Made in: United States
Designed by: Rich Walborn and Tony Marchese
Number produced: 11,000
Synthesis system: analog, subtractive
Price new: $645
Today's prices:Like new$700Like, it's okay for its age$500Like hell$300
Because Moog Music created the Prodigy without any assistance from the company's namesake and founder, Robert Moog, the Prodigy inspires heated debate about the legitimacy of its pedigree. Is the Prodigy as authentic a Moog as the classic Minimoog, or is it an imposter?
Today the Prodigy is in such demand that prices for models in great condition actually top the original price (inflation notwithstanding). Nonetheless, some claim that it's an insipid shadow of a “real” Moog. A quick dive into its history might reveal just how authentic and valuable the Prodigy really is.
The Prodigy was conceived as a cut-down instrument; its creators never intended it to rival its elder siblings. A team of Moog employees, including designers Rich Walborn and Tony Marchese and project manager Tom Rhea, brought the Prodigy to life in an attempt to build a dual-oscillator synthesizer for about $500. Their success was, in part, a result of design innovations such as potentiometers mounted on the circuit board rather than bolted to the front panel as they had been on the Minimoog. Placing the final loudness and filter-cutoff controls in the middle of the front panel was another inventive departure from previous Moog instruments.
The Prodigy looks quite striking, with real wooden end panels and an unfettered control panel. Its informative front-panel graphics make the Prodigy a perfect setting for learning about subtractive synthesis. Aside from the occasional missing knob or switch, it's not altogether uncommon to find one in nearly perfect condition.
Either of the two voltage-controlled oscillators (VCOs) has a switch to select sawtooth, triangle, or pulse waveforms; Osc 1's pulse wave is narrow, and Osc 2's is square. The oscillators can be tuned within a two-octave range; Osc 1 is calibrated from 32 feet to 8 feet, and Osc 2 from 16 feet to 4 feet. An interval knob can split the voices as much as a fifth apart. A sync switch lashes them back together for those searing, forced tones that remain de rigueur in the Jan Hammer school of lead synth playing. A small mixing panel offers a master volume control and independent control of each oscillator's level.
The Prodigy doesn't implement the “heated chip” technology of some other Moogs, so its pitch stability can sometimes be less than reliable. If you're thinking of buying a Prodigy, you'd be wise to leave it turned on for a few minutes to reveal whether its oscillators are subject to drift.
The 24 dB-per-octave lowpass filter features the usual cutoff frequency and resonance (which Moog persisted in calling emphasis) controls. Like the amplifier, the filter is modulated by a slightly limiting attack-decay-sustain (ADS) envelope generator (which Moog called a contour generator). The filter can also track the 32-note keyboard with three settings — off, half, and full — which is good for playing self-oscillating whistles. The low-frequency oscillator (LFO) offers only square and sine waves to modulate the voltage-controlled filter (VCF), VCOs, or both.
Performance controls include portamento and rather stiff Pitch and Mod wheels (though much less stiff than they once were). The designers could have included many additional features, but only by increasing the Prodigy's cost. The spin-off benefit to such a no-frills approach is that nobody is ever intimidated with bells and whistles such as sample and hold or a multitude of modulation sources and destinations.
The Prodigy isn't particularly flexible, but it does conjure the basic sound of a Moog synthesizer. Limitations can be a good thing. It is extremely easy to coax all manner of sounds, from screaming leads to fat bass, from the Prodigy. Its hard-sync oscillator timbres are especially good and have contributed greatly to its popularity.
The Web offers plenty of fairly useless sites on the Prodigy. One useful page (www.teknospace.com/prodigyout.jpg) offers an image of the Prodigy's control panel, which you can print out and use to record your patches.
The affordable-yet-powerful Prodigy is a child of the 1980s. It was snapped up by performers such as Howard Jones, 808 State, and Depeche Mode. The Prodigy's initial success was greater in bargain-conscious Europe (where it effectively obliterated England's Wasp monosynth). But in the end, it became Moog's biggest seller next to the Minimoog.
Julian Colbeckhas toured everywhere from Tokyo to São Paulo with artists as varied as Yes, Steve Hackett, John Miles, and Charlie. Special thanks to Tom Rhea of Berklee College of Music.