The Arturia Origin is a grand technical achievement, a true
virtual modular synth cast in hardware. Its sound quality and deep
programmability bowled us over when we reviewed the desktop
module in June 2009. With its flip-up control panel, the Origin
Keyboard aims to be a more integrated and inspiring instrument.
This review focuses on new features of the OS (version 1.3.23 as of this
writing) and on things only the keyboard version can do. If you’re new to
the Origin, read our original review first at keyboardmag.com/article/96559.
Drawing on the modeling developed in Arturia’s soft synths,
the Origin emulates the distinct characters of the oscillators, filters,
and other components of four famous analog synths: the ARP 2600,
Minimoog, Roland Jupiter-8, and Yamaha CS-80. There are also
generic oscillators (and other modules) that sound great but use less
DSP, and wavetable oscillators to provide digital waveforms.
You can freely arrange and connect these elements in an onscreen
rack, creating frankensynths that would otherwise require a lot of
time, money, and soldering. You can tweak the results (and the factory
sounds) with a geek’s garden of knobs during your performance.
Rounding it all out is a three-track, 32-step sequencer.
You can also set ranges for splits and layers by pressing keys right on the keyboard.
Axel Hartmann, who’s pretty much the Ferdinand Porsche of the
synth world, penned the physical design. Beyond being aesthetically
striking, the substantial flip-up panel of the Origin Keyboard puts all
the controls right in your face. You don’t have to look down at them or
bend your neck, even slightly. This makes prolonged work much less
fatiguing. I do wish Arturia had included a panel latch for transport.
If you carry the unit with the bottom against your hip and the key lips
pointing up, the panel tends to flip open unless you press a forearm
against it, which is somewhat awkward. Also, you can’t put this sexy
beast on the bottom of a two-tier stand, but who would want to?
Keyboard and Aftertouch
The action is quiet and fast, with textured black keys and a good
amount of weight for a synth action. Octave shift buttons, which the
desktop version lacks, are a welcome addition here.
Almost nothing these days has true polyphonic aftertouch (the
Infinite Response Vax-77 is a notable exception), but Arturia has
added significant expressiveness with “duophonic” aftertouch, a
feature exclusive to the Origin Keyboard. At the global level, you can
decide whether only the highest, lowest, or last note played is affected
when you apply pressure to any key. I found last-note priority to be the
most musically useful, as I could build chords a note at a time, adding
aftertouch (or not) to each note as I went along.
A perennial complaint about aftertouch is that as you press down,
the effect on the sound goes from nothing to full blast too quickly.
The Origin Keyboard solves this with adjustable response. Using the
joystick, you drag three breakpoints around a graph to create a curve—
the X-axis is physical pressure and the Y-axis spans MIDI values 0
to 127. Velocity response is set in the same manner, and it has five
breakpoints. Like the duophonic aftertouch, these nifty graphs are only
in the Origin Keyboard, not in any OS version of the desktop synth.
The 14-inch strip on the Origin Keyboard can do a lot more than bend the
pitch. On a new Performance page dedicated to physical controllers (all
settings here can be saved per patch), you can set the ribbon to modulate
any eligible parameter in the synth, or choose “self-trigger” to play notes
on the ribbon. Its range is adjustable up to four octaves in each direction,
but you can’t set asymmetrical up and down ranges. The same goes for
the pitch wheel, which bends up to two octaves. Does nobody but me
want to play subtle whole-step bends up but octave dive-bombs down?
At either end, there’s a space three eighths of an inch wide between
where the ribbon stops sensing touch and where you physically run
out of ribbon. The active area does have a white line around it, but
if you’re not looking right at this, it’s easy to overshoot the mark
and hear your note snap back to its unaffected state. Fortunately, the
ribbon settings include four “return to zero” speeds: instant, fast, slow,
or none. (These are fixed times and unrelated to the Origin’s tempo
sync features, which are otherwise quite extensive.) “None” is a latch
mode, so your finger can slide off either end while the pitch stays put.
Still, I’d prefer a simple latch button next to the ribbon. To put my
nitpicking in perspective, most synths give you either no ribbon at all
or a much shorter one, so Arturia’s glass is 90 percent full here.
On both the keyboard and desktop Origins, OS version 1.3 adds a readymade
template for Roland’s most famous polysynth. To be clear, templates
don’t add any new modules; they just select certain ones and patch them
together for you, saving a lot of futzing with the rack when all you want is
an instant classic synth.
Everything about the
Jupiter-8 is recreated, down
to the unison and poly
assign modes, arpeggiator,
and of course, the highpass
filter that helped distinguish
the Jupiter’s sound from the Moogs, Prophets, and Oberheims of its day.
As with the Minimoog template before it, it’s a snap to initialize a new
Jupiter patch, and to search the patch browser for Jupiter-based sounds.
Arturia absolutely nailed the lush sonic character that causes the real
Jupiter-8 to be hunted to extinction on the used market. It’s just beautiful.
Since OS version 1.1, the Origin has included a serviceable drawbar
model that you can drop into its virtual rack and patch just like any other
module. In addition to the usual nine drawbars, you get octave, coarse,
and fine frequency control over the drawbar group as a whole. Key click
is adjustable. You can select second or third harmonic percussion, adjust
the volume, and choose slow or fast decay. The “ping” triggers correctly
(it won’t re-trigger if any
notes are held down), but
its sound waxes synthetic—
more ’90s house than ’60s
soul. The drawbar tones
themselves are quite good,
though, and you can assign
the eight screenside knobs to
control individual drawbars.
Nothing in the tonewheel module emulates Hammond’s signature
vibrato/chorus. Likewise, Leslie simulation is handled in the effects
section, and the effect itself is basic, with just a slow/fast speed toggle
and bass/treble rotor balance knob. All in all, this won’t send any
dedicated clonewheels running, but it’s not meant to. It’s more about
the sound design possibilities. Think of it this way: If you had a huge
modular synth and could drop an entire tonewheel generator from
a B-3 into one of the rack spaces, your main objective probably isn’t
perfect organ sound for Santana covers.
In his June 2009 review of the desktop Origin, Jim Aikin noted that
editing was a bit fiddly due to the main data dial being used both to
scroll around the screen and to change settings. A big improvement
here is that when the knob is in “value” mode, as indicated by a red
outline around whatever you’re changing, the cursor buttons now
remain active. Plus, if you press the knob once, it stays in value mode,
letting you cursor that red outline around the screen while twirling the
knob to adjust whatever has the focus.
The knobs and joystick now transmit MIDI, making it far easier to
record and automate the Origin with your DAW. Not only that, but you
can save and recall complete MIDI maps for all the Origin’s controls on
a new “Live” page. The planned audio over USB hasn’t yet materialized,
though. Another addition in OS 1.3 is a sample-and-hold module for
producing those burbling, “computer brain” type modulations.
DSP muscle, and hence polyphony, is the same as on the first
Origin. That’s a theoretical 32 voices, but you will feel the ceiling with
a complex patch or a multi. I got three more notes out of the factory
patch “Opening” by turning off the effects, indicating that the Origin’s
DSP is allocated fluidly. Though we now view polyphony the way
1950s Americans viewed gasoline, many of the Origin’s sounds are so
huge that you don’t need a ton of voices. You should also remember
that the Origin really is a modular synth, and to get 32 or even eight
multi-oscillator voices out of a real analog modular, you’re talking a
roomful of gear, thousands of dollars, and probably a divorce.
*Click here if the player below doesn't load correctly.
05-2011 Arturia Origin Keyboard by KeyboardMag
Nothing you can prop on a keyboard stand offers the monstrous sound
and absolute patching flexibility of this latest Origin. Even in software,
its peers are few: Arturia’s own V Collection for the analog emulations,
Spectrasonics Omnisphere for the huge sound, and Native Instruments
Reaktor for the modular approach. Just don’t forget the price of the
computer to run them when considering the Origin’s value.
To key or not to key? That is the question. Currently, the difference
in street price between the Origin Keyboard and its desktop forerunner
is a cool grand. That buys you 61 very nice keys, the duophonic
aftertouch, the ribbon, the graphical velocity and aftertouch curves,
and a work of modern sculpture that would fit in at the Guggenheim.
If you have a keyboard controller you like, the desktop is certainly the
better value. If you want a stand-alone instrument that makes you the
most envied synth-slingin’ mofo in six counties, get the keyboard.
PROS The best sounding hardware virtual analog synth out there. Oscillators
and filters really sound like the classic synths they’re modeled on. Striking
design. Unique duophonic aftertouch. Tons of inspiring factory sounds.
CONS Polyphony ceiling still feels a tad low. Can be awkward to carry. Still
easy to load a new patch while editing and lose your work.
CONCEPT Virtual modular synth with emulations of famous-name
oscillators, filters, and other components, plus multitrack step sequencer.
SYNTHESIS TYPE Analog modeling, tonewheel modeling, and
POLYPHONY 32 voices maximum.
MULTITIMBRAL PARTS 4.
WEIGHT 40 lbs.
PRICE List: $3,499
Approx. street: $3,000
*Timeline of Origin updates.