FIG. 1: The Origin synth module delivers some of Arturia''s best synth models in tabletop or rackmountable hardware form. The control panel neatly divides operational areas into sections, which are subtly highlighted in light gray.
Arturia has a well-earned reputation for delivering classic-synthesizer replications unbounded by the limitations of the instruments that inspired them. It isn't surprising that the Origin synthesizer — the French company's first hardware instrument — also draws from that legacy of classic instruments. The Origin adds new capabilities and builds on a user interface inspired by its virtual siblings.
If you're eagerly awaiting the entire Arturia virtual instrument collection embodied in hardware, you'll have to keep waiting; that isn't the driving force behind the Origin's design. But if you've ever contemplated (for instance) patching a Prophet VS wavetable to a Moog filter whose frequency is modulated by a Yamaha CS-80 envelope generator, your ship has come in. The Origin's greatest feature attraction is its ability to combine modules culled from Arturia's virtual instruments for fresh sounds previously impossible to obtain from any single source.
Rack on Tour
A surface studded with 54 knobs, 81 buttons, a jog wheel, and a joystick can be daunting. However, the Origin's neat, logically grouped control layout is easy to grasp, with light-gray stenciled backgrounds highlighting its main operational areas (see Fig. 1).
FIG. 2: With all analog and digital I/O residing on its rear panel, the Origin is best suited as a desktop unit.
The rackmountable unit has no shortage of conduits for moving audio and data in and out. In addition to a ¼-inch headphone jack and balanced left and right master outputs, you also get eight balanced ¼-inch aux outs. Analog inputs include a stereo pair of balanced ¼-inch jacks for processing external audio.
Digital I/O comprises MIDI In, Out, and Thru jacks; MIDI input and output via USB 2.0; and a S/PDIF optical connector (see Fig. 2). For rackmounting, simply remove the wood side panels. Rackmounting aligns all jacks vertically, however, making access to I/O awkward; the Origin fares better as a desktop unit.
Parameters on Parade
Much of the Origin's ease of use hangs on its brilliant display. Practically every editing maneuver calls up a contextual graphic in vivid color. Color coding either reinforces context, helping to trace modulation routing, triggers, and audio signal flow, or highlights an active control. Selected modules immediately appear onscreen; modulation sources or destinations are clearly visible and accessible without the need to change pages. However deeply you delve into the Origin's architecture, you are never more than a single button push or two from the home page. For quick tweaks, the unit will simply display the parameter name and its values as they change at the bottom of the window.
Level controls sit at the unit's upper left, topped with left and right LED meters for the Input Level knob. Just below are separate knobs for master and headphone levels, and below those is an x-y joystick section. The Mixer and Effects sections are on the instrument's right side.
The Origin's so-called Analog section divides programming and real-time control areas into Oscillator, Filter, LFO, and Envelope sections. By default, turning any of the black knobs in one of the aforementioned areas activates a macro — a control assignment that groups multiple modules in a section under a single control (for example, detuning all or a selected group of modules in the Oscillator section, or changing the cutoff of multiple filters). Turning any section's Select knob to the far right and pressing downward selects the macro for editing.
To edit a single module, such as one of several filters or an LFO, the Select knob also scrolls through a patch's available modules. Pressing down on the knob selects and displays the module for onscreen editing. You then use the 4-way cursor buttons or the jog wheel for instant access to edit basic parameters or modulation sources and destinations, keyboard follow, and more. The jog wheel also serves as a selection button, so you can choose patches or Multis, navigate edit menus, enter or change values, and move on to the next edit without using another knob or button. One very welcome aspect of the Origin's user interface is that elements of the navigation and entry systems work in harmony. Intuitively, I could go from using a knob to a cursor button to a wheel without changing screens, so I never lost my place.
The joystick offers more than real-time mixing; you can assign several independent modulation destinations to each axis. Two additional sets of assignments are accessible using the Mode button, with an LED highlighting which mode is operational.
synthesizer module$2,490FEATURES 1 2 3 4 5EASE OF USE 1 2 3 4 5QUALITY OF SOUNDS 1 2 3 4 5VALUE 1 2 3 4 5 Arturia
GUIDE TO EM METERS 5 Amazing; as good as it gets with current technology 4 Clearly above average; very desirable 3 Good; meets expectations 2 Somewhat disappointing but usable 1 Unacceptably flawed
Eight Live knobs flank the display. Assigned to mix parameters and effects settings in many of the patches, they can also control any of the Analog section modules. The Live mode page is a marvel of informational graphics, and color coded Live knobs, clearly visible joystick and macro assignments, and access to edit screens are only a single button push away.
The Origin sounds every bit as good as its capabilities suggest. Patches range from positively obese and warm pads to biting leads and punchy bass, all of which — thanks to the overabundance of real-time controls — can radically change character on a Bush-era dime. Fluid Arpeggo (sic) uses the joystick to turn a genteel arpeggiated flute into an undulating, metallic rasp (see Web Clip 1). I'm a fool for tonal pads with evolving inharmonic content, and Behind the Glass takes the cake (see Web Clip 2). Bode Pad uses a Bode Frequency Shifter model to produce subtle, shimmering metallic overtones (see Web Clip 3).
Part of the ever-changing beauty of many sounds comes from a 2D Envelope — a multistage looping envelope with a choice of four destinations — and the Galaxy LFO modulation feature, which was ported from the Jupiter-8V (see the November 2007 review, available at emusician.com). Additional sonic motion arises from modulation embedded within the Origin's step-sequencer tracks.
Points of Origin
With everything the Origin has going for it, there's not much room for improvement. Having at least six MIDI channels in support of Mono mode would be a MIDI-guitar-friendly gesture. And Arturia needs to fix some gaps in the manual; for example, I'd like a thorough explanation of the absolute and relative settings for macros. The manual text refers to the Live knobs but supplies no callout for them in the graphics. Despite those omissions, the user interface is so easy to grasp that I reached for the manual mostly just to get the names of things straight. The synth invites you to learn by doing.
The Origin is not inexpensive, but you'll be able to creatively plumb its depths for a long time to come — especially considering Arturia's commitment to new modules, features, and templates (see the online bonus material at emusician.com/online_exclusive/arturia_origin_review_bonus). I didn't have room in this review to cover many features the unit offers right now.
Writing for EM, I've witnessed many evaluations of products based on whether they are evolutionary or revolutionary. With its innovative coupling of classic synthesis and contemporary musical-instrument technology and design, the Origin manages to satisfy both criteria easily. This is the first hardware synth I've wanted to buy in nearly a decade; need I say more?
Marty Cutler and studio fiddle ace Kenny Kosek are currently purveying eclectic banjo-and-fiddle music with a smattering of electronic assistance.
PROS: Terrific, animated sounds. Generous supply of modules. Powerful modulation capabilities with flexible routing. Brilliant user interface with intuitive controls, navigation, and display. Versatile mixer options.
CONS: Gaps in documentation.
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