I had done something like this before – comparing three kinda dissimilar synths. This time, we’re having three contemporary analogue synths – although that’s not exactly true, as one of our competitors, the DSI Tetra, has just been discontinued. The two opponents are Waldorf’s Pulse 2, and Arturia’s MiniBrute.
The three competitors
Arturia’s MiniBrute has been riding on the wave of the “New Analogue” quite successfully, and that for a reason. I have already talked about this synth, so here’s just a brief summary: two-octaves keyboard synth, single oscillator design (although with a very powerful oscillator), Steiner-Parker multimode filter, and oldskool – meaning everything except for the MIDI/USB interface is all-analogue.
As the name of the Pulse 2 implies, it’s a new version of Waldorf’s original Pulse (which was a rack synth). The new version is, of course, a tabletop design. Three oscillators, multimode filter, and a typical digitally-controlled-analogue design.
Finally, there’s DSI’s Tetra. The Tetra is essentially four Mopho voices in one small box (it’s the smallest of our synths today), but lacking the analogue in. Two-oscillator-plus-two-subs design, this one offers only a lowpass, but makes up for it with tons of modulation sources, among them four of the step sequencers that I’ve come to love from the DSI Evolver. The “four Mophos” here means it’s four part multitimbral, and can send each voice/part to a separate our.
One thing that might be considered interesting is the price difference: with the Arturia being the cheapest (with below €400) next is the Pulse 2 (at around €450), and finally the Tetra went for a little below €700 – all in all, one Tetra is almost two Minibrutes.
How to compare them?
I won’t list the features side by side, rather look at what you can do with them.
The MiniBrute is all instant gratification. You plug it in, connect a pair of headphones, turn knobs and press keys and are happy. For the other two, you need at least a MIDI keyboard (or another MIDI note source) to exploit them properly – I say “properly” because due to the Tetra’s built-in sequencers (for all four parts, that’s 16 in total), you can have limited fun even stand-alone. Furthermore, I say “at least”, because you don’t have access to all parameters the same way as you have with the Minibrute – which might suggest using a faderbox (fortunately, both designs have all parameters spread out over available CCs). It’s worst with the Tetra: for deep editing, you’re almost back to DX7 territory, although the five hardwired and four assignable knobs help some. The Pulse 2 has none of the latter, but makes up for that with an editing matrix, which we already know from the original Pulse. That approach is better for editing than the Tetra’s, but loses in live performance to the Tetra’s assignable knobs – and both of course lose to the Minibrute.
On paper…Sound Engine
However, if we think about the flexibility of the sound engine, then the Minibrute is the weakest of the bundle, even if you only count in one voice of the Tetra’s four (which I’ll do for now). It’s slightly harder to compare the Pulse 2 and the Tetra, as each has its individual strengths and limitations.
At first sight, the Pulse has greater flexibility: three oscillators, multimode filter, and I haven’t even mentioned the eight-voice paraphonic mode with adjustable attack/release per voice (I think it’s the first synth to do that). However, the Tetra wins with three (vs. two) envelopes and four (vs two) LFOs, and let’s not forget the four sequencers, that even beats the otherwise more flexible arpeggiator of the Pulse 2.
All that doesn’t matter in reality, though, and there it’s interesting to find that what you arrive at is not what you might expect, at least when it comes to comparing the two more complex designs: as for very complex and thick sounds, you might intuitively opt for the Pulse’s three oscillators, often it’s the Tetra that gives you more enjoyment, using subtle modulation and the seemingly “fatter” filter. On the other hand for some gentle pad sounds to which the Tetra (as an expanded Prophet design) would lend itself to might be obtained even better with the Pulse, not least due to its multimode filter.
The Minibrute, on the other hand, wins big points (in addition to being so accessible) with its sine sub option alone. We all know that both from what we typically perceive and what information theory tells us, a sine wave is extremely boring. The Minibrute’s so called sine does compensate for that by not being really sine: there’s harmonics in it, which lets it appear more like a heavily high-shelved triangle – and that is extremely cool to gently support a bass guitar.
The Album Application
I used all of those synths on Erlanger Programm. How often should not be an indicator here: I simply got the Minibrute before the Tetra before the Pulse. The Minibrute was used as an effect/noise source in the noise counterpoint of part C. The Minibrute doubled the bass guitar in B (with that pseudosine) and played the arp running through the entire track, albeit here using double-tracking with one static and one free-hand-modulated version. The Tetra finally did two synth brasses in part A – on one occasion actually taking two recording runs, as I wanted three voices with two stacked voices per voice…(strange way to phrase it). The Pulse 2, finally, did the lead part in part B.
It’s perfectly safe to say that I was happy with each one in its role. Could they have swapped those roles? In general, maybe: you would’ve needed a faderbox for the Pulse or Tetra to play in C, and the Tetra wouldn’t have been able to process external singles, you would’ve had to track a total of seven times with the Pulse in A, and the sounds there would’ve been next to impossible with the Minibrute.
Which one to get?
The simple answer is: all of them – simply because they’re so different, and each one is so nice.
If that isn’t an option, then it becomes more tricky: if it’s your first synth, or you want a simple solution for playing live, then by all means the Minibrute, due to its user interface. Things rather reverse when your goal is studio integration: no patch storage and lack of velocity reception means great limitations there. If I had to give up one of them, it would most probably be the Pulse 2: it doesn’t give me that much in comparison to the Tetra (the only big thing being the audio in, and I already got that with the Minibrute).
In summary, it’s more the limitations than the features that differentiate them: the Minibrute lacks MIDI control, with no velocity being a real biggie for me. The Tetra lacks audio input (which for some might not be an issue at all) and a multimode filter. And the Pulse – lacks power in comparison to the Tetra, and may not offer enough additional features to justify the price difference in comparison to the Minibrute.