Microgranny Lo-Fi Sampler

Bastl Instruments' microGranny 2 is a monophonic sampler that applies granular algorithms. MIDI Input allows external control of all parameters as well as transposition of the samples, or playing individual grains by different keys.

On my recent quest to add some outboard gear to my studio, I looked for unique analog and lo-fi equipment to add some grit and dirt to the clean sounds of my plugins. It didn’t take long and I stumbled across the Microgranny, a quirky looking lo-fi sample mangler manufactured by the good people at Bastl Instruments in the Czech Republic. A couple weeks ago I got my hands on this freakish neon green colored edition and checked it out.

In the beginning I wasn’t sure if/how I would use it regularly. But the unit encourages creative play like no other. Simply take it out of the studio, walk around town and record things. Stop at a coffee shop and see what creative sounds you can cook up!

Word of warning here: Every time I sat with my MG in a public place, I got concerned looks. My best guess is that the see through case makes look like I’m trying to figure out how to … a bomb. If you plan to carry it around a lot, my suggestion is to go to for a different colored case 🙂

Meet the Microgranny

The MicroGranny 2 is a miniature monophonic 8-bit granular sampler based on the Arduino microprocessor. The granular processing carves up audio in ways that classic samplers just can’t accomplish.

You can either load your samples on a microSD card or record something via the built-in microphone. Once in the Microgranny you can manipulate the samples with the control knobs or via MIDI if you want. You’ll mainly be looping, changing the sample rate, crushing, and adding envelopes to shape the sound. For granular sampling you are able adjust grain size and shift speed.

It’s delivered in creative & fun packaging, that fits with the quirky look of the unit itself. The MicroGranny 2 is a plastic box and comes in a variety of colors – I have the bright green edition which lets you see what’s under the hood. You have six knobs and 12 buttons to do your sound design work. The MicroGranny 2 can receive MIDI, and its audio I/O are 3.5mm jacks. Also came with some goodies, like stickers and such.

The display is a bit cryptic and takes some getting used to, but after a few days of playing with the Micro Granny and checking online sources and you’ll be good. It’s unfortunate, that it doesn’t come with a well-written manual. The unit is very intuitive, but a good manual would go a long way to explain some of the intricacies of the machine.

Sampling

Let’s get into it and switch on the device! Hit a few buttons and you’ll find that there’s already some samples on the SD Card to begin your exploring the possibilities of the machine. Contrary to most machines cookie cutter standard samples, these are certainly more eclectic and highly usable (depending on your taste). There are speech, orchestral snippets, solo piano, synths and percussion to choose from.

Don’t like the samples? Record new samples to the SD card is easy via the line in. Sampling is refreshingly easy! Just press record, pick a bank and you’re good to go! Sampling from the line input is a breeze, but onboard microphone is where the MicroGranny really shines. It’s like a field recorder with built in sound design tools. Just hold the Granny towards the sound source and hit record!

The Microgranny supports both 16- and 8-bit samples playback but only records 8-bit samples. Don’t let the lofi tag fool you tho – the actual re-sampling of the device is suprisingly good quality. Beats and bass remain big, whilst clarity is not lost.

The Microgranny has a funky structure for storing samples, which I still can’t wrap my hear around. It can hold 60 presets in 10 banks on the machine, with each preset holding 6 samples. You can have a sample per button or preset, which allows you take individual slices from a sample and map them across the 6 buttons, not unlike a traditional MPC workflow. That means that the original sample can never be changed in the Microgranny itself to ensure your recordings are always saved.

This can be quite annoying, depending on how you use the device. If you recorded something and want to crop the beginning of the recording, you have a sample start knob to help you trim the fat, but it would infinitely more helpful to have a basic resampling functionality.

In the current setup you either prepare your samples in your DAW and load them via the SD Card or use the Granny mainly for sound design, which is what I ended up doing.

Controls

Having your newly loaded collection of samples at your disposal, what can you do beyond simply triggering them? Turns out you can do quite a bit. The Microgranny has 4 knobs, each having two different functions, depending which page you are on. Switching from one page to the next is quickly done via switch of a button.

The green page contains the following parameters:

  • Sample Rate allows you to speed up or slow down the sample from +6 semitones to -36. You don’t quite get the Kanye & 9th Wonder pitched-up vocals with this and the slowing down I found msot useful in the -12 semitone range. If you go lower, then almost everything sounds like garbage…
  • Crush is nothing but a distortion/bit-crush effect, which can really destroy your samples. Cool to turn an otherwise boring recording into an interesting sound. Use with care when you recorded through the microphone, because it amplifies the background noise a lot.
  • Attack increases the time for the sample to reach full volume when you play a sample. Nothing new here.
  • Release also works like in any other samples. It simply increases the time for the sample to return to 0 volume when you stop playing a sample.

Switch to the blue page and you can affect the actual sample playback:

  • Grain Size controls the size of each slice (each sample is cut up into 1024 individual slices by default in the MicroGranny). Turned all the way down, you don’t get any grain effect.
  • Shift Speed controls in which direction the grains are played. This knob is really cool, as you can play back samples very slowly and effectivley ‘timestretch’ them with sometimes really weird results. It allows you to go negative as well, essentially playing back samples backwards.
  • Loop Start & Loop End are separate knobs but they work in tandem and allow you to set the start and end point of a sample, just like the name suggests.

The MG2 becomes a whole different animal, when you set the shifting to random and it creates random ever-changing textures for you.

The Verdict

What I like:
Super fun, small box that can produce unbelievable gritty sounds. Certainly one of the most unique granular samplers out there. I especially like how the Micro Granny 2 makes sound design tactile. I mainly used it as filed recorder and granular sampler to design unique sounds to layer with.

What I don’t like:
Over all the feel of the product is high quality and satisfying, but the knobs and buttons could be improved to make it a more polished unit. I thought the MicroGranny could be a lot of fun for live sets as well, but I found it too difficult to switch through samples quickly. And a nice to have would certainly be an alias-taming low-pass filter. This way you can immediately sculpt the processed sounds further.

If you’re curious and want to pick one up for around €160, go here: http://www.bastl-instruments.com/instruments/microgranny/

Ultimately the MicroGranny 2 is a great specialist device with a limited scope. You can compare this with an MPC or SP404. This is definitely better used as sound design tool. Lofi producers will love twiddling the MG’s knobs and crushing some bits while watching Anime videos…

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