Changes like this are not a new practice of the Elektron lineage. Past OS updates didn't just remove bugs—functionality was improved to the level of several new reverbs and multiple new sequencing modes, among other feature rewrites. So investing in an Elektron could lead to a machine that feels new every few months or years. Another focus of Elektron instruments is an emphasis on performance features. In the case of the Analog Keys, it has the full powerful sequencing capabilities of the Analog Four as well as a joystick that can have 15 parameters assigned to it for unlimited sound transformation. Also new, thanks to the expanded size, are four individual stereo track outputs and a button that instantly turns the Analog Keys into a MIDI controller.
Extensive feature list aside, the Analog Keys sports a unique sound. It's important to note that the entire signal path up until the effects is fully analog. Each of its four voices has two oscillators with variable wave shapes, a major contributor to its sound. Every voice also has two sub-oscillators capable of being tuned one or two octaves below the fundamental or even a fifth, which allows for four-note chords within a single voice. There are also two filters per voice running in serial, starting with a four-pole low-pass ladder followed by a two-pole multimode filter. A noise generator, overdrive and filter feedback—again per-voice—add to the complexity. For modulation, there are two assignable LFOs and envelopes, plus dedicated LFOs and envelopes for common modulation destinations, so the others aren't wasted by being assigned to the obvious (and not-so obvious). These include vibrato LFO and envelope; two waveshape LFOs; amp envelope; noise fade envelope; and autobend envelope. With the new OS, up to four voices, multi-timbral parts and unison can be custom-assigned to each of the four tracks.
The new multi-map feature, accessible by a button-press near the joystick, is extensive as well. It gives the option to go from something as basic as assigning four different patches to one octave each, to each keyboard note being assigned to a different patch, even pulling from the internal patch memory. Some preset multis have complete drum kits—all of them fully analog from internal memory—on one octave and several patches on the rest. The Analog Keys can be very detailed and time consuming to program, but on stage, a user could have their keyboard intricately mapped to play all sorts of patch combinations. This is reminiscent of the performance mode, which assigns the ten data control knobs to extensive parameter macros. It could take a lot of time to assign all of them, but then a single knob turn could manipulate up to five parameters on any sound on any track. So if you have the patience to program, you'll have a lot at your fingertips.
The 64-step Elektron sequencer allows each trigger to have its own set of parameters. Having the attached semi-weighted keyboard is a massive upgrade from the little buttons on the Analog Four module when composing. Sequences can be created on each of the four synth tracks, the effects track and the CV/gate track. Individual track lengths are now available, perfect for polyrhythms and other creative sequencing. Micro timing divides the space between 16th notes even further to 1/384 of a step. There's a total of six arpeggiators each, with their own extensive settings. Each synth track has three effects sends, which go to a chorus, saturator delay and an incredible-sounding reverb. There's an effects track that can have its own sequenced pattern, meaning effects parameters can be programmed per step. Going even further, a CV/gate track sends signal from dual outputs to sequence other analog gear. Considering the potential of the Elektron sequencer, this is one of the most sophisticated CV sequencers on the market—one that just happens to come as part of four-voice synthesizer.
The Analog Keys has over 4,000 sounds in the included +Drive. You can also store several thousand patterns and kits. This may be a new precedent for analog synth patch memory. Going through sounds on the Analog Four used to be tedious, but not here, thanks to the large sound selection wheel—as soon as it is turned, you are going through the extensive patch list. They are tagged by category so finding a bass, for example, is not such a challenge. And there's no shortage of leads, pads or drums either. The synthesized drums have a distinct flavor from the average drum sample. It wasn't easy to program a kick that rivaled some of my other units, but there are definitely useful sounds, like noise hi-hats and snares. The stereo inputs on the back further increase the unit's capabilities. Input signal can be treated like an oscillator and be run through all of the filters and effects while being sequenced on the 64-step grid.
The Analog Keys takes the design of the Analog Four to the next level but remains compact enough to be a great traveling stage piece. It's loaded with sounds, sequence features and connectivity, with plenty more to look forward to with future updates. The Analog family of Elektron units have a truly unique sound and can also act as a hub to simultaneously control various components of any studio or stage setup. It's no mystery why they appear in so many pro rigs today.
Ease of use: 3.5/5