Make Noise Strega Review | Committed

Image Credit: Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

And I mean anything, by the way. My second favorite thing about the Stega (after the delay) is the fact that it has audio input. It can be used not only as an instrument, but as an effect. The delay sounds just as good on a guitar or vocals as it does on the synth itself. But it can also be incredible overdrive. That I’m so in love with the overdriven sounds you get by increasing the Strength and External Constant controls shouldn’t be too shocking. The preamp circuit is modeled in part after the EMS Synthi, which also inspired the Erica Synths SYNTRX, and I spilled quite a few words about it.

In this demo, the Strega is used to process a guitar, my voice and a dulcimer without any additional effects:

The preamp can add a touch of warmth and crunch to anything you use, but it works best with fairly warm signals to start with. My Fender Toronado’s atomic humbuckers are enough to push it all the way into distortion mode. Even without an amp and directly into an audio interface, it’s perfect for raw riffs of Guided by voices and The Who.

The other thing you’ll probably immediately notice when looking at the Strega is the series of golden squares and circles that dot the front. They are in fact contact plates. While you can and should always use patch cables to design sounds, these pads give you a unique tactile way to manipulate your creations. Circular dots are sources and squares are destinations. Usually the destinations are quite easy to figure out as there are lines pointing to what they manipulate, but the circles are harder to decipher. They have strange icons on them that appear to have been ripped straight from a book on the occult.

Basically, however, they all introduce some level of randomness or interference. All you do is put one finger (or some other conductive material) on a circle, then another finger on a square and suddenly you change the filter cutoff or the delay time. And, since he uses your body as a bridge between these two points, the amount and quality of this interference will be different for each person.

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

In a way, tactile bridges and walkways are emblematic of the entire Strega concept. They are begging you to literally push, push, and explore. They skip some technical stuff and go straight to controlled chaos.

And “controlled chaos” is certainly the best way to describe what comes out of the Strega. It’s a bit of a happy crash machine, but it’s a lot easier to recreate something you’ve patched up than, say, Moog’s. Sub-harmonic.

It’s clear that Strega was built with drones in mind. And he excels at them. You can easily create disarmingly beautiful cinematic soundscapes or nightmarish claustrophobia. If your thing is to score movies or games, you will almost certainly want what the Strega has. As you turn the Tones knob clockwise, the gentle hum of the triangle wave becomes thicker and more menacing. And the activation interference control (the unlabeled button directly above the activation) introduces pops, pops, and other touches of unpredictability to the sound.

But, as much as the Strega looks like a drone machine, it’s capable of a lot more. For one thing, it’s not a big leap from drones to monophonic pad sounds. If you connect the gate of a sequencer or keyboard to the start and end of the stir circuit and run it until activation, you have an amp envelope that lets you get the long attack and release times that any good pad needs. You can even get simple synth and organ string sounds with the pitch set in the right place. Now obviously the pads, strings, and organs all require polyphony, but you can pretend a bit with the delay fading to a high level.

All the sounds in this short demo come from the Strega. Some EQs and compressions were added after the fact in Ableton Live:

It doesn’t end there either. You can even get simple bass and drum sounds. Now just because you can playing a bassline on the Strega doesn’t mean you should; the range of bass tones is quite limited. But I’m quite in love with the percussive loops that I was able to get out of it. They have a quirky vibe that reminds me of the kind of percussion sounds that Hainbach generates using its massive collection of test equipment.

But I think the true power of the Strega is unlocked when you combine its internal tones with that of an external instrument. For example, you can use a guitar to control the playback of the Strega and mix the two sounds to play a simple dream melody on a drone that dynamically reacts to your playing.

In this demo, the input of a guitar is used to drive the Strega synthesizer motor before finally being mixed up to play on the resulting drone:

Things get even more interesting if you have an instrument that has CV outputs, like the Microfreak. This particular pairing was one of my favorites. The somewhat cool digital sounds of the Microfreak are warmed up nicely by the Strega’s preamp and lo-fi delay. And the Strega’s unique thin oscillator benefits from being reinforced when it plays in sync with the Microfreak. With the Blend button pushed all the way, the two instruments get lost in each other and become something completely new.

Here the Microfreak is played via the Strega, while simultaneously controlling it via CV:

The biggest downside to the Strega is without a doubt its price. $ 599 isn’t prohibitive, but it’s probably a bit steep given its somewhat limited functionality. There is no MIDI, no keyboard, no sequencer. Out of the box, Strega will make wonderful sound and beautiful drones, but you won’t play anything too melodic without extra gear. An obvious pairing would be Make Noise’s desktop sequencer, the $ 399 0-CTRL. Both have the same form factor, the same aesthetic and experimental approach to musical creation. But anything with CV will do, like The Keystep series of Arturia. If you’re looking for something that will add MIDI and expand the sonic possibilities of the Strega, the $ 499 0-Coast would make sense.

While Make Noise gear doesn’t come cheap, it’s definitely worth sticking with its desktop ecosystem. You can power two devices from a single AC adapter and the 0-Coast, 0-CTRL and Strega were all designed to complement each other. Plus, they look great together.

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