Some of my fondest memories of life as a music-composition major in college include the countless days and nights spent in the university's aging electronic-music lab. For a young and aspiring producer with a distinct fondness for all instruments electronic, the lab was a Shangri-la, an idyllic retreat packed to the rafters with knob- and slider-studded tools of sonic bliss. Sure, the lab had a few shortcomings — digital audio had yet to hit the mainstream, so the only recording device was an old reel-to-reel, and our only sequencers were dusty 16-step analog jobs — but for the few electronic die-hards in the music department, it was perfection. And a great deal of that perfection flowed from the monolithic Moog Modular system that sat on a low table at the back of the room.
The Moog Modular has been an object of desire for electronic musicians since its debut in 1967. It's a massive and somewhat unattractive beast, a boxy pile of vertical modules with jacks sprinkled liberally across each. It also includes a keyboard that looks a bit frail and out of place when connected to such a contraption. Needless to say, sitting in front of it for the first time isn't something you're likely to forget. It's a unique machine that has made its mark on countless albums and soundtracks (who doesn't remember Switched-On Bach and Tron?), and it's impossible not to overlook the limitless potential for sonic craftsmanship that the Moog Modular offers to a dedicated musician.
Moog Modulars were never easy to get a hold of even in their prime. Their size and expense conspired to keep them out of the hands of all but the most affluent musicians and college music departments, and eventually the mass exodus to digital instruments in the '80s consigned the Modular and its cohorts to the pages of synthesizer history. Fortunately for today's musicians, the enterprising folks at Arturia have crafted the Moog Modular V, a remarkable software emulation of the original Moog Modular that captures a great deal of the warmth, character and sheer fun that made the original such a legendary instrument.
BETTER, FASTER, CHEAPER
Thankfully, this isn't an exact replica of the classic Moog — it costs thousands less than the original, it's been conveniently sized to fit in your computer, and a bevy of modern conveniences like patch memory and full MIDI implementation have been included. The Moog Modular V is also fully automatable and boasts complete integration with VST, DXi and RTAS host software on PC. Mac users enjoy a broad range of compatibility, as well, with support for HTDM-, RTAS-, Audio Units — and even oft-neglected MAS-compatible host software.
Sound designers and performing musicians will appreciate the inclusion of a rock-solid stand-alone mode. Multiple instances can be initiated in the stand-alone application, and each instance can respond on a different MIDI channel, offering significant flexibility in live-performance situations. Both PC and Macintosh versions are included on one CD. You'll want to keep that CD in a safe place because the program asks for it at random intervals, and a lost or scratched CD is a recipe for disaster.
WHEN BOB MOOG SPEAKS
The Moog Modular V is unique in that it impressed me before I even opened the box. The back panel is packed with nice shots of the user interface; pictures of high-profile sound designers such as Hideki Matsutake, who crafted banks for the Modular V; and Bob Moog, legendary father of the original Moog synthesizers. At first glance, I assumed that the inclusion of his photo on the package was honorary, but next to Moog's picture is a full paragraph from the man himself, extolling the virtues of Arturia's emulation and its host of contemporary features. High praise like this from the man who knows best what a Moog Modular should sound like is a powerfully compelling reason to seriously consider this product as a worthy addition to any studio.
The interface is a relatively accurate re-creation of the original Moog Modular and consists of two main display pages. The Synth display is much like sitting in front of a real Modular: an intimidating array of filters, oscillators and envelope generators along with a variety of other modulation sources like LFOs, noise generators and trigger delays. The Sequence/FX page includes final-stage modulators such as chorus and stereo delay, as well as more exotic modules like a multimode filter bank and an eight-step analog sequencer. A third display mode economizes screen space by displaying only the keyboard and controller sources.
Experimentation and pleasant mistakes are part of the fun with modular synthesizers, and the realism of the Moog Modular V's graphic interface provides an immersing environment perfect for that sort of exploration. From the colored patch cables (complete with gravity effects) down to the wood paneling on the side of the chassis, anyone who's had the good fortune to get his or her hands on the real McCoy will immediately feel at home with Arturia's emulation. All of the knobs and sliders are realistically rendered and large enough to be handled easily with the mouse. Knob control defaults to linear adjustment, where dial adjustments are constrained to vertical mouse movements, but users who are more comfortable with circular control will be happy to know that circular and circular relative modes are also available.
The Moog Modular V is a true-to-life representation of the original machine, and as such, it boasts an array of precision-modeled virtual components that mimic their real-world counterparts. The nine oscillators are modeled after the Moog 921-series oscillator module, with three 921a driver modules providing control sources such as tuning, pulse width and external modulation input to nine adjacent 921b slave oscillators that actually produce the waves. The three filter slots can be loaded with four types of classic Moog filter modules: 904a lowpass, 904b highpass and 905c bandpass/reject, which are all 24db/octave filters modeled after the real-world modules. Also included is a new 12db/octave multimode filter that can be switched among all of the aforementioned types and adds low-shelf, high-shelf and bell curves that weren't available on the original Moog.
An additional EQ-type fixed filter — which is loosely based on the 914 module but without the individual outputs per band — is provided on the Sequence/FX page and works great for making final adjustments to the overall sound. The 903a white/pink noise generator also features simple low- and highpass filters that can be used on other sources, as well.
Modeled after the 911 module, six modulation envelopes offer standard ADSR control of any source with a modulation input. The two output VCAs feature the same envelope generator and add an adjustable slope segment between the attack and decay phases, along with amplitude modulation and pan settings. A single LFO module is present and features five waveforms that can run freely or sync to tempo when used with compatible MIDI host software. The eight-step sequencer, which is patterned after Moog's 960 module, can also be set to sync to MIDI, enabling the creation of complicated textural and rhythmic effects that evolve in perfect lock-step with your groove.
Rounding out the lineup are a stereo delay module, which can also sync to MIDI tempo, and a rich chorus section that works wonders when you need to beef up a thin bass line or lead sound. Neither the fixed filter, delay nor chorus can be repatched into any of the synth modules; they're intended to process the final signal only.
Software synthesizers frequently suffer from a cold or brittle sound. Arturia has taken special care to ensure that this is not so with the Moog Modular V. Much like the original, this beast will kick out some of the thickest, chunkiest driver-devastating waves you've ever heard. In fact, some are so unwieldy that you might have a difficult time fitting them into a mix without some extra work. The Moog Modular V owes much of its sonic character to Arturia's proprietary True Analog Emulation technology. The company claims that TAE offers significant improvements upon existing software synths, and from the sound of it, Arturia has succeeded admirably. The main benefits of the technology over standard emulations stem from careful reproduction of analog filters and waveforms.
Arturia's emulation faithfully reproduces the slight curve evident in the waveform of analog oscillators. TAE also accurately models oscillator drift (that slight, unintended detuning that gives old analog gear so much warmth and character), and the unique curve of the Moog Modular V's lowpass filter is almost exactly identical to the 904a filter module found in the original Moog Modular and Minimoog.
Perhaps the most welcome improvement upon the original is the addition of patch storage and MIDI. Patch storage on an old modular used to mean committing a complicated jungle of cables and jacks to your memory, but Arturia has simplified things a great deal by including a simple and powerful hierarchical menu that manufacturers of other soft synths would do well to emulate.
The Moog Modular V stores its patches in a three-tier system of banks, sub-banks and patches. Each is directly accessible from a separate drop-down menu on the interface, which means switching patches within the same bank no longer requires wasting time and creative energy navigating down a rats nest of menus in search of the perfect patch. The Modular V comes preloaded with eight banks of quality sounds that get you kicking out the jams as soon as you crack open the box.
For those who have the itch to create their own patches but haven't spent the past 20 years working with a modular synth, the Modular V makes it easy to get up and running with minimum fuss. Basic templates, such as a single-oscillator setup, are provided as a basis to be studied and built on. As you become comfortable with the layout of the machine, more complex templates involving additional modules are ready and waiting to help get that sound from your head to the speakers.
IN THE MIX
The Modular V integrates perfectly with VST host software, and I can only assume it works equally well with other interface standards. I found all of the commonly used parameters prelabeled and readily accessible from the automation menu in Logic Audio 5.5. If for some reason you find a controller that can't be automated by default, a simple control-click on the desired knob or slider accesses a MIDI control panel. The desired controller number can be entered directly on the keyboard, or the Learn function will automatically assign a controller number based on incoming MIDI data, making it quick and convenient to reassign controllers during a live performance.
The Modular V sounds great. In the classic Moog tradition, it excels at bass, but I found it to be equally adept at producing percussive sounds, hard leads and remarkably soft and gentle pads that fit easily into any style of music. The stereo delay and chorus stand ready at the output stage to thicken things up even more. However, this synth has so much raw character on its own that I discovered it was often more desirable to let the Modular V's unadulterated tone shine on its own rather than cover it up with syrupy effects. Whether you elect to use them or not, the effects do sound good, and although they tax the CPU a little more than I'd like, their inclusion is a welcome addition.
Of course, all of this power and flexibility comes at a price. Modeling a massive modular synthesizer like this requires a great deal of CPU power, and playing complex chords or running multiple instances of heavy code like this can choke up even the beefiest of modern processors.
In Logic Audio on a 2GHz Pentium 4, I was able to successfully run five instances playing patches of average complexity before my processor choked. This is a modular synthesizer with an endless array of possible configurations, so mileage will vary significantly from user to user depending on how patches are configured. I do believe that the minimum system requirements of a 500MHz processor might squeeze some basic functionality out of the program, but complex patches would be difficult to reproduce, and this would make for a dissatisfying experience with such a powerful tool. Unless you're prepared to keep your polyphony to a minimum and bounce to audio frequently, you'll want to run this baby with at least a 1GHz processor.
The software-synthesizer market is downright saturated these days. New software emulations of old analog equipment pop up daily, and although they all have their place, few really have the time, effort, research and development invested in them to produce true replacements for the original hardware.
It's rare to find one that stands head and shoulders above the pack, but when it does happen, that's cause for celebration. The Moog Modular V is a powerhouse that models the old hardware to a tee, producing rich and beautiful tones that compare favorably to a real Moog system. If you're looking for a top-quality software synth that really does sound like the analog hardware it claims to emulate, look no further than Arturia's Moog Modular V. This powerful tool is good enough for Bob Moog, and I'll wager it's good enough for you, too.
MOOG MODULAR V > $329
Pros: Impeccable sound quality. Attractive and functional user interface. All parameters automatable. Convenient patch selection. Support for all major host software on Mac and PC.
Cons: Heavy CPU usage. Annoying CD-based copy protection.
Contact: tel. 33-43-802-0525; e-mail email@example.com; Web www.arturia.com
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
Confused by all of these modules and jacks? Convinced you'll never figure out how to get sound out of something with so many cables going every which way? No worries. The Moog V may look intimidating, but Arturia has made it easy to figure out what goes where. Clicking on a jack highlights all appropriate destinations for that source — a slick design element that helps keep you on track as you develop patches. If you prefer to have the machine do the cabling for you, right-clicking (Shift-clicking on a Mac) on a jack pops up a context menu listing appropriate destinations and sets up the proper routing automatically. Eno and Emerson could only wish they had it so easy back in the day!
MAC: G3/500; OS 9.1-9.x, 10.2 or higher; 128 MB RAM; ASIO-, CoreAudio- or SoundManager-compatible soundcard; 25 MB available hard-disk space
PC: Pentium II/500; 128 MB RAM; Windows 9x/2000/ME/XP; DirectX- or ASIO-compatible soundcard; 25 MB available hard-disk space