Tom Whitwell Just Killed The Arturia Origin’s Buzz

MusicThing’s Tom Whitwell has posted his first impressions of the Arturia Origin synthesizer, and it’s not pretty:

The Origin has crossed that line – it’s not a hardware synth, it’s a computer in a box covered in knobs.

The trouble starts when you turn it on, after first plugging it in, using the OEM external power supply that must have cost 99p. (Seriously, a £1900 hardware synth only really makes sense if you’re playing live. An external PSU only makes sense if you’re desperately trying to cut costs. If Behringer can manage a proper internal universal PSU in £70 mixers, why can’t you?) Anyway, when you turn it on, it takes 30+ seconds to boot. Because it’s a computer in a box.

No, it isn’t a literal PC in a box like an Open Labs Neko or a Hartman Neuron, so it will have taken serious R&D investment to design and build. The hardware was designed – in 2005 – by Wave Idea, a French company who make MIDI interfaces. What’s frustrating about the Origin is that it’s a computer in a box pretending to be an analog synth… and nothing more.

The Origin is a wonderful thing. It looks good, it feels good. I’m sure it’s not overpriced for what it is – a boutique, limited-run machine with a lot of custom hardware and software.

But I can’t imagine who would be willing to pay £1,900 for it. It’s too digital for an analog fetishist, too analog for a sound experimentalist. The potential of this box is immense – DSP power + screen + knobs + blinkenlights + wooden end panels. But at the moment it’s just – tragically – boring.

Read Tom’s full impressions here, and if you’re an Origin owner, I’d be interested in your thoughts on Arturia’s new hardware synthesizer.

14 thoughts on “Tom Whitwell Just Killed The Arturia Origin’s Buzz

  1. I’m not really an Origin user, even if I spent dozen of fun hours on this machine during the beta-test process, and I just read Tom’s “review” of the synthesizer. Well, it’s more F.U.D. than anything else; because it only points its supposedly weaknesses (sure there are some) and neither its strengths (sure there are are lot more):

    _ “computer in a box”: depends on what you can call a computer, but it’s the strict technical definition of any synthesizer since the 80’s, really. But no IBM PC inside, sorry.

    _ “If Behringer can manage a proper internal universal PSU in £70 mixers, why can’t you?”: maybe because they want to avoid electromagnetic disturbances, and allow easy replacement in case of failure? Sure a 70£ unit will never be repaired, so it did not have this purpose in mind when designed. My 300€ Yamaha mixer has external PSU, and however Yamaha really is capable of implementing internal PSU.

    _ “The thing is (…) I just wanted a mouse and a decent-sized screen”: sure, he needs a real desktop computer, which Origin definitely is *not*. Who is to blame?
    _ “Because patching a modular synth (…) is [also] about weird connections – putting control signals through audio effects” : sure, but who is *really* doing that? Nice people probably, but not the main targeted public who will really more get confused with patching errors than enjoyed.

    _ “Apart from anything else, the modules are so restricted – no sample player, no FM, no granular synthesis”: well, “not *yet*” would be more precise. We’re talking about 1.0 version here, and the manual talks about forthcoming evolutions.

    _ “And (…) it doesn’t run VSTs or allow users to develop their own modules”: well, it’s *not* a computer, even not an “open” synth. Don’t look for your favorite OS, sequencer, plug-ins host or instant messenger client in this machine, Arturia forgot to implement those. Shame on them, really?

    _ “Please remember this isn’t a real review. This isn’t Sound on Sound. I’ve lived with this box for days, not weeks. I’m not a real musician, I haven’t read the manual properly – most of what I say is ill-informed prejudice.”: this is exactly what I said, basic F.U.D.

    Sadly, I expected more from Tom. :-/

  2. Just looked for the definition of F.U.D. and I must say I agree with Azatoth.
    Why firing at products of this magnitude without proper testing while there is so little innovation in the field?

  3. Azatoth & Jeremy

    Calling this FUD isn’t fair to Tom. He called his take on the Arturia Origin “his first impressions”, and that’s how we characterized it, too. It’s not like he’s working for Roland and trying to kill off competition.

    His first impressions aren’t very favorable, though, which is why I’m interested in hearing what other people have to say.

  4. I get your point, Synthhead.
    I want to check the machine but could not do it yet. So there is not much I can say.
    I am just happy companies like Arturia bring new products to the market and feel we should back them as much as we can. New synths are good news for the industry anyway.

  5. Azatoth said: “_ “computer in a box”: depends on what you can call a computer, but it’s the strict technical definition of any synthesizer since the 80’s, really. But no IBM PC inside, sorry.”

    This is a slightly, umm, interpretative reading of Tom’s remarks, isn’t it? My Andromeda has a computer inside but it has analogue sound generation circuits, not programs emulating those circuits. It costs less than the Origin too. As did my Doepfer – no computer there at all!

    Azatoth said: _ “Because patching a modular synth (…) is [also] about weird connections – putting control signals through audio effects” : sure, but who is *really* doing that? Nice people probably, but not the main targeted public who will really more get confused with patching errors than enjoyed.”

    By this logic, why bother with making the Origin at all? Surely all those buttons will just confuse the majority of users? I think it’s fair that Tom is pointing out that the Origin doesn’t appear, to him, to be as modular as it’s been hyped to be. I, for one, appreciated that info and the comparison to the Nord Modular stuff.

    FWIW, I’m not an analogue fetishist. I don’t mind “computers in boxes” at all (which is why I love my Elektron gear). But I’d rather that DSP power was thrown at doing something more than emulating analogue circuits. Particular when I can buy real analogue synths far more cheaply.

  6. Jeremy – I’m behind you on that.

    I’m looking forward to trying out the Origin again. When I saw it last, it was still in development.

    But feedback like Tom’s is important. In this day and age,technology has advanced to a point where waiting for a synth to boot up for 30 seconds IS a real annoyance. You don’t have to do that with a piano or a trumpet or a violin, so why should we have to do that with a synth?

    Also, a lot of synths still use convoluted interfaces and layers of menus to give you access to change parameters. That’s OK for a budget instrument, but is a real annoyance in an expensive synth.

  7. Azatoth – well, nothing is an Origin but an Origin but that wasn't my point. I was showing that there are two real analogue systems that would, in differing ways, give you MORE flexibility / power than the Origin for less money. If I had two grand to spend on a new synth, I wouldn't be throwing it at a synth with a thirty second boot that is neither fully modular (like the Doepfer) nor analogue (like the Andromeda).

    But, yep, of course you are right: in the end, it all comes down to personal preference, musical intentions etc. Hell, I wasn't tempted by the Virus TI will I played one in a shop. Then I bought one!

    Who knows, maybe I'll try out the Origin and be blown away by the sound quality? That's what the recent review in Future Music concluded, they gave it a very high score. And I don't want to sound like an Origin-basher as, unlike Tom, I haven't ever tried it out in real life. My opinion could change in a second! 🙂

    1. Not defending or criticizing any opinion, but nobody mentioned that analogue synths need a warmup time of 5-15 minutes so they stay in tune (hopefully). So why are people complaining about 30 second boot times on a digital synth?

  8. @Jyoti Mishra
    AFAIK the Andromeda is not modular, even if routing possibilities are strong enough to render it modular-like, and the Doepfer is fully analogue: no embedded system inside (except the MIDI-CV/Gate converter possibly based on a µC), no memories… well everything that makes this kind of stuff so likeable. 😉
    Not really the same synths, even if they are great by the way, so not the same price neither.
    The user interface, even if not so perfect, has been designed to simplify the modularity while letting as much direct control as possible. I found this Arturia approach to modularity/control sufficient enough, but it is just a personal feeling after all, that might not suit everyone.
    The boot process is looong, it’s a fact, surprising on 21st century machines. I presume loading a fully color high-def graphical interface has a cost for the CPU; when loaded it runs really smoothly, more than the Motif I had in hands last month (though it is low-def and no color). Boot process was not a big issue for me, I don’t really care as long as the main purpose (SOUUUUND!!!) is present, but I understand it can be for other people. Hope someone from Arturia is reading this…

  9. Looks like an interesting device but I think Arturia have acquired a shaky reputation regarding the stability of their soft synths. There seem to be quite a few annoying and really pretty daft bugs – I’m thinking in particular of problems with naming patches becasue that, whilst not world stopping, should be easy to fix. But bug-fixes come there none…or VERY few and far between. And looooong silences…That’s a wory if you’re thinking about shelling out two grand. Granted, it’s no worse than other companies who no longer exist but the oft repeated line that the original synths had loads of problems so buggy software is OK – well, it’s not a line that buys you too many friends. Going to the Arturia forums feels like visiting a small desest town hit by plague – you pick up the newspaper lying on a table and find out it’s two years old, that sort of feel. And as for the thing about the manual talking about forthcoming evolutions – no thanks. I might consider buying this thing but ONLY on what it does – now.

    It looks like a good device – boot up times like that don’t worry me – but Arturia have shaped people’s preceptions of them as a company and the sort of response you might expect from them in the event of problems, over the last few years and if you are buying stuff this costly, then I reckon you don’t want months of the silent treatment. That may be grossly unfair, in that they may have helped out many people, but that’s how they appear to me. If they’d been out there with regular bug fixes, or even statements explaining that things couldn’t be fixed, I’d respect them far more than the stonewall, Steinberg type non-response.

  10. I have an Origin and I like it a lot. Funny that people are trying to compare it to the Andromeda, which is something I also have.
    Having both I can say that both are good and both are different.
    The Origin is more fun to play with and use. I find the programming to be easier than the Andromeda. The Andromeda suffers from a lousy user interface, it makes things a lot harder than they should be. The Origin can do a wider range of sounds by nature of it not being limited to only two oscillators and two filters in a voice like the Andromeda. If I could only have one, I would take the Origin.

    The power supply…uuggh….I could care less the type of power supply in my gear. If it works, that’s all I care about. It doesn’t make a difference in the musicality of a product at all.

    I think that he did bring up a good point on the patching of modules. This would actually be easier with a mouse.
    The mouse fails when trying to edit parameters like filters and envelopes, this the Origin does very well.

    Most importantly, the sound quality of the Origin is excellent. Not digital sounding at all unless you use the Prophet VS Oscillators in which case it should sound digital.

  11. I looked up the Analog Devices Tigersharc DSP chips that this synth uses (2 of) on the Farnell Electronics site. Each chip costs nearly £300, so the DSP power of this box on its own is almost a third of the asking price (£600 = 1/3rd of £1800, roughly).
    It might be expensive, but there aren't many synths out there with anything like this kind of raw grunt.
    Still, it's a long road to get from a heavy-duty hardware platform to a successful instrument. I wish them the best of luck, because I'd love to see some real innovation and imagination in the synth world.

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