The French keyboard geniuses at Arturia debuted the MicroFreak at the 2019 NAMM musical instrument show. For budget-minded synth lovers, it’s a game changer.
It’s an entry-level synth with professional capabilities. Even though I already own two higher-end Arturia products, the MiniBrute and the DrumBrute, I can’t help coveting the MicroFreak.
Before making their own hardware keyboards Arturia spent years crafting emulators of classic analog synthesizers. Then they built the hardware synths like the MiniBrute and the MicroBrute, high quality but relatively low cost analog beasts. Arturia drew on their deep understanding of vintage sounds to build keyboards with the growling power and flexibility rivaling the classic ‘70s synths they reverse engineered for software.
With the MicroFreak, Arturia steps away from pure analog. The press material says the travel-sized keyboard combines a multi-mode digital oscillator with an analog filter. Listening to product demos, it’s clear it makes a sound designed to cut through anything surrounding it.
The MicroFreak keyboard is a flat, printed circuit board that allows for ease of play and quick moves on the keyboard. That’s not to say it lacks frills or feel. The keys are pressure sensitive, enabling for expressive playing. And with its poly-aftertouch feature, each key can control different parameters in a different way.
The keyboard is a clue that this isn’t a concert piano. You’re never going to play classical sonatas on it. You’re going to make it squeal, squeak, squawk and grind to shake asses and melt faces. The MicroFreak’s 64-step sequencer makes that possible right out of the box. You can record up to four musical sequences and edit notes per step or use the MicroFreak’s Spice and Dice sequencer to add randomization and create evolving, original patterns.
Unlike other low-cost electronic instruments, the MicroFreak is designed to be more than just a toy. With its USB, Clock and MIDI in and out, 6.35mm master and 3.5mm headphone outputs, it can connect to and communicate with instruments and amplification out of the box. Its owners don’t need to special order a wire, converter or part. And it’s useful enough to be a valued part of a DJ or band’s set-up, both in the studio and for performances.
The bottom line is that for a keyboard with its price, the MicroFreak has startling power and capabilities.