Although plenty of virtual-analog synths are on the market, nothing beats the real thing. And to many musicians, the real thing is the Minimoog Model D. First appearing on the scene in 1971, the Minimoog was a state-of-the-art performance instrument that could tackle bass and lead duties with aplomb. Remarkably, it remained in production for 13 years — a long time by today's standards.
As a clear sign of the Model D's enduring popularity, Moog Music has created an updated version of the instrument, the Minimoog Voyager. The Voyager physically resembles a Model D, and it remains a monophonic, monotimbral analog synthesizer. But this isn't the '70s, and this ain't your parents' Minimoog.
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The Voyager gives you everything you need in a classic analog monosynth: a 44-note keyboard; three voltage-controlled oscillators (VCOs) with continuously variable waveforms; a low-frequency oscillator (LFO); a noise source; a pair of filters with an external-audio input; a pair of four-stage (ADSR) envelope generators; a voltage-controlled amplifier (VCA); a mixer; and pitch and modulation wheels. But unlike the original Minimoog, the Voyager includes a three-dimensional control surface, modulation-routing capabilities, MIDI, stereo outputs, numerous control-voltage (CV) and gate inputs and the ability to save and recall presets.
The first thing everyone asks about the Voyager is, “Does it sound like a Minimoog?” Sure, the Voyager can easily approximate the sound of a Minimoog, as long as you remember that the “classic Minimoog sound” differs greatly from vintage instrument to vintage instrument. And you can get your Minimoog fix as soon you plug the Voyager in. A number of presets are modeled after classic sounds used by Rick Wakeman, Tony Banks and Keith Emerson, among others. But the Voyager has the ability to create sounds far beyond what a classic Minimoog can make.
The factory presets run the gamut of basses and leads to sound effects. The Voyager's Minimoog-like interface is intuitive to use, so it's easy to modify a preset without opening the manual. Unfortunately, the Voyager holds a mere 128 presets, a paltry amount compared to most contemporary synths. Presets can be sent or received — in banks or individually — as MIDI System Exclusive data, so keep your computer handy if you get an itch for programming — and you will. You can also update the Voyager's system software using SysEx data.
The Voyager's I/O options include a stereo pair of analog outputs, an analog audio input, a ¼-inch headphone jack, an effects insert, 10 CV inputs and four gate inputs. The CV inputs, which require a signal range of -5V to +5V, are for controlling volume, pitch, pan, filter cutoff, wave shape, LFO rate, envelope rate, sample and hold, and the programmable Mod1 and Mod2 buses. The gate/footswitch inputs, which require a +5V gate signal, are for controlling LFO sync, sample-and-hold gate, envelope gate and envelope release. A BNC connector for attaching the optional gooseneck lamp ($38.50) and a removable IEC power cable complete the connector scene.
The richness in the Voyager's sound is due, in part, to the combination of three analog VCOs. Each oscillator has an Octave control, with settings marked in traditional organ-pipe lengths from 32 feet (lowest setting) to 1 foot (highest setting). Separate frequency controls are provided for VCO 2 and 3, and each has a range of a perfect fifth above and below the 12 o'clock position. Although VCO 1 doesn't have its own Frequency control, the Fine Tune knob is used to tune it — a necessary adjustment because the Voyager doesn't have an auto-tune function. Fine Tune has a range of a minor third above and below the middle setting, and it changes the range of all three VCOs at the same time. And unlike the analog VCOs of the old days, the Voyager's oscillators stay in tune.
The waveform of each oscillator is continuously variable, from triangle through sawtooth to square and pulse. You can modulate the waveform control using external CVs or internal signals, although the modulation affects all three waveforms simultaneously.
Rocker switches below the oscillators offer additional modulation possibilities. VCO 3 can be used as an LFO by setting the 3 Freq switch into the Low position and choosing a destination with the modulation bus (more on this to come). When 1-2 Sync is in the On position, the starting point of VCO 2's waveform is reset to the beginning of VCO 1's waveform, which causes the frequency of VCO 2 to dominate the timbre. When the 3-1 FM switch is turned on, VCO 3 will frequency-modulate VCO 1. If you want to set up a drone to solo over, turn on the 3 KB Cont switch, which disables keyboard control of VCO 3.
Two additional sound sources are available on the Voyager: a white-pink hybrid noise source and an external-audio input. All five sound sources can be turned on or off and have their levels set using the Mixer panel. If you want to add external processing to your mix before it hits the Voyager's filters, you can use the Mixer Out/Filter In jack using a Y-cable, just as you would an insert effect on a mixer.
Although the Voyager's four-stage envelopes aren't the snappiest in the analog kingdom, they have body. The attack, decay and release ranges are from 1 millisecond to more than 10 seconds. In the shortest settings, the envelopes give a woody, Vactrol-kind of sound that is very pleasing. Because of this, the percussion sounds that I programmed had a realistic and organic quality.
The Voyager has two 4-pole (24 dB/octave) filters, which helps give the instrument its classic Moog sound. The filters can be configured in two ways: In Dual Lowpass mode, the filters run parallel, and each is assigned to a separate output; in Highpass/Lowpass mode, the filters are placed in series to form a bandpass filter, with the same signal routed to both outputs. As you would expect, there are front-panel controls for the filter-cutoff frequency and resonance. The Keyboard Control Amount knob determines to what degree the frequency of the filter cutoff follows the notes played on the keyboard.
The Spacing control is an exciting feature that allows you to independently change the cutoff frequency of one of the two filters. In Dual Lowpass mode, the Spacing control changes the cutoff of only the right-channel filter, which allows you to achieve interesting stereo effects when the outputs are hard-panned. For example, with a long attack setting on the filter envelope and the Spacing control set to one extreme or the other, you get a stereo-delay effect from the filters as they open at different times.
In Highpass/Lowpass mode, the Spacing control moves the cutoff frequency of the highpass filter while the Cutoff control changes the frequency of the lowpass filter. In this mode, resonance is added only to the lowpass filter. Using the Spacing and Cutoff controls in tandem allows you to widen or narrow the passband. The Voyager gives you CV control of Spacing, though it requires you to descend two levels into the menus to set it up.
Another cool feature is that you can independently change each filter's cutoff slope, selecting a 1-, 2-, 3- or 4-pole response. This allows you to alter the characteristic Mooginess of the Voyager in surprising ways.
ALL THE MOD CONS
The Modulation Busses [sic] are indeed a powerful modulation-routing system, and the Voyager provides two buses: Mod Wheel and Pedal/On. The latter allows you to use an expression pedal to control modulation. If nothing is plugged into the Mod1 CV input, the front-panel Amount knob controls the degree of modulation.
Setting up the modulation bus is simple: Pick a modulation source, route it to a destination and set the amount of modulation. Front-panel-selectable modulation sources include low-frequency triangle and square waves, oscillator 3, sample and hold, noise or a voltage source plugged into the Mod1 controller jack. Additional modulation sources, such as the x- and y-axes of the touch pad, can be accessed within Edit mode.
Modulation destinations include the pitch of all three oscillators, VCO 2 pitch only, VCO 3 pitch only, filter cutoff, the oscillator waveforms and LFO rate. More destinations, including filter spacing and resonance, are available in Edit mode.
The Shaping knob lets you select the manner in which you add real-time control of the modulation. The Shaping choices are the filter envelope, keyboard velocity and key pressure (on or off). A fourth, programmable setting is not yet implemented.
TOUCH SURFACE CONTROLLER
At the center of the Voyager's front panel is the Touch Surface Controller, which senses finger position in three dimensions: x-axis (left to right), y-axis (up and down) and the amount of surface area (a-axis) in contact. In its default setting, the pad controls three filter parameters — Cutoff, Spacing and Resonance — but there are 32 destinations to choose from for each of the control dimensions. In addition, you can scale the response of each of the axes, invert the direction in which each axis responds or determine whether the pad latches to the most recent x and y values or goes back to the default state.
To add accents to a preset, play the pad rhythmically with your fingertips. When the position memory is disabled, you get two sounds: one when you touch the pad and another (the default) when you remove your finger. This allows you to get sequencer effects by simply holding down a note on the keyboard and tapping the pad in time to the music.
I originally thought the physical position of the Touch Surface Controller was going to be problematic. Typically, such a pad would be to the player's left, in the area of the pitch and modulation wheels. However, the centralized placement of the pad allows you to use either hand on it comfortably.
GET WITH THE PROGRAM
The Voyager's hefty knobs and large buttons make tweaking fun. However, when you call up a preset, there is no way of knowing what the front-panel settings are, and as soon as you move a knob, the parameter jumps instantly to the new setting. Needless to say, the change can be abrupt and jarring.
Fortunately, once you move a control, the LCD shows you the saved value (shown as Memory) and the current value (Actual), within a range of -128 to +127. This is useful if you want to return a control to its original setting without having to reload a preset and lose the other temporary settings that you have. The Voyager has a preset buffer that holds two sounds, so you can A/B your changes against the preset. And the presets load instantly, allowing you to seamlessly change patches on the fly.
There are a variety of ways to customize a sound or personalize the playability of a preset. For example, the amount of change from the pitch wheel can be set from ±2 semitones to ±2 octaves and a fifth. You can also choose whether the envelopes trigger each time a new note is played or only when the keys are completely released.
MAKE MINE A MIDIMOOG
The Voyager's MIDI implementation holds a few surprises. The LFO MIDI Clock Divider synchs the start of its LFO cycle to an incoming MIDI Clock signal. You can set the clock division from half note to 128th note. However, the LFO rate isn't affected by MIDI, so the MIDI Clock division you set will give you the opportunity to explore rhythmic texture as the two timings flow independently.
Each of the front-panel controls is assigned a Control Change (CC) number, and in the current software revision, the Voyager can respond to incoming CC messages but not send them. The instrument also responds to pitch-bend data but doesn't send them. The Voyager does send Velocity data, though.
However, the Voyager is a polyphonic MIDI controller, which adds to its usefulness in the studio and onstage. For example, as you control an external MIDI instrument, you can set the Voyager to double your melody (high-note priority) or bass line (low-note priority) or to follow the first key played (1-Key mode) or the most recent (Last Key mode). It takes practice to keep the Voyager's voice in the right place when playing chords and a melody, but the effect is very nice.
If you're looking for a ballsy synth — one that delivers rich, analog goodness without hassle — you've come to the right place. Sure, the Voyager is a monophonic, monotimbral instrument, but it sounds massive: The basses are big and punchy; the leads scream; and with the Touch Control Surface and control inputs, you can twist and tangle sounds in a seemingly endless way, all in real time.
Although the Voyager's superior sound quality and performance capabilities don't come cheap, you certainly get what you pay for. The Voyager is a pro-level instrument that you can personalize to a high degree. And there is nothing else like it on the market.
VOYAGER > $2,995 (PERFORMER MODEL); $3,495 (SIGNATURE MODEL)
Pros: Gutsy sound. Three analog VCOs. Multimode filter with variable frequency slope. Three-dimensional Touch Surface Controller. Buffer holds two presets at a time. MIDI I/O.
Cons: Expensive. Monophonic. Only holds 128 presets. No onboard CV or gate outputs. Keyboard doesn't transmit MIDI pitch bend, aftertouch or CC messages.
Contact: tel. (800) 948-1990; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; Web www.moogmusic.com
THE VX-351 EXPANDER
You may have noticed that the Voyager's rear panel doesn't include outputs for control or gate signals. To get the most out of the Voyager, literally, Moog offers the VX-351 CV Expander ($265), which connects to the rear panel with a multipin connector. The VX-351 gives you 19 CV outputs, two gate outputs, two four-way mults (signal splitters) and a pair of signal attenuators. All of these signals can be routed back into the Voyager's rear-panel inputs or to external analog-synth hardware. The jacks accept standard ¼-inch cables and send ±5V CV signals and +5 gate signals.
The VX-351's CV outputs include the LFO triangle and square waves; the x-, y-, and a-axes and gate from the touch pad; pitch, velocity, pressure and gate from the keyboard; pitch and mod wheel voltages; the signals from the Voyager's Mod1 and Mod2 inputs; wheel and pedal signals from the modulation bus; filter and VCA envelope signals; and stepped and smooth sample-and-hold signals. With the VX-351, I was able to interface the Voyager with my collection of analog-synth modules from Blacet and Metasonix, as well as take the Voyager's sounds to a new level of complexity. As far as I'm concerned, the VX-351 is an essential addition to the Voyager, especially for studio work.