Alesis Ion -the love that dare not speak its name ;) ?

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Post by Bitexion » Sat Sep 01, 2007 6:16 am

Can you believe that back in the 70/80's having onboard effects was scoffed at as "cheating to get better sound"? The first polysynth that had Chorus built-in, the Elka Synthex, bombed completely because all the old analog hacks were laughing at it for having a chorus, and how it was cheating to get a fatter sound. People just didn't want it..until they discovered that Jean-Michel Jarre used it all over his Rendez-vous album a couple years later, specially for THAT laserharp sound.

And on-board reverb wasn't even thought of until 1988 when the Roland D-50 hit the market. Before that, there were none. So don't take these onboard effects for granted and obligatory. People managed to do perfectly fine without them for decades. Even the cheaper digital effects units like TC Electronics M300 will outperform any onboard effects chip inside a synth.

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Post by Yoozer » Sat Sep 01, 2007 2:05 pm

I love reading the older stories where they put a synth through an amp, put that in the stairwell, and a microphone on top, then record that as a reverb effect. Ditto with bathrooms.

Makes you appreciate the fact that all you need is a 1U high rack unit of decent quality.

(coincidentally, while people are willing to go absolutely livid over "real" analog, few do so about "real" reverb. "What do you say, build a cave in the back yard? h**l no.")
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Post by Track2 » Sat Sep 01, 2007 9:07 pm

I've had my Ion for a couple of days now and thought I'd just post some first impressions. I appreciate that I'm late to the party on the Ion and that many here already have it or have decided not to have it based on much exposure to it. But I just wanted to share some thoughts as I'm pretty impressed overall.

I trigger it from a master keyboard so the cheap keyboard is not an issue at all- I never touch it. I have the synth at a steep angle above the master kb, directly in front of me, so its almost like a very large rack, which also avoids the issue with the contrast problems on the lcd.

Given that I dont touch the keys on the Ion, my physical interaction with the machine is a very pleasing experience. The solid construction of the unit and particularly the knob action belies its price imo and it feels much more expensive than it is. The layout of the knobs is intuitive, intelligent and logical and I like the way the lcd switches immediatly to display the parameters being tweaked. Altogether a very pleasing sensory experience and it seems to me to be a very transparant interface that allows you to intuitivly interact with the sound design.

Personally,I like the look which seems both retro and futuristic in a late 1970's Close Encounters sort of way :wink:

My impression of the presets is very mixed. Clearly a large sprinkling of prog rock classics, which is a bit of a grin initially I supose. The sound of the presets struck me as a little muddy in the middle frequencys. They certainly cut through less than my SNII.

I tend not to use presets very much, as my music is based around abstract/found/sampled sound and I can't actually play keyboards :oops: .

On the default setting I found the osc to have a pleasing sound accross the frequency spectrum, and certainly the muddiness I heard in some of the analog emulations in the presets seemed to be absent. I can't comment on how "analog" or fat the osc's sound as I dont have any real analogs to compare. It seemed to convey an impression of warmth compared to my ms2000 and the VA osc's on the Z1/MOSS. It seems slightly warmer in sound to the SNII but less smooth and creamy.

I've started programming from default and am very impressed particularly by the filters and the mod matrix implementation.

I think the filters are beautiful on their own terms- ie not whether they are accurate replicants of the analogs they emulate, but rather just the subtlety/sensitivity of the stepping, the subtlety and range of the timbres accross the frequencies and the precision with which they can be calibrated.

In fact I soon came to feel that one of the over-riding impressions that the synth gave was that, once you cleared the decks and started to programme from default, you were suddenly dealing with something of a thorough-bread:- a beautifully thought out, responsive, sensitive instrument (in both the musical and the technical sense of the word :) )

The thing I loved about the mod matrix particularly, apart from the largish and thoughful array of sources and destinations/types, was that you appear to be able to have multiple lfo waveform types simulaneously on a given lfo.

I may be wrong on this, you appear to be able to have lfo waveform type different and discrete by destination. Ie mod slot one can be lfo 1 saw modulating X and mod slot 2 can be lfo 1 tri modulating Y. I havent looked at the lfo submenus yet so this may be incorrect, but if what you see in the mod matrix screen is actually being implemented this is much more flexible than architecture where the lfo type is fixed per lfo menu for all destinations as apposed to per source in the mod menu.

Anyway the Ion is now sitting behind me making a very pleasing odd, atonal bleepy Alienish s&h based drone (I love the hold function on the amp env release), which sounds nothing like the ersatz Wakemanesq cheesy presets that are so prevelant. Whilst MOSS/Z1 is probably deeper, I love the raw sound of this synth, and its interface is a joy to use.

My first impressions of the filters is that their sheer scope in number combined with their quality, combined with 3 good osc's and a strong mod matrix mean that the sonic possibilities of the Ion are indeed vast as many of you had said. The interface imo makes getting there both intuitive and a pleasure.

All this for £388 UK stirling? Wow.

What a fantastic synth.

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Post by Dano » Sat Sep 01, 2007 10:52 pm

Track2 wrote:I think the filters are beautiful on their own terms- ie not whether they are accurate replicants of the analogs they emulate, but rather just the subtlety/sensitivity of the stepping, the subtlety and range of the timbres accross the frequencies and the precision with which they can be calibrated.
Being able to blend two different filter types in a serial arrangement is one of the Ion's best features IMO. I miss this now on my synths that don't have it. I always used to say that the Ion and a Waldorf Micro Q made a great combination but as I said in my previous post on this topic, I think the Ion compliments any VA and I've been using it alongside my Novation Xiosynth recently.

Also, two thumbs up from me on the Ion's looks.

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Post by Bitexion » Sat Sep 01, 2007 10:56 pm

I think most people never try filter in serial mode, since they default to parallell. You have to do some menu diving to set them in serial mode. I have a default patch w/ serial filters I can jump to and go from scratch :)

All the greatest analogs had a serial filter configuration..CS80, Jupiter-8 etc.

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Post by Mpresev » Mon Sep 03, 2007 6:31 am

very smooth using the portamento too. Everytime I'm using the Ion, I feel like Vince Clark l.o.l.

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Post by Ryan » Mon Sep 03, 2007 1:33 pm

Just a note on the ions keyboard - it is a Fatar TP/7BA.
There is apparently a drop-in replacement keybed that has a sturdier
feel. Fatar weighted 49 key TP/9S. I haven't confirmed this myself but I'm certenly considering trying it out. There are not any complete specs of that keybed that I can find on the net. I imagine there may be some overhang since the ions keys are rather short. I'd probably go the whole way and build a custom case for the thing anyway. A nice wedge shape with say... walnut end caps;)

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Post by Bitexion » Mon Sep 03, 2007 2:16 pm

Portamento is one of the Ion's good points. On the Minimax I can distinctly hear stepping when I do a very sloooow glide over several octaves. No such thing on Ion.

Of course, there is no reason why I would do a superslow portamento glide musically, so it's not a problem. But it's still there.

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Post by DGX305 » Mon Sep 03, 2007 2:55 pm

To me, the Ion has an amazing work flow and layout. I love those rotary knobs and the ability to jump to anything with a touch of a knob. I control the Ion from my Fusion 8HD not just because it doesn't feel that great on the Ion but because I like more than 49 keys to play with and don't really fancy pressing octave up and down.

I agree that the Arps are very limited, considering for example the fully editable 1000 Arps that I got on the Fusion. I'm not too deep into my Fusion yet, and I'm hoping to find a way to link the Fusion and the Ion in a way to play Fusion's Arps using Ion sounds. I know it's possible but I have no idea how to do it. Any thoughts here?

By the way, I love the colors and look of the Ion, so no complains here.
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Re: Alesis Ion -the love that dare not speak its name ;) ?

Post by Pro5 » Sat Sep 17, 2016 5:19 am

What's a 9 year thread Resurrection between friends? :mrgreen:

I've read all these posts as I've played an ION many times and having moved my synths around recently (to downsize) and borrowed one from a friend to really try it out in my studio, I'm interested in picking one up again, as I really enjoy it as a "sound design" thing (I didn't approach it as a straight analog cloning VA which I think is best with this synth as it's way more than your standard/boring VA).

I've had quite a few VAs over the years inc AN1x, MS2k, JP8k, novation etc the usual mid/lower end suspects, and have played virus, nord etc.

As a general synthesizer, the Alesis ion remains my favourite "VA" based on:

Feel (The knobs, the wheels, the depth - not the keybed but it's fine really it actually 'sounds' worse than it feels and if you have headphones on or loud volume you can't hear it anyway. It reminds me of the MS2k keybed, probably the same one?)

Looks, No I do not understand why that's even a factor, it's one of few VAs in its bracket, or above, that is solid metal build, beautiful encoders (That actually help not hinder here), modern "before its time" glowing wheels with that cool increasing light (if you choose - which I do), and its overall a very slender synth height wise, and looks good from almost any angle. The colours of the lights on the sliver metal I find very relaxing in the studio too :lol: kinda meditative. It's very unique looking, very well built, and the way the little buttons glow (and feel) is much much better quality/experience than the An1x or the lose knobs of the MS2k / JP8k.

and of course - SOUND - to me the ion is like some elemental force hewn into a silver hunk of metal purely to make sound. It doesn't matter that its not analog, it is what it is and excels at being an ion, while other, older VAs come/go into fashion and always sound like pale imitations of real analog, not only does ion (imo) get closest of all to actually 'feeling' analog (even if it doesn't always sound it), it is a pure synthesizer of it's design that is a great use of digital, without strictly cloning any one old-synth.

I have a feeling those that didn't like them weren't that into real synth programming, and prefer the more obvious/straight to the point imitational sound/operation of most other (simple) VAs. ion is one for the sound designers with an imagination. It has a tendency to feel alive and vibrant (like an analog) even if doing some cold steel phasery digital sweep, most other digitals tend to sound flat/harsh/dead in these areas.

Also like how it's a bit of a secret weapon, not a ubiquitous and over-used tone like the JP8k, not associated with any genre (like trance - urgh). Just a powerful synth, beautifully built, unique looks, great feel, totally solid and for the power it has, a very easy layout to actually program complex things.

As it uses mod matrix for basically everything I guess it could throw people off who are used to dialing in LFO depths/destinations right at the LFO controls (for example), but once you get your head around it this ion way of working is very powerful and flexible and can make the synth be the vital weapon among a whole stash of other digitals or analogs with their more obvious/straight forward sounds.

As I'm always thinking of paring down to as few synths as I can, I think the ion could make a very unique/exciting/lasting "only" digital (alongside the totally different synthesis style/sound digital side in my JD-XA which I love too both analog and digital). I could see me ending up with just those two synths and being more than happy at the range/depth of sounds they produce.

So, hope my 9 year thread bump hasn't rattled anyone's sensitive nature too much, but had to add my vote of confidence in this beautiful synth that is oft-ignored (and a ridiculous bargain on the used market considering its depth and build quality vs the usual suspects). :mrgreen:

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Re: Alesis Ion -the love that dare not speak its name ;) ?

Post by HideawayStudio » Sat Sep 17, 2016 9:32 pm

Well here's the thing... I sold all my VAs in the studio a few years back.. my fully loaded Supernova rack, the Nord Lead, the A-Station, the K-Station and decided to leave my little Alesis Micron in the synth workshop as a little box to use as a source of midi and audio to wash through eqipment under test...

..but after a couple of years of it kicking around I have to admit that pretty much every time I switch it on and hook it up to something it often leaves me surprised in a way none of the others did bar possibly the Nord Lead. And not just synth sounds too - it is really quite capable of making a plethora of synthesized analog drum sounds too.

The Micron shares the same synth engine as the Ion and although most of its factory presets or FX may not to be everyone's taste, this thing is surprisingly capable with a very flexible, smooth and capable filter section albeit rather lacking in character.. not really a problem though when there are a gazzilion pieces of 60s tube gear lying around here to wash it through! :)

Put simply, for the cost of a Micron, you would be very hard pressed indeed to find another genuine synth as powerful or as flexible for the money.

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Re: Alesis Ion -the love that dare not speak its name ;) ?

Post by zmd » Sun Sep 18, 2016 5:01 am

Couldnt agree more!
Mine is never far away, both as a killer 4 way arpegiated controller, and as a sound source
that's not dirt, that's chili sauce!

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Re: Alesis Ion -the love that dare not speak its name ;) ?

Post by bowenstidger » Sun Sep 18, 2016 7:56 pm

the best thing about this synth... it is 4 poly synths with their own outputs that can be sequenced externally on their own midi channels. i use it as a drum synth module sometimes. and you can recall these as "setups" when playing live. i dont know of another synth this deep with that functionality. my first synthesizer and one i cant replace for better or worse.

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Re: Alesis Ion -the love that dare not speak its name ;) ?

Post by Broadwave » Thu Sep 22, 2016 7:35 am

I loved my Ion while I had it, but the aliasing in the upper frequencies drove me nuts. I ended up exchanging it for an Ultranova which has very similar voice structure/routing - But it's not multitimbral :roll:

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