Posts tagged: Analog

Synthles: The Synthesizer Instructor

Today I’m launching a new service: The Synthesizer Instructor!

SynthLes flyer By Bureau Sculptaal

Where you can learn about the use of synthesizers. From desktop to full modular, audio & midi routing to sound design. One on one on a consultancy basis or in group classes, ideal for schools and bands! You want to learn how to use them and I got the knowledge to help you progress. Check out the synth instructor website for more information (in Dutch). Or check out Facebook and Twitter.

MFB synthesizers, picture by Vivid Suit

Flyer design by Bureau Sculptaal.

Photography by Vivid Suit.


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.


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.


MFB Microzwerg Patch Sheet

MFB Nanozwerg Review


Review: MFB Nanozwerg

Don’t let this synthesizer’s size or single oscillator put you off, this synth has quite a lot of tricks up it’s sleeve!

MFB NanozwergManfred Fricke Berlin, a modular synth producing company that in the last years has joined the modular-synth market by creating modules like we know and love from Doepfer and similar companies like Analogue Systems, has been releasing some semi-modular synths like the Microzwerg, Megazwerg and the smallest and lightest of the bunch; The Nanozwerg. The Nanozwerg has a single oscillator (triangle, saw, square, pulse), a switchable filter (low-pass, band-pass, Notch, High-Pass), a single LFO (triangle, saw, square, sample & hold), a knob to modulate the filter with either LFO or VCO, a knob to modulate the oscillator by itself (VCO) or LFO, some patch points and a sub-oscillator to fatten-up your sound. The Sub OSC also includes a Noise generator which makes it possible to synthesize non-harmonic sounds like drums. Pretty standard synth stuff, and the reason why I bought the thing in the first place. But here comes the fun part..

The patchable ports on the device (CV in, Gate in, VCF in, VCA in, LFO in, LFO out and audio in) offer more options you’d ever expect from such a small and perhaps simple synth. The LFO in accepts CV messages to oscillate the LFO along with your notes, making it possible to use it as a second oscillator (via audio in), which is a fantastic idea in itself, but it’s also possible to use it as a high speed modulator for the oscillator giving the Nanozwerg simple FM capacities. (Analog FM synths, do such things even exist?) Patch the LFO into the VCA and you have AM, into gate for interesting rhythmic gating effect and patch it into VCF and the filter will move along with your LFO. (Yes, simple FM filter capacities as well!) There are more options, but if I spoil all the fun there’s nothing to discover for you…

.. OK! One more! Use the Sample and hold from the LFO as a sound-source (LFO out -> Audio in) for that 8-bit burning sound from the old days.

In short, if you have a modular system this might not be interesting for you: The filter is only 12dB per octave, there’s only one (normal) oscillator, it’s monophonic. But if, like me, you’ve just started making your journey into analog, this is a great place to start. It’s pretty cheap (Around €215,-), it’s more powerful than any competitor (Dark Energy, Mopho etc.) and KORG DS-10 users will feel right at home using this synthesizer. Somehow it even reminds me of the software.

One last thing; The power-plug is amazing! It’s small, lean and light like a mobile-phone charger. Kudos for that! Why do we have to have so many wall-warts huh? (I’m looking at you, Roland, Korg, Kawai, and EVERYONE ELSE!)


MFB Nanozwerg Patch Sheet

MFB Microzwerg Review