Review: Dave Smith Instruments Mopho Synthesizer

The Dave Smith Instruments Mopho combines a fully analog signal path with digital control for sick basslines and ripping synthesizer lead tones
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The Company that Brought You the retro-futuristic and Remix Technology Award-winning Prophet '08 has birthed a hot new stepchild: a fully analog synth-in-a-box called the Mopho. It's a monophonic (MOnoPHOnic) synthesizer with two real analog oscillators, two dedicated subharmonic generating oscillators and authentic Curtis lowpass filters that can hang with the big dogs — but at a fraction of the price. Possibly the best bet on the market for a dedicated bass-line box, the Mopho is designed for complete integration without sacrificing its true analog tone. It also makes a great synth kick-drum unit, as well as a simple, portable lead or solo device. On all settings, the Mopho sounded big, cutting and full of comfortable analog warmth.

The Mopho's economical front panel is intuitive once you get into using it. The most commonly used parameters have dedicated knobs along the bottom (Pitch, Cutoff, Resonance, Attack and Decay/Release), and four Assignable Parameters knobs give you quick access to other patch-specific controls. Pushing the right-hand Assign Parameters button lets you simply turn a knob to scroll through available parameters; pushing the button again locks a knob to its currently selected assignment. After a few tries, it was easy to get whatever I wanted out of the assignable knobs, even though each preset patch already had well-thought-out assignments.

The Program knob surfs through presets. When you turn a parameter knob, the LED changes from showing patch info to showing the parameter you've just changed. To switch the display back, simply press the Program Mode button. Holding down Program Mode takes you to the global settings, where you can edit values such as transpose, MIDI channel, clock source and others. Once you've tweaked a patch the way you like it, press the Write button to save it to a program number, and you're ready to go. This method of saving presets was easy to understand — within a few minutes, I went from goofing around to having a usable bank of patches.

Like the classic analog synths of the '70s, the Mopho can process incoming audio through its filters. By simply routing any mono signal into the ¼-inch audio input on the rear panel, you can add all sorts of sequenced parameter shifts, LFO-controlled filter sweeps or other sonic bastardization to your source sounds quickly and easily. If the source is loud enough, you can use it to create a gate — which can trigger the LFO for some cool synced motion. Unfortunately, the oscillators do not track the incoming audio, so the Mopho cannot do vocoderlike effects. But to keep things interesting, Dave Smith Instruments decided to normal the left audio output to the mono audio input, meaning that you can route any patch back through the Mopho itself to create awesome squelching analog-feedback loops.

Lucky owners of a Dave Smith Instruments Prophet '08 will realize that most of that keyboard's knobs map directly to the corresponding Mopho controls, making the Prophet an instantly usable physical MIDI surface for the Mopho's embedded parameters. For further computer integration, DSI offers a simple, free editor application for programming Mopho patches on your PC or Mac. I used version 1.2.1 for Mac, and it worked flawlessly right away; it only slightly lagged behind the physical unit as I turned knobs.

Getting a sound this big out of a box this small is pretty impressive, especially when it sits in the sub-$500 range. The Mopho noticeably exuded as much warmth and huge-sounding patches as the other analog synths in my studio, and I can see many live-PA-style producers, performers and bass-junkie DJs finding a home for it as their dedicated live bass box.

$439

Pros: Big, true analog sound in a tiny, stompbox-size unit. Easy interface, free software editor. Unique and powerful Push-It! button.

Cons: Can't use the Feedback feature and audio input at the same time.
www.davesmithinstruments.com