iOS peripheral producer IK Multimedia has stepped into the synth hardware area with the launch of its budget analog instrument, UNO. Scott Wilson finds out if this $199 synthesizer has what it takes to face out in a crowded market.
Budget 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 plenty of low cost mono synths, it’s additionally pushed the boundaries of what could be squeezed out of a sub-$500 synthesizer, resembling Korg’s polyphonic Minilogue and Behringer’s $299 Minimoog clone.
Actually, the market has turn into so flooded with budget 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 undeniable fact 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 a minimum of, 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 well-liked iOS music-making peripherals comparable to the iRig household of audio and MIDI interfaces, with the Syntronik VST and app assortment its most important 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 huge.
The UNO’s sound is someplace between a variety of totally different synths – the resonance and cutoff make it able to the type of squelchy, acidic sounds of Roland’s TB-303, although the two-oscillator structure appears to be extra drawn from the faculty of ‘70s mono synths that includes Korg’s MS-20 and the ARP Odyssey. It’s nearer to the latter, as a result of the UNO, like the Odyssey, has two unbiased oscillators that may be tuned in a different way, permitting it to make some pretty dissonant patches.
The synth part doesn’t look terribly inviting at first, nevertheless it’s truly lots of enjoyable to tweak, even when the similar 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 cross 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 similar 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 numerous small analogs have a small footprint however a comparatively heavy weight, the UNO is about 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 budget instrument, it permits you to 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 permits you to run it off your telephone charger or laptop computer.
Nevertheless, for a variety of skilled customers, the UNO’s key power shall 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 considered one of the 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 in an effort to all the time keep in key. The sequencer reminiscence, nevertheless, has solely 16 steps with no choice to chain patterns – sufficient in case you’re trying to make a 303-style sequence for techno, undoubtedly not sufficient to make the most of the synth engine’s unbelievable depth.
Whether or not the disappointing keyboard and sequencer – which, to be truthful, does let you document as much as 20 synth parameters per step – might 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 need to use reside for storing and chaining patterns although, it might be a bit restricted.
Surprisingly for a budget synthesizer, the UNO has its personal official software program editor – one thing even Korg and Roland don’t make for their 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 system for standalone use, the editor expands on the performance of the UNO in delicate methods. For instance, the efficiency buttons (wah, tremolo and so forth) all have devoted knobs that help you change the depth or quantity of those results, which may’t be carried out 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 you need to scroll by means of a number of pages to succeed in all the parameters. It does have the benefit of portability and touchscreen management, although the bigger iPad model is preferable when you’re a cellular consumer. I discovered the desktop model most consumer pleasant – all the parameters are on one web page with a full-size keyboard represented at 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 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 admittedly 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 have the ability to rise above the noise and make itself heard above all the different 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
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