Published On: Thu, Mar 17th, 2011

Aturia Origin Keyboard Review

Origin Keyboard
Manufacturer Arturia
Price £2,550
Contact 2twenty2 0845 299 4222

It’s been a full three years since Arturia unveiled its desktop synth module, the Origin. Origin combined all of Arturia’s well-deserved reputation for producing comprehensive virtual models of the synths that have shaped our sonic history with a beautifully designed and ergonomic control surface.
The underlying concept behind Origin was to digitally provide all the elements of synthesis – modular components (VCOs, VCFs, ADSRs and so on), step sequencing and modulation matrices – with a wealth of real-time controllers, giving the user superb performance capabilities and near-instant access to all of the essential parameters of the synth.
Arturia’s new Origin Keyboard sports the familiar desktop module mounted via a huge, brushed steel hinge onto a very well-constructed sheet-metal casing that houses a 61-note, semi-weighted keyboard. The ivory-coloured case also boasts octave shift buttons and pitch and mod wheels, as well as a large ribbon controller and wood-veneer end cheeks.

Keep your cool
Due to the need to house the DSP in the keyboard, a fan is required for cooling; our review model was one of the first out of the factory and had an incredibly noisy fan, but Arturia has assured us that all subsequent models ship with a much quieter one. Another minor gripe was the external transformer – particularly given the size of the casing – but this is apparently required as both modules (Desktop and Keyboard) share the same motherboard as the original Origin – in which there wasn’t enough room in the casing to physically accommodate a transformer. These are relatively trivial issues, though, particularly when you consider the depth and quality of synthesis possible with the Origin.
The back of the keyboard is well served with ins and outs (all on 1/4-inch jacks): headphones, stereo inputs (the Origin’s filters and effects can be used to process external audio signals), master outputs (left and right) and eight auxiliary outputs. All outputs default to the master outputs unless you’re working in Multi mode, in which case there’s the option to take the four programs possible (when in the multi-program mode) in stereo pairs from the auxiliary outputs. S/PDIF out, USB and MIDI in/out and thru are available as well as expression and footswitch inputs. The expression pedal can be assigned to all of the modular components available in Origin, while the footswitch can be used to trigger FX busses, sequencer loops, the arpeggiator or just act as a plain old sustain pedal. The polarity of the pedal input is reversible and can be set to either latch or toggle, making it a versatile tool for live work.

Sound designs
At the heart of this excellent-sounding synth is Arturia’s TAE sound engine; it re-creates some of the anomalies that occur in the electronic circuitry that give the ‘warmth’ and ‘phatness’ that we associate with vintage analogue synths. Oscillators and filters from the Minimoog, ARP 2600, Yamaha CS-80 and the Roland Jupiter 8 have all been digitally modelled to component level, plus Arturia provides its own DSP-lite modules representing all aspects of modular synthesis.
Other modules include the Moog Bode Frequency Shifter (this appeared in the Moog Modular systems of the early 70s) and the CS-80’s unique ILAL envelope generator. The massive number of modulation options, from a dazzling variety of sources, enable incredibly complex patches that would be difficult to reproduce with anything else on the market today.
The beta firmware update (1.3.8) that we’ve been using should be available by the time you’re reading this review and brings several additions to the existing firmware as well as a few bug fixes. The inclusion of a Minimoog and a Jupiter 8 template allows for instant access to the full functionality of both of these classic synths; the digital domain also offers improvements on the original synths, including velocity sensitivity, polyphony and a modulation matrix for the Moog. There’s also the addition of a sample-and-hold module as well as a compressor for the FX section.
The key to the Origin’s versatility lies in all of the modular components being able to be patched together in a virtual modular system of your own making. You could, for example, create a couple of Minimoog oscillators, patch them through a CS-80 filter, then shape the sound with an Origin envelope before modulating them using the unique Galaxy module. This Arturia-designed module enables you to create three LFOs assigned to different planes on the joystick; when different rates are set for the LFOs, very complex modulations can be achieved as you move between the planes by rotating the joystick. These LFOs can be assigned to any destination that’s part of your patch.

Control central
The hardest thing to achieve when it comes to designing something as ambitious as the Origin is to enable access to the depths of the beast without forcing the user to endlessly scroll through sub-menus.
The superb layout of the control panel, with its central 5.2-inch TFT screen and wealth of rotary encoders, gives an immediate overview of the Origin’s workflow. There are dedicated rotary controllers for the oscillators’ pitch, tuning and waveform; underneath is a controller to select which oscillator you’re adjusting. Macros can be set up for this encoder to enable the editing of more than one oscillator at the same time; these can be set in the macro page by selecting every VCO you want to adjust.
This same principle applies in the filter section: three encoders adjust cutoff, resonance and filter type respectively while the Select encoder enables you to change an individual filter or a macro. Frequency and waveform can be adjusted from their own controllers in the LFO section and again, the ubiquitous Select knob allows you to see which LFOs are being used. Finally, the envelope section allows you to adjust the conventional attack, decay, sustain and release as well the pre-decay time and level – this enables the setting of an intermediate decay time.

Take it easy
The Select controller is vital to the ease of workflow: you can be on any page of the operating system, tweak the Select button of whichever section you want to edit and a boxout appears in the centre of the screen while you scroll through the options. Pressing the encoder opens the parameter and routing options menu for the selected module.
The live performer’s icing-on-the-cake is provided by the four rotary encoders located to either side of the TFT display. These eight knobs can be assigned to any of the synth’s virtual parameters by cursoring to the desired field in your chosen page then pressing the encoder. This offers you an even greater depth of live control as it can be used to vary modulation amounts, FX parameters, sequencer sends and anything else that isn’t immediately available from the synth’s onboard hardware controllers.

In sequence
Running along the bottom of the control panel is the hardware for the sequencer – the three (up to) 32-step sub-sequencers are represented by a single row of 16 rotary encoders, each with its own LCD backlit button underneath. Each sub-sequence is adjustable from its own page within the sequencer menu or you can view all three at once from the All page. Any modulation destination can be set for these and once you’ve selected which sub-sequence you want to edit (by pressing the Edit button on the control panel) the encoders will be assigned to that sub-sequence.
This powerful sequencer includes eight banks of 16 factory sequences that can all be edited and saved to the eight user banks. The factory banks are well distributed between bass lines, TB envelope sequences, miscellaneous patterns for the program presets and drum patterns. These are all great places to start as you begin to create your own user patterns.
The internal clock can be set either from the Settings page or via the Rate knob on the fascia; the Origin will receive MIDI clock but it won’t generate it, which is a bit of an omission – if you’re intending to use it as your master device in a live setup (where a DAW is not available) you won’t be able to clock external devices to the Origin. What’s more, there’s no tap-tempo option, which is another essential tool for using any rhythmic device in the live environment. Perhaps these are issues that Arturia should consider in a future firmware development.

One of the areas of music production that the Origin is ideally suited to is sound design, and the multi-program mode is the place to do it. It’s possible to have four programs playing at once, each with their own key zone, MIDI channel and FX routing for the three effects slots available for each program. The Origin arrives with a load of multi-programs that give you an idea of the amazing soundscapes that can be created as you tweak and twiddle the various programs in real time. Of course, you can use multi-program mode to just layer up presets to create incredibly fat textures or build up rhythmic loops.
The mixer section of the control panel comes into its own in these situations. Each program has its own level encoder, backlit Edit button and an on/off button. The selected program’s on/off button will flash to indicate which synth you’re looking at on the screen. All of the menu pages are well laid-out without any clutter, making for easy and logical editing of all the Origin’s parameters.
Underneath the mixer section are the hardware encoders for the onboard FX; three slots are available per program, with each slot having its own return level control and backlit Edit and on/off buttons.
The effects themselves are uncomplicated but very useful and of extremely high quality; the reverb has excellent transparency while the chorus adds a real richness to the sound that you’d associate with a rackmounted chorus unit from the 80s. Similarly, the delay module has the character of a tape echo when you dial in the damping option, while the tube distortion is warm and saturated.

Soft solutions
Although the Origin ships with Origin Connection (the librarian program and firmware update gateway), there is no dedicated editor as yet. Arturia was a little cagey when pressed on this, but the company is working on ideas to improve the librarian software, integrate VST MIDI plug-ins for DAWs and including a basic modular editor. We won’t see the development of these ideas until the official release of firmware version 1.3, but the mind can wander endlessly with possible developments – could the auxiliary outputs be configured for 5.1? Will there be any other templates in addition to the Minimoog and Jupiter 8?
Whether we see these updates or not, the Origin Keyboard is certainly the next step on the path to creating one of the most versatile and high-quality synths on the market.

Superb sounds
Easy real-time control
Great depth of modular synthesis possible
Versatile output options
Audio input

No tap tempo
No MIDI clock master option

An excellent-sounding synth with huge depths of modular synthesis possible. It would be ideal as the primary sound source for any sound design project as well as being the ultimate production tool in the studio when sync’ed synth sounds are required.
★★★★★★★★★ (9/10)

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