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1PWM Malevolent Semi-modular Analog Monosynth – the Synth and Software Review



Whether it’s semi-modular goodness or badness, we can say that the road to hell isn’t paved with this synth

Malevolent is a semi-modular monophonic analog synth with two and a half octaves of mini keys, the first widely distributed product of 1PWM. The company comprises a collaboration between Paul Whittington (ex- Focusrite, M-Audio, and Novation) and Bristol-based Future Sound Systems, responsible for the Gristleizer and various other well-known module designs.

And Malevolent is certainly an eye-catching entry into the (fairly short) roster of semi-modular keyboard synths. With just two and a half octaves of mini keys and a joystick controller to their left, it’s much smaller than a Moog Matriarch or Grandmother, smaller than the MFB Dominion, and much smaller than the Waldorf KB or the more recent Cre8Audio NiftyKeyz (those last two arriving blank, for you to add your own modules).

So the Malevolent fits into one of those busy, desktop instrument setups with lots of small boxes cabled together, rather than requiring placement on some kind of massive keyboard stand – in fact it would look a little lost even on a modest X-stand. It has fairly chunky construction, though, including removable metal end cheeks.

Moogalike? Malevolent may put you in mind of a classic small Moog – like the Rogue or the Realistic MG-1 – but the fact that its left-to-right control panel flow seems familiar is just a matter of practicality. 

To the left are keyboard controls, just for arpeggiator speed and for extracting keyboard pitch, velocity, and gate signals to insert elsewhere. Next is the LFO with triangle and square outputs – and a blank area where I would have liked to see a random sample & hold LFO output.

Next are two voltage controlled oscillators, with their merged or individual Saw/Triangle/Pulse waveforms accessible through patch sockets, with Coarse and Fine tuning, two Pitch Modulation level controls, and a variable waveform Shape control.

Under each oscillator is a 4-stage envelope with one normally patched to volume and one to filter, though you can override or mix these options. Next is an audio mixer, which only adds in external audio and white noise. You can also take the white noise sound and the pre-filter oscillator sound out separately.

Next is the deceptively simple filter, just offering the usual Cutoff and Resonance controls – but it can send Lowpass, Bandpass, and Highpass outputs individually, and accept modulation from the LFO or Envelopes. Envelope and Gate outputs don’t take up much space, and the VCA section is deceptively simple too, with just a couple of modulation levels and a Drive setting for a slightly distorted sound. You can bypass it though, for a constant Drone facility.

A master volume control and minijack out socket complete the panel lineup.

To the left of the keyboard are Octave Up/Down buttons, an On button for the Arpeggiator and Vibrato, and a joystick for Pitch Bend, Vibrato in the upwards direction, and a duplication of the Drone/Hold function when pulled downwards.

Unfortunately it slightly overshadows the Octave buttons, and you wouldn’t want to move the joystick accidentally while simply trying to change octaves. The Vibrato, by the way, when selected, is a hidden LFO only giving pitch modulation at around the usual 5Hz or so – but oddly on the review unit at least, when this is switched on, the Pitch Bend Up/Down stops doing anything.

On the rear are MIDI In and Out, Clock In and Out minijacks, a micro USB socket, minijack headphone and line out sockets, and the input for the small external power supply.

Hidden talents. Now, you may have noted the absence of some expected controls in all the above. So there’s an arpeggiator, but where are the controls to vary its pattern? There’s White Noise, but where’s the random sample & hold modulation derived from it? The filter has three modes, but how do you switch from one to another?

And where’s the Glide control? There is Glide available. It’s a hidden function of the joystick, as are alternative patterns for the arpeggiator.

But a wider answer lies in the semi-modular nature of the Malevolent. Though it will play straight out of the box, you probably need to keep some patching in place for some options you may want. You could take the Lowpass, Highpass, and Bandpass filter outputs to an external mixer and return them to the Aux Level In. You could take the Mix Out of oscillators and put it through different filters, returning it without going through the Malevolent filter. You could take the LFO Square out to trigger an external sample-and-hold module, though what you don’t have is any way to sync the LFO externally.

But some of the most interesting design elements of the Malevolent are indeed in place from the word go. 

Modulating the shape of the oscillator waveforms can make them sound most un-analog-like, while the Drive setting on the output is more than capable of making heavily overdriven textures.

On the review model, the Resonance setting on the filter was pretty much fully resonant at 3, leaving it nowhere much to go in its travels towards 11, so a way of backing that off a little might be appreciated.

Malevolance or Benevolence? Malevolent does have some obvious competition, for example the Arturia Minibrute and Minibrute 2S keyboardless version at slightly lower cost. The Waldorf KB37 offered a way of mounting your own choice of modules into a small keyboard, but is now discontinued, and the current Cre8Audio NiftyKeyz is around the same price before you start adding modules.

But at £499 RRP (£405-£415 in most UK stores) and around $600 in the USA, Malevolent will find its way into the hearts of many players who want to start a modular system without all the patching, add a keyboard and more flexibility to their existing modular systems, or simply produce a huge, overdriven dance music bass on stage without having to take an instrument that’s too large or heavy.

Check the videos on the manufacturer’s site to see if there’s some potential malevolence in your future.

Price: £499 RRP (£405-£415 in most UK stores) and around $600 in the USA

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