Arturia Minibrute 2S review

Arturia-Minibrute-2S Front looking left

I recently added the Arturia Minibrute 2S to my music setup. Having been deeply engaged in modular synthesis for several years, albeit with a relatively small setup, I was interested to see what this hybrid design could bring. 

It’s a semi-modular desktop synth that features a fully analog mono synth, a sequencer/arpeggiator, and modular patching possibilities, I was eager to explore the features and see what it adds to my creative process.

Whether you’re a fellow synth enthusiast, a curious music producer, or someone considering expanding their sonic palette, let’s explore together and discover if the Minibrute 2S remains a timeless gem in the evolving landscape of music technology. 

Build Quality

Let’s kick off with the practicalities. As a live performer, the responsiveness of my gear is paramount. Weighing in at 3.5 kg, the Minibrute 2S strikes a balance, adding substance without burdening my touring setup. Thanks to its secure rubber feet, slipping and bouncing are non-issues.

The “noir” model, predominantly black with faux wooden side panels, exudes a vintage aesthetic. The attention to detail in the design, featuring generously sized knobs, sliders, and buttons, enhances both the look and feel.

When I first laid hands on the pads, playing some notes, their surprising sensitivity and responsiveness immediately stood out. Despite not being a keyboard player, I found the experience lightning fast and remarkably playable, setting it apart from other pad entry synths and controllers.

The Minibrute 2S has essential connections, including a ¼” mono jack out and stereo ¼” headphone out for audio, MIDI in and out ports for external device communication, and a USB connection. 

The USB link serves a dual purpose, facilitating MIDI communication and connecting to the MIDI Control Centre software. This software platform streamlines memory and file management, as well as device settings, offering users enhanced control and convenience.

The modular patch bay beckons in the top-right corner, promising a realm of synthesis magic. Its clear labeling and a glance at the manual clarified its functions, making it easily understood and ready for exploration.

Workflow Overview

Arturia-Minibrute-2S Front looking left

As a semi-modular synthesizer, akin to the Korg MS-20 or the Arp 2600, the Arturia Minibrute 2S eliminates the need for patching to produce sound. Play the pads, and immediate sonic responses ensue. Dive straight into manipulating knobs, sliders, and buttons to sculpt your desired output.

The layout is notably familiar, catering to those versed in subtractive synthesizers. No manual consultation is necessary; anyone experienced in this realm can jump right into crafting sounds.

Once you’ve synthesized and explored sounds, the sequencing aspect comes into play. Although straightforward on a basic level, especially for Keystep Pro owners like myself, nuances became apparent upon closer examination of the manual.

At its core, the sequencer facilitates quick and simple recording of melodic or rhythmic ideas. You could stop there and work on another pattern (sequence), but the sequencer’s additional features reveal its surprising power, offering unconventional methods that spark inspiration. Further details on this will be explored below.

For those versed in modular synthesis, navigating the Minibrute’s patching and concepts is seamless. It provides access to key parameters and sections, unlocking an array of synthesis capabilities only the world of modular synthesis can offer.

Controls

Arturia-Minibrute-2S Synth Top Left

Low-Frequency Oscillators (LFOs)

The synth boasts two identical LFOs, capable of generating a spectrum of waveforms at sub-audio frequencies, spanning an impressive range from 0.0625Hz (once every 16 seconds) to 100Hz. 

This upper limit significantly surpasses the typical LFO, usually peaking around 20Hz, providing access to distinctive audio-range frequency modulation effects.

Each LFO offers a selection of waveforms:

  • Sine
  • Triangle
  • Sawtooth (ramp down)
  • Square
  • Stepped random
  • Smooth random

For user convenience, each LFO is equipped with a waveform selector, a Rate control, and a switch allowing it to operate freely or sync to the sequencer. When synchronized, nine rate options are available:

  • 8 bars
  • 4 bars
  • 2 bars
  • 1 bar
  • half note
  • quarter note
  • eighth note
  • sixteenth note
  • thirty-second note

While the absence of triplet or dotted note rates is a minor consideration, it’s worth noting that their inclusion in this section and the sequencer would have been the perfect finishing touch to an already impressive feature set.

Voltage Controlled Oscillator 1 (VCO1)

The oscillator functionality of VCO1 on the synth leaves little to be desired. However, for those seeking a bit more, the addition of a coarse pitch control alongside the Fine Tune knob could enhance tuning control and efficiency.

Red-letter text underneath a knob, that’s a magic clue to indicate hardwired modulation sources, and an invitation to play with the patch bay. These are scattered across the synth, offering insight into the modular architecture. 

These destinations are accessible in the patch bay for those inclined to experiment with alternate modulation sources to extend control functionalities.

Adjacent to the Fine Tune knob is the Glide control facilitating portamento adjustments for a smooth transition between note pitches, affecting both VCOs.

The Pulse Width control manipulates the Square Wave Oscillator’s pulse width. At the same time, below it, the Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) knob introduces tonal variations,  from bright and cutting to warmer and mellower.

PWM is hardwired to be controlled by LFO1.  PWM is a powerful tool for crafting expressive and evolving textures.

The Metalizer, despite its quirky name, unleashes wavefolding on the Triangle oscillator. Complex harmonic content emerges by folding the waveform back onto itself, introducing harmonically rich overtones. 

While initially hardwired to the Triangle oscillator, the patch bay allows for creative routing of alternate audio sources, and even modulation, opening the door to unpredictable sonic results.

Below the Metalizer knob, the Metal Mod knob, by default, modulates wavefolding based on note velocity. However, as the red lettering suggests, alternative modulation sources are available to take on this role.

The Frequency Modulation (FM) knob, the first in the bottom row, is hardwired to VCO2. Turning it up produces classic FM sounds, ranging from bell-like tones to noisy textures. Additionally, since VCO2 can function as an LFO, you can use this control for vibrato effects.

Ultrasaw Amt influences the Sawtooth oscillator, blending the original wave with two phase-shifted copies, resulting in a thicker, more robust sound. The detailed controls of VCO1 showcase the Minibrute 2S’s commitment to sonic versatility and creative exploration.

VCO1’s controls showcase the Minibrute 2S’s commitment to sonic versatility and creative exploration, making it a powerful companion for your musical journey.

Voltage Controlled Oscillator 2 (VCO2)

While lacking the flashy features of its counterpart, VCO2 takes on a crucial supporting role in the sonic ensemble, proving to be a valuable asset when sculpting sounds.

While Interacting seamlessly with VCO1 through the FM control, VCO2 can also operate independently. It comes with a switch to toggle between a Sine, Sawtooth, or Square wave oscillator, offering flexibility in sound creation.

However, simplicity reigns with VCO2, as it sports only one knob for frequency control – Tune. The Tune range adjusts based on the Range Switch setting:

  • Fine: Covers a range just over an octave above and below the center frequency.
  • All: Sweeps through the entire frequency spectrum.
  • LFO: Ranges from a gentle 1Hz to the exhilarating realm of audio frequencies.

Despite its simple design, VCO2 is an essential team player, adding depth and versatility to the tone generation section.

Filter Section – Voltage Controlled Filter (VCF)

Arturia-Minibrute-2S centre

In the intricate tapestry of synthesizer filters, Arturia’s Minibrute boldly stands out, sidestepping the familiar American and Japanese influences in favor of a distinctive Steiner-Parker design

This choice isn’t just a footnote; it’s a sonic declaration. The result is a flexible, cost-effective filter that introduces a unique flavor to the auditory landscape while still producing familiar results.

The Minibrute’s filter is not your typical 24dB per octave; instead, it’s a 12dB filter, charting its own course in the world of filter curves. The debate around which is more useful or desirable takes a back seat to the crucial point – implementation. Much like the engine of a car finely tuned for its vehicle, the filter is meticulously designed to complement its synth home.

Now, let’s dive into the control realm. Along the top, the familiar trio of Cutoff, Resonance, and Mode (Low pass, Band Pass, High Pass, and Notch) graces the stage. Depending on the Cutoff position, the filter may even explode into self-oscillation at higher Resonance settings, injecting a touch of sonic unpredictability.

Moving into the lower section, we encounter the FM control. This knob, tethered to the ADSR envelope beneath the filter section, allows for positive and negative attenuation, sculpting the cutoff frequency with precision.

Next door, the RM (resonance modulation) control syncs with LFO2, offering a similar dance of positive and negative attenuation, modulating the filter courtesy of the LFO’s influence.

Last but certainly not least, an attenuation control, ATT 1 > Cutoff, for frequency cutoff resides nearby. By default, it responds to the gentle persuasion of Pressure (aftertouch) modulation on the filter’s cutoff. 

Yet, these three lower knobs are not bound by default settings; the modular patch bay extends an invitation to reroute these modulation sources, turning the filter section into a playground of sonic experimentation.

Any time a modulation routing is altered the hardwired option remains. It’s a 2-for-1 deal. Often the routing is unrelated, going to a different destination, it’s the modular way.

As the heartbeat of tone shaping and character, the filter section becomes a powerful ally in the vast realm of sound design, promising endless possibilities and a carnival of sonic shenanigans. 

Amp Section

Within the richness of the Minibrute’s control panel, the Brute Factor knob stands out, encircled by the warning hue of red. It’s a visual cue that this knob holds a touch of danger and a world of sonic exploration. 

Stepping into the realm of modular synthesis, the Brute Factor knob is a gateway to the powerful technique of feedback.

As you turn it up, the filter section’s output loops back to the input, unleashing a spectrum of sonic interactions. It lies dormant at the fully counter-clockwise position, but as you gradually increase it, the sonic landscape undergoes subtle coloration

Harmonics intertwine, creating a warm embrace of complementary tones. Keep turning, and the sound transforms, becoming more aggressive, harsh, and gloriously brutish

Push it further into the last quarter of the knob’s range, and the sound erupts into chaos—a chaotic symphony of sonic rebellion.

It’s worth noting that the timing and manner of this sonic eruption depend on the source’s frequency content and range. Lower frequencies, in particular, dance more unpredictably, prone to chaos and non-linearities, especially at lower settings of the Brute Factor knob.

The Amp section also hosts some more grounded controls. The Master Volume and Global Tune knobs may not wear the flamboyant red of the Brute Factor, but their functionality is no less crucial. While the Brute Factor steals the spotlight, these knobs provide global control, ensuring your sonic journey remains grounded and balanced.

Speaking of tuning, the synth’s tuning proves to be rock solid. A brief warm-up period of around 10 minutes, a slight tweak, and you’re set. No further adjustments to the Global setting are needed—an assurance that the Minibrute stays in tune with your creative flow.

The ATT 2 > Amp control is the Amp section’s final player. By default, it governs the influence of the AD Envelope below. At settings above the minimum, it transforms into a sustainer, holding onto the sound. 

You can finesse the balance between the AD control’s impact on amplitude and sustain, or crank it to the max and let your notes drone into the infinite horizon. 

OSC MIXER

In this section, you wield control over, finesse, and seamlessly blend the outputs of VCO1 and VCO2. Each waveform gets its dedicated slider, providing an intuitive means to experiment with various combinations swiftly.

This section unfolds as a creative haven for those venturing into the realms of drones or soundscapes. The sliders give you control and create a performative connection, allowing for dynamic and on-the-fly adjustments.

Beyond the oscillators previously explored, a volume slider governs a noise source injected into the filter. Manipulating this noise source independently or melding it with other tones proves remarkably versatile.

Adding to the sonic palette, an EXT slider dictates the signal level from the Ext input on the patch bay. This slider offers a gateway to internal or external routing of audio signals, expanding your sonic layers.

For those moments when the Triangle oscillator isn’t part of your sound design, the patch bay comes to the rescue. By patching another signal into the Metalizer input, the processed signal emerges, taking the reins on the Triangle sliders’ control. This level of flexibility reflects the patch bay’s adaptability and provides sound designers with a palette where creativity knows no bounds.

ADSR Envelope

There is nothing out of the ordinary here – just the timeless ADSR envelope, defaulting to the classic role of controlling the filter cutoff.

However, where the ordinary transforms into the extraordinary is through the wonders of the patch bay. This unassuming ADSR envelope extends its reach, becoming a versatile modulation source that can dance its influence across many locations. 

As a fundamental building block of synthesis, the ADSR envelope flexes its muscles, offering a powerful tool for shaping sonic landscapes and unleashing creative possibilities. It’s not just an envelope; it’s a key to unlocking sonic potential.

AD Envelope

Arturia-Minibrute-2S AD Envelope

At first glance, the AD Envelope might seem like the little brother of the ADSR, and in some ways, it is. Yet, a closer look reveals two simple switches that turn the tables and redefine its role. Meet the Gate/Trig switch and the Once/Loop switch.

When the Gate/Trig switch is set to Gate, the pads influence the amplitude output. Holding a pad down initiates a gradual rise from silence at the rate dictated by the attack slider. 

The signal persists as long as the key is held down, transitioning into the decay phase upon release. In essence, in this mode, the AD envelope behaves like an attack/hold/decay envelope, offering a dynamic range of possibilities.

Switch it to Trig, and the landscape shifts. No hold or sustain stages exist; a gentle tap on the pad is sufficient for the envelope to navigate through its stages. This responsiveness proves invaluable when a swift, snappy response is needed.

The Once/Loop switch introduces another layer of versatility. Set to Once, the envelope cycles through its stages just once. Shift it to Loop, and suddenly, the envelope transforms into a quasi-LFO. 

Its shape and speed become a canvas painted by the attack and decay times, introducing rhythmic possibilities that extend beyond traditional envelope duties.

The intrigue deepens when these times are subject to modulation through the patch bay, opening doors to a realm of rhythmic wonkiness.

By default, the AD envelope syncs its trigger with the ADSR, operating in tandem. Yet, the patch bay introduces a twist. An alternate trigger signal can be introduced, reshaping the synchronicity and leading to new sonic landscapes. 

In the world of synthesis, even the seemingly modest AD Envelope becomes a gateway to nuanced and innovative sound shaping.

Sequencer and Arpeggiator

Arturia-Minibrute-2S Bottom Right

Normally, I’d reserve my final thoughts on a feature for the end, but the sequencer on this synth demands an early spotlight – it’s truly remarkable, interesting, and, above all, fun.

Coming from the world of the Keystep Pro, my expectations were set, but the Minibrute 2S brings a whole new level of control between the sequencer and the sound/device it controls. While sound generators and sequencers sharing space in a unit isn’t groundbreaking, the surprises and wow moments encountered here feel genuinely special.

Covering the expected features – real-time and step recording, arpeggiator with various patterns, looper, swing control, sync options, up to 64 steps of sequencing, pattern chaining, playback direction and rate options, note scales, and transposing – it’s the 4 tracks of sequencing that steal the show.

Tracks 1 and 2 handle Pitch and Gate, with added layers of interaction. Alongside pitch, Track 1 allows control of Slide, and Track 2, Gate Time and Step Repeat

Step Repeat allows each programmed note to repeat up to 4 times within that step. Adjusting these parameters brings a delightful depth to the sequencing experience.

Now, let’s dive into Tracks 3 and 4, initially assigned to Velocity and Pressure. Here’s where the magic happens for step-input enthusiasts like myself, but equally valuable to players. These tracks can be reassigned to sequence Pitch, Gate, various voltages, Envelopes and even LFOs.

Seeing Pitch and Gate options, you might think, a second sequencer – and you’d be correct. Now you can craft a separate sequence for VCO 2, complementing VCO 1. Or, venture into the patch bay, and send the sequence to your modular or CV/Gate-compatible synth.

The voltage options, seemingly niche, open doors to compatibility beyond Eurorack 1V/Oct control, but even within the Minibrute they offer possibilities like a multistage envelope with glide. 

It’s all just voltage, to be sent wherever you want. Each step can produce an AD envelope with independent attack and release, allowing for mind-boggling creativity.

Expanding the creative possibilities or tracks 3 and 4 further, these tracks offer autonomy in sequence length and direction, paving the way for synchronized or polyrhythmic modulation and sequences. 

This feature empowers users to craft intricate and evolving musical patterns, adding a layer of complexity and diversity to their sonic explorations.

And that’s not all – each step can send an LFO with independent rate and depth control. The patch bay, as always, plays its part, allowing signals from any sequencer track to transform not just sonic parameters but also timing and rhythmic aspects.

Understanding the full potential of this synth>sequencer>modular patch bay trio may initially feel overwhelming. But spending time with the manual and the Cookbook accompanying the synth that gives patching examples, unravels the endless creative possibilities before you. In this synthesis symphony, the Minibrute 2S’s sequencer takes center stage, weaving intricate sonic tales that invite exploration and experimentation.

Modular Patch Bay

Arturia-Minibrute-2S Patch Bay & Cables

I’ve expressed my enthusiasm for the inclusion and practicality of the patch bay throughout this article. Still, it’s worth delving deeper into the myriad possibilities that these 48 patch points can offer. 

The versatility and creative potential packed into this unassuming grid of connections might be underestimated at first glance.

In the era before the modular synth revival, the art of patching seemed like a relic of the past. The advent of fixed-architecture synthesizers, epitomized by instruments like the Minimoog, marked an era where the vast world of exploration in sound design became somewhat closed off. 

However, the synthesis landscape underwent a transformative upheaval with the Eurorack explosion.

The Minibrute 2S, though semi-modular in design, offers a unique proposition. While it’s possible to bypass the patch bay and navigate the synth in a more straightforward manner, I venture to guess that if you’re considering this synth, the allure of dipping your toe into the modular world is precisely what intrigues you.

With its 48 patch points, the patch bay provides an ideal entry point into the captivating realm of modular synthesis. It’s not like every sonic creation demands a tangled mess of cables to achieve interest. 

On the contrary, thoughtful patching with just a handful of cables can serve as a guiding force, leading you down a sonic path that resonates with your creative aspirations.

Beyond the benefits of flexibility and customization, the patch bay becomes a canvas for sonic experimentation. With each cable, you’re not just connecting points but forging pathways for creativity to flow. 

It’s a departure from the limitations of fixed architectures, inviting you to shape and mold your soundscape with a hands-on, tactile approach.

As you explore the patch bay, you’ll discover that it’s not just a grid of connections but a portal to a world of endless sonic permutations. The modular nature of the Minibrute 2S encourages a mindset of continual exploration. 

Every twist of a knob, every insertion of a cable, opens up a new avenue for sonic discovery.

Pros and Cons

The Minibrute 2S earns its acclaim not only for its modular integration and powerful sequencer but also for its distinctive and rich sound. The synth is renowned for its analog warmth and character, delivering a broad sonic palette that spans from punchy basslines to soaring leads, with the option to delve into more experimental territory. 

The inclusion of the “Brute Factor” adds an extra dimension to the sound, providing a means to push the analog circuitry into harmonic saturation for grittier and more aggressive tones. 

Moreover, the Steiner-Parker filter, a unique component in the Minibrute lineage, imparts a signature sound apart from the rest, adding to the synth’s overall sonic allure. 

The dynamic between these sonic elements and the flexibility of the patch bay makes the Minibrute 2S a powerhouse for crafting a wide range of captivating sounds.

The intuitive nature of the sequencer further enhances the Minibrute 2S’s appeal, providing an accessible entry point for users regardless of their experience level. As a result, the synth becomes not just a sound generator but a versatile musical instrument that invites exploration and experimentation. 

Whether sculpting evolving textures or crafting rhythmic patterns, combining the powerful sequencer, the expansive patch bay, and the distinctive analog sound transforms the Minibrute 2S into a compelling platform for sonic innovation.

While the Minibrute 2S excels in modular integration, sequencer prowess, and rich analog sound, there are considerations to consider. The learning curve associated with modular synthesis might pose a challenge for beginners, potentially overwhelming them initially. 

While the Minibrute 2S can be used without extensive patching, fully unlocking its potential requires a willingness to explore and experiment with the patch bay. 

Additionally, users seeking a fully modular experience might find the semi-modular nature limiting, and dependency on external modules could involve additional costs. 

Despite these considerations, the Minibrute 2S stands as an enticing gateway to the modular world, offering a balance of educational value, creative exploration, and dynamic performance possibilities.

Check out our video review as well:

Arturia MiniBrute 2S Detailed Review! - Analog Sequencing Synth

Conclusion

In summary, the Minibrute 2S stands as a formidable contender in the realm of synthesizers, embodying a harmonious convergence of analog craftsmanship and modern innovation. 

Its signature sound is a testament to the meticulous engineering of features like the Metalizer and Ultrasaw, delivering a broad tonal palette that ranges from ethereal to assertive. 

The filter design, rooted in the distinctive Steiner-Parker architecture, provides unparalleled sonic versatility, offering low-pass, high-pass, and band-pass modes with the added ability to self-oscillate.

The unique “Brute Factor” injects a dose of harmonic saturation, allowing users to drive the analog circuitry for grittier and more aggressive tones. 

The AD looping envelope, an integral component of the Minibrute 2S, contributes to its expressiveness, enabling nuanced control over attack and decay for finely sculpted sounds. 

Including a 48-point patch bay further extends the synth’s capabilities, providing modular enthusiasts with the canvas to craft complex signal routing and modulation.

The sequencer and arpeggiator enhance the Minibrute 2S’s performance capabilities, allowing for intricate musical patterns and dynamic sequences. The sequencer’s integration with the patch bay creates a symbiotic relationship, offering a powerful tool for both composition and live performances. 

As a result, the Minibrute 2S transcends the boundaries of a traditional synthesizer, offering musicians and sound explorers an instrument that is not only expressive but also an embodiment of the rich legacy and forward-thinking design philosophy of the Brute series.

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