Fig. 1: Although the Old School strips away the previous Voyager''s patch memory and digital connectivity, it delivers hands-on programmability and control far beyond the original Minimoog''s.
It's been six years since Moog Music revitalized the most successful analog synthesizer in history. The Minimoog Voyager updated the classic Minimoog Model D by adding a software-based operating system, MIDI control, preset memory, an LCD, a three-dimensional touch pad controller, and many other improvements (see the October 2003 review at emusician.com).
Whereas the Voyager provided distinct advantages of digital technology, the Old School (OS) takes them all away. The OS's aesthetic, therefore, more closely resembles the Model D's, but the underlying analog sound engine remains strictly Voyager. The OS furnishes a patching and modulation schema that prog rockers could only have wished for in their heyday.
Playing Inside the Box
Weighing a hefty 40 pounds, the OS features a solid hardwood cabinet with a beautiful furniture-grade finish and a 44-note (F to C) Velocity- and Aftertouch-sensitive keyboard (see Fig. 1). Glide and Release switches are located above the pitch and modulation wheels — just as on the original — and the multiposition hinged design of the synthesizer module allows it to be adjusted to a number of angles.
The pitch-bend range is fixed at ±5 semitones, but Moog Music's Web site outlines a procedure to reconfigure an internal jumper to widen or narrow this range. Although the fixed range is a price you must pay for all-analog construction, at least Moog offers a means to change the default. The keyboard priority is last note and the trigger mode is legato, but you can configure the OS for multitrigger mode (in which each note played on the keyboard retriggers the gate) by holding down the keyboard's top two keys as you power up the synth. It will revert to single-trigger mode the next time you power up.
The rear panel is chock-full of connections, with a pair of audio outputs, an analog audio input, an effects insert, and an assortment of control voltage (CV) and gate inputs that allow the OS to act as a semimodular synth (see Fig. 2). But the big news is that it has keyboard CV and gate outputs, which were not present on the original Voyager — very handy. You can access many more control outputs using the optional VX-351 CV Expander ($295), which connects to the synthesizer's DB-25 multipin accessory port.
Class Is In
The Minimoog has always been a textbook lesson in subtractive synthesis. Its front-panel layout couldn't be more straightforward, and for the most part, things are just where you'd expect them on the OS, too.
Beginning at far left are the familiar Fine Tune and Glide Rate controls. Adjacent are the dedicated LFO and dual Modulation Bus modules, none of which were available on the original Minimoog. The LFO produces triangle and square waves as well as stepped and smoothed sample-and-hold (S&H) patterns. Though typically you'd use the LFO's square wave as the S&H trigger and the noise generator as the sample source, you can override them by patching external signals into the S&H inputs, making all sorts of cool user patterns possible. The Mod 1 and Mod 2 buses are identical, each capable of selecting from six sources, six destinations (including waveshape), and six controllers with adjustable amounts (I explore these modules in the online bonus material at emusician.com).
Three analog VCOs (voltage-controlled oscillators) follow, each with a range marked in standard organ-stop measurements of 32 feet (lowest setting) to 1 foot — a full octave higher than the original Minimoog. Waveforms are continuously variable from triangle through sawtooth to square and pulse. You adjust Oscillator 1 using the global Fine Tune control, which is necessary because the OS doesn't have an autotune function. Oscillators 2 and 3 have separate Frequency controls, each capable of fine-tuning seven semitones up or down relative to Oscillator 1. Two switches allow for syncing Oscillators 1 and 2 and for the linear frequency modulation of Oscillator 1 by Oscillator 3.
Within the Mixer section are five rotary knobs and five rocker switches for blending and toggling the three oscillators, external audio input, and internal noise generator on or off. Whereas the original Minimoog gave you a choice between pink and white noise, here you're provided with a single hybrid mix of the two noise colors.
The Old School's Filters module comprises two classic Moog 4-pole (24 dB-per-octave) self-oscillating multimode filters instead of the original Minimoog's single lowpass. By flicking a toggle switch, you can configure them as parallel lowpass filters routed to the left and right outputs, respectively, or as a serial highpass-lowpass combination resulting in bandpass across both outputs equally. A single set of Cutoff, Resonance, and keyboard-tracking knobs acts on both filters simultaneously, while the Spacing control shifts or spreads the cutoff frequencies, depending on which filter mode the synth is in.
FEATURES 1 2 3 4 5 EASE OF USE 1 2 3 4 5 QUALITY OF SOUNDS 1 2 3 4 5VALUE 1 2 3 4 5 5 Amazing; as good as it gets with current technology 4 Clearly above average; very desirable 3 Good; meets expectations 2 Somewhat disappointing but usable 1 Unacceptably flawed
As on the analog-digital hybrid Voyager, the OS has reoriented some classic controls while making room for new ones. The Oscillators bank, for example, is now aligned into columns rather than rows as they were on the classic Minimoog. Similarly, the Filters section is now vertical, and the dual ADSR envelopes are broken away into their own module. Being a Minimoog veteran, it took me a minute to get used to the changes, but I appreciate that the layout more intuitively follows modern concepts of organizing synthesis functions.
Kickin' It Old School
I love that waveshape is a voltage-controllable parameter, because it allows you to dial in combinations of abstract tones and perform pseudowavetable synthesis using modulators (see Web Clip 1). Thanks to the incredible stability of the oscillators, the linear FM control lets you conjure up all sorts of clangorous and metallic-sounding goodies containing unmistakably warm, analog undertones. Hard sync is something every Minimoog owner has longed for, and depending on how you apply it here, the sound can be aggressive with extreme overdrive or warm, richly harmonic, and quite vocal (see Web Clip 2). Obviously, having Velocity and Aftertouch to integrate with up-to-date modulation offerings is a big thrill for Minimoog aficionados like myself, as are the exquisite-sounding multimode filters.
I also understand and applaud Moog Music's decision and intent to stay faithful to the instrument's all-analog heritage, which is why I wasn't disappointed by the absence of MIDI, USB, or any other digital connectivity or control that synthesists have become so accustomed to. I can live without those luxuries in this particular instance — the OS returns a greater sense of artistry and organics to your performance and to the Minimoog experience in general.
Nonetheless, having no access to presets is a real drag from the past that I really don't enjoy revisiting. Don't get me wrong: with knob-per-function access and no tiny LCDs or endless menus to surf, the Old School couldn't be easier to use or program. But for live performance, the lack of presets will force you to juggle your playlists to allow enough time between songs to twist knobs for the right sound. Thoughtfully, an included patch book contains 36 leads, 12 basses, and 6 sound effects transcribed from the original Voyager's factory banks, complete with patch bank and number for cross-referencing.
I'm Down with It
The value of an instrument such as the OS really is in the eyes of the beholder and will depend on your priorities. Moog Music is obviously placing hope in players who are looking for a roadworthy replacement for their venerable Mini, who want a full-featured centerpiece for a modular synth rig, or who just crave a direct, hands-on connection to spontaneous creativity. To those ends, the company has definitely succeeded.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more exciting or beautiful little monophonic performance synth. It certainly beats picking up secondhand synths, with all their age-related idiosyncrasies. The Minimoog Voyager Old School's downright cool vibe should make it a modern classic.
Jason Scott Alexander is a regular contributor to Mix and Remix magazines and runs a world-class mix/production facility in Canada's capital, Ottawa.
monophonic analog synthesizer
PROS: Timeless, earthy sound. Three analog VCOs. Dual multimode filters. Enhanced modulation. CV inputs and outputs. Durable, handmade construction. Inspiring to touch and play. Major cool factor.
CONS: No presets. No MIDI.
In our reviews, prices are MAP or street unless otherwise noted.
GUIDE TO EM METERS
EM''s Minimoog Voyager review
Moog Music''s Minimoog Voyager Old School page