The Make Noise Strega is a strange beast.
If you’re a strict adherent to the familiar world of East Coast synthesis (think Moog), you might even consider it downright hostile. The face of the synth is a bewildering array of lines and shapes, labeled with odd terms like “activation” and “tonic.” The manual doesn’t go out of its way to clarify anything either. In fact, it tells you up front that it’s “not important to fully understand the Strega.” And it leans hard into treating the instrument as a metaphorical “alchemical experiment.”
- Completely unique sound and character
- Lo-fi delay sounds amazing on almost everything
- Unique interface encourages experimentation
- High price
- Intentionally obscure controls could be a turnoff to some
Unless you’re drawn to strange and esoteric instruments, you might be turned off by the Strega. Tony Rolando of Make Noise, who co-designed the instrument with Alessandro Cortini, is quick to admit that it’s not for everybody — especially considering its $599 price. But, I think even many skeptics will be convinced if they give this little steel box of weirdness a chance.
All sounds in this demo are coming directly from the Strega:
At the heart of the Strega is a single oscillator that morphs as you turn the “Tones” knob from a simple triangle wave, to a saw, to a much more complex folded waveform. On its own and completely dry, the oscillator is a bit thin sounding. Could you play a bassline on it? Sure. But don’t go throwing your Bass Station in the trash just yet.
The truth is, though, the monophonic oscillator is not the star of the show here. Unlike other synths, the soul of the Strega isn’t in its sound generator. Instead, the character comes from the combination of a multimode filter and lo-fi delay (a PT2399-based effect that can trace its origins back to karaoke machines) . While there is a blend knob that allows you to mix the raw sound of the oscillator with the results of the delay and filter, Rolando and Cortini actually suggested recently in an interview with Engadget that there’s almost no reason to use the Strega in anything other than 100-percent wet mode. (I tend to disagree.)
The importance of the delay is immediately clear when you look at the controls. There are three knobs that are larger than the rest: the Tonic, which controls the pitch of the oscillator, the filter cutoff, and dead center the delay time. The Time control takes you from super short, almost slapback style repeats to basically uncontrolled chaos where the clock noise from running the delay chip much slower than intended overtakes the sound of the oscillator.
The delay is noisy no matter what. It always has a slightly crushed, hissy quality to it. But it only becomes unusable at its extremes. And, if you do want to tame the noise you have two different filtering options: the Absorb control and the main filter. How do the two differ? Well, I’m not entirely sure. And the manual doesn’t really help. All I know is that Absorb comes after the filter in the signal chain. I think.
But, again, Make Noise would argue that all of this is beside the point. Instead, it wants you to explore and experiment and find what sounds good without worrying about the technical details.
The Strega also has a looping envelope in the bottom right-hand corner. It’s not labeled on the synth itself, and in the manual it’s called the “Agitation Generator,” but for all intents and purposes it’s an LFO. (Unless you connect something to the Begin and End in, but we’ll get to that later.)
By default, the Agitation circuit changes the cutoff on the filter but, since this is a semi-modular synth, you can easily route it wherever you want. If you ask me (and I feel like by reading this review you are implicitly asking me), you should connect the Agitation to the Time Modulation input and never look back. With a slow speed and the attenuator for the Time modulation set to between 9 and 12 o’clock you can get lovely tape-esque warbles that seem to be exactly what the Strega was made for. It really leans into the lo-fi quality of the delay and makes anything you run through it feel like it’s been weathered and beaten on a rocky shore for decades. (You can also turn up the Tonic modulation slightly to double down on those hazy vibes.)