Wednesday, May 6, 2009

MacBeth M5N Analog Synthesizer

The MacBeth M5N. It’s darn cool. I don’t think you can ever realize how big the thing is until you see one in person. I have a 27" Sony TV. The MacBeth is bigger. (Although to be fair, it’s not as deep.) Also, this isn’t the first one I’ve seen. I attended the first annual Unwieldy Synthesizer Potluck in 2007 in Brooklyn (and sadly there was no second one) where Tim Love Lee brought his futuristic, ’60s psychedelic typeface, white and baby blue M5. It could indeed make some noise, and it was just beautiful.

The thing with the M5 is, you don’t necessarily buy it for it’s sound generation power, although it certainly has plenty. There are more flexible synths available in much smaller sizes. However, none can match the M5 for first impressions. You see one and immediately say, “Wow.” That’s it. There’s no other reaction. It’s simply massive. There’s no other way to describe it. You look at it and you just want to touch those long-throw sliders. No fiddly little knobs here, just those nice, large slider caps that you just want to move. Sliders also have a huge advantage over knobs in that you have an immediate graphical representation of the state of the synth in just a glance, even from across the room. And given the size of the M5, the front panel is 30" wide and 26" high, seeing it from across the room is no problem.

Sadly, the M5 is at the moment no longer in production. (And the reason I’m only writing this now is because I just saw a beautiful red orange M5N at Analog Heaven Northeast a few days ago.) Don’t lose hope, though, because there are several new synths coming from MacBeth in the near future. One is the X-Factor Analogue Synth, which might be what happens when a Minimoog mistakenly stumbles into a science lab on a dark and stormy night. Also, in the research leading up to the X-Factor, Ken decided to break out his X-Factor circuits into individual modules. Nothing definitive on the X-Series Modular Synthesizer yet, but there are artist’s renditions up on his web site and promises of more information to come shortly.

To admittedly be slightly unfair about it, I sometimes look at the new Yamahas and Rolands and just sort of yawn. “Yup, another new synth. Whatever.” Which is what makes me truly grateful that there are still people out there like Ken MacBeth who make interesting, unusual, delightful and powerful instruments, and who keep the analog “tradition” alive.

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