There's been so much buzz about Arturia's software emulation of theclassic Moog Modular synthesizer that I'll get straight to the bigquestion: is it the real deal? The answer, as you might expect, is yesand no.
Arturia's Moog Modular V has a complement of modules typical of amidpriced hardware modular system from Moog, though not the exactconfiguration of any of the standard modular packages. Each type ofmodule resembles an original Moog piece but is not an exactreplica.
The patching scheme is also very much like the original, but withtwo major enhancements: each control input jack has a built-in bipolarlevel control, and you can connect any output to multiple inputs.Modern-day conveniences, such as delay and chorus effects, MIDIimplementation (including Velocity sensitivity), the ability to saveand recall patches, and polyphony have been added.
You can get Moog Modular V to sound a lot like its hardwarepredecessor, but you can't exactly recreate every sound the originalMoog makes. On the other hand, you can get lots of sounds from MoogModular V that you can't get from the original. (For a head-to-headcomparison, see the sidebar “Hearing Is Believing.”)
Arturia Moog Modular V 1.1 (Mac/Win)
|RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO5|
PROS: Authentic hardware look and feel.Excellent factory library of patches. Lots of creativepotential.
CONS: Nolinear FM inputs. Some calibrations are off. CPU intensive.
NOTES AND SPECS
The Moog Modular V comes in a standalone version as well as severalplug-in formats: VST, RTAS, HTDM, and Audio Units for the Mac; and VST,RTAS, and DXi for Windows. (Standalone operation is not implemented forMac OS 9.) Although the minimum requirements call for a 500 MHz PentiumII or Mac G3, you'll need a considerably faster processor to playcomplex polyphonic patches. For this review, I tested the standalone,VST, and Audio Units versions on a PowerBook G4/800 MHz, and I easilypushed the CPU meter over the top by playing four voices of a complexpatch. When that happens, the signal BREAKs up and you lose control ofthe front panel. However, things settle down in a few moments andyou're back in business. Remarkably, I had very few crashes or seriousfailures.
Moog Modular V ships with a printed manual — 130 pages in eachof three languages — and more than 400 factory patches from eightsound designers experienced in using modular synths. The assortment ofpatches is outstanding and covers most anything you'd want to do with amodular synth. Also included is a bank of 60 template patches, whichprovides a great launchpad for sound exploration.
The manual contains a brief history of Moog modular instruments aswell as sections on general operational concepts, the individualmodules, the basics of subtractive synthesis, and sound-designtutorials. Unfortunately, the individual modules are very poorlydescribed — some of the inputs, outputs, and control descriptionsare incomprehensible or just plain incorrect. However, the othersections of the manual are quite helpful. Modular synthesis is acomplex business, but the examples and documentation provided byArturia will definitely get you up and running.
YOU'VE GOT THE LOOK
|FIG. 1: TheFirst View control panel of Modular V contains all the sound-designmodules. Color-coded cables make patch analysis easier, but cabledisplay can be suppressed, and all patching can be done withoutcables.|
The Moog Modular V's modules are revealed in two main views,creatively labeled the First View and the Second View. The First Viewconsists of two virtual cabinets filled with the sound-design modules— oscillators, filters, amplifiers, envelopes, LFOs, and assortedancillary modules (see Fig. 1). The Second View consists of twomore cabinets containing a step sequencer; delay, chorus, andmultiband-filter effects; a keyboard with keyboard-setup controls; andquick-access controls for several modules in the First View (seeFig. 2). There is also a more compact Third View that shows onlythe keyboard and quick-access controls of the Second View. Only oneview can be displayed at a time, but all cabling is done in the FirstView so a lot of switching is not necessary. It would be nice to havekey commands for changing views, but these are not provided.
|FIG. 2: TheSecond View control panel of Modular V contains all the keyboard andMIDI routing, the step sequencer, and the Fixed Filter Bank, DualDelay, and Chorus effects.|
The color-coded cabling scheme is quite clever. Three colors ofcables distinguish audio sources — red from oscillators, yellowfrom filters, and blue from amplifiers. Two additional colorsdistinguish control sources — green from envelopes and LFOs andwhite from everything else. You can suppress cables of any combinationof colors, and you can control the cables' virtual tension (how muchthey sag) as well as whether they move out of the way when approachedby the cursor.
You make connections by clicking on any output or input jack anddragging to a destination. The appropriate destinations sprout yellowrectangles as soon as you begin to draw a cable, which is something youwon't find in a hardware synth!
You can also make and BREAK connections using context menus that popup when you right-click (Control-click on the Mac) on any input oroutput jack. Trigger connections, indicated by jacks with two flatvertical slots, can only be made by menu. Last, there are scrollingdigital selectors for keyboard, MIDI, and sequencer connections to theoscillators and filters, although jacks for routing those sources toother destinations are also available. If you prefer, you can patch anysource to any destination on the Moog Modular V without ever drawing orviewing a cable.
MODULE TO MODULE
Moog Modular V's nine oscillators are modeled after the Moog 921aOscillator Driver/921b Oscillator configuration. In this case, each ofthe three 921a drivers controls three 921b oscillators. Frequency andpulse-width modulation inputs are provided, but at the moment, nolinear FM input is available, making typical enveloped FM operatorsimpossible. (Arturia plans to add linear FM in a future release.) As inthe originals, each oscillator has simultaneously available sine,triangle, sawtooth, and pulse outputs, and any oscillator can be hard-or soft-synced to any other. White- and pink-noise generators round outthe complement of sound sources.
Each of the Moog Modular V's three filter modules has fourconfigurations: lowpass; highpass; Filter Coupler filters modeled afterthe Moog 904 series; and a resonant multimode filter not available inthe original Moog line. Additional filters include 6 dB-per-octavehighpass and lowpass filters built in to the noise-source module and anemulation of the Moog 914 Filterbank, with nine variable-Q bands, inthe Seq/FX panel.
Control modules include two multiwaveform LFOs, six ADSR envelopegenerators, and an additional ADSR envelope built into each of the twooutput amplifiers. The LFOs are quite flexible, and they includebuilt-in delay and fade-in controls as well as inputs for frequency andpulse-width modulation. The envelope generators are modeled after theMoog 911 envelopes. The attack, decay, and release ramps are highlyexponential: their knobs are calibrated to show the time it takes toreach half the target value, which makes them somewhat hard to setintelligently. (A setting of 1 second, for example, results in a ramptime of over 4.5 seconds.)
In addition to two output amplifiers with their own ADSR envelopes,there is a mixer module with 16 amplifiers that can be ganged togetherin any combination to form submixers. Each amplifier has its owncontrol input, and control signals as well as audio signals can bepassed through them to allow control-signal modulation. For example,you could use that to control the level of one LFO by an envelope,another LFO, or MIDI Velocity.
KEYED UP AND STEPPIN' OUT
|Minimum System RequirementsMoog Modular V 1.1 |
MAC: G3/500 MHz; 128MB RAM; Mac OS 9.1 (operates as a standalone instrument in OS X10.2)
PC: Pentium II/500 MHz; 128 MB RAM; Windows95/98/2000/ME/XP
Notes, whether from MIDI or the onscreen keyboard, are routedthrough four separate keyboard followers. Each keyboard follower givesyou independent control of the key range within which triggers aresent, of scaling, of the threshold at which tracking begins, and of anoffset. You can, for example, split the keyboard into separate oroverlapping zones, create alternate tunings by changing the scaling,and transpose the keyboard using the offset.
The Sequencer module is modeled on the Moog 960 step sequencer, butwith some additions. It has three rows of eight steps, each with itsown output. A fourth output allows the rows to be linked in variousways — for example, in series, in alternating steps, or randomly.Each step can be set to repeat up to eight times with or withoutretriggering or be linked to the previous step for a legato effect.Furthermore, for each step, you can select the next step, which can beany other step, a step selected at random, or no step (stop). There's abuilt-in clock, a trigger input for stepping the sequencer, andindividual trigger inputs for selecting each step. In short, you canget very creative with triggering and output configurations, and thesequencer is not limited to sequencing notes — you can route theoutputs to any control input. The MP3 file SongV (see Web Clip 1) is an example of what theSequencer module can do, and it shows the variety of sounds possiblefrom Moog Modular V.
Although not an absolutely authentic reproduction of its hardwarenamesake in terms of design and sound, Moog Modular V is a verypowerful modular software synthesizer in its own right. It succeeds incapturing the look and feel of the original Moog instruments, whileadding many modern conveniences that can't be provided in hardware.Most important, Moog Modular V sounds great and gives you theexperience and sounds of a hardware modular system at a fraction of thecost of a vintage instrument.
HEARING IS BELIEVING
As a long-timeowner of an original set of Moog modules, I was interested to hear aside-by-side comparison of Arturia's Moog Modular V to the real thing.Moog Modular V makes a decent attempt at re-creating the raw tone ofthe hardware instrument, but it exhibits some majordifferences.
To begin with,the 921b oscillators in Moog Modular V sound as though they alwaysstart from the same phase point. To hear this, slightly detune twooscillators and re-strike the same bass note while listening to thesawtooth outputs. Unless there is a free-run function in Moog Modular Vthat I'm not aware of, the oscillator phase definitely restarts uponeach key-strike, which produces a 100 percent predictable detuningcharacter on each note. The original Moog oscillators don't dothis.
With the filterwide open, Moog Modular V oscillators exhibit a slightly nasal andforward midrange and a bit more upper-mid bass. The Moog oscillatorsare sweeter-sounding, with the expected very high harmonic contentproviding “air” and whisper, which is important in longfilter sweeps.
Moog Modular V'soscillators track. The Moog's don't. Moog Modular V's oscillators don'tdrift. The Moog's do.
The original Moogfilter also sounds sweeter than the Moog Modular V filter near and inself-oscillation. When it self-oscillates, the Moog Modular V filterwhistles too strongly at low frequencies and doesn't blend with theoscillators. Instead, it sounds like a separately mixed sine wave.Also, the real Moog filter drifts, which became obvious when I createdthe same sound on both instruments simultaneously.
Len Sasso can be contacted through his Web site at www.swiftkick.com.