Category: Software & Hardware

Review: MFB 522 Drumcomputer

MFB offers a cool boom for little buck

Being very positively impressed by both the Nano- and Microzwerg, I decided to have a go with the little 522 as well. Offering a full drumkit with it’s kick-drum, snare, clap, tomtom, conga, cowbell, clave, cymbal, hi-hat and rimshot (but no clash) I decided to see what makes it tick. (Cue: Rimshot, Cl… ah dammit!)

MFB-522 Drumcomputer

Offering the same sound-set as the Roland TR-808 it offers instant appeal to producers on a budget, so let’s round up the similarities and differences: Like the 808 the tomtom and conga cannot be played simultaneously. The 522 offers midi however and has separate outputs for the kick, a combined output for snare and rimshot, clap, hi-hat and a combined stereo output for the sounds without a separate output or without a patch-cable inserted. The TR-808 has an output for each sound. Unless patched every sound comes out of the stereo output by default. So, does it sound like the 808? Mmmyeano, probably not. Maybe. You can expect similar results from the Propellerhead Kong drum designer by using the analog parts or with an analog (semi-)modular synthesizer. It sounds thinner and less tinny than you might be used to from an 808, but then again, most 808 sounds and samples out there have already been processed with compression or amplification. The 808’s inner circuitry probably had a lot to do with it’s familiar sound and like the Roland TB-303 there are already too many discussions on as to ‘why it sounds like it sounds’. Plugging the MFB-522 into a distortion pedal or compressor yields very similar results as you might expect from the ol’ Roland. And there the comparison should end. The MFB is a drumcomputer in it’s own right albeit probably marketed at people who lack an analog 1980’s model in their collection.

It’s a joy to just plug in a midi-cable and go to work. The midi-cc’s are neatly sorted making mapping easy. I use each output separately mixing and EQ’ing them back together on a mixer, adding extra crunch to the sound before it’s fed into my audio-interface. Some of the sounds can’t play together because of analog limitations making it impossible to play a snare and a rimshot on the exact same note, same goes for the cowbell and clave and of course the tomtom and conga because you have to flick a switch to choose between them. You can change the tone, tune and envelope of the sounds but playing live might be a bit cumbersome given it’s small knobs and featherweight design. The kick and clap come in two variants, shot and long, adding to the options of possible rhythms, and for some reason I was able to get four notes out of the tomtom and conga while the manual clearly states there should only be three. Oh well, bonus drum for me I guess! The 522 has three shuffle settings when using the internal sequencer, and can be synced to incoming MIDI-clock messages. Some of the sounds are great while others sound underwhelming, this is where layering and effects will make it shine again. It’s these imperfections that give you, the producer, a small challenge to make it do what you want. It might be a turn-off for some, but I kinda like that.. The Adafruit x0xb0x is a perfect clone of the TB-303 and yet it also needs a little work to sound like you remember a 303. Consider that before you give this a pass because maybe after ten years of sitting in smokey, moldy studios, basements and attics these machines’ll start sounding exactly alike, or even’ll start (mis)behaving in their own peculiar way.

The MFB-522 drumcomputer by MFB is an attempt to give us back the joys of analog circuitry and tweaking knobs to fine-tune the percussion contained within. Mimicking, although not perfectly, the sounds and controls of the 808 for a very, VERY reasonable price.

 

Related:
MFB Nanozwerg Review

MFB Microzwerg Review

 

Review: MFB Microzwerg

 

MFB’s medium sized semi-modular synthesizer

MFB MicrozwergMy experiences with the Nanozwerg were enough to warrant buying it’s slightly bigger brother. The oscillators sound good, the modular functions keep surprising you with new sounds and Manfred Fricke always squeezes a few extra functions in the machine, in this case by using a ‘shift’ button. The shift button plays a major role in this machine, as this is the button you use to change between filters 1 and 2, the 2 oscillators, and the LFO settings. The normal oscillators and low frequency oscillators feature the familiar triangle, saw and square waveforms but both OSC’s and LFO’s have an extra trick up their sleeves. OSC 1 features a ring modulator while OSC 2 offers white noise, the LFO has an added ramp in it’s waveforms while LFO 2 has sample & hold.

 

MFB Microzwerg & NanozwergThe Nanozwerg’s bigger brother brings more modularity and patch points than it smaller sibling (the smaller yellow synthesizer pictured on the left). It looks a bit cooler in dark blue with it’s many patch points above the controls, but together they offer a very cool modular combination. Both dwarfs (zwerg being the German word for dwarf) also go well together by using both machines together using the CV (control voltage) in- & outputs. The audio signals can be combined via the ‘VCA (voltage controlled amplifier) add’ and filter inputs. The downside also being the same semi-modularity, with an emphasis on ‘semi’. Not everything can be done, like the lack of being able to adjust the incoming CV value, or scaling as it’s called. This is where a full modular rack would really step-up the sound-designing game. Like the Nanozwerg the filter isn’t awe inspiring but does it’s job well with the 12dB per octave it offers. The resonance is a bit too eager to scream, but together with a distortion pedal this doesn’t have to be a problem. Since I would really would like to expand my studio with a full modular synth in rack format, I’ll probably make use of external filters pretty soon anyway. And there’s always the option to use plugin’s (within a digital audio workstation) to do the filtering. I already play my synths via MIDI inside a DAW and triggering a digital filter is as easy as using the same MIDI notes to trigger the filter’s cut-off.

Because I’ve already tested the Nanozwerg the Micorzwerg isn’t surprising me soundwise. Well, not a lot as I’ve already heard some mad things I didn’t expect when dialing in the sounds. It’s modular side however probably still holds many secrets for me that I’m more than ready and willing to find out. Yeah, it’s not a Moog, but at this price I really don’t care! A great synth to start with to try if analog synths are what you’re looking for. It’s many patch points will stay valuable even if you already expanded your modular synth set-up beyond the capabilities of the Microzwerg making it great value for money.

 

Related:
MFB Microzwerg Patch Sheet

MFB Nanozwerg Review

 

MFB Microzwerg Patch Sheet

 

A patch sheet for the MFB Microzwerg

MFB Microzwerg Patchsheet

I found a few on the web and they all had a ton of mistakes in them, so I edited them to perfection and this is the final result!

Now, I can hear you think: “But how do I note the second instance of the machine after pressing shift?” Well, you can always use two different colors to note the differences or just mark them with a “1” or “2”.

As always, if you’ve got any questions feel free to ask me in the comments below. If you want to share your patches, mention me in your Tweet of status update on Facebook and I’ll spread the word for you!

Download here.

 

Related:
Review of the MFB Microzwerg.

MFB Nanozwerg Patch Sheet

 

Ableton Multiband Sidechain Compressor Effect Rack

 

Multiband sidechain compressor for Ableton Live 8.x

Multiband Sidechain Compressor for Ableton Live 8.x

Looking for a way to create this effect I found this post explaining how I’ll need Linkwitz-Riley filters to make a perfect crossover between the low, mid and high frequencies. Searching for a Linkwitz-Riley filter for Mac didn’t yield the results I was hoping for. But then I realized the original multiband dynamics effect build into Ableton features a solo button for the low, mid and high frequencies. The crossover used in the multiband compressor should be flat, meaning the frequency response is the same before and after the effect (if no compression is applied). Using these filters already available in Ableton Live I made a simple effect rack where you can control the crossover for the three bands and adjust the compression for each band separately. Now you can side-chain each band!

I made this rack specifically for side-chaining because there’s already a multiband dynamics compressor in Ableton, which this effect-rack uses. But, the rack allows for some creative use meaning you can side-chain one band and ignore the other two bands, or compress one band normally, sidechain the other, and ignore the third one. There are many more combinations possible, so go nuts if you feel you have to!

In it’s default setting nothing is happening to the signal. On the left you’ll find two buttons for adjusting the crossover and you’ll notice three channels (low, mid and high) just on the left of the middle in the grouped device. Each channel/band has it’s own compressor, on the right. These compressors are set to the default setting and side-chain is switched on. Select the band you want to side-chain or compress, adjust the compressor to taste and hey presto! (Side-chain) compression is applied to the band you require compressed.

Download here!

Made in Ableton Live 8.3, older versions might work. Feel free to confirm which versions work, or not, in the comments below.

Edit: The zip-file might unpack the effect rack without the proper extension! If so, simply add “.adg” (without quotes) to the end of the file name.

 

Home Studio Hacks: The Acid Station

(Mis)using an item to suit other needs and perhaps making it more useful in the process

Acid Station

A simple lifehack in the same vein as Ikea hackers. This is not a big hack, but it makes for a great (home-)studio mod.

I was thinking of a way to achieve this (pictured) and I noticed the cheapest model of the bunch, the Apextone LS-01, suited my needs perfectly. At only €15,- it’s by far the cheapest laptop-rack/stand money can buy. There’s an optional tray for another €15,-, and that’s what the Roland TR-606 is sitting on.

Let me share another small hack for in the home studio: Get a bunch of switchable plugs like pictured below. They’ll save you some power-usage and in some cases are an easy way to switch on your instruments and effects. These are the european variant, but I’m sure you can buy a local version wherever you live.