Review: Creamware Minimax

By Manuel Clement
(January 05, 2004)

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Music Gear:

Product: Minimax, digital analog synthesizer for the Creamware DSP platform
Manufacturer: Creamware
Price: 249 EUR

Creamware, well known for their DSP-based SCOPE Fusion Platform are coming up with some really cool new devices these days. Today I am looking at Minimax, which is said to be the first 1 to 1 emulation of Moog's Minimoog classic synthesizer. Creamware says "it is the instrument". Both of their systems, NOAH and SCOPE cards, are powered by a set of dedicated SHARC DSPs (Digital Signal Processors). Developers can build completely new ways of using the hardware underneath. There is a very informative discussion posted on PlanetZ (THE site for Creamware users - big hey to John who does a great job at running it) where you will find more details about the different advantages of dedicated DSP-based systems over CPU-only.

I should also point out that users who got their Pulsar card 4 or 5 years ago (I am getting close to that) are still able to upgrade their software, and use all the brand new devices such as the Minimax, and their new interface for quickly wiring up your studio: Live Bar. Minimax is available for the various systems of the SCOPE Fusion Platform as well as for the new hardware synthesizer Noah.
If you want to find out more about the Minimoog you should visit this great page which has a ton of great info including a list of some of the artists who have used the minimoog (impressive).

Installation and Documentation

I logged to the user area on Creamware's website, and downloaded the Minimax setup file. I like how they keep all the software you own listed there in one place, available for download at any time. The file I downloaded had an unusual extension (.oxe) and was less than 700 KB in size. There was no icon on the file an even though it wasn't clear that double-clicking on the file would do anything as there was no icon assigned to it (I would have expected a Creamware icon), the installation worked. I was able to see Minimax available to insert inside my projects after restarting the SFP (Scope Fusion Platform) software.
The only problem I have with this package is that it does not install any documentation. I had to go back to the Creamware website to find a PDF file I could download and run outside of SFP. There is a way to launch the documentation from within the SFP software, however you have to copy the PDF file somewhere in a particular folder and I would have liked an option to download both a regular PDF and also an installer of some sort to do the job for me. Of course these are minor points and we have yet to meet Minimax in person so let's move on!

First Impressions

Knowing how many Minimoog emulations are already out there, I wasn't initially too motivated to try Minimax. There was a lot of buzz on various forums about the amazing sound of Minimax. Without going into quoting people directly, I can recall things like "what is happening? is there a huge modular in there? how is it possible, so much sound, so few knobs?". What I thought was "another minimoog" was starting to become a legend in itself, and I decided to give it a chance. Little did I know it would blow my mind so much. I am having a hard time finding words strong enough to describe how good Minimax is. It has the smoothest, thickest, richest sound I've heard from a digital synthesizer. It resonates deep in my chest and there is a vibe I have never even felt when using outboard VA synthesizers.

User Interface

The interface is extremely easy to grasp and use and I found myself programming several interesting sounds from the grounds up within the first hour: a simple bass, some leads, amazing FX sounds and even complex metallic drums. I am not sure if it is because "modern" synthesizers are harder to program with tons of menus and functions to travel through, but I would not have been able to create all these rich, complex sounds as quickly as I did with the Minimax, even though it is an early 1970's synthesizer.

The well contrasted panel features large knobs and switches, with all the primary controls on one "page" as well as an effect section, the modulation and miscellaneous parameters on a second page weirdly labelled "Add". It is easy to edit the knob values, although I have to say that I am not a fan of the way "switches" work, finding them a bit unpredictable at times.

Creamware did not try to invent a new interface, this is the Minimoog. It is a good thing since it was extremely well designed originally.

3 Oscillators:

Factory Presets

Creamware had the great idea to ship presets made by famous musicians from the european dance music scene which is great, but I believe Creamware could also expand their market to a much larger number of users if they also shipped presets by other people who are known to have used Minimoog like Dr Dre or The Neptunes to get interest from the Hip Hop crowd, and even maybe Jean-Michel Jarre or Ryuichi Sakamoto to get interest from some electronic but not dance crowds so a large spectrum is covered...

The presets are very well made and focus on dance-oriented electronic music, for the most part. There are many effects, synth bass, lead sounds in there. I would have liked a full "drum kit" as well just for fun, to use as examples to learn how a sound is made on the Minimax. On the other hand, the interface was so straightforward that I was able to program a few drum patches anyway (read "Hands on Minimax" below). Presets are great to learn how one sound is made, as you can see all of the settings at once (again, no hidden menus and functions), while you quickly navigate up and down the list.

Effects and Polyphony on a Minimoog?

OK, Creamware did change some things compared to the original Minimoog synthesizer. Minimax has polyphony (lets you play more than one note at once) and features a couple of effects, a delay as well as a flanger/chorus section. The effects are actually good, but I think that you should turn them off at first to really enjoy the pure sound of the Minimax. In fact the sound examples on Creamware's website didn't really translate what the Minimax had in its guts because the effects "washed" the purity and unique character of the original Moog. At least the effects are there for you to play with and do sound like they should.

Filter Section

THE classic Moog filter. My friends, let me put it this way: NICE.

Listen to this rumbling sound I recorded on a custom patch with the filter in action: minimax_filter_FX.mp3 (1 minute)

Hands on Minimax!

The first sound I prepare is a deep bass. Not a surprise to you if you know how well the Minimoog does those. I should mention that most of the patches in the library are good, but the interface seems easy enough to sculpt my own from scratch and I quickly find myself tweaking knobs around... I notice that the quality is very, very high. I feel the sound resonating in my chest - in fact, memories from my childhood listening to some early Jarre albums come up to the surface... I've heard this before! As I said I am having a hard time finding the words, so let me give you a raw version of what I feel: Minimax is amazing. After playing with those Jarre-like pads for a while (this thing is addictive), I decided to head back to the sound I wanted: a deep bass. I quickly found my way around the very clear user interface, dialing the various envelope and oscillator settings while tapping a couple of notes on the keyboard.

I enable the Glide to smoothen things a bit. In Cubase SX, I capture the bass track in real time over a few bars. Listen to the bass track alone: minimax_bass.mp3

Next, I thought I would try to add a thinner sound. Starting from one of the factory patches, I change a few things and get it to what I want: a detuned chord-like lead with a slow release.

I repeat the process of recording a few bars in an audio track while I listen to the bass track playing in the back. To blend it better with the existing deep bass, I insert an EQ module and cut the lower frequencies.

Listen to the lead track alone: minimax_lead.mp3

This is starting to become a nice ambiant-ish piece. Nothing grandiose, but I am having a lot of fun putting it together and this is what counts. Minimax is versatile and lets me create the sounds I want.

I was going to stop the "hands-on" part of the review there, but I was missing my minimoog - oups I mean minimax - too much to not share with you one more thing. I started to touch everything on the interface, shaping and shaping... To my surprise, after a few minutes I had created a bass kick drum sound as well as a cool metallic CLACK percussion sound. I then stored a shorter metallic clack sound (man those memory banks are handy). I looked back and realized that I just went through one of the most enjoyable "synth programming" moments I had in years. Minimax is so comfortable to use!

Just so you don't think I am insane, I laid down a few drum tracks for you, triggering each patch one by one, making some kind of minimalistic drum beat.

Listen to the all-minimax drum beat by itself:

Finally I thought I'd create a nice slow whistle-like sound. A few minutes later I had a new patch made!

I have to admit that I've always found synth programming time consuming, with all the menus and options that today's machines offer; Minimax is so easy to use and clear, it would be a great tool for people to learn sound design basics and how synthesis works.

After a few minutes of mixing around and adding some effects (Creamware Masterverb PRO, Vinco, etc), I exported a mixdown of all the pieces put together. Funny thing is, this piece is only 1 minute long and when I put it on CD and played in in my car for a few days on repeat I realized, it really grows on you. I hope you'll like it too. In case you don't know, I've always been shy about letting anyone listen to my music, and this might be the first time I put some of it out. It feels good, so I will try to do this with all the future FP reviews I'll work on.

Listen to the full piece with bass, lead, whistle and drums entirely made with Minimax: WIDE SPACE (1 minute long)

Old Tricks: routing the output back to the input

I had a blast feeding the Minimax's output back to its input, an old Minimoog trick. It screams! I got a lot of guitar-like sounds out of it, and also some interesting rumblings. Here is something I recorded while playing with it:

Listen to the minimax output routed back to the input

Performance and DSP usage

Today I am testing it on a Pulsar 2 card which has 6 DSPs. Creamware states on their website that Minimax can render 6 voices with this configuration.

Due to the elaborate algorithms used in the Minimax, its polyphony is limited to 2 voices on a 3-DSP board, to 6 voices on a 6-DSP board and to 15 voices on a 15-DSP board. The thing is, in my studio the Pulsar 2 is basically the "brain" where I do most of my mixing and effects work. Because in this case the 6 DSPs are not dedicated to Minimax only, I ran into some problems while trying to reach 6 voices.

I was expecting this, but the strange thing was that even though I left at least 25% of DSP resources free on top of what I was doing, I did get distortion on the Minimax. It was not clear if it was because I ran out of DSPs, because I wasn't warned by any error message.

After this article was initially published, I was contacted by someone who beta-tested a few Creamware devices. He pointed out that the problem I was running into was simply due to the fact that I was overdriving the output with more than 3 voices. Raising and lowering the individual oscillator levels solved the problem.

I know that to some of you the numbers may seem low, but when you use the thing you quickly remember the old saying: "quality not quantity". Quality is there for sure.

Summary of Minimax

  • First exact and complete emulation of the Minimoog
  • 1:1 sonic characteristics through detailed modeling of all sound-producing components
  • Monophonic analog synthesizer with 3 oscillators and a noise generator
  • Legendary 24 db/octave filter
  • Filter and amplifier with lightning-fast envelopes
  • Feedback-capable: second audio output can be routed back into the mixer section
  • Audio input for an external signal
  • Switchable effects section with Chorus/Flanger and Stereo Delay
  • Remote control and automation via MIDI controllers


Superb sound and user interface. A pleasure to create new patches from scratch. Bottom line is: Minimax is the best sounding, most comfortable digital analog synthesizer I ever put my hands on. I highly recommend that you look into getting either one of the PCI cards (Pulsar 2, etc) or the new NOAH standalone rack so you can start using Minimax and the other outstanding devices Creamware have available today.

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