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MFB Urzweg Pro Step Sequencer review

German analogue synthesis manufacturer MFB is the brainchild of Manfred Fricke, who has successfully designed and realised an impressive array of small drum machines and synth modules. Now they update their existing analogue step sequencer with the Urzweg Pro.

This updated edition allows you to control the synthesizer’s tone, generating and sculpting parameters using MIDI,  jamming polyphonic sequences with up to four voices. Combine this with the existing CV/gate modulation capabilities and you’ve got a tasty, versatile way to manipulate your favorite devices which will instantly make your performances look far more interesting than the usual stage set-ups. Sick of coming home after eight hours number-punching at work only to sit a further three in-front of your Studio PC? This could well be the answer to your prayers. Let’s take a look.

Sitting on the desk at a compact yet uncluttered 310 x 165 x 38 mm, the Urzwerg Pro has that familiar boutique feel to it that we have grown to love from companies such as MFB and Mode Machines. The case is plastic – which feels sturdy yet not bomb proof – the money shot here being the attention to detail, with all the external controls being expertly mounted without the slightest imperfection. The user interface features 43 rubberized knobs, 13 x 3.5 mm jacks along the top taking care of Start In, Clock In, CV Clock, CV1, Gate 1, CV2, Gate 2, CV3, Gate 3, C4, Gate 4 and CV1 & 2 / 3 & 4 in. There are 11 miniature toggle switches taking care of pattern direction, sync mode, quantize, shuffle and auto-glide functions with a further four push-button switches for start/stop, reset (1 & 2 / 3 & 4) plus program.

Operating the Pro is relatively straightforward if you have a basic knowledge of analogue synths, although this is certainly not essential as making the basic connections is actually very simple and intuitive. For example CV 1 – CV 4 and Gate 1 – 4 need to be patched (cables provided) to the corresponding CV and Gate inputs on whatever instrument (compatible with all common eurorack-format modular systems) you’ve chosen to hook up to. At the rear of the unit you can hook up the MIDI in and out to a controller keyboard or a drum machine (or other module) with external tempo source. You’ll then need to set the MIDI sync to either Int if you intend to use the sequencer as the master, or Ext if it is to be used in slave-mode.

The Urzweg Pro works by means of four main physical rows mounted on the face plate. These offer 32 steps, each of which send an individual control voltage or MIDI value to your external device, which you can split into two sequences of 16 or four patterns of eight. You can select the duration of these sequences with one of the four dedicated Length knobs and link them together with the chain switches. Each of the steps has its own LED lit skip button (which doubles up as the sequencer position indicator) to switch off the gate-signal for each step, while the skip length can also be user defined. The rows all have a dedicated toggle switch which sets the forward, backward and alternating direction of each sequence row. On top of this basic functionality there are plenty of other tasty features to bring life into your compositions, such as Quantize, which can be used to create precise chromatic pitches, quantizing the CV output to approximately 1-5 volts.  For Portamento style results get stuck into the glide knobs, and thanks to the cool little Autoglide switch you can make the glide function kick in to just the tied notes in the same manner as a certain 80’s silver acid box. Use the two Gate Time knobs to adjust the length of the gate-impulse between 85 per cent in five steps. The Shuffle modes are a nice touch too, giving you more options for the overall intensities of your sequences.

How far you delve into the capabilities of the Urzweg Pro is entirely up to you  – it’s possible to achieve some impressive sounding results (as we did in conjunction with the MFB Megazveg) when using just the basic functions, so we can only guess that anyone who has a deep passion and understanding for this kind of sequencing will undoubtedly be able to produce sounds that don’t feel like they’ve been exported from a linear based DAW sequencer such as Cubase or Logic. If you’re a studio manager it’s probably not going to be the most productive investment, as on all levels it induces a fair amount of knob twiddling (or synthesizer masturbation) so those remixes won’t exactly be walking out the door by themselves. For home or project studio use however it’s essential, as it will spark those bursts of creativity that can only be achieved through on-the-fly spontaneity. [Find out more at Juno]

Review: Dicken Lean

Images: Siimo Raba

Specifications: Analogue Step Sequencer
32 step-controls – 32 skip-switches – 32 LEDs
Two run-modes offering 2 x 16 or 4 x 8 steps
Polyphonic and monophonic MIDI-output
Four available note quantize modes