July 28, 2007

MFB : The Shit or just Shit?

by Chris Randall
 



I've been entertaining the thought of picking a couple MFB products up, specifically the Synth II pictured above and their new Drumcomputer, the MFB-503e. However, unlike the stuff I normally buy from boutique manufacturers, the look of these boxes doesn't exactly cause words like "robust" to go jangling about the cavern in between my ears.


So, how 'bout it? Do you own one of the many MFB products, and if so could you comment to build quality and sound? For the money, I'm not expecting the tank-like construction of Moog or Dave Smith stuff, as only Americans can do it, (although the Synth II costs more than an Evolver, I guess) but should I find myself concerned were these units to be used on stage?

 
 
 

16 comments:

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Jul.28.2007 @ 3:27 PM
musicmachinemaker
I had a drummachine once from MFB, with all the samples from other drummachines. It's just a piece of plastic, which it also sounded like.
I believe their synths are pretty decent and i know front 242 uses them live, behind the board not on stage.
But they could sound better with better audio paths which the sample drummachine lacked and damn noisy. It also had rca outputs i believe.

The buttons they use are more common these days , but they do tend to not work properly after awhile. Cleaning could be a solution but i ditched the mfb before i could try it.

 
 

 
Jul.28.2007 @ 5:44 PM
Babaluma
very poor build quality and very poor sound quality on the units i've tried
 
 

 
Jul.28.2007 @ 6:08 PM
Andreas
No matter what the unit actually SOUNDS like I would never use an MFB-503e on stage. Why? The power-switch. What are the odds you can get through an entire set without accidentally flicking it? Other than that, if it sounds decent I might get one for the studio. Looks like a fun piece of gear for the times when the MachineDrum is overkill.
 
 

 
Jul.29.2007 @ 3:27 AM
BirdFLU
A year or two back there awas discussion on the AH mailing list about one of the "analog" MFB synths. Some industrious gear head took his apart, put on the scope and found it wasn't exactly analog. I've never owned one though, so I can't say.
 
 

 
Jul.29.2007 @ 9:21 AM
doctork
Yeah, the MFB Synth Lite is a piece of shit. Here's the article that BirdFLU was taking about: link [www.retrosynth.co...]">link [www.retrosynth.co...] ... The oscillators, LFOs, sync, and ring mod are 100% digital. There's a microcontroller that does all the waveform stuff, and a 3-bit DAC that drives the filters. According to the article, the aliasing and digital artifacts are gruesomely audible. MFB has been totally dishonest about this in their literature.

On the other hand. The MFB Synth II is a completely different synth. MFB swears that it's all analog. Honest!

 
 

 
Jul.29.2007 @ 9:53 AM
atari5200
I've got a Synth II and I like it.

As for build quality, it is not something you'd want to really bang around- you could be in trouble if you dropped it. However I will say that the knobs feel firm and secure, they're small but seem sturdy, so as long as you exercise as much care with it as you would any other piece of gear (let's face it- my Mono/Poly, despite it's heavy-duty construction, would probably sustain much more damage than the Synth II if it was dropped on the road) you should be OK. On the other hand it's much, much lighter than an Evolver or similar sized desktop module, so even if you dropped it, it wouldn't have the kinetic force behind it to have a similar impact on the ground...

That being said, the units aren't mass produced, it's a small operation like Elektron, so the build quality could vary. The knobs on my Machinedum, a beefy as the case is, seems a bit loose to my touch, but that's just me... As for other comments above, I unno bout the drum machine, but the Synth II has a 1/4" out, not RCA's, and it also accepts CV control signals as well as MIDI, which is kind of a cool feature if you're into that sort of thing. The power button is also on the back panel so you won't be in any danger of hitting it while you're playing.

As for the sound quality- as far as I know, the synth with digital osc's is the Synth Lite, so don't bother with that one. It's certainly not a "moog-in-a-box" as is hinted elsewhere online, but to my ears it sounds good, and it is capable of a wide variety of sounds. I tend to use it for sync'd lead type sounds and it cuts through mix well in that regard. The filter is pretty nice, and it can get a bit dirty. It also has the mandatory audio in to process outside signals. I've seen it compared to the Yamaha CS-15 and that seems fairly accurate to me. Some of the functions are a bit non-intuitive, especially when it comes to the sequencer, but all the sound-shapping controls are obvious.

I bought mine on the 'bay several years ago for about $300, and as I already have a pile of analog monosynths, step-sequencers and filters in my studio, I don't think I would have paid $550 for one, but it's a decent little box and it reallys packs a lot of features into it's little case.

 
 

 
Jul.29.2007 @ 11:16 AM
lazenbleep2
i have an mfb 502. i bought it to replace my 606. lots of things went wrong with it. crackly pots. some drumsounds have been permanently removed from the mix, rather than just muting when the individual outs are used. also now some sounds will only trigger with an accent.
it could be great, but the niggles combined with some of the sounds needing a good tweek (snare!) has pissed me off. i'm currently bending it and it has amazing noises hidden within. shame the build was so rubbish
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Jul.29.2007 @ 10:14 PM
RexRhino
I am always suspicious of synth companies that don't want to put samples on their page. Like I wouldn't want to hear what the MFB-503 sounds like, before I buy a piece of gear!
 
 

 
Jul.30.2007 @ 12:14 AM
retrosynth
I'm the one who discovered the MFB Synth Lite had DCOs. The full fledged MFB Synth is all analog, and I'm pretty sure the Synth II is as well. Had I demoed the Synth Lite in a music store and not on the loud NAMM show floor I would have opted for its bigger brother. The PCB layout and component selection isn't bad although the rotary switches on some of the MFB gear aren't all that great. It still looks like most of the surface mount components are done by and hand and not machine pick and place so that doesn't bode well for quality control. The font panels are still fiberglass printed circuit board material. It's okay but not as robust as screened metal or polycarbonate overlays. I just picked up the Doepfer format MFB trigger sequencer so even though I feel a little burned on the Synth Lite I'd still purchase another one of their products.

While the UI on the MFB Synth is more immediate than an Evolver I'd have to say the Evolver is a much better built more reliable piece. I still like the filter on the MFB though, even the Synth Lite, probably even moreso than the Evolver.

I'd suggest if you want a desktop analog synth and don't need the sequencer to pick up an Oberheim SEM. Have your tech put a raw module (~$400) into a small wooden case with power supply and a bunch of patch points. Way more fun and way more balls than the MFB. And I'm not just saying that because I have an Oberheim addiction - no, really, having over a dozen SEMs is perfectly reasonable....... [cue maniacal laughter]

 
 

 
Jul.30.2007 @ 3:45 AM
scousebloke
I have a Synth II (as well as pile of other "cheap" gear) and I'd say that it DOES look and feel like a well-made project box job- it's pretty robust, bearing that in mind though- and it will give you big blitzkreig sounds. The sequencer's pretty whack, though. And I've never been able to get an audio signal into it to muck about with, even though MFB say you can... so that's either broken or I'm stupid.

I've never opened it up, but if it doesn't have VCO's, then MFB went to a lot of trouble to get DCO's to perform that classic 'out of tune when cold' trick. So that would inform whether using it on stage is a good idea... It can go wildly out of tune if it gets too hot/too cold! It wouldn't survive too much abuse on tour, I don't think.

Bottom line- it's a lot of fun for not much money. It's not built like an Evolver. MusicThing called it the ?218 MiniMoog which is a bit hyperbolic, but I know where he's coming from...

 
 

 
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