First Impressions The Micro-Brute is known as the ‘little brother’ of Arturia’s Mini-Brute Synthesizer. Gordon Reid, writer for Sound On Sound magazine, describes the Mini-Brute as ‘small’ but the Micro-Brute as ‘tiny’ and although he is right in saying this, I definitely think that the Micro-Brute does not feel ‘too tiny’. I am roughly 6 foot tall and have quite large hands but I have never found the synthesizer to be too small to use. In fact my first thought when I plugged in the Brute was ‘This is so much fun!’. The relatively limited parameters in comparison with most sizable synthesizers makes things much easier to get to grips with at an early stage and easier to enjoy. To make the most of the synthesizer I think a good understanding of the principles of synthesis is necessary but the manual does a very good job of describing the basics for new-comers to the technology, and allows them to start designing sounds right away. It feels very well built, solid and none of the dials feel at all flimsy or fragile but I suppose only time will tell of its durability.
In the box I chose to buy the standard black Micro-Brute instead of the, slightly more expensive, Micro-Brute SE (Special Edition). The special edition comes in a white, orange or blue and also comes with a travel bag and ‘stack-able’ patch cables. In the standard Micro-Brute box you get a set of preset cards; two patch cables; a manual; an online support card; the power supply and the Synthesizer itself.
Pros and Cons One great feature is that you can use the Micro-Brute as a MIDI keyboard to control your computer music software via the USB port on it’s back panel. I think it is a shame however that they do not provide you with the USB cable necessary but you can purchase an inexpensive USB Male A to Male B cable for as little as one or two pounds and it is quite likely that you already have one lying around. The Micro-Brute’s keyboard itself is not very nice to play and is not particularly expressive as tends to be fairly common with most keyboards of this size. However the Micro-Brute also features a MIDI-in port on it’s back panel meaning that you can trigger it from a larger keyboard or electric piano and also trigger it with pre-programmed MIDI sequences from your computer’s DAW. Being an Analogue synthesizer the Micro-Brute uses voltage controlled oscillators. This means that on start-up and depending on the temperature in the room the oscillators may sound de-tuned or off-pitch. This is standard among all analog synthesizers but may come as a surprise to those who are used to using digital equipment. This issue is easily combated by the ‘Fine-Tune’ pop-out dial feature on the back panel which works very effectively at finding a desired pitch.
Features Most of the features are very good but seem to be of the standard among hardware synthesizers in this price range. For example, an ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) envelope; mod wheel; pitch bend; filter modes with cut-off and resonance and a choice of wave-forms. The Micro doesn’t feature an arpeggiator but it’s 8 pattern step-sequencer betters one in many regards. The features that really stood out to me were the LFO’s sync setting; the Mod Matrix and the filter’s Brute Factor. The LFO’s sync setting allows you to sync the LFO’s rate to the speed of the step sequencer making it much more effective and usable than the ‘free’ setting. The Mod Matrix (below) is a device where you can use patching cables (provided) to alter what you want the Envelope and LFO to modulate. Not only does it create a vast amount of versatility but it also makes the whole experience much more ‘hands on’ which I feel is really one of the main reasons why people purchase analogue synthesis hardware these days. The Brute Factor (circled in red below) is an element of the filter which provides distortion through saturation and rich harmonics, and it is great at really thickening things up and making the sound extra ‘gritty’ and ‘dirty’. It is an effect which is hard to resist and is a very strong addition to the little Brute. I also use found the Brute Factor useful for another clever feature of the Micro-Brute’s design: Audio In feature. I have used the Audio In jack on the back panel to implement the Brute Factor as a form of effects pedal for my electric guitar. The Audio In jack could also be used to filter a drum loop or any other audio source using the filter but I am yet to explore this. One feature that i feel is definitely lacking is the addition of a ‘Noise’ waveform, although the Brute-Factor can be used to this effect it does not replace the need for this option.
Online Support Inside the box I found a leaflet directing my to register for online support on the Arturia website. Once I had created a log-in and registered my product using the serial number on the back of the Micro-Brute I gained access to a download of the Micro-Brute connection software and manual. The software is for Mac and Windows and allows increased control of the Sequencer and other parameters via the USB port. (See below)
Presets Having grown up in the ‘digital age’, it never occurred to me how one might create a preset on an analogue piece of equipment. I am certainly guilty of taking for granted the effortless recall of thousands of installed presets on my computer as is per normal with software synths. Prior to this luxury, users would have to note down their settings and dial the parameters correctly each time they wanted to recall a certain sound. With Micro Brute however Arturia provide you an envelope with ten preset sheets of drawn on settings and five blank sheets to draw on your own parameter settings. My personal favorite of these preset sheets is the very authentic ‘Blade Runner Pad’. I recorded a short sample of each of the presets raw into Pro Tools with no effects added and these can be heard in the Soundcloud link below. Here are the (sometimes quite funny) titles of the presets in the order they feature: BP Seq; Super Saw Acid House; Chaotic Entrance; Blade Runner Pad; Distortion Lead; Klang Bells; Phase Bass; Pompous 5th Brass; Sinister Bass and Analogue Bass.
My Own Sounds In the link below you can hear some of my own sounds that I created on the Micro-Brute recorded direct into Pro Tools. On these recordings I have applied some Reverb as a software plug-in.
Conclusion Although I have not covered every element of the Micro-Brute’s design, I have tried my best to give a feel for what the synthesizer is all about: Namely being versatile with the range of sounds you can design, but also being great fun. After enjoying using the Micro-Brute a few times the question that emerges to me is, ‘is this just a gimmick?’ Or can this be something that I use regularly and implement in recordings and compositions that I make. I have a strong belief that it will be the latter but I will have to get back to you on how many things I have found to apply the ‘Brute Factor’ to. All this being said i doubt there is anything in this price range that can beat it.