When someone mentions vintage synthesizers, what model immediately springs to your mind? If your first thought is “Minimoog,” you're not alone. The Minimoog Model D was the most popular synth from its introduction in 1971 until it ceased being produced more than a decade later. Since then, its sound has remained part of modern music's electronic vocabulary. A couple of years ago, a new Minimoog stepped up to the plate: the Moog Voyager. The Moog Voyager is the Lamborghini of monosynths — an object of widespread desire, worth every penny, but perhaps too costly for the common person.
Fortunately, music software developers provide musicians with virtual versions of instruments that they could never afford in the real world. When soft synths began to gain popularity, Minimoog was one of the first synths that everyone wanted to see emulated. Doing it right, though, was easier said than done. Virtual Minimoog clones appeared in the guise of Creamware's Minimax and Korg's OASYS PCI Minisynth, but neither of those ran without their respective DSP cards.
Arturia, a company that made a name for itself with Moog Modular V and CS-80V, is the first company to produce an accurately detailed Minimoog emulation that runs native, without the need for additional hardware. Minimoog V operates as a standalone program that supports ASIO, DirectSound, and CoreAudio drivers; it also runs as a plug-in for VST, Audio Units (AU), DirectX, RTAS, HTDM, and MAS (Mac OS 9 only) hosts.
THE PLAYING FIELD
For this review, I used Minimoog V's AU version in Emagic Logic and in Digital Performer, the VST version in Cubase SX, and the standalone version using CoreAudio. My computer is a dual-processor Power Mac G4/1 GHz with 1.5 GB of RAM running Mac OS × 10.3.4. My audio hardware is a MOTU 2408mkII with a PCI-424 card.
Installation was a snap, without the copy-protection issues that plague most music software. I inserted the disc, opened the installer, typed in my name and serial number, opened the standalone version, specified my audio and MIDI ports, and I was up and running in seconds. Keep the disc in a safe place after installation, because you'll need it for installing any updates or adding any new presets you might download from Arturia's Web site.
The manual is in English, French, and Japanese. The English portion is 75 pages long, but about half is devoted to explaining the history and physics of analog synthesis. Although the remainder explains how to install and use the program, you should have no trouble grasping most of it on your own.
VIRTUAL WOOD PANELING
Like its namesake, the Minimoog V features three oscillators, a noise generator, a 24 dB-per-octave lowpass filter, and two 3-stage envelopes (the decay and release times are identical unless you flip a switch that provides instant release). In addition to the traditional Minimoog's two modulation sources (oscillator 3 and noise), the software furnishes a modulation matrix (more about that later) and an LFO that syncs to MIDI tempo. Like the original, the virtual synth can process external audio signals.
The user interface is laid out exactly like the Model D's front panel, with the Controller, Oscillator Bank, Mixer, Modifiers, and Output sections from left to right (see Fig. 1). Not everyone feels that the Minimoog had the most intuitive layout, and even Moog Music improved upon it in later models. Nonetheless, the virtual version would not be much of an emulation if it didn't look like a Minimoog.
In addition to all of the Minimoog's knobs and switches, Minimoog V has a Sync switch on oscillator 1 — a feature many musicians wished the original had. In place of the headphone jack is a switch that enables polyphonic operation (up to 32 simultaneous1s notes), and in place of the power switch is one that enables soft clipping. You can specify the pitch-bend range — something you couldn't do with the original.
In the Preferences window, you can specify that knobs respond to mouse movements in a circular, relative circular, or linear fashion — an option I always appreciate. Best of all, when you click on a knob, its parameter name and value are displayed.
When you click on the virtual strip of wood just above the control panel, it tilts forward to reveal a row of additional controls: the Modulation Matrix, LFO, Arpeggiator, Chorus, Delay, and MIDI Sync (see Fig. 2). Tilting forward is simply a gimmick, however, because hiding the controls doesn't save any screen space; when they're tucked away, blackness occupies the same area.
The Modulation Matrix provides six routings, each with a pull-down menu for the source, another for the destination, and an Amount knob. Sources include the external audio input, and in some cases, you can assign one source to three destinations with a single routing (for example, to pulse-width modulation for all three oscillators).
The Arpeggiator has five directions: up, down, up and down, in a random order, and in the order played. An Octave switch lets you transpose the arpeggio as much as five octaves above the highest note you play, and a Repeat switch causes each iteration to repeat up to five times before continuing to the next octave. Another switch lets you choose whether the notes will be latched and whether playing subsequent notes will add to the current arpeggio or begin a new one.
I stumbled across a minor bug in the Arpeggiator. When I set the Octave all the way up to 5, playing a note above the onscreen keyboard's highest F# muted all the notes. The only way to hear the synth again was to either turn off the Arpeggiator or select another Preset.
The Chorus effect is tasty, with buttons to select from three unnamed types and knobs to control the rate, depth, and wet/dry balance. Likewise, the delay is flexible, with separate delay times and feedback settings for the left and right outputs. Maximum delay time is five seconds, long enough to create some cool echoing synth loops (see Web Clip 1). Because the delay time is displayed as you change it, it's easy to set up relationships between the left and right delays. I was also pleased to discover that turning the Feedback knobs all the way up produced repetitions that lasted longer than 20 minutes before fading out completely.
Not surprisingly, Minimoog V makes substantial demands on the computer's processor. Depending on the selected Preset, the instrument's handy CPU meter read as high as 25 percent when I ran the standalone version, even without playing. When I turned on the Modulation Matrix and effects and played using the Arpeggiator, it never exceeded 43 percent on my computer.
Minimoog V is not multitimbral, which means there's no performance mode. If you want to use several timbres at the same time, you'll need to open a new instance of Minimoog V for each sequencer track. Unless you have a very powerful computer, you will quickly bump up against the CPU ceiling.
Besides the minor arpeggiator bug, the only interface oddity I encountered was in the standalone version. Whenever I opened the Configuration window a second time using the Window menu, the program quit. It wasn't a problem as long as I avoided doing that. Other than that, all versions ran smoothly and never quit unexpectedly.
THE MOOG SOUND
The question that's probably foremost on your mind is “Does it sound like a real Minimoog?” My answer is a qualified “yes.” It probably won't fool an experienced synthesist if you listen to both instruments side by side, but it comes pretty darned close. If you want a sound that precisely matches that of the Minimoog, you will need to spring for the real thing. Even an expensive hardware-based virtual-analog synth does not sound exactly like a good-old Minimoog or a new Moog Voyager.
For as good as Minimoog V sounds, real analog does offer a bit more depth. Granted, Minimoog V is as good a Minimoog emulation as I've heard — quite an accomplishment for software that runs native — and it will certainly fool most of the people most of the time. Because I like the convenience of soft synths and I can't afford to run out and buy a Moog Voyager, I'm perfectly satisfied with using Arturia's software whenever I need the Moog sound.
Minimoog V comes with more than 500 Presets, giving you plenty of timbres to explore. They're organized into Banks named after their creators, and Sub Banks are organized by type: Arpeggio, Basses, EFX, Leads, Pads, and so on. If you click on the Banks button, you can select Sub Banks and Presets from hierarchical menus, or you can just click on the Sub Bank or Preset menu buttons. You can also scroll through Presets in a Sub Bank. As I was exploring, however, I lost a couple of Presets that I liked; a search function would be really useful in preventing that from happening in the future.
A very talented group of programmers created the factory Presets, and some are much better than others. Overall, my favorite Bank is definitely the one created by Katsunori Ujiie. His biting leads and solid basses come the closest to making the Minimoog V sound like a real analog synth (see Web Clip 2).
My only gripe with Minimoog V concerns its user interface: it's just too big. Sure, it looks like a real Minimoog, keys and all, but is that really necessary? The advantage, of course, is that if you know your way around a real Minimoog, using the software version will come naturally. The disadvantage is that what works on a hardware device doesn't always translate well on a computer screen. Fortunately, it was easy to assign the controls to an external controller using the MIDI Learn function, which also means that every function can be automated in a sequencer.
The keyboard is the biggest screen-space hog, taking up nearly one-third of the entire user interface. An onscreen keyboard is occasionally convenient, but I'd much rather see one that covered a wider range of pitch and didn't consume so much space. (One of Moog Modular V's nicest features is that it offers alternate views, including one with no keyboard.) To make matters worse, a big black bar is always present just below the keyboard in both the standalone and plug-in windows.
V FOR VICTORY
Arturia's software successfully emulates the Minimoog in native software, and it does so at an attractive price. There's room for improvement, primarily in the user interface, but that could be easily remedied in a future revision. Arturia should at least offer a view without the keyboard; screen space is precious when you're producing music with a computer. According to Arturia, the next version is expected to ship by the time you read this.
Although I might need a more powerful CPU before I can run it, I hope to use a multitimbral version of Minimoog V someday. I also look forward to hearing what new presets arise in the future; they don't all need to sound like a Minimoog, and this synth is capable of much more. Now if someone would just develop a virtual Oberheim Matrix-12 and a convincing Rhodes Chroma simulation, I might never leave my studio.
Associate EditorGeary Yeltonhas been reviewing synthesizers for EM since its first issue in 1985.
Minimum System Requirements
MAC: G3/500; 128 MB RAM; Mac OS 9.x or OS × 10.2
PC: Pentium II/500; 128 MB RAM; Windows 95/98/2000/ME/XP
FEATURES4.0EASE OF USE4.5QUALITY OF SOUNDS4.0VALUE5.0RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Lots of great sounds. Supports many formats. Displays precise parameter values. Good support for MIDI controllers and sequencer automation.
CONS: Unnecessarily oversized user interface. Not multitimbral. Moderately CPU-intensive.