The Elektron Monomachine SFX 60 – King of Digital Weirdness!
The Elektron Monomachine from Swedish manufacturer Elektron is designed specifically with the musician in mind. As synths became progressively more complex in terms of specifications, the company developed this model as an intuitive and user friendly synth designed to stimulate creativity. Used by greats such as John Frusciante and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, this is the perfect synth for sparking ideas and experimenting with new sounds.
Generally characterized as a beatbox synthesizer, this would be a misnomer, as the Monomachine is a whole lot more and comes with a huge variety of features. With 5 individual synths which can be combined into a polyphonic sound or used individually, it is modelled after old fashioned analog equipment whilst avoiding the artefacts which can sometimes arise from analog hardware- it is in fact fully digital. A desktop synth, it was released in limited edition form as the SFX-6 with a built in MIDI keyboard, but otherwise is a sound module which requires an external playable keyboard.
Flexible and versatile, the Elektron Monomachine has two audio inputs, five different synthesis methods, monophonic and polyphonic modes, a six track internal and six track external sequencer, arpeggiator, live recording and playback, and compact interface modelled after ‘80s drum machines. It lacks aftertouch, but it’s strengths with regards to sequencing and the freedom it allows in shaping of tone and timbre make up for this- it is not intended to be a keyboard focused instrument, but instead it fills its technological intentions extremely well.
Where Can I Buy A Elektron Monomachine?
There is a nice selection of FX- a limiter/compressor under the name dynamix, chorus, and gated space reverb. Each of the individual five synthesizers also has its own FX such as distortion and delay, so all in all there are a huge variety of options for sound modification.
The five synthesis methods are as follows:
- SID – with the options of sawtooth, noise, pulse, triangle, and mixed waveforms, this synthesizer is based off 1980s 8-bit home computer Commodore 60, with a gritty, rough sound.
- DigiPro – DigiPro offers 32 12-bit digital waveforms, which, in the newer edition Elektron Monomachine SFX-60 MkII can be blended to create an oscillator in DigiPro Doubledraw. This allows musicians to shape the timbre of a sound with much more control and scope for creativity. Although the original version lacks Doubledraw, it does also contain the DigiPro Beatbox, with 24 different 12-bit drum samples.
- SuperWave – an analogue inspired synthesizer, this has sawtooth, pulse, or ensemble waveforms, a warm, rich, analogue style sound free from artefacts, and three sub-oscillators for a digital take on a nuanced tone with lots of room for experimentation.
- VO is a voice modeller which can create relatively accurate sounds when put in polyphonic mode and offers over 20 consonants to choose from.
- FM+ is based on Yamaha digital synths and fills a much needed gap in the market by providing a smart and simple FM synth, cutting through some of the complexity of FM by providing a simple selection of 8 parameters. This synth is a perfect place to start for those new to FM, but the limitations need not be a drawback- they could also provide new perspectives for those already accustomed to it.
The Monomachine has several iterations- the original Monomachine SFX-6, released in 2003, had a limited run of 500 and is now highly sought after. The 2004 Monomachine refined and expanded on it’s capacities and the 2007 MkII added features such as the ability to input custom WAV files to further create new sounds, as well as an improved signal to noise ratio and was upgraded in the 2010 MkII 60+.
Overall, the Elektron Monomachine wins on it’s creative potential as the potential for variation is huge. Its focus on modelling analog sounds is also a winner as it’s digital technology can provide this without artefacts. A swing feature is a bonus, and it’s six tracks allow for endless permutations of sound which can be programmed either in real time or in a step input manner. It is fantastic for songwriting, inspiration, versatility, production, and as a live performance tool. While it tends to be favoured by alternative and electronic acts, it’s appeal as a songwriting tool means it could be fantastic piece of kit for a variety of genre and projects.
How Much Does A Elektron Monomachine Cost?
Unfortunately, the Elektron Monomachine was discontinued in 2016, but depending on your musical needs and specification preferences, you may be able to get hold of one of it’s iterations.
The 2003 500 item run Elektron Monomachine SFX-6, including an inbuilt midi keyboard, can potentially be found online. It’s rarity, however, may make it harder to source than the 2004 Monomachine and its later iterations, and the price for a mint condition Monomachine from this original run came to £1300 on reverb.com, with an original retail price of $1950.
The 2007 MkII, which had the DigiPro Doubledraw and Ensemble machines included as well as user WAV file incorporation is also sometimes available on online retailers, but this is highly dependent on luck and good timing.
All these versions of the Monomachine can be found listen on Elektron’s site under their legacy page for further reading and exploration, however, when it comes to sourcing them, the best bet will be a second hand site specifically for musical instruments such as reverb.com, or other online retailers such as eBay or Gumtree. Facebook groups for musicians could also prove fruitful.
Overall, the Monomachine has been well loved by those who have taken the time to get to know all of it’s features. Although superficially it may be difficult to classify, this has not halted positive user experiences and reviews have emphasized its uniqueness. The out-of-the-box creativity which has gone into it’s design and manufacture means it may be quite difficult to find somebody willing to part with one!
*prices generally seen on auction sites. If you see them cheaper, you may be on to a bargain.
Who Uses Or Used The Elektron Monomachine?
Musicians like Actress, Autechre, Beathaven, The Chemical Brothers, Hot Chip, The Knife, Thom Yorke, SOPHIE are particularly fond of the digital weirdness factory that is the Monomachine.
Alternatives To The Elektron Monomachine?
There are many different alternatives to the Monomachine whether as hardware, software, analog or digital. These are as follows: Elektron Digitone, Teenage Engineering OP1, Modor NF-1, Ableton’s Wavetable synth, Reaktor.
However, when we compare it to the real thing it’s noticeable that the alternatives don’t quite stack up. They are a great option though for people with different budgets.
Classic Elektron Monomachine Videos, Tutorials & Demos
A playlist of videos showing you how to program a Monomachine, how to create some famous patterns as well as watching how electronic masterminds Autechre use the Monomachine (alongside the Elektron Machinedrum). Some great tips in here so be sure to check them out!
Other Classic Synth or Drum Machine Products?
Where Can I Find A Elektron Monomachine For Sale?