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Alesis A6 Andromeda

Remarkable for being: The King of Synthesizers - with all his royal attitudes and whims.
When buying one, watch out for:
everything
.
 



 

< OBJECTIVE REVIEW >
 (contains Facts with a capital F)

Holy shit! This is the heaviest and most powerful analog synth. It has silver-blue panel and runs on MPU P87C52UBBB 33MHz OTP QFP-44 circuits and some gasoline. It's been used by superstar musicians (who have shitload of money and rarely get out of their deep-in-the-woods cabins filled with every synth that is in existence, and when one of them craps out, they just replace it with a new unit). It can do long evolving Vangelis drones and phazy Numan leads (actually, it's so powerful that it will enable you to become the second Vangelis). Also, it has 16 voices and can run 16 arpeggios and 16 sequencers at once. Last but not least - it is what it is. Grasp all these facts or else die. Have a nice day.

 

< SUBJECTIVE REVIEW >
 
(warning: might contain opinions)

 

A HISTORY OF FAILURE

Incredulous & dismayed by the low rating? You expected that the price & size would at least be a guarantee of perfection? It may be. It might have been. However, in the history of my life which I'm about to tell you, there are priorities other than searching for perfection.
I have devoted what is in my view a more-than-reasonable amount of time and a more-than-usual amount of tricks to make this synth tick for me. It was the most tedious and joyless chore in my synth life. Most probably all of this was not enough. If so, then the conclusion is simple - I lost the battle. But I want to report other insights from my story, even if the story itself was too short to reach the "true" or "objective" conclusions. Besides, I'm Polish, which means that if something is on a high pedestal, I need to throw some shit on it.

TOO AWRY...

Even if you have never played this synth, you've probably heard one big grievance against it: that the Andromeda is too deep. Too deep to program effectively, or to learn, or whatever. I'll say a different thing: being deep is not a downside and no synth is too deep to program - it's just the user interface that is too inaccurate & fucked up and the architecture (or the idea, if you will) that is too incongruous for the John Doe and his creative flow. As far as the depth itself goes, one can't say that the A6 is exceptionally deep in terms of modules, or that it's deeper than, say, the Virus TI or the Waldorf Q. Yet what I do see and hate about it is that it has the worst user experience of all the aforementioned synths. And I think that this is the ultimate reason for the Andromeda venture being too deep, or should we reather say too awry, thus making it too slow to show its strengths. The Waldorf Q is also deep, yet it doesn't make it unpopular or constantly resold on ebay. If the A6 is deep, it's deep in the sense of being a mosaic picture of high resolution (where the final product needs hundreds of little bits and pieces to be put in place), and not in the sense of a vibrant painting of various themes & epochs (I hope that one is self-explanatory). I'll try to do a quick list of what you might not like about this synth, first design-wise (leaving aside the atomized / convoluted architecture which demands of you tons of tricks & hundreds of hours):

1. The knobs response in a specific, sort of "lazy" way (knock-knock - because of their large resolution?:P) - they should be encoders and not potentiometers. A lot of folks love the finite scope & feel of potentiometers, but here, this vision just begs for encoders - especially in the section below the LCD. In normal mode, each time you touch a knob, it will jump suddenly to top-end or bottom-end of the values and destroy them. In pass-through mode, twist the knob a bit too forcefully (after you first meet the stupid thru-point), and it will also swerve too far away from the initial value, which basically results in both ways being equally attention-consuming and frustrating. Shit... Encoders would raise the cost? Oh fuck that, what does it matter if it's $3300 or $3600, let's go all the way! Does anybody think people who spend $3000 on a synth give a fuck about a $300 difference? The luxury segment should not cut corners, those two approaches are mutually (and suicidally) exclusive.

2. The design of the overpacked LCD and its font is poorly executed. It really strains the eyes (or the mind) trying to figure out where exactly you're operating or what exactly that is that you're seeing. Tiny text, abbreviations, double rows with unsymmetrical
text-to-button patterns all add to the mind-boggling experience. Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh. If the A6 was meant to be the deepest synth out there, I think it deserves a lot better and larger res LCD for all those deep settings to shine through.

3. May have a number of quirks / requirements / pitfalls / bugs rendering your process of purchase arduous or your playing infuriating ("When buying one watch out for everything" - and read this: http://electro-music.com/forum/forum-90.html) I'm not going to list all the funny shit like midi notes hanging, ugly seq retriggerring, etc; this review is already long.

4. This might be irrelevant, nonetheless I'll throw it in, just for the fuck of it:
The concept of a mod-matrix is reversed; you access a small mod-matrix at the destination (Alesis call it a target-based matrix). It means that you have to go to eg. Filter 1, click the button for its individual mod-matrix, and there you can assign some source to the Filter 1 options. And bear in mind how many more modules and corresponding buttons there are aside from Filter 1. For the brain that I carry inside my head it's like reading some exotic (like Asian) script which goes from right to left, or from bottom to top, or whichever fucking other funny way (actually I think that the Alesis team decided to follow that route in order to superfluously multiply the amount of buttons on the panel so that it looks more complex and can give a more intense orgasm to pot-bellied synth wankers - just joking :)

5. It's just one big simple analog synth. Yes, don't rub your eyes - simple. Despite being so complicated & rich in one sense, it's also simple & inert in another. When people say it's deep & complicated, they probably mean that it has things like ample room for gain / level manipulation, sophisticated envelopes with thousands of settings, that it can add or subtract the effects of modulation sources creating an infinite network of interdependent ties between them, etc (the mosaic part) and can thus for example recreate the exact behavior of a certain model of vintage envelope chip - nerd stuff. The reason I call it simple is because it does not have the fun stuff or that other something ("je ne sais quoi") that I care for, which other synths like DSIs, Blofelds, MS-2000s or vintage analogs have and which makes them alive & special & effective (the vibrant painting part).

TOO EXPENSIVE...

Hey, that's what it's supposed to be, isn't it? Biiiig & reeeeal analog synth. I'm aware of that technical aspect and I don't want to diss a synth just because it's not the exact present that I wanted from Santa. But let's separate intentions from consequences and passion from madness. Every human effort - and the Alesis team is no different - deserves appreciation, and each synth is an individual instrument with its individual flavors and purposes. And you can really, really hear this real analogueness in Andromeda's timbre (synths like MS-2000 are a joke in comparison). But I personally don't quite understand the appeal of, nor condone the idea of analog for analog's sake (or power for power's sake, etc). I don't love the Juno-60 because it's analog - I love it because it gives me goosebumps. And I don't love the AN1x because it emulates analog so well - I love it because it sounds sublime (and finally, I don't love the Waldorf Q just because it has 1000 "powerful" options - I love it because it shines like a star and speaks to me almost like another human being). So, as a matter of fact, the analogueness is in my view just a theme into which other themes are built, but it's not the defining theme and purpose of an instrument per se. The A6 is the heaviest, real analog amongst the digital crowd of today... Really?? That may be extraordinary, but what does it eventually amount to? I pay around Є2500 for the spectacuralry-analog Moog-clone wolf-kabob-Roth-vantage A6 Andromeda and I feel that what I get in return is a JX-3p on caterpillars... Don't laugh!:D At the end of the day, having the receipt in front of my eyes, the most apt three adjectives to describe the Andromeda (this time sound-wise) are:
1. monoaural - it mimics the CS80, Moogs, Matrixs and what not, but fares pretty badly outside the raw vintage aura (but that's understandable);
2. sharp / sombre - taking a Roland Juno as a reference point, the A6 sounds almost abrasive / obtrusive (that's less tolerable);
3. "meh" / indecisive - because it falls short of the sonic efficacy or potency of other modern or vintage synths (that quite kills it in my ears).

There's no point fighting the force of the market and we all know that price is the result of various forces; cost of production, discontinuation of production, number of units produced, usability, cult-status, dying parts, etc. And I respect it. I just don't give a fuck about it. If this is the outcome of going (power)fully analog in the 21st century, then I'd say - to hell with analogueness. Let it die. Don't exhume it lest we have another zombie. 3,5 grand is too much for this sort of entertainment. If you and me share the same kind of approach to synths and look at it all as more of a controlled musical passion than passionate analog madness, we will appreciate Ions for their various filters, Junos for their chorus, Viruses because they go granular, Waldorfs because of their digiwaves, Moogs for their directness, Nords for their handmade craftsmanship, DX7 for its unreal potential & plasticity, Polysiks and the '80s for their easy serviceability, but not so much the "powerful" Andromeda, which, apparently having fulfilled its epic-yet-simple-analog vision, has... standard waves and standard filters with its absurdly huge knobs - plus all the architectural & technical hassle. But let's not rely on entertainment / comfort value solely. Trying to look from a rationally-vintage point of view, Andy is...

...NOT THAT EXPENSIVE

Let's set a perspective: When buying the Virus TI you pay for the heaps of bread & butter that trickle down out of it into your songs - you buy a Toyota SUV let us say; when buying the Nord Lead or the JP-8000 you pay for the interface / live performance design - a Porsche could be a good analogy. And should you decide to buy the Andromeda, the largest part of the money will cover the potential of emulation that resides under its silver panel with all its neverending nuances - you buy yourself a moon rocket. I think that the A6 ends up being one big mix of several vintage synths and gives you a set of mini flavor samples of them. In some basses I might hear the murky and unstable Korg Mono-Poly / Polysix, cohesive Moogs and chorus-less Junos/Jupiters; in leads the raw Prophet-5 and the punchy Roland SH-line (with its feedback loop) as well as cocky Oberheims; and in filter-whistling I might hear timbres as distant and elusive as vintage Akais. So I think we've just found a first thumbs-up for this synth, and a huge one at that: the A6 is as much vintage history and versatility as possible encapsulated in one entity, in one silver pill. You don't have to spend a large fortune on furnishing your studio with every vintage-and-absurdly-expensive synth (including the Yamaha CS-80) one-by-one; just invest in the A6 space technology - swallow the silver pill for a relatively tiny fortune - and ride the cosmic vintage sound trip of your life. Here, in this area, might lie your guarantee of perfection (just bear in mind that after entering this Matrix the pill can get stuck in your throat and make you cough reeeeal fucking long - be prepared to quit your day job and / or abandon your hapless family).

WARNING: HIGH-YIELD + HIGH-RISK INVESTMENT / INVOLVEMENT

However, since a jack of all trades is master of none, and having this amount of money to burn, I would opt for a different route: a couple of genuine vintage synths (make it a Prophet 600 instead of the Prophet 5 and Juno-6 instead of Jupiter-8, you nerd;P) and something modern, a Virus let's say. Being a moderate freak I believe it necessary to have 3-to-5 genuine vintage synths, simply because I value individuality and I really believe that each model is irreplacable and no synth will emulate any other synth perfectly (plus you'll do your sounds a lot quicker on the original vintage models, and their chip replacements actually exist). And when you add a thing like Virus, you have a lot of versatility and fun.

Sorry Andy. Andy-not-Handy - you remind me of the Landkreuzer P-1500 Monster. You need to be taken care of by a very special and rare person (most preferably one with long gray hair and an oscilloscope - just joking ;P). Otherwise you don't warm blood in the veins, don't inspire and end up not being used. Having loyally in mind that wonderful, early-70's, spacey sound trait that permeates some of your patches, it's still not quite sensible to shell out all the money just for you, because it would amount to putting all one's eggs into one bulky basket = fucking stupid behavior. You give me headache and you stress me with the possibility of breaking down with one of your chips or whatever, in the case of which it would be a horrendously horrible horror, especially in my geopolitical location. And I don't feel like fixing a space shuttle nor replacing half of it to make it fully functional again. Especially if I have devoted x years to master it. That's bullshit.

"I actually sold my A6 a little while ago because I couldn't get along with it and one of the voices died on it."

This sentence coming from a friend's e-mail one day sealed my Andy's fate and I sold it before it was too late. And I'm happy to have reaped the profits (got 140% of my initial price, holy cow! are they dying that fast?) from someone who's courageous enough to make his own foray into this endless galaxy, or shrewd and patient enough to treat it as an investment. I wish him all the best. I myself spent the cash on bitches & booze; now the Earth may explode.

Who says too much adrenaline is a bad thing? I do - hit me. Too much of anything is a bad thing. TROLOLO. Cheers.

ps. MGR, you poor wretched soul, have you bought your third Andromeda and is this one finally booting up properly without freezing the display and all?;P And when you have it, then there's only the Jupiter-8 to be had, and then you can die happy, right?;P
Oh right, I remember... the sacred "It's finicky but it's analog!"  argument.

 

 

< TRIVIA >

Clues for the initiated:

Check out this passage from Primo Levi - it might well illustrate the positive feelings people have towards their Andromedas:

"The successive readings of an already familiar book can take place, so to speak, with ever-expanding enlargements, like certain very beautiful sequences of photographs in which one sees a fly, then its head with delicate antennae and multiple eyes, then a single eye like a crystal cupola, and finally the eye's complicated yet necessary inner structure. Or the same readings can take place, if we still want to draw on photographic language, with a different lighting or from a different visual angle. To tell the truth, not all books lend themselves to being read with a magnifying glass: in other words, not all have a 'fine structure'; but for those that do have it, the effort is well spent, and these are the books I prefer".

Clues for the heathen:

All the vehement rants on forums and all the misunderstanding springs from the fact that people use the same words (like liquid or plastic) but put different meaning behind them. You can witness it in any debate in any given field, most notably and clearly in the justice / equality debate. Some people when talking about equality mean equality of rules and processes. They want the courts and the schools to apply the same judgment and rules to all people, without any regard to the history of their lives. As long as everybody plays by the same set of rules, it can be said that everyone has been treated equally and justice has been done, whatever the outcome. However, other people view justice and equality not as a desirable process but as a desirable result. So when speaking about equality, they're not satisfied that the process has been carried out justly - they demand eg. equality of performance, pay, etc. They say: "yes, that kid is a bad student, but you have to take into account that he comes from an unprivileged background, he did not have the means to study even though he wanted to study, so we have to apply different rules & grades to him (meaning we have to treat him / her unequally for a while) in order to lift him up so that he has equal opportunity with the others". Or: "yes, that ethnic person may not be the best person for this job in the boss'es opinion, but due to historical discrimination of his ethnic group, this group has been underrepresented on the job market, so we have to preferentially push this applicant up the ladder so that there's equality in the jobs, so that we have the right amounts of women, men, blacks, whites, gays, heteros, etc within the distribution scale. Formal justice is just an empty slogan if it does not lead to real, human justice". So, finally, where the first party of people sees justice and equality (or equity), the other party sees injustice and inequality (or inequity), even though they're looking at the very same thing. The point of this philosophical babble? Never listen to words of benevolent macho synth owners - listen to audio demos of synths as this is the only way to judge and get to the truth. Your truth. If anybody forces their opinion on you - or insists that you do not understand due to your shortcomings - that this or that synth is or sounds so fucking special / organic / unplastic / etc, tell them to show you those wonderful sounds they made on it (also specifying the outboard gear used and time devoted) or shut up. Apparently some people have difficulty accepting the idea of subjectivity and will defend their precious machines with an effort that is worthy of defending a human's life.

 

 

Audio demo:
[ mp3 demo - my patches ]

 


 

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