This is knife is one in a long line of “hype knives” that go back to the original Sebenza 21. In the early 2000s the design was unusual, the price was striking, and the allure was irresistible. As a result 21s were heard to come by. Once the craze died down, the IKC, then in its infancy, moved on. Eventually a hype bubble surrounded the Hinderer XM-18. Originally limited to direct sales to LEO/Mil/EMS, XM-18s were basically unavailable at manufacturer’s prices. The effect of the limited sales was a small cottage income for eligible service folks where they could buy XM-18s at MSRP and then sell them to make a profit. After that the hype bubble coalesced around Shirogorov. Since then bubbles have come and gone, but one of the more recent hype knives was anything Joseph Vero designed. I liked the look of the knives but they were, like all hype knives, hard to get. It didn’t help that he had a half dozen variants only two of which (the Mini Synapse and Mini Axon) I was interested in. Lining up space bucks, availability, and the right knife was challenging. Then, early in fall of 2022, the stars aligned and I got a Mini Synapse in natural micarta.
I have had or reviewed pretty much every hype knife (here is my review of the Oz Machine Company Roosevelt) and for the most part they have been good to very good. Often they represent some kind of extreme. XM-18s were extreme hard use designs, resulting in WAY too thick blades. Shiros had excellent deployment but were staggeringly expensive for an overseas made knife with comparatively basic materials. In my mind only the Sebenza 21 fully lived up to the hype that surrounded it. The question is where does the Mini Synapse fall in the history of hype knives—hype or hot?
Here is the product page for the Mini Synapse. They come in a variety of handle materials and have coated and uncoated blades. There is a regular Synapse with a 3 something inch blade and a Synapse XL with an even larger blade. Of course Joseph has a huge variety of knives built around the same lock/pivot/deployment design. You can get an integral design, a wharncliffe, and even a non-locking design (where the lock is replaced by a detent ball on a arm). Mini Synapses start at $325 and go up from there. Bestech builds all Vero Engineering Knives based on Joseph’s designs. They are available in batches and batches released through Joseph’s website can be preordered. Preorders, on average, take between 3 to 6 months. The review sample, which I purchased with my own money, was a preorder and it was about 4 months from payment until I received the knife. Sometimes batches are released directly to retail. They tend to go very quickly. Here is a written review of the larger Synapse. Here is a video review. Here is my review sample:
Quick Review Summary: Absolutely earns the hype.
Simplicity often belies complexity. Here Joseph’s design is deceptively complex. Look at the lock bar interface. In order to achieve the absolutely brilliant flipper design, he has to make the lockbar interface especially complex. It works well and you don’t even thing about it with the end result being a dead simple flipper tab that is both easy to use and the best on the market. But it is all made possible because of some “out of mind” complexity. Again and again with the Mini Synapse, Vero did this. The clip has a blind screw holding it in place. The deployment via fingers is done with an asymmetric finger notch on the non-show side of the blade. Even the bolster is dovetailed giving the knife a very clean appearance. The Mini Synapse, like all Vero Engineering blades, is a tour de force of design brilliance that allows the simplicity of appearance and use to hide design complexity. This is the apotheosis of good tool design. It is also the single biggest reason for the appeal these knives have in the IKC.
Fit and Finish: 2
While I love some good grind lines, the smokey blasted blade matches the rest of the metal on the knife resulting in a buttoned-down, confident appearance. All of this is made possible by design tweaks and aesthetic touches added to traditional materials. None of this would work, however, without absolutely dialed in fit and finish and here, Bestech, which is the OEM, does some incredible work. While we think about Chris Reeve and Reate as good manufacturers with tight tolerances, my experience with Bestech branded blades and a few of their OEM pieces (like the Terrain 365 Otter AT and this knife) tells me they are close to being the same league if not there already. This is a superbly well-made knife
I have gone back and forth and, though it has become something of a trope recently on the blog, I feel like the scoring system is not perfectly matching my opinions. The grip here is not great. Its better than average, better than the generic “finger scalloped” handle and better than the proscriptive “fingers go here” handles like on the Cold Steel Recon 1 or AK-47. But its not quite on the level of sublime. The Neutron 2 is great. The Caly3 is great. This is only pretty good.
While the knife is angular, thanks to strategically positioned cuts and curves, the knife fits well in the pocket, disappearing with ease. As a mini version of a larger design, this wasn’t just a “shrink 75%” design and the result is a smallish knife that is easy to carry but also still a fully capable cutter.
Do you know how hard it is to think of new things to say about M390? Its never bad, or course, but at some point, its boring. But this is boring in a “I don’t have to worry about this at all” kind of way. Good boring.
Blade Shape: 2
For all of the things that are unconventional about the Vero design language, the blade shape on the Synapse series is not one of them. This is a traditional drop point with a nice belly and a good amount of straightaway. Its hard not to like a drop point, especially one in as attractive a package as this one.
In a recent cardboard cutting fiesta post-Christmas, I was really surprised at how well the Mini Synapse did. It was right below the Caly3 and Neutron 2 in terms of cutting performance, zipping through cardboard with the right feel and the right sound for a true slicing demon. The grind is a flat grind and one that is well done. The grind lines are even and the plunges are crisp and symmetrical.
Deployment Method: 2
And now we come to it—the thing that sets the Vero at or above most other knives on the market right now—deployment. The flipper tab here is absolutely ingenious, working as both a front flipper and a regular flipper AND not disrupting the clean lines of the design. That is a feat of design and a flex on the rest of the knife designers out there. But like in a good infomercial, “there’s more!” The non show side of the knife has a square recess that you can use both to two-hand open the knife AND as a place where you can rest a finger to finger flick open the knife. What’s even better is that ALL of these methods work exceedingly well. You’d think the knife would get messy or wonky but thanks to some very clever design work, everything looks nice and works well. If you have a preferred method of opening a knife, chances are the Mini Synpase allows you to do so without a problem.
As a side note, this is the closest I have ever come to awarding something a 3 in a category. Its that impressive. I went back and forth for a month on this. In the end, I chose to keep the integrity of the system intact.
Retention Method: 2
The clip here is wonderful, following the lines of the knife itself while at the same time working well and staying mostly out of the way when the knife is in use. Note the rear portion of the clip is ramped down. This is a key touch on a blocky knife. Without it, there might have been some issues with hotspotting. As it is, its ideal.
I am something of an action skeptic. Whenever I get a new knife I always play with it and very quickly turn to the lock up. In about 90% of knives with “mind blowing” action, that action is achieved, in part, with a ever-so-slightly loose pivot. That, in turn, impacts lock up, introducing a smidge of ultra-annoying blade play. The Vero was pretty loose when I got it and I assumed that meant that I was going to have to trade off action for lock up, yet again. I tightened the pivot and…nothing. Not even the slightest wiggle. The entire knife was dialed in and the action was still quite nice. Even better, since calibrating the pivot, its stayed dead on. Sometimes when I do this, the pivots loosen over time. In the three months I have used the Mini Synapse since I tightened the pivot it has remained exactly the same. The lock itself is easy to engage and disengage and the blade is wobble free and dead centered.
Fidget Factor: Very High
If this didn’t have a cutting edge I could still see people buying it. After all they purchase spinners, clicking things, and magnets and the like and none are fidget friendly as this knife is.
Fett Effect: High
With a smoked finish on the blade and a micarta handle, the knife Fetts up nicely.
At $325 this knife is in the same league, design-wise and fit and finish-wise, than a lot of knives that cost much more. If the price tag was $500 it would be a lot of money but not out of step with market trends.
Overall Score: 20 of 20
While it is not perfect, the Mini Synapse is really great. It is a design tour de force and a sign that Jospeh Vero is the real deal. He knows knives and he knows design and we are the beneficiaries of that. The knives all have a visual language that is both distinctive and minimalist, which is hard to do. They also really work. This was a portable zipper when it came to cardboard and it does food prep with aplomb. This is a permanent addition to the collection and that is a rare feat for a knife I have had for less than a year. I really, really like this knife. The fact that it is hyped to the moon is, in fact, fair here. It is that good. It also bears mentioning that this is knife number four or five from Bestech. They were all really, really great. Is there a meaningful difference in the fit and finish of this knife and something like a Reate? Not that I can tell. Bestech makes some damn fine blades and this, along with the aforementioned Terrain 365 Otter AT flip like an absolute dream. What a cool, fun, useful knife.
The Mini Synapse is an excellent blade with lots of competition but no outright superiors. The Sebenza 31 is a great knife. Its more conservative in its style than the Mini Synapse, but is not a superior performer. The Mini Synapse is also similar to the Pena X Series knives. I like the look and feel of the Mini Synapse better, but again that is an opinion. The TRM Neutron 2 is, of course, a cheaper knife, better performer, and made in the USA, but it is the spoiler for the entire market. Here is the secret though—the Mini Synpase’s innovative design makes it look entirely unique, while the Neutron 2 is a familar look and feel just the best version of the familar there is. The Sharp By Designs knives are good flippers and slicers, but they are, but for the Micro Evo, too big for me. I think the Micro Evo and this knife are about as close as you can get in terms of performance and deployment, but the Vero has superior design chops. An odd knife that gives me similar vibes is the Bestech Tonic. That is a high end design with a cool trick, but again, Vero’s masterful design of the flipper makes this knife better. The upcoming Oeser F22 is a formitable opponent, but it is a bit too big compared to this compact cutter. Over and over again, the knife hangs with many of th best blades available. One weird comp that you’d never case is the Civivi Lumi. Its elegant design is slim and compact with a low profile flipper tab. Obviously it is not in the same class materials-wise, but it is good. The higher end Baby Barlow 2.0 from Urban EDC Supply is smaller but similarly excellent. I would imagine the WE Knives Eidolon would stack up nicely.
Cold Steel Recon 1
Cold Steel AK-47
WE Knives Eidolon