TheAndromeda A6 is perhaps the most powerful analogue synthesizer ever built. Sixteen analogue voices, two filters (one Oberheim-like and one Moog-like), two oscillators per voice, an arpeggiator and old-style 16 step sequencer, ribbon controller, built-in effects, tons of routing and modulation possibilities, full MIDI implementation, CV ins, audio ins, noise generators, three LFOs, sample & hold, separate outputs per voice, PCMCIA Type I storage for tons of patches, knobs galore (and more knobs)...yeah, well, this is a powerhouse. Especially when you consider it can be had for less than $3000US (standard blue version, street price).
Please forget what it's not. It's not a Minimoog, for example (I've tried, and it can get close, but it can't match the Mini for rawness and power). So if you want Mini sound, buy a Mini. And buy an A6 for all the sounds the Mini can't do, the patch storage, the polyphony, MIDI, and so on.
But think of what it is. The Andromeda ups the ante on true analogue synthesis and may be the last of its kind: a true analogue beast. Yes, true analogue, not "virtual analogue". With the routing capabilities, pulse width modulation, frequency modulation, ring modulation, oscillator sync options, and lots more, the Andromeda will keep synth programmers awake and twiddlin' for months at a time. Add in the other wild features, and, well, no other synth from yesterday or today is in the same ballpark.
The programming interface is slick. Yes, there are knobs galore, and when you turn a knob, the Andromeda's display goes right to the feature you're editing (you can turn this off, too, so the display stays in one place). So if you're editing Envelope #2, the parameters for that envelope will appear in the central display when you turn a knob---or when you hit the View button associated with that envelope. Very nice - you always know where you are.
The oscillators are very much analogue---so much so that the A6 needs to be powered up for about five minutes or so to sound OK (not even the Minimoog, MKS-80, or PolySix requires that kind of warm-up time, but I'm pretty lucky in that regard). There's an auto-tune function which runs in the background to keep things sounding good (you can disable it to get that oscillator drift and give your synth some additional unpredictability...I call it a "charm" button). You can force a complete tuning, but it takes some time to complete, so I recommend powering up the synth for a while before using it and letting it do its automatic background tuning for you, and don't worry about it. Just don't show up late to a gig and expect to start playing right away.
I am impressed with the variety of sounds one can get from the A6. It's very easy to get that acid/techno growl, which is cool to modulate using the A6's ribbon controller (when so programmed into a patch). But you'll get very nice pads, and I was able to take a preset pad and turn it into a nice solo violin. Horn section fanfares, a classic analogue patch, are no problem, and, yes, you can even get something Moog-like (not quite the real thing, but certainly in the ballpark). If you really want something intense, you can stack all the oscillators and even detune them. Whew! Doing that you can easily get PolySix sounds that would drive your PolySix through a wall. You can layer sounds on the keyboard and assign sounds to keyboard ranges in what Alesis calls a "mix". And each part of the "mix" (what other synth manufacturers call a "combi" or "performance") can have its own MIDI channel assignment.
But the A6 isn't trying to be other synths. It's its own synthesizer and has its own personality. I expect to hear a new range of timbres on the radio and on the electronic music CDs I'll be buying in the future: sounds from the A6.
For saving your patches and mixes, the A6's onboard storage is pretty scant on letting you save to only one USER bank of 128 patches and one of 128 mixes. C'mon, on a programmer's dream like this? Fortunately you can use Type I PCMCIA SRAM cards to store many more patches. I have ordered the Viking PCM2MBS 2MB SRAM Type I PC Card from Amazon.com. The SRAM card is slightly older technology, unfortunately, and newer cheaper options are available, but not on the Andromeda. Still, get yourself a nice SRAM card, and you'll get several banks of your own sounds and mixes to play with.
If you play live and need analogue synths, my suggestion would be to leave the touchy, irreplaceable older gear at home (with the possible exception of the Minimoog) and trundle the A6. Get an external MIDI sequencer (I would use the Korg X3's workstation capabilities), and run the A6 from there in its mix mode. Bingo---instant bank of true analogue synths. Plus one hell of a keyboard controller, too (most likely made by Fatar).
Who should buy an Andromeda? If you are tired of cranky analogue synths and you love to program, this is the ticket. Or if you have found programming difficult on modern synths because of their horrible user interfaces which consist of tiny buttons with tinier LCD screens trying to display page after page after page of options, this is a box for you. Or maybe you want an excellent all 'round synthbox to clean up some of the clutter in your studio. Or when "virtual" analogue just doesn't cut it. The A6 won't replace everything, but it'll simulate a Moog and it'll give you pads to challenge the best analogue polysynths ever built. If you need acid sounds for techno, you'd better get ear plugs. Toss in a little PWM or FM, and you'll get screaming leads (with fully adjustable portamento, of course). And modulations, modulations, modulations, just great for making those darn weird noises and patches which take on lives of their own. But with a user interface so damn nice the Alesis Andromeda will make you fall in love with analogue synthesis all over again.
A word about Alesis as of this writing (June 10, 2001): Yes, Alesis has declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and currently the production lines are closed down. Getting an Andromeda is tricky. But indications are that Numark will be buying the company and reopening production of key Alesis gear, including the Andromeda, in the very near future. So hold on.
Alesis update (July 10, 2001): The owner of Numark has purchased Alesis. The Andromeda will be back in production and is slated to ship in September. (This information comes from an analogue-heaven post.)