Bottom Line: A semi-modular analog monosynth that’s truly for everyone.
$349 list | $299 street | arturia.com
The MicroBrute’s oscillator section is nearly identical to
the MiniBrute’s, with a few minor tweaks that make it better in some
ways, less so in others. While the design is a single-oscillator affair,
the Micro and Mini both crib their overall execution from the classic
Roland SH-101. That is, whereas most synths feature switchable
oscillator waves, the Micro’s individual waveforms can be blended to
create much more complex results than simple saw/square/triangle
options. What’s more, the three waveform volume knobs add a bit of
overdrive to their sound when pushed above halfway, giving the Micro’s
sonic character a lot more meat.
The sawtooth wave includes the MiniBrute’s “Ultrasaw”
feature, which layers a pair of additional sawtooth waves on top of the
original wave. While the Mini included its own LFO for modulating the
phasing/chorusing of the additional waves, the Micro relies on its
modular patch bay for this option. Even so, turning the Ultrasaw knob
fully clockwise introduces a bit of very slow phase drift, giving it a
subtle animation that sounds like multiple oscillators free-running but
The square wave includes a pulse knob for de rigueur
PWM effects via the patch bay, but there’s also a tiny detail in its
design that you’ll miss if you don’t listen closely. It’s out of phase
with the sawtooth. In simple terms, what this means is that when you
blend the saw and square waves in a precise manner, you can subtract all
of the odd-numbered harmonics from the result, leaving a saw-like sound
that’s a bit thinner since the fundamental (and its odd relatives) is
removed. This is a lovely detail.
The triangle wave includes the Mini’s “Metalizer”
parameter, which adds, aggressive harmonics to the triangle as you raise
its value. This is accomplished by Arturia’s proprietary foldback
distortion circuit, and its sound is somewhat reminiscent of FM
synthesis with a 1:1 carrier/modulator ratio. What’s especially cool
about the Micro’s implementation is that the envelope can sweep the
Metalizer without you touching the patch bay.
Finally, the Micro introduces a new type of sub-oscillator
that’s quite different from the MiniBrute’s or any other sub-oscillator
I’ve ever encountered. In addition to a volume knob, there’s an
overtone parameter that reshapes the sub’s waveform. Fully
counter-clockwise, it’s a standard square wave one octave lower than the
other oscillator waves. But as you turn the overtone knob, it does a
phase trick that morphs the square harmonics until only the third
harmonic (which is a fifth above standard oscillator pitch) is heard.
This enables the Micro to do “that Deadmau5 fifth thing” without the
need for a second oscillator. Very cool indeed.
The Micro’s filter is the same Steiner-Parker circuit from
the Mini. Based on the exotic Synthacon from the mid-’70s, this filter
has an extremely unique sound that’s more in the ballpark of a Korg
MS-20 than a Moog or Mopho. It’s aggressive, quirky, and very much in
your face, whether you’re whipping up a crunchy lead or snarling bass.
Like the MiniBrute, this filter is multimode, with
lowpass, bandpass, and highpass options (but minus the notch mode). It’s
fully resonant and can push into self-oscillation with the knob cranked
all the way. Naturally, the Micro also features a “Brute Factor”
parameter, which feeds the output of the synth back into the filter. Low
levels add presence and additional warmth; high amounts conjure truly
chaotic audio mayhem.
While the MiniBrute included dual envelopes and LFOs, the
Micro only includes one of each. The envelope is a standard ADSR,
hardwired into the Mini’s “fast” mode, which gives it a bit more snap
than most. While it’s wired into the VCA for the usual amp processes,
there’s also a switch that puts the VCA into gate mode, so that you can
apply the envelope to other destinations without affecting the volume
dynamics of your sound.
The LFO is also scaled down from the Mini in that it only
has three waveforms: downward saw, triangle, and square. I really liked
the MiniBrute’s sample-and-hold waveforms, especially when routed to the
filter, but in light of the Micro’s price point, their absence is a
Even with its scaled back LFO and envelope, the Micro’s
modulation options still shine, thanks to its modular patch bay that
allows voltages to be routed to a wide array of parameters like pitch,
cutoff, Ultrasaw, pulse width, the Metalizer, and the sub-oscillator
harmonics. Thus, with one of two included 1/8" patch cords, you can
apply the LFO and/or envelope to modulate those parameters. What’s more,
this patch bay is compliant with the Eurorack standard. I plugged my
Doepfer into these jacks and was able to use its audio-rate LFOs and
even faster envelopes for some remarkable sonic tricks. Having legit
modular tools in a synth at this price is nothing short of amazing.
Part of the Roland SH-101’s mystique stems from its
onboard step sequencer, so Arturia’s inclusion of an almost identical
one is more than a trip down memory lane. It’s a powerful addition that
lends itself to alternate composition methods.
There are eight memory slots for sequences, each of which
can contain up to 64 steps. Sequences are programmed by simply hitting
Record, then playing keys, with each keystroke advancing you one step.
You can add rests and ties via the tap-tempo pad, transpose the sequence
via the keyboard, and that’s it. New users may say, “So what? I’ll use
my DAW for sequencing,” but that completely misses the point. Using a
step sequencer in this manner invites uneven bar lengths and Giorgio
Moroder-style sixteenth-note patterns like no other approach. Plus,
having it integrated into the synth makes it ideal for gigging bands
that want to add a little retro sequencing to their live repertoire.
The MicroBrute Connexion editor software gives you additional control
over MIDI, note priority, and the sequencer. You can even import and
I loved the MiniBrute so much that I bought one, and it
has since become a mainstay in my studio. The sound is anything but
“pretty” compared to other contemporary analog synths, but that
aggressive character is what makes it essential to my sounds. With the
MicroBrute as well, the “Brute factor” is no casual hype—this synth is
meaty and macho like nothing else.
Since the MicroBrute relies on the same circuits as the Mini, includes an industry standard CV patch bay, external input, and
step sequencer—for about $300 street—it’s an absolute must-have and
wins our Key Buy award. If you already own a MiniBrute, you can patch in
the Micro for dual oscillator action. If you don’t already own a
’Brute, it’s clear that you will. At this price, practically everyone will.