Monomachine is an integrated six-voice synthesizer and 6-track sequencer available in keyboard (SFX-6) and desktop (SFX-60) models. Its five synthesis methods — Superwave, SID, DigiPro, FM+, and VO — offer a broad range of sounds, which can be layered on the six sequencer tracks or played in 6-note polyphony. Any of the six tracks can also be assigned as an effect, in which case either of two stereo buses can be used to route external audio input or audio from other tracks to the effect.
Monomachine's 6-track, 64-step Pattern Sequencer is fast and easy to program and features six additional tracks of MIDI sequencing for controlling external gear or recording with your digital audio sequencer. Each sequencer track has separate triggering subtracks for the amplifier, filter, and LFO reset. Patterns can be organized in Songs or chained on the fly during playback. A separate, flexible 6-track arpeggiator interacts with the sequencer, which can send or receive MIDI Clock for tempo synchronization.
Both models of Monomachine look sleek (see Figs. 1 and 2). More important, a lot of attention has been paid to user-interface design. All knobs except for the Master Volume control are endless rotary encoders with fast and slow modes — pressing the knob while turning it increases the incremental rate by a factor of 10. One of the endless rotaries is dedicated to the level of the voice being edited, and the other eight control synthesis parameters, which change according to the selected data page and the method of synthesis used for the voice.
Dedicated Track Select buttons allow you to instantly select individual tracks for sequence and voice editing and to mute tracks during playback. A 1¼ by 2½-inch LCD shows the current page parameters, and pages are accessed using forward and backward page-selection buttons. The available memory allows for 128 kits containing all synthesis information. Kits can be recalled individually or as part of a Pattern Sequence.
Both models have rear-panel connectors (see Fig. 3) for MIDI In, Out, and Thru and ¼-inch mono jacks for left and right audio inputs, left and right main audio outputs, and four mono bus outputs. A stereo headphone output is also included. You can purchase an optional rackmount kit for the desktop model. The unit takes up four standard rackspaces when it is rackmounted; the I/O jacks, located at the top, require one or two empty spaces above the unit for access.
Monomachine's ten synthesis algorithms are organized into five categories, covering classic and modern techniques. Each Monomachine track has a dedicated monophonic synth that can be programmed using any of the synthesis algorithms. In Poly mode, the algorithm and settings for the selected track are used by all six Monomachine voices, allowing for 6-note polyphony. The sequencer tracks can be programmed polyphonically and will grab the voices needed, leaving the rest for keyboard control. In Multi All Tracks mode the synths on all six tracks are layered, and a global attack-decay-sustain-release (ADSR) Multi Envelope is provided to contour the whole layer.
The differences between Monomachine synthesis algorithms are only in the sound-generating part of the structure. The amplifier, filter, effects, and LFO stages are the same for each algorithm. The amplifier has pan and volume settings and an attack-hold-decay-release (AHDR) envelope generator, instead of the typical ADSR envelope. The AHDR envelope is better suited to step sequencing because Note Off commands are not required. With some slight of hand, you can simulate ADSR enveloping for the amplifier using a ramp LFO in one of the trigger-hold modes, which I will discuss later in this review.
Monomachine's filter is a combination of 24-dB-per-octave lowpass, bandpass, and highpass filters. A Width control determines the width of the bandpass filter by setting the distance between the lowpass and highpass cutoff frequencies. A Base control simultaneously shifts the lowpass and highpass cutoff frequencies, effectively moving the entire filter range up and down the frequency spectrum. The units have separate resonance controls for the highpass and lowpass filters. The filter as a whole has a dedicated Attack-Decay envelope with separate, bipolar controls for the envelope amount applied to the highpass and lowpass filter cutoffs. Although it's a somewhat unusual design, you can get creative with Monomachine's filter.
The effects stage includes a one-band parametric EQ, sample-rate reduction, and feedback delay line. Including sample-rate reduction seems a bit odd here, but any track can be used as a send effect, and those have reverb, chorus, and dynamics processing. The source for an effects track can be another track by way of either of two stereo send buses or an external audio input. A distortion effect is also available, which is accessed on the Amplifier page; however, the effect is actually applied at the filter stage.
Monomachine's three syncable multiwaveform LFOs can be used to modulate a wide variety of targets, including pitch, volume, pan, filter frequency, and various effects parameters. The LFOs can also be routed to MIDI output or can control other LFO settings. The synth has 11 LFO waveforms — including random — along with 5 trigger modes, 3 of which cause the LFO pattern to hold at a position in its cycle until the next trigger is received. As with the filters, there's a lot to grasp here, but there's a big payoff for making the effort.
Superwave. Superwave is Monomachine's version of vintage analog synthesis. Its three algorithms — Saw, Pulse, and Ensemble — offer different arrangements of analog-style oscillators and suboscillators.
The Saw version starts with five sawtooth oscillators that can be slightly detuned to produce a fat unison sound. Three more suboscillators add square and sine waves an octave below and a sine wave two octaves below. The whole collection can be tuned up or down a semitone in cents, which provides detuning from the other tracks if desired.
The Pulse version starts with three detunable pulse-wave oscillators together with sine-wave suboscillators one and two octaves below. The width of the pulse waves can be controlled manually and modulated (swept) by a built-in LFO (an effect called Pulse Width Add).
The Ensemble version has eight pulse-wave oscillators that can be tuned in pairs. The tuning range is plus or minus one octave in semitones. The effect is to produce chords with four or fewer voices. The second oscillator in each pair can be set one octave below the first, and its waveform can be varied between square and sawtooth types. A built-in chorus effect fattens the sound considerably.
SID. The Commodore 6581 Sound Interface Device (SID) is a 3-voice synthesizer on a chip that has attained near cult status. The SID chip first appeared in the Commodore 64 computer and has since had many hardware and software reincarnations. Elektron has even produced a separate hardware synthesizer, the Sidstation, which is built around the SID chip. You can find out more about Sidstation at www.sidstation.com. Not surprisingly, SID-style synthesis has found its way into the Monomachine.
Monomachine's SID algorithm has one multiwaveform oscillator that features the same Pulse Width Add sweep modulation as the one found in the Superwave pulse synth. Two additional modulation options — ring and hard sync — can be used separately or together. They take their master frequency from either a built-in second oscillator (not separately audible) or the pitch played on the previous track. The latter has interesting possibilities when used in conjunction with the sequencer because the sequence for the previous track then controls the sync or ring-mod master pitch.
Monomachine's implementation of SID produces interesting sounds and is much easier to program than the original SID chip. However, it lacks much of the original's quirkiness and charm.
DigiPro. Monomachine's digital-waveform synth, DigiPro, comes in two versions: Wave and Beat Box (BBox). Wave has one oscillator with 32 digital waveforms. It gives you a minimalist emulation of vector synthesis by providing a control to mix the chosen waveform with the next one in the sequence. A sweeping circuit similar to Pulse Width Add found in SID and Superwave is provided for modulating the wave mix. Hard Sync is also offered, again with the option to use a built-in master or the pitch of the synth on the previous track.
BBox is a drum machine with 24 drum sounds assigned to keys C3 through B4. (Keys outside that range trigger the same sounds so that none of the keyboard is dead.) BBox has controls for pitch, sample start, retriggering (which causes the sound to retrigger a set number of times), and retrigger timing (which controls the time between repeats). Unfortunately, the settings apply to all sounds simultaneously, somewhat limiting their usefulness.
FM+. Any synth that has multiple techniques must include frequency modulation (FM), and FM+ is Monomachine's version. It has three operator algorithms: Stat, Parallel, and Dynamic. The controls affect the frequency, enveloping, feedback, and mix of the operators. The mixed output passes through a lowpass filter before modulating a sine-wave carrier.
Stat is a two-operator algorithm. The first operator offers coarse tuning in harmonic ratios combined with fine-tuning around the selected ratio. It has feedback and a simple decay-envelope on the output. The second operator is limited to harmonic-ratio tuning and an output level control.
Parallel is a three-operator algorithm. The operators are identical and mixed in parallel. Each operator has frequency and decay-envelope controls. As with Stat, the frequency is set in harmonic ratios.
Dynamic is another two-operator synth, but in this case the operators can be tuned to any frequency. The first operator has a pitch envelope, and both operators have output envelopes. All of the envelopes are bipolar, with negative settings producing an attack envelope and positive settings producing a decay envelope. Because of the continuous tuning and the first operator's pitch envelope, Dynamic offers the most radical FM effects.
VO. VO-6 is Monomachine's most unusual synth. It uses formant synthesis for voice modeling, and it is quite effective. You'll spend a significant amount of time trying to get the synth to say, “right door is open” in a sing-song voice, but you can get basic words and a lot of interesting vocal sounds out of it.
In VO-6, each note triggers a consonant followed by a vowel. You get a choice of 20 phonetic consonants, and you imitate the vowel by controlling the beginning and end pitch. (The vowel and consonant can be turned off individually.) The voiced part of the sound (the vowel) is a mix of pulse waves and white noise.
To use VO-6 effectively you need to use sequencer steps to trigger different vocal sounds. For example, to get VO-6 to pronounce “monomachine” you create sequence steps for “mo”, “no”, “ma”, “chi”, and “ne.” That's easier than it might sound, and the manual contains a clear tutorial to get you started. Nonetheless, it would be a big help if Elektron included a table of settings for creating vowels. The audio example (see Web Clip 1) uses LFOs to control the pitch and pulse-noise mix.
Monomachine's Pattern Sequencer is full featured and easy to use. The Pattern Sequencer has six tracks, each of which plays a single Monomachine voice. As you would expect, there is a Song mode for chaining patterns together. Each Pattern has one of Monomachine's 128 kits associated with it, and Patterns along with their associated kits can be quickly recalled by simultaneously pressing two buttons: Bank and Pattern Number.
Pattern Sequencer patterns can have as few as 2 or as many as 64 steps. Steps can be 16th or 32nd notes, and patterns can be entered step by step (called Grid Composition) or recorded live. All Pattern editing is destructive, meaning any changes you make permanently alter the Pattern. You do not, therefore, have to save Patterns, but you do have to be careful not to modify them unintentionally. The Copy, Paste, and Clear functions make it easy to manage and protect your creations.
Each Pattern step has a number of independent parameters. It can trigger a note, release a note (by advancing the envelopes to their Release stages), or create a triggerless pitch and parameter change. Independent trigger subtracks are maintained for the amplifier and filter envelopes and for LFO retriggering. Finally, any of the synthesis parameters can be tied to any Pattern step (called Parameter Locking), which means that the Pattern Sequencer can be used as an automation sequencer. That's how you program the VO-6 to say whole words, for example.
Pattern steps can hold multiple pitches for playing chords when Monomachine is in Poly mode. Furthermore, if Monomachine's arpeggiator is active, multipitch Pattern steps will be arpeggiated, whether they are in Poly mode or not. The arpeggiator itself is complex, with three triggering modes, five direction options, and independent triggering of the amplifier and filter envelopes as well as the LFOs. In short, you can get a lot of action by combining the Pattern Sequencer and arpeggiator.
KICKIN' IT OLD SCHOOL
Monomachine offers an interesting and unusual mix of synthesis and sequencing. Given the number of things going on, it is relatively easy to learn. Once you know your way around the controls, Monomachine is easy to program. The manual is complete and well written; however, some of the control descriptions are a bit vague. Its multiple synthesis techniques allow for a lot of variation, but the sound is clearly vintage synth. If you are looking for a hands-on, polyphonic step sequencer and retro synth, Elektron's Monomachine is worthy of investigation.
Len Sassois an associate editor of EM. He can be contacted through his Web site atwww.swiftkick.com.
Monomachine SFX-6 and SFX-60 Specifications
Sound Enginesix independent monophonic synthesizersAudio Inputs(2) ¼" main left, rightAudio Outputs(4) ¼" mono bus; (2) ¼" main left, right; (1) ¼" stereo headphoneKeyboard (SFX-6 only)3-octaveControllers (SFX-6 only)joystickPolyphony6 notesMIDI ConnectorsIn, Out, ThruMemory128 kits, 128 pattern sequencesOscillators3-8 (depending on synthesis method)Filters1 combination highpass, bandpass, lowpassEnvelopes3 AHDR for synthesizer filter and amplifier, ADSR for master amplifier in Poly modeLFOs3 per monophonic noteEffectsReverb, Chorus, Dynamics, Distortion, EQ, Delay, Sample-Rate ReductionArpeggiator3 trigger modes, 5 directions, independent triggering of amplifier and filter envelopes, independent retriggering of LFOs.DisplayLCD 1.25" × 2.50"DimensionsSFX-6: 38.4" (W) × 2.2" (H) × 6.9" (D) SFX-60: 13.4" (W) × 2.7" (H) × 6.9" (D)WeightSFX-6: 15.4 lb.
SFX-60: 6.2 lb.
SFX-6 keyboard $1,950
SFX-60 desktop/rackmount unit $1,350
FEATURES4.5EASE OF USE3.5QUALITY OF SOUNDS3.5VALUE3.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Full-featured polyphonic sequencing with integrated arpeggiator. Multiple, simultaneous synthesis methods. Important functions instantly accessible on front panel. Looks great.
CONS: Rack mounting requires empty rackspaces for I/O jacks.