Alesis Ion 1
Alesis Ion 2
Alesis Ion 3
Alesis Ion 4

Click images for larger versions.

Alesis Ion demo sound samples (192kbps MP3)

Demo song - Multitracked in computer with panning, reverb and some delay, no other effects.
All sounds come from the Alesis Ion.



Read more:

Read more:

Alesis Ion

Alesis ION is a high-resolution analogue modelling synthesizer with 8-voice polyphony, 3 oscillators per voice and is 4-part multi-timbral. Alesis has built this synth around an extra powerful processor (500 MIPS) and kept voices down to 8 to give the Ion the probably most convincing virtual analogue sound on the hardware market. The 31 control knobs are 360 degree potentiometers with 12-bit resolution to avoid any form of audible stepping. They are pretty large and have a nice rubbery feel to them, look similar to the knobs of the Waldorf XT. There are also the 3 very popular control wheels that lit up in red as you move them and have that rubber feel too. However the 4 octave keyboard usually gets bad points in reviews. It could be better but I don’t mind it much, it’s okay. The lack of After Touch is only partly compensated with the 2nd modulation wheel. Over MIDI it will work just like it had After Touch (same signal) and it will also respond to recorded After Touch. Other things that are usually pointed out as not so attractive features on the Ion are the flatness of the whole synth, the tiny buttons and the red plastic ends that looks extremely cheap and ugly. I don’t find the buttons to be a problem. They look rather hi-tech styled to me and blend well with the synth’s sturdy metal housing. The flatness though is more than a visual aspect since you almost need to lean right above the Ion to read the display properly. I find it strange why Alesis designed it this way; at least they could have tilted the display a bit. I’m seriously thinking of adding some wedge formed wooded ends to cover the awfully plastic ends and at the same time lift up the back of the Ion, of course the keyboard would be angled too, but you can’t have it all. At least it won’t be flat and it will sure look more old school vintage, the way I like it.

Well, how about its sound design then? Well, if the Virus is known to have rather weak oscillators, that’s certainly not the case with the Ion. They are all strong and powerful. Each of the 3 oscillators have 3 wave form options and each of those are continuously variable from square-puls, saw-tri and sine-…eh, no name here. Naturally you can let a LFO handle the modulation, like PWM. Osc1 could be either soft or hard synced to Osc2 or both Osc2 and Osc3. The soft sync is a good alternative to a hard sync effect which sometimes draws too much attention. Instead the soft sync adds a little texture and some grit. There are also Ring and extensive FM possibilities. Despite all this the oscillators are not the main selling point of the Ion; it’s the filter design that really excels. There are dual filters to be used in parallel or in serial and each of them could choose from no less than 20 filter types (that is for OS 1.05, might be more as you read this). Among the filter types you’ll find MiniMoog, ARP2600, Jupiter8, 4 x Oberheim, TB-303, combs, formants and some unique to Ion. Still on the wish list though is a gritty Prophet filter, perhaps it comes with the next OS-update? With these filter types you can combine endless combinations and get pretty close to many of the classics. It should be stated that just a filter won’t turn it into a Jupiter 8, there’s more to the picture. That’s no trouble to me, as long as it sounds like a warm fat analogue and can give me a broad range of timbres. Like the filter wasn’t enough you’ll also find a 40-band vocoder.

Unfortunately the 3 envelopes share the same 5 knobs so you can’t tweak the Amp and Filter envelopes at the same time, or actually you can, but not with individual knobs. The envelopes have six stages, besides the usual ADSR there are length settings for both Decay and Sustain. Further on there are choices between linear or exponential curves for Attack and Decay. The exponential curve could be either negative or positive and sure has an effect on the sound. The Attack is really snappy (0.5 ms) and works well for percussion and drums. Here I should mention that the arpeggiator seem to have been programmed with thought of rhythmic patterns to fit percussive sounds. When I want to use the patterns for my basslines or arpeggiated chords they leave me unimpressed. In fact there aren’t that many, out of 30, I could think of use. They are all too special and comes with a mix of different note lengths, some so short that you’ll will only hear part of the attack, like a click – not good for your fat Moog baseline! Saying that I should also mention that you can shorten the length of the pattern from 16 down to 2 notes and various other things, but unfortunately not move the starting point.
For the Micro-Ion (Micron, that is) Alesis will include a Phrase Sequencer and some other new features. They have also said that they eventually will include some of the Micron’s features in the Ion’s future OS-updates. Let’s hope for that sequencer to pop into the box. That would certainly make up for the arpeggiators shortcomings. At the official Alesis Ion user group I read that someone had managed to use the Tracking Generator as a pseudo step-sequencer, it might be worth checking out.

Next after the filters the Modulation Matrix may qualify as a main selling point. The principle is very simple; you have 12 connections between Sources (38) and Destinations (79) at maximum. That’s like having a modular synth with 12 patch cables. There is no point in mentioning all the Sources and Destinations here, but most of what one can think of is covered. To achieve those warm rounded analogue sounds there are Detune and Analog Drift functions to spice things up a bit. However the more modulations and effects you throw on the more digital it tends to sound. The trick is to keep it simple or at least avoid the extremes. Finally we have the effect section. Most people seem to agree that the Ion’s FX processor isn’t among the best. It simply can’t compare to what you find in a Virus or a Waldorf Q. The effects are few and not of very high quality. The drive effect makes the sound dull at higher levels and the delay effect is just a limited slap-back effect.

To sum it all up, the pros are:
- lots of good filters
- high resolution sound with less aliasing/stepping then its competitors

- good price/performance ratio
- powerful oscillators
- extensive mod-matrix
- nice intuitive user interface
- good knobs and control wheels
- snappy envelope attack

The cons are:
- poor internal effects (both in number and quality)
- the panel flatness makes the display hard to read
- lack of After-touch (works over MIDI though, or with the 2nd mod wheel)
- not so many useful arpeggiator patterns
(they are best used for percussive sounds)
- the red plastic ends looks really cheap and ugly