Review: KQ MiniSynth

A terrific introduction to the modular world for less than five bucks
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Last month, I reviewed Moog’s extraordinary Model 15 virtual-modular behemoth for iOS. With its impressive analog sound and realistic voltage control, the Model 15 proved itself worthy of its $30 price tag. This month, we’ll look at a more affordable virtual modular—Ryouta Kira’s impressive KQ MiniSynth.

Once you get past the user interface, which I would politely call “unassuming,” you’ll find that KQ MiniSynth provides a powerful introduction to the universe of modular synthesis. There are currently 22 different modules, all with CV and audio I/O that interacts in a relatively credible manner. That is, routing control voltages between modules works much like a real modular synth in most instances, such as tuning an oscillator to very low frequencies and using it as an LFO or applying multiple envelopes within a single patch, each routed to different destinations. There’s even an oscillator module that is designed for inter-oscillator FM, delivering DX-like results thanks to the synth’s audibly digital roots. Naturally, I tried applying this oscillator type to other destinations, including an extremely resonant lowpass filter to see how it behaved, However, instead of proper filter FM, there appeared to be a bit of aliasing in the modulation, introducing some low frequency artifacts that sounded quite cool in a sample-and-hold manner, but nothing like my Doepfer hardware system doing the same trick.

That said, in all of my other tests, which were decidedly more conventional, KQ MiniSynth performed admirably. A comprehensive list of the 22 modules can be found at the iTunes store, but a quick rundown includes three audio oscillator types (including PWM and supersaw), LFO, noise generator, mixer, three amplifier modules, two distinct envelope generators, four logic circuits, a keyboard scaler, ring mod, a multimode filter, delay, reverb, compressor, and something called a Vibrator that does some interesting audio-rate modulation tricks and can track the keyboard, as well.

With so many modules available, it is quite easy to get lost in the modular process and come up with sounds that would basically be impossible to create using any other method. Especially when you consider the fact that every output can route to multiple destinations simultaneously, which is impossible to do on a real modular unless you’ve got a truckload of mult modules for splitting or mixers for combining signals and voltages.

With such flexibility, it was a bit disappointing that there are only 16 presets that come with the synth. Of course, if you had a real modular, you’d have no presets. Rather, think of them as a collection of useful starting points for patching.

In addition to serving as a fantastic introduction to modular synthesis—and I wholeheartedly recommend this app to music educators—KQ MiniSynth is a real team player in the iOS world. Impressively, it complies with Apple’s new iOS Audio Unit standard, as well as Inter-App Audio, Audiobus, and both external and Virtual MIDI, making it a great complement to GarageBand, as well as other compatible iOS DAWs.

Despite the previously mentioned audio quibbles, KQ MiniSynth is an extraordinary little modular app with a ton of features and a lot of complexity for less than five bucks. Best of all, it is compatible with both iPads and iPhones running iOS 8 or later. While it doesn’t have the same cachet as the Moog Model 15, it still brims with sonic horsepower and comprehensive iOS integration. Because it’s obviously a labor of love for developer Ryouta Kira (who seems to update it regularly), I’d head over to the iTunes store and show your support. It’s a tremendous value.

Snap Judgment

PROS 22 different modules. Use 100 modules and four voices per patch, depending on CPU. Supports iOS Audio Units, Audiobus, Inter-app audio and external and Virtual MIDI.

CONS Homely user interface. Only 16 presets. Some audio rate modulation tricks don’t behave accurately.

Bottom Line

A terrific introduction to the modular world for less than five bucks.