A few days ago, my Sixtrack started to act up. So what to do? Maybe get a recplacement?
So two things caught my attention. Korg’s Minilogue and the Dreadbox Abyss. Both four-voice polyphonic analogue things. So I went to a music store and played them.
A Superficial Review?
I didn’t read any manual, nor did I deepdive. Or take lots of hours, or compare it to other synths. In fact, I was handed a pair of (decent) headphones by a store clerk, and he connected a very simple keyboard to the Abyss. Sadly, the Abyss has no headphone out, only a (mono) line out. So testing conditions were all but ideal.
And staying superficial, there will be no listing of specs, description of layout, nice pics etc. I guess you can find that out yourself.
The Korg Minilogue
Similar to the Sixtrack, it’s an analogue polysynth with a digital brain. Meaning patch storage. However, it dedicates switches and knobs to all key parameters (which then don’t reflect what you’re hearing after loading a patch).
While the switches are the lever type (read: good to operate and good visual feedback), the knobs don’t offer that feedback (you can’t very well see where they point), and they’re a bit flimsy to grab. There’s also a small display for patch selection which also displays waveforms (which ain’t that bad, read on about the oscillator structure), but by any standard it’s too small.
But let’s talk about the synth engine, shall we?
Key parameters are two oscillators, switchable 2nd/4th order LP filter, two envelopes and one LFO. And four of them.
The section that shines the most is the oscillator section. Two oscillators with your standard set of triangle, saw and square wave, which all allow for a shape to be modulated. There’s sync, a ring modulator, and something that is pitch (or frequency?) modulation. Plus, there’s a noise source. And an audio in. And envelope 2 can modulate pitch on OSC2. So with those options, it becomes clear that this allows you to do anything from standard analogue synth up to crazy stuff.
The filters were, to my ears, nothing out of the ordinary, but nothing to be unhappy about, either.
If there’s one thing to criticize, it’s that you only get only one LFO. Ok, and maybe more modulation options would be great.
The envelopes are very snappy, while Korg has obviously fixed the earlier problem with unwanted clickiness in the amplitude envelope.
I haven’t played with the sequencer or appegiator, but both are there. And you can control sound parameters via MIDI.
There’s also a delay which sounds good, but is digital. Pity.
All in all, spending 600 bucks for four decent voices doesn’t seem wrong. At all. This is bread and butter polysynth material, but equally shines in typical monosynth roles. Not so much on the completely wicked side, though.
The Dreadbox Abyss
I know this company for their eurorack modules. So it came as a surprise that this desktop synth has only four CV ports, and they’re 1/4.
This is a one-oscillator-plus-sub affair, also with two envelopes, but with a bunch of dedicated and general LFOs: next to LFO A and B, there’s dedicated LFOs for vibrato and waveshape.
The user interface: it’s a desktop module, with really good knobs that give you immediate haptic feedback in your hand, and some sliders which, while they look fidgety, feel sturdy. There’s no display or stuff. You hear what you see.
Speaking of waveshape: the Abyss uses a continuous control to go from square to pulse via saw to pulse to saw via rectified saw to noise. And there’s a dedicated LFO to modulate that. So if you want a sound that brings in short bursts of noise, or that swings between two octaves of saw sounds, you get it here.
The filter (a 4th order LP) definitely seemed to have character, even at those bad listening conditions. Having said that, it’s a character that becomes more apparent at resonance values decidedly under self oscillation, while at higher values it will go into a more generic (and somewhat lethargic) squeal.
The VCA is fitted with a drive knob which, at high settings, adds a decent grittiness to the sound. While Dreadbox boasts about an OTA design for the VCA, the drive at low drive values sounds more like a diode-based one – meaning that when starting to drive the thing, the dominating effect is shot noise, which sounds a little like a cross between a slack joint and digital clipping – i.e. not good.
What seems like half of the synth happens after the VCA. A modulated delay, a digital delay (why is it digital? 200ms, come on!) and a four-stage phaser. From these, the Reflector (why is also available as a module) deserves further mention: this is a modulated BBD the way I envision it: with character!
Ah, envelopes: they go up to ridiculous maximum times, but don’t get snappy.
A disappointment for me were the very limited modulation possibilities on this machine. There’s no patching possible, and even the CV connectors mostly go to the effects section.
Summarizing: Maybe by looking into a polysynth with character, I was looking for the wrong thing. While this thing definitely sounds different than your standard SCI/DSI or so, I don’t see myself using that this much in polyphonic/paraphonic territory. The addition of three effects is very welcome, but why is the delay digital? The oscillator, while appearing interesting, just doesn’t give me that range of freedom or novelty I had been hoping for. So for ca. 1100 bucks (that’s nearly twice as much as the Korg), I won’t get it. Maybe for half the price.
Comparing them face-to-face
So the Korg offers the flexibility. From chiptuneish stuff over fat polysynth brasses to angry sync leads, you get most of the standards, but not a lot into weird territory. Still, it’s a novel voice, something like an analogue (and obviously much less powerful) version of an Access Virus.
The Abyss has some unique tricks up its sleeve, but nothing that would make this synth truly unique. And it’s more expensive.
Will I get the Korg. Most probably, yes, even if the Sixtrack can be fixed or the issues circumvented. I won’t get the Abyss. Well, maybe if it was less than the Korg. I might get a monosynth for strange territory – but I have my eyes set on the Makenoise 0-Coast for this already…