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Review: Moog Music Minimoog Voyager Old School (Bonus Material)

September 9, 2008
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MODULATION MAKES MY WORLD GO ROUND

The two programmable modulation buses are key to making the Voyager Old School sound, well, not so old school. Each bus lets you select from a variety of mod sources that include the LFO, any of the three oscillators, the noise generator, and a voltage source plugged into the back panel''s Mod2 control jack. Possible destinations include global pitch, the frequency of Oscillators 2 or 3, filter cutoff, the waveshape of all oscillators simultaneously, and LFO rate. The OS has more modulation controllers than the analog-digital hybrid Voyager; the list now includes keyboard Velocity, Aftertouch, the mod wheel, the filter and amplitude envelopes, and an external CV source such as an expression pedal.

Using the mod buses makes it possible to program very modern sounds, including those popular in dance and ambient music. I easily created Waldorf PPG–type wavetable scanners by controlling oscillator waveshapes using the LFO or mod wheel while stabbing at the filters for accent using Velocity or Aftertouch. Each bus has a dedicated Amount knob that lets you dial in the modulation depth.

When the dual lowpass filters are set at different cutoff frequencies and routed to separate stereo channels, you can achieve fantastically swirly and very vocal sounds similar to a phaser effect. Cooler still is modulating the spacing between the split highpass and lowpass filters, creating a variable passband. In this mode, the Resonance control affects only the lowpass filter, making for some really interesting and harmonically complex sounds that would be impossible on the original Minimoog.

With a frequency range from 0.2 Hz to 50 Hz, the LFO''s bottom end isn''t the longest sweep on earth. Patching in an external voltage to the LFO Rate jack can drive the frequency well beyond the specified range, however, from rates lower than 1 cycle per minute to well up into the audio range. I''m disappointed that the number of LFO waveshapes hasn''t been increased since the original Voyager; having only triangle and square waves as well as stepped and smooth sample-and-hold has been a bit of a sore point with users for the past six years. Still, the LFO is much more powerful than its simplistic controls lead on. When it''s used in conjunction with the modulation buses, for example, you can modulate its rate to create tempo shifts within a patch, or latch onto Oscillator 3 as a second LFO to create neat polyrhythms (see Web Clip A).

OLD SCHOOL VS. MODEL D

Like most everyone else, I''ve become a soft-synth junkie. But I still own a few old hardware pillars because nothing beats the immediacy and density of sound that you get from a true analog instrument—which is why I''ve kept my low-serial-number Model D all this time. In comparing the two, the Voyager OS feels every bit as intimate and comforting to play, and its sound can be spot-on (see Web Clip B, C, D, E, F, G, H, and I). Apart from effortlessly pulling off hard leads and punchy basses with all the classic Moog growl you''d expect, the new voicing provisions also allow this instrument to sound like anything other than a Minimoog.

Some of the biggest improvements to this 21st-century Minimoog''s design start at the main sound source. The Voyager Old School''s oscillators are temperature regulated, giving them excellent tuning stability. This also lets you play the synth in tune almost immediately, instead of waiting for the warm-up period common to vintage analogs. The oscillators can produce a total pitch range of 8.5 octaves, and you can set the frequency of Oscillator 3 to the subaudio range (below 20 Hz) for use as a second LFO.

Whereas the Minimoog offered six discrete waveforms to choose from, the OS allows you to continuously sweep between them. This makes it possible to manually modulate pulse width—or any waveform intermediate, for that matter—not to mention assigning waveshape as a destination for any of the modulators. The results can be subtle and smooth or highly animated, but always enlightening.

Although it''s still a monophonic instrument at heart, the OS lets you apply a different filter setting to each of its two outputs using the Spacing control—something that was impossible on the original Minimoog because it had only a single filter and a mono output. Spacing can give your sound a bit of movement in the stereo field or dramatic separation without external effects. With the filter section set to Dual Lowpass mode, you can use the right output to extract a monophonic sound that''s unaffected by the filter''s Spacing control—a very handy feature when all you want is that classic narrow-but-fat Minimoog gusto.

Another terrific addition is an effects-loop insert labeled Mixer Out/Filter In. This ¼-inch TRS jack (tip is send, ring is return) allows you to treat the raw signal from the mixer with external mono effects such as distortion, ring modulation, and delay before passing it on to the filter.

The abundance of CV inputs located around back makes the Old School a programmer''s and performer''s dream. Color coded with red nuts, these jacks accept input from an expression pedal or any other source that can supply a voltage between –5V and +5V. The available control inputs are Volume, Pitch, Pan, Filter (cutoff), Waveshape, LFO (rate), Envelope (rate), S&H, and the programmable Mod1 and Mod2 buses. Coded in blue, the Gate/Footswitch jacks accept input from a momentary footswitch or a +5V gate signal and are meant for controlling LFO sync, S&H gate, envelope gate, and envelope release stage.

I wasn''t quite sure how the OS would fit into my studio rig; it''s obviously not a sound module that you can instantly recall from a saved session. Rather, I used it just as I used my Model D: for experimenting and playing parts live into the DAW that I might later loop, cut up, or process.

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