MFB Microzwerg Review: The Ugly, the Bad and the Good.
This is the first in-depth review of the MFB Microzwerg in English to appear on the Internet. I had hoped that this would be a positive review. I wanted to love this synth. Admittedly, buying a Microzwerg was something of a risk: of the three desk-top analogue synths I was considering, the MFB had the least amount of available information and demos (audio & video). But even still, nothing that I came across prepared me for what has become a fairly major disappointment.
Let us get the ugly out of the way first. For something to qualify as ugly, these are items that I think most people would agree need to be addressed by MFB.
1. The misprint on the front panel: Both LFO rates read 1 2 3 4 5 5 7. They always have as you can see on the official photo on the MFB site. Now, some might consider this a petty thing to get hung up on. Others may recognize that such a mistake indicates a “meh, whatever…” attitude on MFB’s part. The problem is that if you already have a reputation for poor build quality, a “meh, whatever…” attitude does not inspire confidence. And, just to rub it in, the midi jack is installed crooked. For something that costs £330, I think we’re entitled to a little more professionalism.
2. The mini jacks: fine, it is a small synth, but mini jacks are only acceptable on mp3 players and Casio VL-1s. Make sure you are using a mono jack for audio out – it won’t work with a stereo one.
3. The Tune and Interval knobs: on the Mod knobs, you can feel the little notch when you are at zero. With the Tune and Interval knobs, you can’t, so if you touch them, it takes several minutes to get them back into tune. Also, the Tune knob is only for master tuning – no for detuning 1 oscillator relative to the other. Supposedly, that job is assigned to the Interval, but it does such a horrible job at most settings that you just want to glue it into the zero position. The Interval on my Electribe EA MKII is far more useful.
4. ADSR Envelopes: the envelopes do not work unless you connect ADSR Out to the VCA CV In. I’m sorry, this is just dumb.
The Bad: these are aspects of the Microzwerg that I can’t stand, but others may not find them as much of a problem.
1. The Filter: this is actually my biggest complaint about the Microzwerg. Indeed, it sounds like a design flaw that belongs in the ugly section above. At first, I thought there was something wrong with it, but turns out that it is behaving normally. Using the Low Pass filter with the Contour at zero, the cutoff has basically three settings: nothing, not even sub bass (from 0-3), usable (3-5.5), and buzz saw, as in the filter doesn’t open much more, but the harshness increases dramatically (5.5-7). In fact, the opposite seems occurs: with the Cutoff at zero, the Contour responds in almost the same manner, which has led me to think that perhaps the problem lies with the Contour and not the Cutoff. Anyway, as soon as you move the Contour into negative territory, you have less of a usable range. And, if you move the Contour into positive territory, you arrive in the buzz saw range much more quickly.
So, if you like the sound of a buzz saw, this synth is for you. For the rest of us, EQ will be needed to extend the useful range. The resonance is alright, but it becomes an untamed beast if you push it past 6. Some of you may find this quite useful, but I don’t. I find the Cutoff and Resonance on my Juno-Di (a board that does not get much respect) to be more musical.
2. The Saw wave: the chainsaw wave, exceptionally harsh. I only find it useful at the lower octaves, or maybe mixed lower than the other oscillator.
3. Oscillator beating: some oscillator combinations create the most annoying beating, especially if both have the same settings (2 Squares at 8’ is particularly nasty). This beating can sometimes be overcome by syncing the oscillators - patch VCO2 Out (not VCO1 Out as it states in the manual, because there is no VCO1 Out) to VCO1 Sync In.
4. The LFOs: they never stop. Even with both Mod knobs set to zero, it sounds like there is still some modulation going on. LFO Oneshot works to a degree, but really, I wish there was simply a way to shut the damn things off sometimes.
The Good: after criticizing many aspects of this synth, it gets hard to find something nice to say...and even here, when I say good, I mean not wow, not spectacular, not even “hey, that’s cool,” but simply good.
1. Using the cables allows for the creation of unusual patches.
2. You can create a decent bass patch in a minute.
3. The Ring Mod for Oscillator 1 compensates for the fact the saw is fairly useless.
The main thing about the Microzwerg is that it forces you to be creative. Unfortunately, the key word in the previous sentence is “forces.” I have to fight to overcome the flaws and limitations of this machine, and it is not fun. Typically, the only way I can fit the Microzwerg into the mix is to create a decent patch and build around it: every time I have tried to create a patch to fit in with an existing mix it has been an exercise in frustration. With the MiniAK handling bass duties and the Juno-Di/JV-1080 combo handling pads & drones, buying the Microzwerg was supposed to fill a hole, a warm analogue lead that would compliment the others. Much to my disappointment, that hole remains.
I’ve had the Microzwerg for just over a month and I’ve already considered selling it, but I am going to hold on to it for a little longer, at least until I record a couple of pieces I’m working on. Maybe in that time I’ll find some magic button or MFB will read this and send me a Microzwerg that works properly.
If after reading this piece you are still interested in buying a Microzwerg, please spend a long time demoing before you buy.