Analog Keys (sort of like Analog 4, only with Keys)

Anything about hardware musical instruments.
User avatar
GRRRRRRR!
11989 posts since 14 Jun, 2001 from Somewhere else, on principle

Post Tue Jun 22, 2021 12:43 am

I did a search and noticed there has never really been a proper thread about the venerable Analog Keys (AK). Until now.

I've had mine for a couple of years now and, if I'm brutally honest, I can't say I really love it. It sounds OK, quite good when you drown your patches in the high quality on-board effects, but it is a right royal pain in the arse to use, either on its own or connected to your computer. I was so fed up with it on the weekend that I was ready to get rid of it but I decided to have one last session with it last night and, predictably enough, found a few good reasons to persevere with it (for the moment).

The good things are obvious - it sounds good and it is well built. Except for the display, which looks like the cheapest one they could find on Alibaba. But elsewhere the case is thick steel and all the knobs are endless encoders, so they pick up the current value instantly. The buttons are a bit unusual, quite softly sprung, but they feel good. The keyboard is sensitive to both velocity and aftertouch. It's a nice keyboard to play and the octave up/down buttons are well placed to extend it beyond its three octaves while playing.

Internally, there are four monosynths that can be used independently or together, dynamically allocating each synth engine where it is needed. Or you can stack all four synths in Unison, with detune and spread. It's very clever and most of the time it just works. There is also a multi-track sequencer in which I have less than zero interest. I spent a bit of time trying to work it out when I first got the machine but it does my head in and I don't need it so I completely ignore it. As mentioned above, it has some very nice sounding effects on board.

The synths themselves are really quite basic analogue subtractive synths. Each has 2 oscillators with cross-modulation plus a noise osc. There are 4 waveforms to choose from, all of which have some kind of PWM. There are two filters - one a 4 pole ladder filter (think Moog) and the other a 2 pole multi-mode filter (think Oberheim). The Ladder filter has an analogue overdrive circuit that sounds great and thickens up anything. There are 3 envelopes and 2 LFO and lots of modulation destinations for everything.

There are a couple of things that set AK apart. One thing, that is a much bigger deal than you might think, is the preset library. I don't know who they got to do it but there were clearly some very talented people involved, people who think outside the box. Pretty much every patch responds in amazing ways to the joystick and aftertouch and most use ultra-sensitive velocity, such that you can press a key slowly and get no sound at all. It takes some getting used to but it makes this synth a whole heap of fun. The other thing is the envelopes - they are the snappiest I think I've ever heard. They make for some absolutely brutal basslines and unbelievable percussion. Getting your head around this instrument and playing it the way it should be played is as unique and special as using an MPE controller on a great instrument with good MPE implementation.

It's not all great, though. The display, apart from being cheap and nasty, is very small, very low-res and it requires you to have your head pretty much over the top of it to see anything. Then there are the modes, which I am not sure I understand, even now. When I press the "Sound" button, the display changes to a big read-out of the patch name but that doesn't mean it isn't still four individual synths, each on a different MIDI channel, because it seems like it's always still that, even when you are playing a four note chord. It's bloody weird and makes it easy to trip up when you are trying to work with it and other things at the same time. It's annoying enough that I'd rather use it with Studio One without the VSTi, just setting up a MIDI part with the appropriate MIDI channel to make it work. I'm pretty sure that was easier with the older version of Overbridge (the VSTI editor) that everyone else seemed to hate.

I persevere with it because I know that, one day, I will get it all working the way I want it to and then it will be brilliant. Right now, though, it continues to frustrate the hell out of me.

Anyway, that's a little bit about my love/hate relationship with Analog Keys, just in case anyone is interested in the thing. (Clearly anyone who is interested in my relationships has a problem and should seek professional help.)
NOVAkILL : Zenbook Duo, Core i7, 16GB RAM, Win10, UR44C | Studio One | JP6K, Union, Hexeract, bx_oberhausen, Odyssey, TRK-01, Vacuum Pro, Invader, Concept, GR-8, Viper, Equator, VG Carbon | Uno Pro Desktop, Uno, Rocket.

KVRAF
7714 posts since 2 Dec, 2004 from North Wales

Post Tue Jun 22, 2021 1:26 am

I dot have the keys version, but agree with most of what you say.

I got my A4 back in about 2014 (it hadn't been out long) and I still use it...I cant say that for a lot of gear I bought back then so...
The screen is a bit crap, the sound is good (especially when sequenced) but I would say not as good as the XD I bought recently which is somewhat similar (4 voice, sequencer etc)...but it just depends what you like.

Elektron have a world class sequencer, parameter lock and overbridge which is a great computer editor (and soundcard) and the support and updates for the A4 since I have had it have probably been the best I have ever had on any hardware or software, Zero regret purchase even though I don't use it as often as I should, and it sits in a little 2 stand with the RYTM looking sexy even when its tuned off ;-)

If I didn't have the A4 I would have no doubt bought the keys version, I am also a sucker for a joystick (I only have 4 hardware boards and 2 have joysticks!) There was nothing like Analog keys when it came out, now I think the Korg XD gets you pretty close for £500 and is very will supported.
PC, Studio One, BWS, Live, FL Studio, Renoise, Reason, X32 Desk, Hardware Synths, Drum Machines + Eurorack, TD27 V Drums, Guitars & Basses

User avatar
GRRRRRRR!

Topic Starter

11989 posts since 14 Jun, 2001 from Somewhere else, on principle

Post Tue Jun 22, 2021 2:48 am

The problem with Minilogue XD is that it doesn't have endless encoders. I didn't like my Minilogue at all, it was a bit generic, but the XD seems like a really solid upgrade for not a whole lot of extra money. The Korgs also have way better screens, even though they are less important to the instrument.
NOVAkILL : Zenbook Duo, Core i7, 16GB RAM, Win10, UR44C | Studio One | JP6K, Union, Hexeract, bx_oberhausen, Odyssey, TRK-01, Vacuum Pro, Invader, Concept, GR-8, Viper, Equator, VG Carbon | Uno Pro Desktop, Uno, Rocket.

lfm
KVRAF
5741 posts since 22 Jan, 2005 from Sweden

Post Tue Jun 22, 2021 4:52 am

BONES wrote:
Tue Jun 22, 2021 2:48 am
The problem with Minilogue XD is that it doesn't have endless encoders.
Prophet 8 first came with endless encoders and then a version with potentiometers, probably due to request.

Haven't checked if any Sequential with endless since.

But taste is different obviously....I don't mind either....

User avatar
KVRAF
19474 posts since 3 Feb, 2005 from in the wilds

Post Tue Jun 22, 2021 7:16 am

BONES wrote:
Tue Jun 22, 2021 12:43 am
The display, apart from being cheap and nasty, is very small, very low-res and it requires you to have your head pretty much over the top of it to see anything.
Obviously it aint great, but I can live with the cheap lo-res display. But why oh why didn't they angle it :cry:

It sits back farther than the A4 because of the keyboard and they didn't account for that by tipping it up. I really have to be disciplined not to hunch over the AK to see the screen.

Besides that (and the aftertouch requiring a bit too much force for my taste), I love the Analog Keys. Playing leads and using the joystick it can sound so expressive and beautiful.

I prefer the A4 MKII for ergonomics and the screen and additional controls, but I sold it to a friend cause they couldn't afford it. One of these days I will buy the A4 MKII again...

User avatar
KVRAF
3168 posts since 27 Mar, 2010 from UK

Post Tue Jun 22, 2021 7:31 am

Had mine for several years ak37keys prior to selling last year.
Can mirror not in detail as bones as done a great detailed write up in summary.
Love the sound and parameters.
Integration finally arrived after about 4 to 5 years too long and didn't present sequencer integration which was my main gripe due to the IMHO crap screen display.
Keybed on mine was a little noisy for my liking.
Screen is way way to small. OK if you have young eyes.
Build is pretty good.
Once integration arrived it became more usable.
I just can't get my head around their work flow re sequencer and patterns. . God knows I tried so became an outboard synth and midi controller.
Rotary are nice but too small and close together. Not overly ergonomic.
I really wanted to like this synth especially after following Cuckoo's post.
Guess it wasnt for me.
I would certainly demo before committing. Its a marmite synth to be fair. Either love it or hate it.
Image7820x 4.6ghz • 32GB Ram • RME FF800 • Adams A7X • Maschine 2 • Virus TI • JD-XA • JD800 • JV1080 • x0xb0x • SL1210MkIIs

User avatar
GRRRRRRR!

Topic Starter

11989 posts since 14 Jun, 2001 from Somewhere else, on principle

Post Tue Jun 22, 2021 5:49 pm

That's a good way to put it. It is equal parts amazing and annoying, in the end it comes down to what you are prepared to put up with. I think I'd like it a lot more if it was just a straight synth, no sequencer, because it would be a lot more straightforward. That would also have differentiated it from the A4, although with the +Drive, I think they were trying to make it more like an A4 on steroids.
lfm wrote:
Tue Jun 22, 2021 4:52 am
But taste is different obviously....I don't mind either....
I hate the fact that the value of knob-per-function goes out the window when none of the controls mirror the actual values. It is easily the most annoying thing about using Uno and Uno Pro. I've tried all three modes and none of them are any good. At east with endless encoders you get consistent behaviour all the time.
pdxindy wrote:
Tue Jun 22, 2021 7:16 am
Besides that (and the aftertouch requiring a bit too much force for my taste), I love the Analog Keys. Playing leads and using the joystick it can sound so expressive and beautiful.
Yeah, it is quite unique in that regard. I don't have a problem with the AT, it seems about the same as my Ultranova. Quite possibly it is the exact same keybed.
I prefer the A4 MKII for ergonomics and the screen and additional controls, but I sold it to a friend cause they couldn't afford it. One of these days I will buy the A4 MKII again...
I've decided I don't like boxes, I like my synths to have a keyboard or at least some means of being able to trigger the sound manually. Even the Rocket's "Launch" button is enough but Uno/Uno Pro's keyboards are better still.
NOVAkILL : Zenbook Duo, Core i7, 16GB RAM, Win10, UR44C | Studio One | JP6K, Union, Hexeract, bx_oberhausen, Odyssey, TRK-01, Vacuum Pro, Invader, Concept, GR-8, Viper, Equator, VG Carbon | Uno Pro Desktop, Uno, Rocket.

User avatar
KVRAF
19474 posts since 3 Feb, 2005 from in the wilds

Post Tue Jun 22, 2021 6:21 pm

BONES wrote:
Tue Jun 22, 2021 5:49 pm
I prefer the A4 MKII for ergonomics and the screen and additional controls, but I sold it to a friend cause they couldn't afford it. One of these days I will buy the A4 MKII again...
I've decided I don't like boxes, I like my synths to have a keyboard or at least some means of being able to trigger the sound manually. Even the Rocket's "Launch" button is enough but Uno/Uno Pro's keyboards are better still.
Understandable... the A4 has the 1 octave of mini-keys for triggering/playing... but that is nothing like the AK keybed which is good quality.

An Analog Keys MKII would be a buy for me... but I don't think the AK sold well enough for that to happen. Digitone did get a keys version, so who knows.

User avatar
GRRRRRRR!

Topic Starter

11989 posts since 14 Jun, 2001 from Somewhere else, on principle

Post Tue Jun 22, 2021 9:04 pm

Those little key buttons would be enough for me. In fact, it might make it worth looking into because I don't need both the AK and Ultranova to have a proper keyboard and Ultranova also has built-in audio I/O. The A4 Mk II looks like it has a better display, too. Bloody expensive, though, I only paid about US$900 for my AK (second hand) but the cheapest A4 I can find is more like US$1200.
NOVAkILL : Zenbook Duo, Core i7, 16GB RAM, Win10, UR44C | Studio One | JP6K, Union, Hexeract, bx_oberhausen, Odyssey, TRK-01, Vacuum Pro, Invader, Concept, GR-8, Viper, Equator, VG Carbon | Uno Pro Desktop, Uno, Rocket.

KVRAF
7714 posts since 2 Dec, 2004 from North Wales

Post Tue Jun 22, 2021 10:55 pm

I have spent many hours playing and sequencing my Eurorack from the A4 mini-keys!
PC, Studio One, BWS, Live, FL Studio, Renoise, Reason, X32 Desk, Hardware Synths, Drum Machines + Eurorack, TD27 V Drums, Guitars & Basses

User avatar
KVRAF
19474 posts since 3 Feb, 2005 from in the wilds

Post Wed Jun 23, 2021 6:56 am

BONES wrote:
Tue Jun 22, 2021 9:04 pm
Those little key buttons would be enough for me. In fact, it might make it worth looking into because I don't need both the AK and Ultranova to have a proper keyboard and Ultranova also has built-in audio I/O. The A4 Mk II looks like it has a better display, too. Bloody expensive, though, I only paid about US$900 for my AK (second hand) but the cheapest A4 I can find is more like US$1200.
The A4 MKII display is better quality and slightly bigger. The top surface is also a bit slanted and I find it more ergonomic for posture. Making the screen a significant overall improvement.

One thing I like better about the Analog Keys is that the track/mute buttons are on the left side with the function button. So one can mute a track with one hand. Both the A4 MKI and MKII you need two hands to mute cause the function is on the left and tracks on the right.

The A4 MKII has a dozen or so additional buttons compared to the MK1. So it has more dedicated controls and less button combos than the MKI and the Keys. Less stuff to remember.

The MKII also has bigger sequencer buttons that are numbered and illuminated. The 1,5,9,13 sequencer buttons have an additional illuminated square around the number. With the MKI's I would often have to hesitate as I check if that is the 8th or 9th sequencer button.

All the buttons of the MKII are internally labeled and illuminated rather than the labels being underneath. Much easier to see what is what in the dark and easier in general. Lots of users didn't like the grey as much aesthetically, but I find the grey an improved contrast to the controls.

IMO, Elektron did a great job on the MKII's. They clearly listened to dedicated users of their gear. I have (had) both the MKI's and MKII's of the A4/K and Rytm. With the MKII's, the important buttons are a bit bigger, easier to see at a glance, the sequencer is easier to see what is going on and better ergonomics with the slanted surface. Add in the new dedicated buttons and better screen and it was when I got the MKII's is when I stopped feeling like the Elektron machines were just a bit too complicated and required a bit too much mental attention to just freely use them via muscle memory. The MKII's dropped below that threshold for me. Obviously that might not be someone else's experience.

If it weren't for the joystick on the AK (and the handy octave buttons), I would sell it and get the A4 MKII. I don't have another keyboard with a joystick to replace the AK.

User avatar
GRRRRRRR!

Topic Starter

11989 posts since 14 Jun, 2001 from Somewhere else, on principle

Post Wed Jun 23, 2021 5:38 pm

Yeah, just looking at a few photos yesterday, it was obvious how much care and attention they put into the Mk II. I found an A4 MK 1 on eBay for just over a grand. If I could get that for my AK, it might be a good swap. All the inputs and outputs are balanced (TRS), which solved all of our (considerable) noise issues in one go. It's the best Au$200 I've spent this year (apart from hookers, although you don't get much for Au$200 these days).
NOVAkILL : Zenbook Duo, Core i7, 16GB RAM, Win10, UR44C | Studio One | JP6K, Union, Hexeract, bx_oberhausen, Odyssey, TRK-01, Vacuum Pro, Invader, Concept, GR-8, Viper, Equator, VG Carbon | Uno Pro Desktop, Uno, Rocket.

User avatar
GRRRRRRR!

Topic Starter

11989 posts since 14 Jun, 2001 from Somewhere else, on principle

Post Mon Jul 05, 2021 9:00 pm

Well, I've backflipped on this thing again. It's out of my live rig. For a week I had it right in front of me every night and I couldn't manage to find one part it could do better than my softsynths. In every case, when I muted a VSTi and tried to use AK instead, it left big holes in the sound, even running in unison mode. OTOH, I had little trouble finding things for both Uno and Uno Pro to do. What clinched it for me was that I was discussing hardware v software on a thread with pdxindy, and it made me realise that putting so much effort into trying to make AK work was really hypocritical of me, when I already have plenty of great VSTi that can do it all better.
NOVAkILL : Zenbook Duo, Core i7, 16GB RAM, Win10, UR44C | Studio One | JP6K, Union, Hexeract, bx_oberhausen, Odyssey, TRK-01, Vacuum Pro, Invader, Concept, GR-8, Viper, Equator, VG Carbon | Uno Pro Desktop, Uno, Rocket.

Return to “Hardware (Instruments and Effects)”