As a counterpart to the Analog Rytm thoughts thread, I figured I would open a thread for the discussion of the Elektron Analog Four or Keys. How are you using the A4? What do you like (or not) about it? Any tips or tricks?
In the last month I picked up the Analog 4 mk2. My main piece of gear is the Make Noise Shared System, which I typically find is capable of 1 complex voice, maybe 2. I was looking to add additional voices in a way that would integrate with my current modular system. While modular is my overall preference adding 4 complete voices would be an expensive proposition. My other consideration is that each additional modular voices makes getting everything in tune more challenging (not everyones priority).
I was debating between the mk1 and mk2 because of the mk1 can be found used for around half the price. I decided upon the mk2 because I previously had the Rytm mk1 and, while I can’t make a comparison for all aspects, I remember getting terrible neck and shoulder pain from hunching over to try to read that tiny screen on the mk1 - the new form factor of the mk2 is such an ergonomic improvement. Aside from the other improved ergonomics I was interested in the CV and expression pedal input, which I have not incorporated in.
The sound or sequencing never quite inspires me the same way the Shared System does, but perhaps that is an unfair comparison. I haven’t really integrated the two yet, but I imagine it playing more of a supporting role.
I love my A4 MK2. If the world of non-modular synth is separated into two categories, big bass/lead monosynths and lush chordal polysynths, the A4 is firmly neither. That’s what makes it interesting, embrace its third way weirdness. Its multi-timbral and voice allocation options are fascinating (4 layer mono voices, playing it like a polysynth round robin-ing different patches). Tunable FM leads to interesting places. Mostly i use it as a strange drum machine and effects processor.
I think you made the right decision on the MK2. I’m not normally a “that synths sounds good” snob - most of the time i think feature set and UI are far more impactful on an end product than the way an oscillator or filter sounds. But I’ve owned both mk1 and mk2 and the MK2 simply sounds better, more defined highs and deeper lows. They’re both great machines though, and i prefer the form factor of the smaller Mk1.
I liked Elektron’s approach to its earlier instruments, but initially wasn’t excited by the Analog Four. It seems to be a common opinion that the AF does not have a notably individual tone or distinctive character like, for example, a Moog monosynth or a DSI Evolver.
I was lucky enough to be able to get an AF MkII a couple of years ago and since then it has played a floating role in my (mostly MIDI hardware oriented) studio, plugging into some CV/Gate-controllable gear when required but mostly working standalone.
While on the face of it the AF is a simple four-voice analogue groovebox with a compact user interface, there are a number of interesting features that push it into more interesting roles:
sound locks which allow any patch in memory to be triggered on any step in a pattern
sequencable chorus, delay, and reverb effects
6 tracks of sequencing that can be applied to the 4 CV/GATE outputs
dedicated LFOs for PWM, vibrato, effects parameters, and CV outputs
dedicated envelopes for noise level and CV outputs
2 CV or pedal inputs for modulation of any 5 synthesis or effects parameters each
10 customizable performance macros for similar modulation
NEIghbour trig conditions for inter-track interaction
MIDI drum module behaviour using the Multi Map
instant triggering of patterns using the Multi Map
feedback or neighbour routing of filter output back as oscillator for same or adjacent voices
external inputs to the synth voices or directly to the effects
It’s a lot crammed into a single package, and definitely a bit fiddly for some to operate. I have never used Elektron’s Overbridge software, but that gives multitracking over USB to a computer and patch editing on a display much larger than the AF’s small screen.
I would say that I use mine at least as much as a drone machine or stereo filter bank or four-voice poly synth than as a groovebox.
If it had envelope followers on the inputs and microtuning I would be using it every day.
Disclosure: I was a moderator on Elektron’s Elektronauts forum for a couple of years but I have no other link with the company.
I miss my A4 MkII sometimes, but it felt redundant alongside some of my other synths and wasn’t as instantly gratifying. If I had to choose just one instrument to use for a long period of time I would seriously consider it again. I think it’s a great companion for something like the Shared System too.
I actually believe the Analog Four is the best modern synth out there. The sound design possibilities are huge and you can basically make anything with it. Pads, bass, atmospheric sounds, effects. And that is per track, if you get creative.
But it does need some attention and won’t sound great right away. And it does not have a destinctive character (which I kinda see as a strength). So you really have to get to know the parameters and how they affect the sound. It is not the kind of synth were the filter makes up most of the sound. Even though it is subtractive.
I recorded two albums on which it is the main sound source in a small system. And could make one with just the A4 as well.
Also, I totally dig the delay which has just the right amount of digital crunsh. And it is true stereo, even when fed via the inputs by external sound sources.
So as others already mentioned I didn’t found A4 sound instantly gratifying as in other synths like Moog Mother-32 but the possibilities are almost endless despite being analog it can also venture in digital sega genesis esque sounds.
I first bought it with intention that I could write whole prearranged songs on it but probably being spoiled by Ableton workflow where I can mix different clips on different tracks I felt like I had to do too much copy/pasting around to for example have another pattern with just one track motif changed. But I guess this could be said about all grooveboxes.
Personally I got best results on A4 when treating it as a some sort of techno drum machine. And then setting performance macros and use this to somewhat improvise during live playing. This is example of such approach - all sounds are from A4 - (WARNING: lot of flashing lights in video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCYTiqUJMKM
Another thing a little unexpected but A4 is also very nice processor for external sounds. I once did a live coding set where all sounds were coming from TidalCycles but then I sent computer output to A4 to add some warmth through low pass filters and some A4 reverb.
Don’t mind the BAL, MAIN and CUE stickers, these are for using the Faderfox PC4 with my Octatrack. Control 9 is Noise Level, Control 13 is Filter Overdrive, please ask if the remaining assignments are not self-explanatory.
Wow, that is a really nice pairing. Thanks for making me aware of this guy’s devices. I often need several overdubs on my initial AK tracks just to get all the midi automation it looks like I could do in one take with the PC4. That form factor is perfect.
In a studio with a Prophet-6, OB-6, DX-7, Waldorf Q, and about 1400 HP of Eurorack as neighbors, I can’t imagine getting rid of it. Easily one of the most powerful synths I’ve got.
They aren’t in production at this point, but I find the Grayscale Synapse to be a great companion for my A4 and Eurorack. It gives you green/red lights for each of the CV outs, which makes it super easy to see which channel is doing what while patching.
As I use it more, I would agree that the lack of character is a strength. This flexibility creates a blank canvas and I have been pleasantly surprised some of the places I have been able to take it (particularly some chiptune-esque squiggles and chirps).
If you don’t mind me asking, what albums did you use it on? My partner and I enjoy your music!
For what it’s worth to others who may be interested, I also am not a fan of the MK1’s lack of tilt.
But for the past 5 years I’ve been using either these blue lounge cool feet to get a good tilt.
More recently I switched to this Ikea isberget tablet stand.
Either make a world of difference, and the former are very ideal if your device is on an uneven surface, as adjustments are easy.
Since I recently got a Typhon, I’ve been enjoying its instantly accessible big mono sounds. I wasn’t one to complain much about the A4’s sound before, but the comparison makes it easier. If I want to try to get those same tones out of an A4, I have to basically ignore the first filter with cutoff entirely open and key tracking off, and just use the 2nd multimode filter for everything.
Looking back at the projects I finished with A4, I employed a good bit of 2 voice unison for bigger sounds, and used sound locks to pepper in lots of very short sounds with a good bit of FX, and lots of p-locking.
A4 is its own thing in terms of workflow, but it sits in a mix easily and is very versatile. I think it excels most when you try to do a lot with it, rather than try to make it do one thing really really well.
The MK2’s added output connections would be my biggest reason to go that route vs MK1, but my stints with both the OT MK2 and Digitone were not good for my eyes. The bright white blinking LEDs under all the buttons were information overload, and I’ve found myself going back to OT MK1 and A4 MK1 for the simpler (and classic) design language.
Oh, oh wow, that’s beautiful… thank you for sharing :0 and it sounds like new presets, too, which is something complained about earlier in this thread. Yay for Elektron
I love the lack of “ELEKTRON” on the front. Best looking machine they’ve ever put out I think. Wow!
Pretty massive firmware update, and I just sold my A4 MK1 last week to fund a Pro 2.
Ah well, I’m happy for everyone else, and the new boxes look sharp. I am 50% hopeful the OT MK2 gets “transformed” as well, though the only gripes I really have on my MK1 is lack of cursor text below the encoders, which could be resolved if Cremecaffe or Oversynth provided a handy sticker for the encoders area.