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Review: Dave Smith Instruments Mopho SE

June 30, 2014
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A classic monosynth gets an extended keyboard

The Mopho SE is the fourth instrument to wear the Mopho moniker. By virtually every measure, except voice count and storage capacity, the monophonic SE is identical to the four-voice Mopho x4, but it sells for about $350 less.
THE BIG word in electronic music over the past few years has been analog. Synth builders have been reaching back to their roots, eschewing modern digital wizardry and assembling instruments the old-fashioned way: with discrete electronic circuits. Perhaps it’s an effort to balance out studio environments dominated by software instruments, but synthesizer hardware with an all-along signal path is more desirable than ever.

One of the first synth designers to embrace this analog resurgence was Dave Smith, whose groundbreaking Prophet-5 was the most popular polysynth in the 1970s. In 2008, his company introduced its most affordable analog instrument ever, the tabletop Mopho, followed by the Mopho Keyboard in 2010 and the polyphonic Mopho x4 in 2012. The new Mopho SE (Special Edition) draws its entire feature set from the Mopho Keyboard and x4.

Black Is Back The Mopho SE is wrapped in a black steel exterior with buffed wood side panels. In contrast to the Mopho Keyboard’s 32 keys, the SE has 44 full-size keys that sense velocity and pressure. Pitch-bend and mod wheels are comfortably positioned on the front panel’s left side.

The control panel is studded with 25 knobs that feel reassuringly solid and turn smoothly, along with almost as many buttons and indicator LEDs. Whenever you turn a knob, the 2x16-character LCD reveals the associated parameter and its values. A few knobs serve double duty by means of a Shift button, and four knobs address miscellaneous parameters such as glide rate and oscillator slop. The assignable manual-trigger button (labeled Push It!) performs functions such as running the onboard sequencer and entering tap tempo. Like the tabletop Mopho and Mopho Keyboard, the SE stores 384 user-rewritable programs.

Back-panel connections include mono audio in, stereo audio out, MIDI I/O, and connections for a footswitch and an expression pedal. To boost the voice count, a 5-pin DIN socket lets you link the SE to other synths from Dave Smith Instruments. The power switch is tightly jammed between the USB port (which handles MIDI data) and the connector for the wall-wart power supply.

Two analog oscillators, a white-noise generator, a lowpass filter that switches between two and four poles, and three DADSR generators with Velocity tracking provide essential sound-shaping tools. Each oscillator gives you four waveforms, an independent glide setting, and a square-wave suboscillator. Envelope 3 can be looped and routed to almost 50 modulation destinations, and each of the four LFOs can modulate any destination. You can assign three 16-step sequencer tracks to any modulation destination while a fourth track plays a melody. A feedback effect routes the audio output back through the filter, resulting in distortion and clipping that can get quite extreme.

Wrap This Mopho Up With the Mopho SE, Dave Smith Instruments is slugging it out in the marketplace with Arturia, Korg, and Moog, among others. Although the SE’s price is near the high end compared with some competitors, its keyboard supplies more notes than most, and that makes all the difference for many keyboard players.

The SE delivers a sound associated with classic synths like the Pro-One and Prophet ’08, and its factory patches exemplify exactly what you want in an analog instrument. If you’re looking for a versatile analog monosynth with an impressive pedigree, give the Mopho SE a spin.

After reviewing one too many Mophos and Moogerfoogers, Geary Yelton wishes someone would just name their product “Mo****f***r” and be done with it.

SUMMARY

STRENGTHS Terrific sound and feature set. USB connectivity. Compact, lightweight form factor. Free, downloadable editing software.
LIMITATIONS No effects other than feedback.
$1,029 MSRP; $949 street
davesmithinstruments.com

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