GO BIG > As many as 15 RMEs can be linked with a Voyager keyboard and played as one massive analog synth.
Musical instruments are a lot like cars. Sure, a used Honda can take care of your basic transportation needs, but wouldn't life be so much better driving that six-speed BMW with the leather seats and the dual-zone climate control? The same can be said for synthesizers. Although the market may be brimming with virtual analog synths and software emulations of everything from electric pianos to guitar amps, many musicians still yearn for a room full of analog beasts with their myriad knobs, flashing lights, massive sounds and unique character.
It almost goes without saying that Moog Music represents the high end of the synth market. Even though company founder Bob Moog passed away on Aug. 21 of this year, the company he started is continuing to move forward and develop new products. One of Moog's most exciting releases in the past few years was the Minimoog Voyager line. The first product in the series was the Minimoog Voyager Performer Edition keyboard (followed by the Signature Edition, Anniversary Edition and Electric Blue models), which showcased the core technology behind this new product group. On the heels of those successful products, the company has released the new Minimoog Voyager Rackmount Edition. This latest offering takes the key components of the larger (and more expensive) keyboard versions and fits them neatly into a rackmount/tabletop chassis while adding a few extra features along the way.
The RME can really be looked at in two ways: For most potential users, the RME is a more affordable way to get the sounds offered by the keyboard versions of the Voyager. For the more well-to-do musician who already owns the keyboard version, the RME is also designed to work as a single-voice expansion module. And, yes, you can link as many as 15 RMEs with a Voyager keyboard for the ultimate analog synth. In case you were wondering, the total price tag for that is hovering around $40,000 — before shipping and tax. (If any of you lottery winners can pull this off, e-mail Remix. We'll put your photo in the magazine.)
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The RME starts with the same basic synthesis and I/O architecture as the keyboard versions. (For a more detailed breakdown, see the Minimoog Voyager review in the October 2003 issue of Remix.) But as a refresher, the main guts of the unit are the three voltage-controlled oscillators, which each offer continuously variable wave shapes. Users can tune VCOs 2 and 3 up or down seven semitones, as well as tweak the tuning of all three VCOs with the Fine Tune knob.
Moving down the signal chain, the three VCOs, the noise generator and the external audio input are represented in the Mixer section, where you can adjust the level of each element or turn them off completely. (It is also possible to insert an external effect between the Mixer and the Filters sections via a send/return jack on the back of the unit.) Next up is the Filters area: The RME filters can be set to dual lowpass or a lowpass/highpass series. The Filters section includes controls for Cutoff, Spacing, Resonance and Keyboard Control Amount. Next is a pair of ADSR Envelopes for Filter and Volume. Users can adjust the amount of the Filter signal that is modulated by the envelope as well as set the Volume filter gate to keyboard or external control.
The final two sectors of the RME are Modulation Busses and LFO. The two modulation buses are designed to correspond with a standard mod wheel and a controller pedal, and it's no coincidence that they are labeled MW and P, respectively. The two buses are functionally identical, and each includes knobs for Source (triangle wave, square wave, Osc 3, Sample & Hold, On/Mod 2 input or Noise/Programmable input), Destination (all oscillators' Pitch, Osc 2 pitch, Osc 3 pitch, Filter, all oscillators' Wave and LFO rate/Programmable input), Shaping (Filter Envelope, Velocity, Pressure or On/Programmable input) and Amount. The LFO section produces a triangle or square wave, and, as already noted, these can be selected as modulation sources from within the two buses.
The back panel includes a ¼-inch unbalanced audio input; a ¼-inch TRS effects send/return jack; a pair of selectable balanced/unbalanced ¼-inch outputs; DB-25 input and output ports (which enable the unit to interface with the Moog VX-351 CV Expander module and future products); and standard MIDI In, Out and Thru ports. The RME derives power from a standard three-prong AC power cord. Aside from the obvious exclusion of a keyboard, the only other substantial physical difference between the Voyager keyboard and the RME is the absence of the Touch Surface controller.
SOME NEW TRICKS
With the RME, the MIDI side of things has seen some significant enhancements. The company smartly chose to make the RME as MIDI-capable as possible. Thus, unlike the keyboard versions, all of the front-panel controls now send and receive MIDI data. This makes the RME a DAW-friendly device. For those who are hooked on editing all things MIDI down to the molecular level, you can tweak out the controller data for the RME in just the same way. Also, the entire Voyager line now uses version 3 software, which expands the number of presets from 128 to seven banks of 128.
I used the RME in conjunction with Apple Logic Pro 7 through an M-Audio FireWire 1814 and an M-Audio Oxygen8 controller. Although it was a little bizarre to control a hardware Moog with a portable USB controller, the RME instantly felt like just another instrument in my rig. And once I really got into the knob twiddling and tweaking, I was possessed to take the RME of the roadcase I had it mounted in and set it up square in the middle of my desk, where I could really get my hands on it. It was just plain addictive to play in a keyboard line, loop it and endlessly tweak out the filters and try out different modulation options with the ability to edit the movements.
Soundwise, the RME doesn't have much fluff. The unit takes the already-great sound of the Voyager line and delivers more. From basses that take you all the way down to 20 Hz to leads that cut through an entire mix, the RME is just plain awesome. A quick scan of the presets reveals the RME's secondary purpose as a Voyager keyboard expansion module; presets like Touch Pad Sync and Touch Pad Horn are clearly included for this. And even though the unit is a monophonic device, through the various keyboard modes, it's quite easy to use the RME with another unit (possibly a polyphonic synth) and specify which key will sound the RME (lowest, highest, most recent and first). For instance, if you are playing chords, you can specify lowest key, and the RME will generally sound on the root note of the chord.
Overall, if you have the cash and want a true analog synth — nothing virtual here — then the RME is a great way to get onboard. It takes the classic sound that so many covet and adds the modern features that most musicians refuse to live without.
MINIMOOG VOYAGER RACKMOUNT EDITION > $2,395
Pros: Awesome sound. Full MIDI implementation. Attractive blue backlit display.
Cons: Pricey. Monophonic.