truthful, does permit you to document as much as 20 synth parameters per step – can be a dealbreaker actually is determined by the way you need to use the UNO. If it’s a primary synth or one thing for writing easy sequences on out of the studio then it might be sufficient; likewise for those who’re hooking it as much as a DAW and utilizing it as a module. If you would like one thing you should use reside for storing and chaining patterns although, it might be a bit restricted.

Surprisingly for a finances synthesizer, the UNO has its personal official software program editor – one thing even Korg and Roland don’t make for his or her Volcas and Boutiques. I wasn’t anticipating a lot from it, nevertheless it dramatically will increase the performance of the UNO. It’s obtainable on iOS units (although you’ll want a Lightning to USB adaptor) or as a Mac/PC plugin and is very easy to make use of – so long as the UNO is plugged into the host over USB and the firmware is updated, it recognises the hardware mechanically.

In contrast to the entrance panel of the UNO itself, the editor represents each parameter with its personal knob or change. In addition to making it simpler to create and save patches to your gadget for standalone use, the editor expands on the performance of the UNO in delicate methods. For instance, the efficiency buttons (wah, tremolo and so on) all have devoted knobs that can help you change the depth or quantity of those results, which may’t be executed from the hardware itself.

Different features added by the editor embrace full four-stage ADSR envelopes for each filter and amplitude (the hardware solely has controls for AD and AR respectively) alongside pulse width and waveform form modulation of the oscillators. All modifications made on the editor monitor to the hardware in actual time and vice versa; I didn’t expertise any noticeable lag, although you’ll have to set the knob conduct to “relative” to keep away from parameters going out of sync when switching between each management strategies.

It’s admirable that IK Multimedia has made each desktop and cellular variations, however the iPhone app’s smaller display measurement means it’s a must to scroll via a number of pages to succeed in all of the parameters. It does have the benefit of portability and touchscreen management, although the bigger iPad model is preferable in the event you’re a cellular consumer. I discovered the desktop model most consumer pleasant – all of the parameters are on one web page with a full-size keyboard represented on the backside, and you may simply use your DAW as a sequencer as an alternative of the very restricted UNO sequencer itself.

Even with out the the synth editor although, I’m impressed by the UNO. It’s straightforward to make use of and enjoyable to program, the 100 included presets – which cowl every little thing from thick bass slabs to cosmic leads and percussive sounds – are wonderful, and most significantly, it sounds ok that folks will in all probability need to use it in their very own productions. The primary factor that I really feel the UNO misses is audio over USB, which is absolutely useful on Roland’s equally sized Boutique units, particularly for anybody simply shifting over to hardware synths from software program.

Whether or not the UNO will be capable of rise above the noise and make itself heard above all the opposite sub-$500 analogs is one other matter. It seems extra like a 3D render of a software program plugin than the beautiful devices which were coming from Roland, Make Noise and Korg over the previous few years, so it dangers being ignored by gear fetishists. What the UNO does do properly nevertheless, it does in addition to any of its rivals – and at a worth that may’t be ignored.

Scott Wilson is FACT’s tech editor. Discover him on Twitter

Learn subsequent: Mark Fell on his love of FM synthesis and algorithmic composition

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