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Arturia Analog Experience “The Factory” $299 MSRP, $269 street

December 1, 2010

ArturiaFactory_nrTHE BIG PICTURE
The Factory is a hardware/ software combo: MIDI-compatible 32- note USB keyboard featuring full-size keys, and Analog Factory 2.5 software (standalone or VST/AU/RTAS plug-in) with 3,500 sounds. The sounds are drawn from Arturia’s popular line of virtual instruments— ARP 2600V, CS-80V, Jupiter-8V, Minimoog V, Modular Moog V, Prophet V, and Prophet VS—and the price is most certainly right for adding a bunch of classic analog synth sounds to your studio’s toolbox.

The keyboard, while optimized for Analog Factory, is also a general- purpose MIDI controller with velocity, 11 endless knobs, four sliders, 11 switches, pitch bend and mod wheels with a surprisingly good feel, expression pedal and sustain switch input jacks, 5-pin DIN MIDI out (as well as MIDI over USB), and aftertouch that’s surprisingly controllable—it’s not just “afterswitch.” The controller can be bus-powered, or run from an optional adapter; the software works with Mac OS X 10.4 or above, and Windows XP/Vista/7.

Installation was drama-free, and authorization is done online via the eLicenser (formerly Syncrosoft) system that ties authorization to your hard drive (which saves a USB port), or USB dongle (not included). The keyboard is solid, with metal construction and wood end plates. Played side-by-side, the Analog Factory presets and “big brother” virtual synths from which they’re derived sound identical.

Arturia’s known for warm, organic sounds that recall not just the sonics, but the “vibe” of classic synths. As a long-time analog synth user, I can say yes, Arturia gets it right.

A browser lets you choose patches based on instrument, function (bass, brass, lead, fx, and eight others), and 18 characteristics; you can enable multiple choices—for example, pad and string patches for the Jupiter and Minimoog. You can also filter on user presets and favorites; get into the habit of building a list of favorites, because a lot of these patches are “keepers.”

The big hits are the keyboard, sound quality, sheer number of patches, and price—as is having hands-on control over the most crucial parameters (filter cutoff/resonance, envelope ADSR parameters, LFO rate/amount, two effects mix controls, and four “wild card” parameters that differ for each patch). Sometimes the wild cards don’t do much—like the Minimoog patch where all four control level—but with some patches, they can make dramatic differences. Another hit: the companion MIDI Control Center software that easily re-assigns the controller’s knobs and switches for controlling other MIDI gear.

Misses are few: Patch editability is limited, but that’s mitigated by the front panel knobs, and being able to save user presets. However, if something like delay isn’t programmed into a patch, turning the Delay knob won’t magically add it, and not all patches respond to aftertouch. And if you feel a patch is a bit over the top, you may or may not be able to reel it in. Fortunately, that’s the advantage of having lots of patches and a filterable browser: Odds are, you’ll find the sound you need.

If you have a keyboard controller but lack classic analog synth sounds, you can also buy the Analog Factory patches by themselves ($249 MSRP). Tight budget? Try the “little brother” Player package ($169 MSRP, with 25-note controller and 1,000 patches). But even if you have a big keyboard, you still might want to go for the full Factory: The keyboard fits comfortably on a desktop for instant playing, and you can also use it as a controller to trigger loops, alter plug-in parameters, and the like.

In economic times when springing several grand for a full-blown synthesizer is not always realistic, The Factory gives you great analog sounds and a way to play them. It’s a very compelling package.

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