Release Date: 2001
Type: Analog / Subtractive Synthesis
The Alesis Andromeda A6 synthesizer is my first analog synth. I picked it up locally in March 2013 from a fellow enthusiast who simply didn’t have enough time to devote to learning or using it… a shame really, considering it’s immense raw power and flexibility.
Funnily enough after getting it home and exploring further, I began to sympathize with the previous owner as I was initially overwhelmed by the complexity of this machine. The Andromeda is a DEEP synth with near limitless modulation routing capabilities, and a user interface that can be at times inspiring but also frustrating. However, with time and patience I have begun to understand more about how the Alesis Andromeda A6 and its workflow operate, and am glad I made the investment financially and time-wise.
When it comes to sound — prior to the Alesis Andromeda, my only other purchases had been digital virtual analog synths (Access Virus B & C, and Novation Supernova II). While these synths sound great in their own right, at the time I had never heard a true analog synth to compare them against in person.
So with that said, it should be noted that upon plugging in the Alesis Andromeda A6 and playing a few notes of an INIT patch, I was totally blown away: the pure analog tones coming out of the Andromeda were incredibly rich with character, timbre, harmonics, electricity… and felt so full of power, completely organic and alive.
Its raw analog oscillators, 16 voices and full analog signal path had my jaw dropping to the floor — I simply had never heard a synth sound like this before, so powerful and alive — and I immediately understood why the debate between analog vs. digital / softsynths existed. Nothing against the former digital synths I mentioned, but as an analog machine the Andromeda has a sonic character that a digital synth can only hope to approximate through algorithms, but never match or emulate 100%.
Regarding soundsculpting — the Andromeda’s two filters have their own distinct qualities, as they were modeled after a 12dB-per-octave Oberheim SEM multi-mode filter, and the 24dB-per-octave Moog 904 filter. It’s possible to get some great depth and resonance from the filters, as well as mix filter outputs to create unique sounds using high-pass, low-pass, bandpass and notch filter settings.
The 3 envelope generators are fast and snappy (enough so to create percussive sounds) while also offering 7-stage loopable envelopes. There are also 4 LFOs (!) to work with, enabling for some great sonic motion and modulation options. The effects on the machine are decent — the reverb is especially quite lovely, and there is a variety of delays and other effects to choose from.
The Andromeda’s control panel and interface is a rich knob-laden work of art (the ribbon controller makes for some great live performance fun)… however, as mentioned earlier it can also be a source of frustration. This is due to finicky knobs that are extremely sensitive to touch, micro-decimal values when changing parameters on the LCD screen, and menu diving required to access certain parameters.
Even though it’s a near knob-per-function synth, often you will be working within the confines of the LCD screen to make modulation routing changes or assignments, setup the arpeggiator or sequencer, and various other tweaks which can at times be frustrating due to the small fonts on the LCD and amount of options available on any given LCD screen, sometimes leading to confusion for the user.
Speaking of the arpeggiator — I’m a bit disappointed at its overall simplicity (forward, reverse, up/down) and lack of a “random” or “as played” mode, as is often included in other synths. A machine of this caliber should certainly have a variety of arpeggiator modes and patterns to choose from. Same goes for the rather limited 16-step sequencer… would 32 or 64 programmable steps have been too difficult to include? :/ On the other hand, the Andromeda’s ability to play multiple arpeggiators at one time can lead to some complex structures, and it is a 16-part multimbral machine which can perform many sounds at once.
Build-quality wise this is a heavy unit with a solid core, but the two end cheeks are plastic and feel cheap, and may be prone to cracking or breaking. It’s too bad Alesis couldn’t have used metal or wood end cheeks from both an aesthetic and quality POV.
On another note, thankfully so far my unit doesn’t have any of the so-called “tuning” or “dead voice” issues others have reported sporadically on the web, so knock on wood this won’t be an issue in the future either — from my understanding, it’s nearly impossible to fix individual dead voices since the Andromeda uses custom ASIC chips… therefore a completely new mainboard would be required (rare if not impossible to find these days).
Anyway I digress — the Alesis Andromeda is certainly a unique 16-voice analog synthesizer, perhaps released ahead of its time. This is DEFINITELY a programmer’s synth and not for the faint-hearted or impatient types, as it takes time to understand the Andromeda’s workflow and interface, and to be comfortable and fast at working within its LCD screen.
The sonic character of the Andromeda can at times be bright and brash, and other times smooth and elegant, but it always retains its own unique traits that make it sound like an Alesis Andromeda A6. With 16 voices of pure analog power, it can also sound huge and fat, especially when stacking and detuning voices.
Bottom line: if you are comfortable investing in a synth that is both challenging to learn/use and which may be impossible to repair should something go wrong, you will be well-rewarded in terms of synthesis and modulation routing capabilities, as well as sound creation and sonic palette options. Alesis’ (now defunct) team put their all into the Andromeda as a work of passion and overall it shows, despite the minor quibbles regarding workflow and interface.
Lastly, Andromedas don’t come cheap so make sure you test out all the voices before committing to a purchase, and treat it like gold if you do. 🙂
|Interface||72 knobs, 114 buttons, 150 LEDs|
|Oscillators||2 oscillators (VCOs) per voice
1 sub-oscillator per VCO
5 stackable waveforms (sine, triangle, square, up saw, down saw)
Ring modulators; Noise; FM
Hard and soft sync
|LFO||3 LFOs (pulse, sym, triangle, saw, random, noise) plus S+H|
|Filter||2-pole resonant multimode / SEM-style (low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, band-reject/notch)
4-pole resonant / Moog-style (low-pass)
|VCA||3 (7-stage) ADLDSRR loopable envelopes|
|ModMatrix||71 Sources, 92 Destinations|
|Arpeggiator||Arpeggiator: Up, Down, Up/Down
Sequencer: 16-step, analog style; both have MIDI sync
Digital: reverb, delay, chorus, flanging, pitch-shifting, rotary speaker
|Keyboard||61 keys (velocity and aftertouch sensitive)
Pitch + vibrato wheels; ribbon controller
|Memory||Program Memory: 256 preset and 128 user-defined; Mix Memory: 128 user-defined
Memory Card Slot: PCMCIA-format
|Control||MIDI (16 multitimbral parts)|