Forgotten Artifacts: The Wizardry Behind Patrick Holland’s Waldorf Micro Q
The Waldorf Micro Q is the 2U rack module version of the Waldorf Q (with keyboard) from the early 2000s. It’s unpredictable, versatile, and compact: virtual analog synthesis done right! It was this amazing demo video that caught my attention (complete with outfit changes).
I grabbed this synth a couple of years ago with the intention of adding a machine focused on pads. Without any mixing, this box outputs deeply lush pads, beyond anything I was able to design myself via an analog synth or VST. With two independent filters, up to 75 voices, three oscillators (5 shapes), and wavetable capabilities — plus loads more — this thing is a beast. I’ve used it countless times since I first got it, but it added far more than just a layer for harmonies.
The capabilities for lead synths and bass lines surprised me. To be honest, I solely use it as a preset machine, I’ve never designed a patch from the ground up, but cycling through four banks of presets to use as a jump-off point keeps the studio flow quick and intuitive. I rarely use a different synth when it comes to finding a melodic sub-bass, and for sharp — yet spacious — arpeggios and lead lines, it’s always the perfect fit. There was a point last year that I had to take a break from it, as I feared I was overusing some of the patches I’d flipped. Though, I have since leaned back and thought of new ways of working it into songs.
Common complaints with this box are that it’s too “menu divey,” harsh/hard sounding, not very intuitive, and so on. The menus become so easy after the lightest amount of reading and time with it. It has four “inst.” (instrument) buttons that you can load presets on to quickly jump back and forth between different sounds. I typically just set each of the four instances with familiar patches for easy recall. This method makes for some of the quickest sound design capabilities when you’re keeping that stream of consciousness running smoothly. As for the “harshness,” the synth doesn’t sound like the current crop of modern synths. The Micro Q’s digital-to-analog converters, as well as the filters, are a thing of the past, but it’s what makes it distinctive. I’ve heard modern renditions, like the Blofeld, are cleaner, yet they generally lack character and require more processing to stand out. Adding to its character is the live automation capabilities. Even though the knobs are limited, it forces you to zone in and make a conscious choice on certain elements for live tweaking. Most of the time, the result is more intriguing than having the ability to tweak every parameter at once, like on most analog machines.
There’s so much more going on with this synth, including a “Multi-Mode” to multi-track capability that has different layers with additional audio outputs, effects units, and an in-depth arpeggiator. I have never intentionally used any of these aspects, though I plan on it someday once I tire of my current workflow. The options are truly endless for such a small kit.
All that said, it’s an understated staple, that I couldn’t recommend more.
Patrick Holland’s forthcoming ‘Simstim’ EP drops on May 1. Check out the first single off the record, “Sinking Feeling”, here.