25. Juni 2016
Our Moog-Special as English version
Reissue Version from 2016
The press release regarding the reissue of the Minimoog is the perfect reason for us to provide you with our special about probably the most important synthesizer in history: 45 years – a synthesizer legend has its anniversary.
45 YEARS – THE LEGEND IS ALIVE
USA 1969: The eyes of the world are fixated on the event of the first moon landing. The crew of Edwin Aldrin, Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong safely completed their round-trip to the moon and back. Armstrong utters his famous words: „that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind!“. A statement that could have just as well been used to describe the revolutionary development of a musical instrument that took place at the same time. Hardly anyone was taking notice back then about what was happening in the music instrument industry. Bob Moog had already built three prototypes with his engineers Jim Scott, Bill Hemsath and Chad Hunt in December 1969 when the famous variation „D“ saw the light of day. It was not quite ready for prime time, but it played its first few sounds. To perfect this version and to present it to a worldwide audience, Bob Moog had only six weeks left.
For the history of synthesizers, January 24, 1970, was a huge day. It was the day Robert Moog, better known as Bob Moog, presented the first Minimoog at the NAMM SHOW to a circle of professionals. Roughly 13,000 units of this remarkable instrument would be produced and sold throughout the world over the course of the next eleven years. During those years, this instrument was the blue print for many synthesizer generations to come.
Even today, despite the many synthesizers that followed for e.g. the Moog Minimoog Voyager and all its derivatives i.e. Old School, RME, XL, as well as all the color variations – the original Minimoog still fascinates us today.
The value of this monophonic analog classic has increased over the years in the secondhand market like no other synthesizer. Stores easily charge $3,000 and more, depending on the series and the condition it is in. If you find a shop that offers the restored version including warranty, they ask for considerably more.
This popularity can be explained on one hand by the large number of collectors that increase the price. On the other hand, the other explanation is simply that the Moog Minimoog is still an amazing instrument. And if we had to compile a list of all the hardware and software replicas that were ever built and created, we would simply not have enough space in this article. There are replicas which can hardly be distinguished from the original and often offer even more features than the original. So the question still remains, why does an original Minimoog still appeal to so many musicians.
By the way, if you are interested in finding out more about the available replicas, we would like to bring your attention to two special reports on AMAZONA.de. One is a report in which we compare the Minimoog-Softwareclones to the original (story not available yet). The second report is a sound experiment where we try to recreate authentic Minimoog sounds with the ALESIS ANDROMEDA (story not available yet).
„Kazike“, mastermind of CLUB OF THE KNOBS (COTK), just told us that they are currently working on a modular version of the Minimoog. Anyone who owns a CTOK Moog replica of the Model 15, can surmise that this might be another milestone when it comes to Minimoog replicas. But regardless of clone or replica, the only reason we are talking about this is because of the ingenuity of Robert Moog. He was THE synthesizer pioneer who influenced the popular music over the course of many years with his instruments.
Bob Moog unfortunately died of a brain tumor way to early on August 21, 2005, in Asheville. His legacy and memory is preserved through the MOOG FOUNDATION which was started by his son. The Moog sound, in particular, with all its authentic derivatives will ensure that we will never forget Bob Moog.
We are presenting you now with a comprehensive report by the vintage expert Theo Bloderer for the 35th anniversary of the Moob Minimoog. We are looking forward to your comments and stories regarding your own Minimoog experiences.
Blue Box Report by Theo Bloderer
It is difficult to capture in words the significance and importance of this instrument. The Minimoog shaped history and is still doing this today.
Is an original Minimoog even worth its money when you can get a used Voyager for the same amount? So why not get the newer version with MIDI and the beautiful semi-modular CV-inputs? After all, with the Voyager, you also get a storage bank, velocity, plenty of modulation routings and a touch pad as controller. You would think that with the release of the Voyager, the original Minimoog would decrease in value. But the market clearly proves that this is not the case. So how is it that an „old bicycle“ can still hold up to the new „Harley“? Well, you know, a Minimoog is a Minimoog …
How a classic is born
A classic doesn’t happen overnight or by chance, but instead is a combination of many factors that contribute to its success. The Minimoog has accomplished this cult status because of the result of many contributing elements.
First of all, you need a great product. As a portable synthesizer, the Minimoog was able to establish itself quickly in the early 70’s. Besides the well laid out signal flow, it was particularly the „simple“ design that still makes the Mini stand out today. Compare, for example, the Mini and the ARP Odyssey. In particular the early, white version of the ARP synthesizer. With the high side panels (very useful for the protection of the faders, no doubt) the ARP compared to the Minimoog looks more like a home appliance than a synthesizer.
The Minimoog is different. Embedded in a clear and functional wood case, the Minimoog is an example for the perfect form.
The simplicity of the Minimoog’s signal flow is very musician friendly. The individual sound modules are easy to understand unlike other analog synthesizer of that area. Oscillator – mixer – filter – envelope – amplifier, is as simple and straight forward as it could be! Anyone who gets lost on a Minimoog, should look for another hobby (landscaping for example … which happens to be also good for your health). What makes the Minimoog so special is the synthesis of a clearly, structured signal flow with simultaneously remarkable, flexible sound capabilities.
In the early 70’s it was quite a challenge for Moog Music to establish synthesizers in the market. Music shops were used to selling guitars, drums and pianos. They didn’t know what to make of a gizmo that was equipped with a keyboard, with terms like „oscillator bank“ and „filter“ printed on it. Only a few people were able to make sense of this. „I am supposed to sell THAT in my store?,“ could easily be one of many responses that the sales team could anticipate hearing. That this change came about or occurred is due to the talents of one enthusiastic employee at Moog, who happened to be also a marketing expert. David Van Koevering put in a lot of time and effort into travelling across America to explain this new instrument to the sales staff in the music stores. This put the wheels in motion resulting in sales increase. Musicians started to incorporate the Mini in their performances, and it became a signature sound in particular with the progressive rock music movement. Moog anticipated modest sales numbers of a few hundred units in the beginning, but over time the production increased tremendously. Until 1981, the production run reached 13,000 Minis.
Setup – Controllers
Let’s begin on the left side and work our selves gradually to the right to get a thorough understanding of the layout of this synthesizer. The controller section includes all the basic settings. TUNE allows you to change the overall tune of the Mini. GLIDE can be set in its speed and the MODULATION MIX determines the ratio between VCO3 and Noise as a source for the modulation.
Three VCOs with six waveforms each are available in the oscillator bank. The scaling of LO to 2′ ranges six octaves which should be sufficient for most uses. VCO 2 and 3 can be detuned in relation to VCO 1 in order to create a thick and fat bass sound. Additionally, the VCO3 can be used as (high range) LFO with all its waveforms. This makes it superior to all the standard LFOs, used in most of the monophonic analog synths (for example the ones made/used by the company Roland).
In addition to the three sound sources VCO 1, 2 and 3, the mixer section includes NOISE (switchable between pink or white noise) or EXTERNAL. This external audio input is often used to create a slightly distorted, aggressive sound by feeding it the output signal.
The legendary 24 dB Low pass filter of the Minimoog is basically pretty simple.
Cutoff Frequency, Emphasis (= Resonance) and Amount of Contour can be set. The red switches on the left are responsible for the global filter modulation and the keyboard tracking. The global filter modulation can – just like in the oscillator section – use the source VCO 3 and Noise. From a musical standpoint, modulating the filter with an audio oscillator will create a very pleasant sound. In addition, the Keyboard Control can be deactivated (both can switch to OFF) or with a slight effect (1 = ON), more effect (1= OFF and 2 = ON) or maximum effect (both are set to ON). Simple, yet effective.
One more word regarding the filter: the user manual specifically specifies it as a sixth signal source. We recollect: VCO 1, 2, 3, External, Noise. Number six is the filter itself, which produces a sine wave through its resonance, mixable with the other sound sources. Musically this might not be so great, but six sound sources sounds impressive!
The envelopes of the Minimoog are extremely fast and have a very short attack time. Because of this they are often used as a reference in other synthesizer reviews. Their configuration with just ADS (Attack, Decay, Sustain) are a little spartan, but that apparently was not a major issue to most. Filter and amplifier each have their own ADS. The ADS-ADS solution of Moog seems to make more sense than the one by ARP, where they used an ADSR-AR combination (in the ARP-2600 and Odyssey).
At the end of the day, the ARP offered with the AR envelope so little sound potential that most preferred to use only the ADSR envelope. In that respect, the Minimoog provided with its „simpler what version? What are you trying to say here, michael“ envelopes a better, more practical solution.
In the last section on the right side, we finally find the volume knob for the main out and head phones, as well as the A-440 Hz test tone. The electronic „tuning fork“ would have also suited many instruments by ARP (particularly since they lacked the ability to switch octaves). It is not by accident that the electronic tuning tone is also included with the Prophet-5 which Dave Smith developed with the Minimoog in mind.
The controllers on the Minimoog are fairly standard. Many other companies used pitch and modulation wheel in their keyboards. Other controllers – e.g. the levers of Oberheim or the joystick by Korg – simply didn’t get wide adoption. A freely, assignable third wheel (e.g. to control the attack time or the filter frequency) would have been a fantastic feature, but I guess, you can’t have everything.
The main controller obviously is the keyboard with a great playability! Nothing rattles (at least not much). The keyboard is slightly balanced and feels pretty decent. It is a mystery to me how Roland, after years of the release of the Minimoog, dared to release the SH-series with its terrible keyboard. Or why the Oberheim keyboard in the 70’s, felt like a „battleground of humans vs. keyboard“. The Minimoog keyboard is overall reliable and pleasant – another important factor that contributed to the Minimoog’s success story.
The parameters decay and glide can be turned on and off globally or externally with a foot switch. Additional controllers were available as accessories: for example the Moog 960 Sequencer or the legendary Ribbon Controller as well as an X/Y-Joystick and the Moog Drum.
The inputs for the aforementioned accessories are at the back. Here you can also find two of the accessory inputs adjacent to the voltage selector.
You won’t get far without any audio-outs. Those are in the back as a LOW and a HIGH version. There is also an input for an external signal which can be used to feed the Minimoog its own signal.
In this picture, you can also see a MIDI Input and a Gate/CV output. Via the Gate/CV output, you are able to control another analog and monophonic synthesizer that doesn’t have MIDI. The MIDI interface also gives away, that this particular Minimoog is a Lintronics Model, which we will cover later in this story.
You find the CV-inputs for VCA, VCF and VCO at the end of the input/output section. And finally also the S-TRIG input which has been the source for plenty of debates. The S-TRIG philosophy of Moog turned out to be suboptimal, at least from the perspective of a musician. While other manufacturer use standard TS connectors for their synthesizers (and a regular trigger signal), the Minimoog has its own unique solution. That means that very often, special cables or settings are needed, something most people could live without. It also means that you can’t sync and control the Minimoog with synthesizers of other companies.
It still sounds great …
The Minimoog is known for its bass sound, its incredibly fat oscillators, its mean filters etc … it is simply what makes the Moog sound so great! The comparison of various different synthesizer from around the globe with the Minimoog got on the nerves of many. In the 90’s, around the time of the Waldorf Pulse, many musicians turned green and yellow because of all the Minimoog comparison tests (something that was pushed by marketing managers).
But let’s get back to the sound of the Minimoog. Bass sounds are clearly the natural strength of this instrument. The voluminous sound is really impressive, especially if you detune the VCOs. Early generation of the Minimoog often used oscillators that were less stable with their tuning. Some claim that those have even more „body“ or a more „analog“ and „warm“ character. It seems like the drifting VCOs are more suited for the bass sounds. Later models were better and more stable in respect to their VCOs and were preferred by musicians for creating lead sounds. Since the oscillators in those models drift less, many users recommended detuning them intentionally. It is questionable if the result is comparable to the early Minimoogs, but that is beside the point. The same way no two Korg MS-20 sound like the other and no Sequential Pro-One is identical, every Minimoog is slightly different and unique
For all people who were only aware of the improvement of the VCO-board as the main change within the Minimoog production run, here is a very interesting website that has detailed information on the variations (http://monsite.wanadoo.fr/MiniMoog). You can get a lot of details regarding the changes that were made in the Minimoog SN history section. Over time, the filters changed as well as every other component of the Minimoog.
But let’s turn our attention back to the sound. The bass sounds are without a doubt the big strength of the Moog, as well as lead sounds. However, the Minimoog can also produce surprisingly warm and smooth pad sounds. Specifically the special waveforms of the VCOs (those blends between triangle and sawtooth) can create a sound spectrum that you hardly find with other Moog models. Because of the existing modulation routings and the additional CV-inputs on the back, the Minimoog is also capable of some experimental sounds that you would not expect. Without oscillator sync, the Minimoog doesn’t provide any sync-sounds. That’s where the smaller Prodigy has a leading edge.
The synthesis of a warm base sound, fast and lively envelopes and an overall good sounding filter is what separates the Minimoog from other synthesizers. Probably the key to the success of the Minimoog is the combination of the simple user interface with its intuitive, spontaneous sound modification that can be modified with the „flow of the music“.
Lintronics and EMC
It is worth mentioning that Rudi Linhard is specializing in Minimoogs and Memorymoogs. His Lintronics Upgrades (http://www.lintronics.de/) have a great reputation and turn the Mini- and Memorymoog into even more powerful synthesizers. Stefan Hund from EMC (www.emc-de.com) in collaboration with Rudi Linhard offers totally revamped Minimoogs, like the one that is shown in this review.
When they revamp a Minimoog, the electronics are improved, the fixed power supply cable is replaced with a power plug, the casing is restored, Lintronics MIDI is built in, and old switches & knobs are exchanged etc. In short, it is a completely refurbished and upgraded package and the instruments are even shipped with a custom-made case. (According to one of our readers who used their services in April 2015, the Lintronic MIDI is no longer part of the package. But it is still worth mentioning here since there will be plenty of Lintronics-Moog versions available on the secondhand market).
In celebration of its anniversary, the MOOG company has released a limited edition of the Minimoog Voyager. The limited Minimoog Voyager Gold is covered with 24 carat gold and was built only 31 times in total. One of these units is available through THOMANN and is on display in Treppendorf (Germany).