The Moog Voyager is the greatest analog monosynth ever made. There, I said it. Now that’s out of the way, I can explain how and why I came to that conclusion . . .
I’ve spent a lot of time with classic and not-so-classic analog synthesizers, from original Minimoogs and Korg MS-20s to the Yamaha CS series and my prized Octave CAT synth, as well as spending time on one of the largest fully functional modular synths in the world (a 200+ module hybrid of Polyfusion, Moog and MOTM modules). Every synth has its own personality and set of idiosyncrasies, at times both charming and frustrating. In a recording situation, analog synths — monosynths in particular — are great fun, allowing for hours of tweaking and making cool, unique sounds . . . but this sucks when it’s time to take those songs on the road and perform them.
The Minimoog Voyager answered everyone’s prayers when it was introduced by offering the legendary Moog sound and style with full digital recall of all parameters and some new features, such as additional LFOs and routing flexibility (for all the specs, go to www.moogmusic.com; under Minimoog, choose “Rack Mount Edition”).
I always wanted a Voyager, but the price was too high for me, and I always thought that the little touch pad thing would probably break in a few years, and act as a magnet for any objects like microphone stands to fall into it. So I was excited to hear about the introduction of a Voyager Rack.
THE VOYAGE BEGINS
I immediately pulled the Voyager Rack out of its box, turned it on, and stared at the glowing blue backlit panel. This feature, which almost seems like a gimmick at first, turned out to be a life-saver on the road. All the knobs have an incredibly smooth and substantial feel to them, and instill a feeling of confidence in the craftsmanship. Pretty soon I got tired of looking at it, and realized the only convenient MIDI controller was my ancient, dawn-of-MIDI E-mu Emulator II. I figured if I could get the Voyager Rack to work with that, it would probably work with anything.
While testing this synth, I made a deliberate decision not to open the manual, as I figure a monosynth should be the epitome of user-friendly synthesis. I was not disappointed. After plugging in the MIDI controller, I browsed through the Edit menus and found everything I would ever want to change, from note priority (cool for making it respond like an old mini with low note priority, or a Yamaha with top note priority) to MIDI channels, to additional modulation routing and filter modes. Saving patches was easy, but naming them was as tedious as on any synth where you have to write with cursor keys. Once I had figured out these few things, I figured I knew enough to make all the sounds I needed.
APPLYING THE VOYAGER
I wanted to re-create some of the glitchy, sample-and-hold type sounds I made with my Octave CAT synth for my band Phonograph’s LP. It was easy to “zero” the synth to give myself a clean slate, and then I set about making a percussive glitch type sound that could be manually manipulated with the knobs: A combination of hard sync between two of the oscillators, and modulating the other oscillator produced a sufficiently weird timbre, so I then started tweaking the envelope to get the right percussive “click.” Setting the LFO to trigger the envelope was simple, and tracked extremely well; the option to sync the LFO to MIDI is great if you need to trigger the envelope from, say, a drum machine. The envelope is extremely tight, capable of such fast attack times that it can click at the beginning of notes.
This review came at a perfect time for me, as my band was getting ready to open for Wilco on the southern leg of their spring tour. As the Wilco tour grew closer, I had a hefty arsenal of sounds ready, and was amazed at the ergonomic nature of the panel, which was incredibly easy to get around. At every show we played, the Voyager Rack performed flawlessly. Even during a five-minute blackout on stage (due to a lighting computer crashing), the backlit panel let me keep playing as usual.
The sounds, construction, and interface of this synth are all top notch, and the only thing that I found the least bit annoying was the need for an “Accessory Port” to access all the CV features, as I really wanted to try and interface it with more of my gear — like clocking the envelope on my Moogerfooger lowpass pedal off of the LFO, or slaving another synth to it for additional oscillators and envelopes. [Editor’s Note: Moog Music has just introduced the the VX352, which provides control voltage and gate signals for control of the MMV Rack’s synthesis circuits.]
But the bottom line is I think that the Minimoog Voyager is the greatest monosynth ever made, and is an artful mixture of tradition, technology, and musicality. Moog’s legacy lives on.
Product type: Monophonic rack mount analog (not virtual analog) synth.
Target market: Synth fans who want the Moog sound.
Strengths: Well-crafted. Easy to program. Makes high-quality analog synth sounds. More affordable than the keyboard version.
Limitations: Optional accessory port required to access internal CV functions.