MeeBlip Anode reviewed

September 26, 2014

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.


 

PROS

Analog filter plus grungy digital oscillators. Dedicated PWM LFO. Open-source hardware. Fun and affordable.


CONS

Output requires a stereo 1/8" cable. Oscillators deliver pulse waves only.

Bottom Line: The follow-up to the original MeeBlip goes analog.

$129

meeblip.com
 
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