This is not a full-blown review – I figure with the media attention this thing has already gotten, this isn’t necessary. Rather, it’s three different views on this synthesizer: what is cool about it (and also what sets it apart from the competition), what is not so cool about it (i.e. missing/badly implemented features), and finally what you need to be aware of, again in part what is different to other synths.
The MiniBrute has one oscillator. That makes it, on paper, inferior to about any competition, both regarding currently available and noteworthy vintage products. The Minimoog had 3 oscillators. The MS20, Odyssey, CS15 all had two. From the current competition, the Bass Station II has two plus a sub-oscillator, the Mopho and Tetra have two plus two. Heck, even the cheap Volcas sport three oscillators.
However, the MiniBrute’s oscillator is not your standard run-of-the-mill oscillator. You got square, triangle and saw waveforms, and the tricky part is that you get them together. Each waveform has a modulation option: in case of the saw, it’s something like a supersaw (called Ultrasaw) with its own LFO for modulation. For the triangle, it’s a feat called Metalizer, which is a kind of wraparound distortion, to be modulated by envelope or LFO. And for the square, it’s pulse width modulation, also to be modulated by envelope or LFO. Add to that a noise source and a sub waveform (choice of -1 or -2 octaves and square or sine), and you have what might be the most powerful analogue synth oscillator.
Again, a second-order filter looks weak on paper. What we have, however, is the Sallen-Key design famous from the Steiner Parker Synthacon. You get multimode (lowpass, highpass, bandpass and band reject), and you get a feedback path from after the amplifier to the filter input, labeled Brute Factor.
This gives you a filter that simply sounds different than all the other filters you have in abundance in your other analogue, virtual analogue and VSTi synths.
The keyboard offers velocity. However, this signal does not go anywhere within the synth. There’s no direct way to control something with velocity, and there’s no way to control the amp volume with velocity. I can see why that is (it would have required a multiplier circuit for the control signal), but still, this is a shortcoming that, to me, is rather dissatisfying, especially considering the fact that this is not a reissue of a vintage classic, but a modern design.
What you need to be aware of
This is a fully analogue synth. Which means that there is no precise relationship between the position of the knobs and sliders and the sound you get. Especially with regard to things that have to do with the filter and its feedback path. Key tracking of 100% (or any defined value, for that matter) does not happen over the whole frequency range. If you switch filter modes, the cutoff/center frequency changes. It also changes for higher Brute Factor and resonance settings. At the very short extreme of envelope timing, differences are quite drastic in percent of the actual value. All in all, simply writing down the settings, then setting the thing up and getting the same sound again is not always possible. It’s not even possible if you don’t change the settings and just wait for a few days.
This is what analogue synths are about (and loved for). After all, a lot of experimentally-inclined folks are very happy with this synth. It however works vastly different than the mindset of reproducibility, total recall and complete automation present in today’s DAWs.
As a general rule, if you got a sound you like, it’s best to immediately print that to an audio track.