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Arturia’s New MiniFreak Synth – the Synth and Software Review



Mark Jenkins gets his freak on – and his hands on this compact instrument

Arturia’s new MiniFreak is more than an expanded version of the French manufacturer’s earlier MicroFreak compact synth.

The MicroFreak offered 4-note polyphony through a single filter, with a 2-octave touch keyboard. A wide choice of sound synthesis methods made it possible to sound like a filter was opening and closing, even when the filter wasn’t in use. We’re talking digital synthesis of various kinds, offering a very wide range of sound textures. 

MiniFreak has a 3-octave mechanical mini keyboard, 6-note polyphony, and an analog filter for every note – though the same sound synthesis options (and more) make it unnecessary to depend on the sonic possibilities of the common or garden variety lowpass filter. While MicroFreak was minuscule, MiniFreak is simply compact, joining a range of instruments from various manufacturers in its form factor. 

Design company Modal also has an instrument with three octaves of mini keys, the Cobalt 5S, while ASM offers the Hydrasynth Explorer and Roland has the JD-Xi, a sort of hybrid dance music and all-purpose synth. Novation still offers the MiniNova, featuring a mostly virtual analog approach and a vocoder and these days at a very affordable price.

So the MiniFreak does have some closely comparable competition. But despite sharing compact size with all these competitors, it doesn’t feel toy-like – the construction is mostly metal and the synth is pleasantly weighty.

Synthesis options. Arturia describes the MiniFreak as a “spontaneous algorithmic synthesizer.” One thing it doesn’t do is to offer the usual familiar roster of workstation sounds – piano, clavinet, organ, brass, strings, and so on.

Let’s look through the different methods of sound synthesis on the MiniFreak.

As on the Micro, the MiniFreak has a tiny (I mean really tiny) LCD display that can show a little icon for each synthesis method. There are 22 different oscillator modes and two independent sound engines, one feeding into the other if required.

The modes are:

Virtual Analog


Comb Filter





Harmo Filter


Karplus Strong






Audio In


Multi Filter


Surgeon Filter

2 Operator FM


That list is immediately going to appeal to players interested in different types of sound synthesis. Attached to your old Yamaha DX9 or TX81Z module? FM synthesis is here. Wanting fat, fuzzy analog-style sounds? SawX is probably your best choice. Plucky string-like sounds? Karplus Strong is the way to go. More interested in bit crushing and distorted sounds? That’s available too. 

Some of these oscillator modes are open source designs from Eurorack manufacturer Mutable Instruments, and there are three by Noise Engineering from LA.

So MiniFreak is more of an experimentalist’s synth, able as the company claims to “evolve from a simple analog-style pad into a stuttering rhythmic motif, introducing modulation, filter sweeps, and effects.”

About that modulation. As on the MicroFreak, a small matrix of LEDs patches sources to destinations for each sound. There are two LFOs with customizable shapes, cycling envelopes and more, and you can apply these modulation types to oscillators, filters, effects, or even to other modulation sources.

Suffice it to say that you’re not limited to basic instrumental sounds – complete chaos, and anything between the two, is readily available. More than 250 patches arrive as standard, and a vast library of alternative sounds is building rapidly.

In addition, the MiniFreak has a powerful sequencer/arpeggiator with controls just above the keys. There are four modulation “lanes” so you’re not limited to simple patterns of notes, but you can program octave jumps, repeats, “ratcheting,” and randomization. Again you’re able to make conventional backing patterns of notes, or something much more chaotic. 

Soft options. A major selling point of the MiniFreak is that it comes with a VST software counterpart “MiniFreak V” that will run in almost any workstation. You can swap patches from hardware to software and modify the VST instrument with the MiniFreak’s controls.

That gives endless possibilities for creating sounds in software and then taking the hardware equivalent on stage (or the other way round). Originally offered only to MiniFreak owners, MiniFreak V can now be bought separately for around $200 (£175 in the UK).

MiniFreak itself doesn’t actually have a lot of physical controls. There are knob controllers for the analog filter, the cycling envelopes with three different modes, and for selecting oscillator types. The pitch bend and modulation controllers are touch strips, a holdover from the MicroFreak design, while the sequencer/arpeggiator has a handful of physical buttons, for Hold/Rest, Note/Chord and a few other options. It’s a good compromise between quick accessibility and compact layout.

If you find the physical controls limiting, that’s the time to look at the software option. 

Of course all the sound options can be vastly altered by on-board effects. Three different “slots” feeding to stereo outputs offer reverb and delay, chorus, flanger and phaser, distortion and bit crusher, 3-band and Peak EQ, and a multi-compressor.

Imagine applying generous amounts of these to a sound, then modulating them with LFOs and envelopes, and the result may be very far away from your original sound source.

There’s also an Audio In mode so you can process external sounds with your MiniFreak effects.

Hard conclusions. MiniFreak enters an area that offers a surprising amount of competition. It sells for $600 in the USA (600Euro, 530GBP), which is comparable to competitors from ASM, a little more than Roland’s much more conventional JD-Xi, and more than Modal’s (even smaller) Cobalt 5S, which has less polyphony but a similar mix of virtual analog with some additional algorithms and effects.

Arturia’s own website, though, makes it clear in which areas the MiniFreak is intended to appeal. There’s a lot of talk about experimentation, randomization, multiple layering of modulation and effects, and quick application of sequencing and different performance techniques.

So not so much about piano sounds, song composition or playing Mozart…

But is the MiniFreak banished forever from the possibility of appearing in a prog rock band or a minimalist ensemble? Not really.

It’s so compact and flexible that you could imagine a Wakemanesque player ripping out a piano solo with the right hand and turning to the MiniFreak for a gnarly bass from the left. You could put it in the Philip Glass Ensemble for thin organ and flute-like sounds, but lend it to Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith the next day for some indescribable cyclic modulation.

Then you could put it in a backpack (a fairly large backpack admittedly, but a backpack nonetheless) and take it to a funk session for squelchy bass and looping sequences.  

Although MiniFreak is a spot more expensive than some competitors, it probably leads the market for those wanting almost infinite areas of experimental and controllable spontaneous sounds.

Arturia offers plenty of MiniFreak demos and will also take you through individual approaches to sound creation, sequencing and more. There are comprehensive video demos on their website. 

Price: $600 (600Euro, 530GBP)

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