When it comes to classic synths, there’s often an inverse
correlation between features and personality. Case in point? The
original Minimoog. By modern standards, the Minimoog was a bare-bones
affair, yet its inimitable sound has made it one of the most beloved
keyboards of all time. Ditto the Roland SH-101, with its single
oscillator and simple LFO and envelope. The same is true of James
Grahame and Peter Kirn’s new MeeBlip Anode. Feature-wise, it’s
definitively minimal, but after a day in the studio it becomes clear
that nothing else sounds like it.For just over 100 bucks, the Anode packs a tight set of features
into an adorable stompbox-sized footprint. What’s more, with knobs and
switches for (almost) every function, it’s easy to get up and running
within minutes of unpacking it.
The Anode’s architecture has a few clever twists that give
it a lot of sonic character. For starters, its two digital oscillators
are based on the original MeeBlip and deliver a pair of grungy, messy
pulse waves. By tweaking just a few parameters you can detune the
oscillators, shift one down an octave, adjust pulse width manually, or
turn on PWM for the first oscillator. In practice, this delivers a lot
of range, despite the lack of a sawtooth wave option. With a bit of
glide, detuning, and PWM, the tiny Anode is actually capable of some
swaggering lead sounds.
The Anode’s filters are fully analog, thanks to James
Grahame’s clever implementation of some Texas Instruments circuits.
While it’s technically a bandpass affair, James has coaxed it into
performing like a resonant lowpass filter with a decidedly TB-303-like
flavor. It’s worth mentioning that this hardware is also completely
open-source, so if you want to circuit-bend it into doing exotic tricks,
everything is fully documented online.
As for modulation, there’s a simple triangle-wave LFO that
can be routed to the filter or oscillator, and an attack-sustain-decay
envelope with the decay parameter serving double duty for release time
as well. At first, I was confused by the lack of an envelope amount
parameter for the filter cutoff, but it can be accessed—along with the
glide amount—via standard MIDI CC messages. Whew!
Speaking of MIDI, the Anode offers CC control over every
knob except resonance, so if you want to go wild with automation tricks,
you’re covered. What’s more, velocity is hardwired to filter cutoff, so
with a little editing, you can do some slick step sequencing effects
without having to resort to drawing complex curves in your DAW.
As I was working with the Anode in my studio, it occurred
to me that I could run its audio output into my trusty Arturia MiniBrute
(which is equally grungy in its own sassy way), then control it via the
MiniBrute’s MIDI out. Voilà! The MiniBrute became a
three-oscillator synth with dual analog filters. Of course, this trick
will work with any monophonic synth that includes an external audio
input, making the MeeBlip a versatile and inexpensive expansion option
that’s easy to implement.
I was a fan of the original MeeBlip, with its utterly
unique digital flavor, and I might even like the new Anode a little
more, thanks to the analog filter and straightforward operation.
Considering that you can pick one up for under $150, it’s obvious that
the Anode is an impulse buy that will find its way into tons of rigs
this year. Key Buy.
Analog filter plus grungy digital oscillators. Dedicated PWM LFO. Open-source hardware. Fun and affordable.
Output requires a stereo 1/8" cable. Oscillators deliver pulse waves only.
Bottom Line: The follow-up to the original MeeBlip goes analog.