MacBeth Elements Analog Synthesizer – Uncompromising In Sound, Build Quality & Ergonomics

macbeth-elements-close-up

Musikmesse 2014: MacBeth Studio Systems has officially introduced the MacBeth Elements analog synthesizer – a high-end boutique synthesizer that’s designed to be uncompromising in sound, build quality and ergonomics.

macbeth-elements-synthesizer

Here’s what designer Ken MacBeth has to say about this $6,499 analog beast:

“the elements became an idea that i was fixed on. i wanted to make a real sized synthesizer panel that had top quality features in it and without sonic compromise.

i bought some aluminium panels (which just happened to be 84 hp) and started work. during this time- i also thought that i’d like to go down the ‘british look’ style…from my very early days i had always like the looks of two british synthesizers of old- the dewtron synthesizer and the ems. finding that those and indeed, radio ham equipment were the traditional vernier dial- plus the availability of real cliff knobs…i set about making element one!

element one is the first in a series of five elements modules- well, there has to be a fifth element!

element one is a full scale synthesizer voice and contains some rather ubiquitous and desirable features…one of them being a seriously acidic voltage controlled filter. the signal path is like this- two of my modified x-series oscillators- prone to emphasise a ‘glitch’.common to sawtooth oscillators, converting to triangle and sine. trimmers on the rear allow the user to ‘preset’ the glitch, or ‘spike’ as i call it. infact- the trimmers on the rear of the elements one module can be twisted and tweaked so that the user themselves can dial in the sound of their module! play away…

the diode ladder filter came from a series of experiments that i did in my quest to find a filter that had both depth and substance that didn’t distort when approaching ‘high q’ or resonance…some good, some bad, some excellent! experimentation is where it comes from!

the sound is both fat and delightful! you have two vcos, noise, lot’s of cross mod, sync, a crazy filter and two punchy envelope generators…and what sets the element one apart from mixing and matching modules, is that each ‘element’ in this module is perfectly matched to the other, sonically!

…so, the result was top…

while playing the element one module with the touch keyboard that i’d developed- it occurred to me- that both the module and the keyboard could be integrated together! and if they could be integrated together- why not go the whole way and make a full scale synth out of this! ideas came together…and fast…..i decided to add yet another oscillator for that full 3 oscillator sound…and also i felt that the inclusion of a fourth modulating oscillator had to be. and while i was at it- make that modulating oscillator a fully blown vco/lfo….born is the elements synthesizer! it’s a lightweight, thin, compact synthesizer that take in external cv and gate, sends out cv and gate to external voltage controlled equipment, and when you don’t need to use that dynamic touch keyboard- you can use midi to control it!”

macbeth-elements-analog-synthesizer

MacBeth Elements Synthesizer Specifications:

  • self contained synthesizer with built in touch capacitative keyboard
  • 3 wide ranging voltage controlled oscillators and 1 vc low frequency oscillator/audio oscillator.
  • vco1: 5 waveforms: ramp, square, enhance, triangle, sine.
    • multi turn vernier dial tuning frequency: 1 hz ~ 20khz and beyond.
    • volume output direct to vcf.
  • vco2: 5 waveforms: ramp, square, enhance, triangle, sine.
    • multi turn vernier dial tuning frequency: 1 hz ~ 20khz and beyond.
    • volume output direct to vcf.
    • shared enhance rate between vco1 and vco2, variable from slow ~ fast.
  • vco3: 6 waveforms: ramp, square,triangle, sine, saw, s&h
    • multi turn vernier dial tuning frequency: 0.01 hz ~ 20khz and beyond. transpose switch: lo, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2.
    • cv on/off switch.
    • vco3 hard synchronization to vco2.
    • volume output direct to vcf or cross modulate vco2.
  • temperature compensated vc low frequency oscillator/oscillator (vco4): 6 waveforms: ramp, square,triangle, sine, saw, s&h. frequency rate variable from slow ~ fast- approx: 0.01 hz ~ 20khz and beyond. cv on/off switch. fast ~ slow switch. s&h selector switch: noise source or vco3 source. mod vco3 potentiometer, mod vcf potentionmeter, audio to vcf potentiometer, large global modulation potentiometer.
  • noise generator: white noise, pink noise. volume output direct to vcf and s&h circuits.
  • external audio input amplifier: volume output to vcf or ring modulator.
  • ring modulator: mc1469 based double balanced modulator. inputs: vco1 sine, vco2 sine or external audio input amplifier. volume output direct to vcf.
  • voltage controlled filter/ resonator (vcf): self oscillating, 5 ‘rung’ diode ladder type approximating 32db/octave roll off slope. self correcting volume gain at high ‘q’ (response). cv/keyboard tracking switch: off (centre) half, full. vco3 modulation potentiometer, vcf eg sweep potentiometer. pure sine output at maximum resonance/reponse. targeted to ca3080 based voltage controlled amplifier (vca)
  • vcf envelope generator: full attack, decay, sustain, release with long ~ short timing switch. vcf eg polarity switch: positive or negative going slopes. vcf eg > vco3 sweep switch.
  • vca envelope generator: full attack, decay, sustain, release with long ~ short timing switch.
  • tape delay simulator: input direct from vca. delay time potentiometer, delay modulation potentiometer, delay modulation control switch: vc lfo ~ kbd cv, delay repeats potentiometer, delay mix potentiometer. final output to spring reverberator circuit.
  • spring reverberator: external spring line tank connect via ¼” jack socket, standard tank supplied: compact belton/accutronics bmn3bb2c1 for wall/under desk mounting. other tanks/accesorries can be used.
  • keyboard: touch capacitive gold plated articulator allows 4 octave f ~ f chromatic span.
  • control source via switch can be touch keyboard, midi or external cv/gate. keyboard can send 1v/octave and +12v gate signals from outputs on the rear of the unit to suitable ancilliary equipment, ie, external vc synthesizer/vc synthesizer modules.
  • other controls: ultrabender: dynamic pitch bend + – 2 octaves either side with dead band in the centre of play. master tune- + – ½ octave either side. global portamento- applies to all cv controls.
  • rear section interface: midi in/thru, cv in, gate in, vco1 cv in, vco2 cv in, vco 3 cv in, vcf cv in, external audio in, cv out, gate out, synth out, power in.
  • dimensions: 19.2″ width, 15.1″ depth, 2.0″ height. with detachable rubber feet: 2.15″ height.

Here’s Ken MacBeth introducing the MacBeth Elements at Musicmesse 2014 (via sonicstate):

And here’s a video demo of the Elements Synthesizer in action:

The MacBeth Elements analog synthesizer is available to order via Analogue Haven.


55 thoughts on “MacBeth Elements Analog Synthesizer – Uncompromising In Sound, Build Quality & Ergonomics

    • I think that’s a valid comment. Does anyone remember when they first wanted to be a “keyboard” player? Was this how you pictured playing a keyboard? I would be prepared to fall madly in love with this at any price if it had a traditional keyboard.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2
      • The touch keyboard allows for a lot of awesome playing/modulation possibilities. You could easily just hook up a midi keyboard to it if you don’t like it.

        I think it’s kind of funny that it appears he used a pt2399 based delay circuit it in there. The darling of lofi DIY budget echo jammed in this Rolls Royce type synth…

        Bottom line the synth is awesome, just a bit overpriced (but not as much as you think, especially considering the size of his operation). Read the specs, it’s pretty wild.

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    • OMFG! is that a mistake??…………..well lets all buy a moog then! lol…….a total joke

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  1. Outrageous indeed..and still there will be a lot of people, that will be able to have one of this beautiful pieces…lately I have this thing of comparing synth prices against Moog prices (which IMO are the highest for non professional music enthusiast)..and $6.5 K can be a lot (and I mean a lot) of very good quality equipment too…IMHO…rgds

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  2. It looks staggeringly beautiful in a cool scientific way. The specifications are top-shelf. It would be a dream to own one.

    The sky-high entry fee coupled with the stylophone-style input is going to invite a lot of pseudo outraged trolling. And I don’t want to be that guy.

    But once the price leaves the $2,000 range, one can’t help but join in. This thing is made out of electronic components, correct? Resistors and capacitors and transistors? Circuit boards? Jacks? Non-precious metals?

    It would be out of my reach even if it cost $1,000 USD. So I don’t have a stake in it, gearwise. But how much of the price is justified by the question “where else will you get one?” How much is self-fulfilling value prophecy? (It’s worth what he says it’s worth, so price it high and it will be a status item by fiat.)

    Only a handful of elites will buy it. Or a few moneyed institutions. It then leaves the realm of a musical instrument and becomes an art piece. Something to be traded and speculated and hung in a gallery. No pub gigs, hell, no ungloved hands.

    At $6,500, you’re literally paying for the fact that you can pay that much money. And while it’s still a great synth and a valid discussion, the fact is there won’t be a bunch of fun YouTube demos. Only Howard Hughes will own one, and he’ll be petting it like a cat in an undisclosed penthouse suite.

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      • i love it but the economics of it don’t add up. you use it in a main stream track how much does it add to that track. is the price difference between that and an alternative synth that great that it will sell more records. how many of the potential market of that track will know the difference between that and an alternative????

        but I still want one

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2
    • Well said. It might be an amazingly beautiful synth, but I also can’t help but think this price is a tad elitist. Bottom line is that it is purely electronics in a spesific pattern. Ok, grantet the keyboard is goldplated, but I doubt its that much gold. Unfortunatly as you say, this will never become an instrument we will see to much of. And for my part, it will stay a beautiful dream :(

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      • And btw, I love the stylofone-keyboard on this. I am not a traditional keyboard player, so I dont have any referance point I come from i that manner. Since I got my first synth, the Animoog, I have loved the uniform glaskeyboard.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
    • Its a brand new old style synth being sold at a vintage price. Its a moneys no object thing. He even says its “no compromise”. In other words its targeted at those who can afford.
      Ken has probaby put a lot of hours into research and developmemt, building and testing prototypes etc. On top of that hes probably a one man band, so needs to recoup costs.
      At that price, i would guess he just needs to shift a small number of units. It probably dlesnt make business sense to manufacture 1000′s to sell at a lower price.
      Personally, i will keep buying lotto tickets as i would love to own this.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1
        • He has stated that he spent a little over a year developing this synthesizer and that most of the features can be found on some of his other creations. However he used better components for this particular unit. And if you listen to the clip he farms out the actual production!

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  3. I am not going to deride nor promote this synth. Ken Macbeth is not merely pricing this synth based on the specifications nor the build quality, part of the cachet here is his name, his seal his brand. Certainly that is priced in.

    Much is also made of the build quality and how components used on the Macbeth are Military Grade, thus built to very exacting and demanding specifications. And whilst that is true and some will laud this fact to measure into the price/build quality, the DSP chips used on the Virus TI are also Military/Avionics grade. I am not comparing, yet when such marketing terms (fluff) are used such as “uncompromising” and even it is sincere, that is subjective.

    That said I am less interested in arguing the price/benefit than I am in arguing that regardless of price, regardless of build quality, in the 2014, a simple patch memory, simple rotary led lights around pots (to indicate current position) and perhaps a small HD OLED to display the waveform shape would have gone a long way to blend a perfect host of old and new.

    Just my thoughts.

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  4. For $6,500, I would expect some polyphony and patch storage for all those knobs. I like to spend time designing sounds and storing them for later, especially with all those parameters and features. The ring mod and spring reverb are pretty sweet. I would pay no more than $4,500 for it, which is the same price as Moog Voyager XL.

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    • I should add that for $6,500, I would see a synthesizer exclusively as studio production equipment. That said, patch storage is extremely important to me. That is why I invested in a Studio Electronics Omega 8, and I just dropped off at their workshop in El Segundo to have it upgraded to a custom-made CODE OD with CS80 filters. My point is that it will probably end up costing about as much as the Elements. The sound of the Elements is probably more interesting with the ring mod, spring reverb and all the filter control. If money was no object, sure, it would be nice to get an Elements. In the real world, I would rather have a much more studio production friendly synthesizer like the SE Omega/CODE with 8 voice analog polyphony (with 2 oscillators and 3 waveforms per osc), patch storage and full MIDI CC implementation. Unison mode with all 8 voices on an Omega/CODE is pretty crazy. :)

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  5. sorry but 6500 is ridiculous, yes its awesome design and components and all that, but i still think thats crazy

    the design is very intriguiing though – i would love to see a DIY or lowfi chip based version of something like this.. 3 osc monosynth knob-per-function with the built-in contact keyboard and patch points and delay/verb… that would be a sweet kit you could put together for probably around 800 or so, if you used standard components

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4
  6. while i dont think he makes all of them by hand, do we know how they are being produced? when something is not built in a sweatshop the price increases to cover labor. Gibson Les Paul Custom guitars are in the 6k range.

    it sucks his stuff is out of my price range, but i really feel like there really is no comparison to the timbres his ear produces. it is the fleeting alchemical gold of vintage analog sound that modern analog gear comes close to but ultimately falls short of.

    let me offer this perspective as well: i have mapped out a build of a very modest, two row, suitcase style eurorack modular unit. to build that alone I’m looking at 3.5k easy. So I just wonder why I dont see the same ire floating around for the eurorack world. and in fact, it is often lauded as this great accessible equalizer in the synth world

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    • I don’t think anyone is angry. This synth simply doesn’t have enough features for the price.
      Your modular will be vastly more powerful than this.

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  7. “It’s taken me ten years to get here, failure, after failure, after failure”

    That’s why it costs so much and fair play!

    Looks and sounds (as much as anyone can tell from a crappy video) completely amazing, but yes, also out of my price range!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  8. I think this is more investment item that will create great sounds rather than musical instrument as such. Starting to save money.

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    • Possibly. But do you think resell price will be anything like the sale price? You need enough buyers around to keep up the resale price. I didn’t mind buying a used Rolex, because I know I can sell it any time for about what I paid for it. But I wouldn’t buy a new Rolex. Not sure synths are ever worth buying as investments until they are confirmed classics.

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  9. What they don’t tell you is there’s an iPad 1 inside and all the controls are attached to little robotic fingers that control an iOS synth app….

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  10. Wow. He makes such nice stuff, but that price is just, wow. I guess it’s comparable to a Buchla Music Easel in terms of price, but I think Buchlas are overpriced as well…

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  11. This synth is like an exotic handmade guitar or something. For the professional who can afford something that represents the ultimate incarnation of an idea. Ken’s masterpiece that he’s finally finished after years of work.

    Just think about what some people pay for rare liquors, cigars, pipes, sushi, …or even a one week long fishing trip in some exotic local.

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  12. Just like his Nexus prototype its a pipe dream this will never make it in the market. This guy just wants attention.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 4 Thumb down 10
  13. I think when you compare this to the Moog Voyager XL it falls incredibly short. The voyager XL has two LFOs, can use VCO 3 for FM, has a patch bay, aftertouch, a dual filter, 61 keys, and a ribbon controller. It also costs 2,500$ less. For 2,500$ I could get a very nice ring modulator, delay unit, and spring reverb tank. On the other hand the elements does have a gold plated keyboard, which is a nice touch.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
  14. Yeah the voyager xl has more features, but it doesn’t have the thing most important, and that’s great sound. The macbeth sure does. Second the filter is 32 db/oct which is greater than any roland filter. He also fixed the design flaw so volume does not drop with resonance. If you ever lusted after an sh5 or a system 100 this blows them both out of the water. Third great mono synths cost money. I’d take this over an arp 2600, minimoog, system 100-101/102 combo any day, and it’s still cheaper than a synthi or vcs3. You might be happy with your modern cheap synths, but I think they suck.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 3 Thumb down 9
  15. What a great interview with Nick. Price aside, the world needs more synth designers with the maniacal passion of Ken MacBeth, who keep their drive alive year after year.

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  16. The patch memory argument is understandable, however…
    The whole point of a synth this advanced is to delve into it as deep as possible.
    Endlessly dialling knobs and exploring its sonic diversity is the only way to really understand this synth.
    Flipping though presets is not doing this beast any justice.
    It begs to be tweaked.
    The Voyager OS was designed for that exact same reason.
    Presets are a blessing for stage use only.
    I doubt anyone has the courage to take this synth on stage.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  17. Flipping thru presets?
    No mate if this is such a great synth you would want to store what you sweated over. The argument against memories is a lame excuse to hide Macbeth’s achilles heel.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

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