Moog Music MP-201 Review

A POWERFUL CONTROLLER FOR ALL OF YOUR ELECTRONIC INSTRUMENTS
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FIG. 1: The Moog Music MP-201''s interface offers a rugged footpedal and four footswitches for control, as well as two buttons and a pushable rotary encoder for editing.

One of the defining characteristics of any musical instrument is the amount of control it offers a player. Unfortunately, most electronic instruments don't give you the level of subtlety that an acoustic instrument does. With the MP-201 multi-pedal, Moog Music addresses this issue for analog and digital instruments by offering a set of control options that is deep, musical and easy to use.

Step on It

As an analog synth user, I'm always on the lookout for feature-rich controllers, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on this device. The MP-201 offers four output channels that you can program separately for analog signals (CV, gate or LFO) or MIDI data (up to four MIDI continuous controllers on four different channels). There is nothing esoteric about the MP-201: It's designed to give you standard parameter control in a convenient, road-worthy device.

Unlike Moog's lightweight EP-2 expression pedal, the MP-201 is almost entirely made of metal, with a sturdy aluminum treadle and four rubber feet on the bottom to keep the 5.5-pound unit from sliding around the floor as you sweep the pedal (see Fig. 1). The left side of the MP-201 has an ergonomically satisfying slope. The four footswitches are placed far enough way from each other that your toes won't accidentally push the wrong one, yet you can press two at once when you need to. (And you will need to in order to access certain features.) The top panel includes two utility buttons (Edit and Enter/Store), a rotary encoder that will advance the cursor when pressed and a two-line, 16-character LCD. A small LED below the knob shows you when the pedal is receiving MIDI input in LFO Sync mode.

The footswitches serve a number of uses depending on the mode you're in and which one you press. For example, in Single Channel mode, which is the unit's default setting, the upper footswitches, 1 and 2, are used to increment and decrement the patch numbers; 3 selects the current channel; and 4 turns it on and off. As you cycle through the four channels using footswitch 3, the LCD shows you how each channel is programmed to behave — as an expression controller, LFO or gate. Conveniently, you can enter Edit mode using the footswitches or with the button.

A glowing ring around each footswitch gives you visual feedback about its status: The upper red portion indicates that a channel is on, and the glowing amber color around the lower portion shows the output level of the control information. In Expression mode, the amber light dims as you move the pedal from the toe to the heel position and the CV level decreases. In LFO mode, the light throbs in time with the frequency and shape of the waveform. The lighted footswitches are easy to see when you're standing above them in the heat of a performance.

The MP-201 has a simple array of connectors: four unbalanced ¼-inch jacks for CV output, standard MIDI I/O, a USB port for computer-based MIDI I/O and an input for the included 12V power adapter next to the power switch (see Fig. 2). (An Allen wrench for adjusting the feel of the pedal is also included.) The MP-201 supports Mac OS X and Windows XP/Vista, allowing you to control software synths and effects via MIDI as easily as you would your hardware devices.

LFOgger

Right out of the box, the MP-201 interfaces instantly with Moog's Voyager, Little Phatty and Moogerfooger pedals. In fact, you can assemble an interesting modular synth by combining the MP-201 with Moog's CP-251 control processor and any of the company's effects (see Web Clip 1). (Visit emusician.com for reviews of the CP-251 and Moogerfooger pedals.) The MP-201's CV range can be set globally for 0 to 5V (Unipolar) or ±5V (Bipolar) operation, making the MP-201 compatible with most CV-compatible gear.

The unit offers six LFO waveforms — triangle, square, up and down ramps, sample and hold, and noise — that can be offset up to ±5V. When using the pedal to change the LFO rate, you can adjust and save the heel and toe values for each channel in a preset.

You can program the footswitches to send gate signals (0 or +5V) momentarily as you hold the pedal, or in Latch mode, to set and hold the level when tapped. Stomp it again to release the gate. You can also reverse the gate's behavior so that it's on until the footswitch is pressed.

Patchwerk

You can store control configurations as Patches in one of 50 slots. The pedal comes with 32 presets that provide common control setups for other Moog products, but you can easily overwrite them. The well-written manual includes a chart laying out the parameters of each patch.

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FIG. 2: There''s nothing complicated about the I/O: MIDI I/O, a USB port and four 1/4-inch TS jacks provide a wide range of options for controlling just about any instrument or effect you have.

The MP-201 has two performance modes, which you select by stomping footswitches 1 and 3 together. The default mode is Single Channel, which makes it easier to move through presets and edit them. Quad Channel mode lets you turn each channel on and off by stomping on the corresponding footswitch. It also makes it easy to enter Tap Tempo mode for a given channel. Tap Tempo is great for changing the rate of an LFO on the fly: Stomp twice on a channel's footswitch to enter the mode, then tap the tempo.

Besides manually setting the speed of the free-running LFOs, you can synchronize them using MIDI Clock. You have 10 subdivisions from which to choose, whole-note to 32nd notes, including dotted values. You can use the expression pedal to select the note division, which is a handy feature.

The MP-201 also has a MIDI Merge function that can mix MIDI input from either the USB or 5-pin DIN connector with values based on the pedal position. You can then select the output destination for the data.

Stepping on footswitches 2 and 4 simultaneously puts you in Edit mode for the channel that is currently selected. You rename parameters using the rotary encoder. Overall, the user interface is intuitive once you work with it a bit.

Four on the Floor

The presets are a great way to learn the capabilities of the MP-201. I have two Moogerfooger pedals — the MF-101 lowpass filter and the MF-102 ring modulator — as well as the CP-251, so I could get up and running right away. But you don't need them to use the MP-201 effectively. I patched it to my Doepfer modular synth and had a blast exploring the Moog's presets. Sweeping a control voltage that is modulating two destinations while changing the speed of an LFO and opening a gate — all from a single source — is intoxicating, once you figure out which parameters you want to control (see Web Clip 2).

Things can sometimes get a bit tricky. When using preset 9 (four switched gates) in Quad Channel mode, I soon realized that I couldn't tap footswitches 1 and 3 or 2 and 4 simultaneously to trigger gate pairs because that action toggles between Performance and Edit modes, respectively. To get around that limitation, I found that I could latch the gates I wanted by first holding down the corresponding footswitch and then stomping another footswitch on the opposite side (e.g., holding switch 1 and then tapping 4). But if I decided to switch Performance modes, I had to give up my latched gates because I had to tap 1 and 3 together. Making this preset do the esoteric job I wanted took a bit of choreography, but the workaround gave me some great results.

The more time I spent with the MP-201, the deeper my patching led me. And by using colored cables, I could keep track of which cable came from which channel output, allowing me to repatch my synth and effects without having to bend down and unplug anything on the pedal.

The MP-201 is equally viable for guitarists who use CV-controllable pedals or MIDI for controlling software products. You can get a lot of mileage from one or two Moogerfoogers when controlled by the MP-201's four LFOs or expression pedal (see Web Clip 3). But you could just as easily use the device to control a software wah, rotary speaker or chorus effect in your favorite amp- and effects-modeling application.

Do Tread on Me

By the time you read this, Moog will have released Version 2 of the MP-201 firmware (downloadable and free to existing users), which promises some significant enhancements. Those include 4-channel MIDI-to-CV conversion, adjustable rise and fall times on expression and LFO channels, and a gate/envelope generator.

The MP-201 is a simple-to-use controller that lets you create complex control paths to squeeze extra musicality out of your electronic instruments and effects. Because it offers an expression pedal, four assignable footswitches, and voltage- and MIDI-control sources, you will not easily exhaust the capabilities of this device. Whether you use analog synths, computer-based plug-in instruments or run your guitar through CV-friendly effects, the MP-201 will not only be a powerful addition to your rig, but one that sets your imagination on fire.

Gino Robair is editorial director of gearwire.com and a former editor of EM.

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