Although history credits Bob Moog with inventing the keyboard synthesizer, his most successful designs were the results of collaboration. Moog shared responsibility for engineering the Minimoog, for example, with Bill Hemsath, Jim Scott, and Chad Hunt. In early 2005, shortly before learning of his fatal brain tumor, Moog and his engineering staff in Asheville, North Carolina, began designing an analog synth that would be more affordable than the company's flagship Voyager (reviewed in the October 2003 issue of EM, available online at www.emusician.com). The team included longtime Moog employee Steve Dunnington and relative newcomer Cyril Lance, among others, who have effectively taken up Moog's engineering duties since his diagnosis and subsequent passing.
FIG. 1: The Moog Music Little Phatty is an old-school analog monosynth with 21st-century advantages, including 100 rewritable presets and comprehensive MIDI control. Although the instrument is monophonic, when it''s used as a MIDI controller, the keyboard transmits polyphonic data to any instrument that can receive it.
Much to the chagrin of many observers (including me), the new synth was eventually named the Little Phatty. If you knew Bob Moog, however, you'd understand that the moniker is a fitting tribute to a great man who enjoyed a skewed sense of humor.
The Little Phatty (LP) is a monophonic analog synthesizer with a 37-note, Velocity-sensitive keyboard. Its synthesis engine is not as comprehensive in scope as the Voyager's, but its fat sound is unmistakably analog and indisputably Moog. The first and current LP is the Bob Moog Tribute Edition, a limited production run of 1,200 instruments. An even more economical Stage Edition is said to be in the works, though as of this writing, Moog Music has made no official announcement.
With solid-wood end panels and retro-style knobs, the LP looks simultaneously modern and traditional (see Fig. 1). Its control panel is permanently fixed at an angle for easy access, and its brushed-aluminum rear panel has a unique S shape and sports an enlargement of Bob Moog's signature. On the LP's left side panel are all its connections to the outside world, including mono audio and MIDI I/O, control voltage (CV) and gate inputs, and an IEC power receptacle (see Fig. 2).
When you power up the LP, it greets you with a 5-second light show as it cycles through all its blue and magenta illuminated buttons and LEDs. The translucent pitch-bend and mod wheels have a continuous blue glow, and luminous LEDs and buttons indicate which controls are active. In each of four control-panel sections — Modulation, Oscillators, Filter, and Envelope Generators — is a single rotary knob surrounded by a ring of 15 blue LEDs that indicate the selected parameter's current value. Whereas most recent hardware synthesizers supply a knob for each function, Moog Music has cut corners by designing an ingenious user interface that replaces individual parameter knobs with multipurpose knobs and buttons that select their functions.
On the far left is an unlabeled user-interface section containing a 2 × 16-character alphanumeric LCD, unadorned knobs for fine-tuning and changing displayed values, and buttons that let you change modes, enable glide, and perform utility functions such as saving presets and moving the LCD cursor. The Octave Up and Down buttons in this section have a thoughtful feature I've never seen before: they glow blue when you press either of them to transpose by one octave, and they glow magenta when you press again to shift by two octaves. Thus, you can always see your keyboard's transposition at a glance.
In the Output section on the control panel's far right, a simple Volume knob controls the levels of the ¼-inch headphone output mounted just below and the main output on the side panel. An Output On/Off button disables the main output but doesn't affect the headphones, making it handy for onstage tuning and cueing up presets.
Because the LP's electronics are analog, the instrument needs to warm up so that its voltage-controlled circuits can stabilize. After 15 minutes with the power on, temperature-regulated chips ensure rock-solid oscillator tuning. Because the LP doesn't furnish an internal tuning reference or automatic tuning, however, you'll want to tune it by ear to an external pitch source. Considering that guitar tuners are so inexpensive, this is a minor, though perplexing, annoyance. On the plus side, the Fine Tune knob makes a dandy alternate pitch-bender and has a range of a minor third up or down.
On my review unit, the keyboard's feel varied subtly from one white note to another. One white key had a lighter touch than the others, and several of them banged against the key bed when I played more than moderately hard. Fortunately, neither problem affected the LP's output, nor were any mechanical noises audible with the audio level turned up. The black keys were much more even and consistent, but they also felt much stiffer. I'm not the first reviewer to receive this particular LP, and I suspect that previous reviewers have played the white keys enough to loosen up the action.
It's a Lean Machine
Two buttons in the user-interface section access Preset mode, which lets you load presets and manipulate their parameters, and Master mode, which lets you alter global parameters and utility functions. To change presets, you can scroll through them sequentially by turning or pressing the Value knob in Preset mode or switch to them directly by sending MIDI Program Changes. You can also scroll through them ten at a time by pressing the Value knob as you turn it.
Although there's no way to switch directly to a nonsequential preset from the front panel, the LP offers a clever work-around using four Performance Sets, each containing any eight presets you specify in a sequential order. After you've set up a Performance Set, you can quickly scroll between its eight presets by pressing the Value knob when the LP is in Master mode. Turning the Value knob in Master mode changes LCD pages, which allow you to set up Performance Sets and specify MIDI mode and channel, keyboard priority, pitch-bend range, and other systemwide parameters.
The LP has two identical voltage-controlled oscillators labeled Osc 1 and Osc 2. Their most outstanding aspect is that the waveforms are continuously variable — you can smoothly transition from triangle to sawtooth to square to narrow pulse by turning a knob or applying modulation. The Oscillators section has buttons to sync oscillator 2 to oscillator 1 and to independently adjust their octave transposition. By pressing the corresponding buttons, you can use the Oscillators knob to change the glide rate, to tune the second oscillator relative to the first, and to independently adjust each oscillator's waveform and level.
FIG. 2: The Little Phatty''s left side panel contains an unbalanced audio output, an unbalanced audio input, a gate input, and control voltage inputs for pitch, volume, and filter cutoff—all on ¼-inch jacks—as well as MIDI In and Out ports and an AC power connection.
The LP's voltage-controlled filter is lowpass only, which is probably all you'll need 99 percent of the time. It can resonate to the point of self-oscillation, and you can use MIDI to modulate the resonance amount. The filter's Overload parameter lets you dial in a very warm and pleasant distortion without going over the top. You can choose from four filter cutoff slopes — from one to four poles — but surprisingly, slope is a global parameter. The selected filter slope affects all presets; you can't specify the slope for individual presets.
Two identical ADSR generators are hardwired to the amplifier and filter. There's no switch for defeating the release stage as there is on a Minimoog, but you can disable release in the global parameters — an odd compromise, because like filter slope, it affects all the presets. The Envelope Generators section is the only place where I missed having individual knobs, because it takes so long to view or change attack, decay, sustain, and release settings one at a time.
In the Modulation section, you can route the LFO, filter envelope, or oscillator 2 to modulate either the filter cutoff, oscillator 2's pitch, or the pitch or waveform of both oscillators (routing oscillator 2 to itself has no effect). You can choose from four LFO waveforms and use the section's knob to control the LFO's modulation depth and rate.
Dedicated ¼-inch inputs let you route CV sources to directly control pitch, filter cutoff, and volume level. You can also insert a footswitch to serve as a gate that triggers both envelopes — a useful function if you're processing external sounds. The CV sources might be expression pedals or programmable devices such as analog sequencers. You'll achieve a much greater breadth of external control, though, using MIDI Control Change (CC) messages. Virtually every parameter you can change from the front panel responds to MIDI. However, I'm confounded that the LP doesn't respond to MIDI Volume (CC 7) changes, and I would be amazed if Moog Music doesn't address this shortcoming in a future software update.
Wired for Sound
Have I mentioned that this thing sounds fat? If you close your eyes, the LP's tonal character is virtually indistinguishable from the Voyager's or the Minimoog's, largely because its lowpass filter is based on the Minimoog's filter. I don't think anyone could mistake the LP's sound for a digital emulation.
The LP stores 100 presets and comes fully stocked with a fine variety of expertly programmed patches. Deeply resonant growls, metallic bells, staccato blips, funky clavs, clangorous tones, arcade sound effects, and Simmons-style drums are all within easy reach, but the emphasis is on classic leads and basses, just as you'd expect (see Web Clip 1). I didn't always agree with the modulation assignments, but whenever I wanted the mod wheel to control vibrato rather than filter cutoff, for example, I could reassign it in seconds.
Fat and Happy
The Little Phatty is a true analog monosynth in every sense: it's a monophonic, monotimbral, monaural subtractive synthesizer with analog circuitry throughout. Ideal for beginners and pros alike, the LP puts every parameter right at your fingertips with a minimum of front-panel clutter, and the well-written manual makes it easy to learn your way around. Any synthesist who relies entirely on software or all-digital instruments is missing an essential color from his or her timbral palette, and the LP fills that gap admirably.
Although it is obvious that Moog Music economized wherever possible in the LP's design and construction, it is nonetheless a completely professional musical instrument that sounds fantastic and feels built to last. Because of shortcuts and work-arounds such as 1-knob envelope generators, global filter slope, and the lack of a noise generator or effects processor, the LP doesn't offer quite as much flexibility or immediacy as instruments like the Voyager. Nonetheless, the vast majority of users won't notice such minute details, because the LP delivers just what it promises: dynamite sound at an attractive price.
EM associate editor Geary Yelton has been writing about synthesizers for almost as long as Jan Hammer has been playing a Minimoog.
|EASE OF USE
|QUALITY OF SOUNDS
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Fat analog sound. Intuitive user interface. Extensive MIDI implementation. Excellent factory presets. No wall wart.
CONS: No tuning reference. Inconsistent keyboard. Global filter cutoff slope and release defeat. No noise generator.