With the real thing becoming ever more scarce and expensive, samples are an affordable way to the Moog synth sound. SampleMoog offers exactly this, providing extensive samples of 16 of Dr. Bob's finest.
The soft-synth market is awash with virtual versions of classic analogue synthesizers, with several Moog emulations to be found amongst them. Whilst many people agree that such emulations do the job pretty well, they nevertheless find themselves the target of often quite virulent criticism in purist circles. In the face of such stern opinion, IK Multimedia (in co-operation with Moog Music and Sonic Reality) introduce further fuel to the fire in the form of SampleMoog, a virtual instrument supplied with a 4GB sample library representing 16 different models of Moog synthesizer dating from 1970 to 2006. The hardware incarnations of this hefty collection of instruments could easily fill an entire room, so it's just as well that ones and zeros have no mass and take up no space! While the idea of 'ROMpler' instruments offering sampled Moogs is not new, such sounds tend to form just a small part of larger synth anthologies, putting SampleMoog in a currently unique position as the only dedicated Moog 'ROMpler'. Since I currently use a variety of virtual analogue synths, including Arturia's Moog Modular V, and having owned two Minimoogs, a Memorymoog and a Moog Source, and had frequent use of Taurus MkI bass pedals, I was keen to compare my experiences with these to SampleMoog, and to discover whether samples of Robert Moog's venerable synths could convey the character of the original instruments.
SampleMoog is contained within a specially designed custom player based on IK Multimedia's SampleTank 2 engine. This is comparatively well-endowed for a playback host, offering numerous editing parameters for envelopes, filters, a synth engine and LFOs, and boasting a wide range of effects. For an instrument like SampleMoog to have any mileage beyond that of a preset synth, such facilities are essential, especially for the more creative user.
SampleMoog employs a single-window graphical interface, from which all its features are accessible. This 256-voice polyphonic player is generally very intuitive to use; anyone with a modicum of experience with synthesizers should find there are few occasions when they have to refer to the manual. The 16-Part multitimbral structure will be a familiar concept to most — just highlight a Part, browse for a preset, double-click to load into the selected Part, and off you go — easy. Each Part can also be muted or soloed, with additional per-Part settings for volume, pan, maximum polyphony and output. SampleMoog provides 16 stereo outputs, allowing any Part to be processed using your DAW's plug-ins, if desired. Multi-Part setups are known as Combis, and any you create can be saved for later recall. Multiple Parts can, of course, be layered using a single MIDI channel, producing complex composite textures; a variety of preset Combis demonstrate such layered and key-split setups.
Sound selection and organisation take place in the upper, dark-red area of the interface. This red area is itself divided into two sections. The left half is the 16-Part Mixer into which presets are loaded, and from where Combis are loaded and saved. The right half serves as the preset browser, with options to save, rename and delete presets, set preferences and search for presets by keyword. Here, the various Moog instruments are categorised by name, appearing in bold type; clicking the solid red triangle next to an instrument name reveals a menu containing its 'parent' preset sounds. Many of these presets also have outlined triangles; click on these triangles and a further submenu shows 'child' variations based on the parent sound. While we're on the subject of the Mixer/Browser pane, the extremely small font used in the Mixer/Combi area and the dark, low-contrast red colour scheme make for rather difficult viewing. A much higher-contrast display would reduce eye strain considerably.
Samplemoog is supplied in VST, RTAS, Audio Units and stand-alone versions. Once installed, the program must be registered and an authorisation key obtained. This can be done on-line from the Product Authorisation Wizard, or through IK Multimedia's web site, using any computer with Internet access.
- Power PC Macs: 866MHz G4, 512MB RAM, OS 10.4 or later.
- Intel Macs: 1.5GHz Intel Core Solo, 512MB RAM, OS 10.4.4 or later.
- Windows: 1GHz Pentium/1.33GHz Athlon XP, 512MB RAM, Windows XP or Vista.
Loading and playing the presets may be enough to float your boat, but SampleMoog provides plenty of tools for further customising and sculpting those sounds. These come in the form of four groups of knobs that operate on a per-Part basis: the main upper group deals with synth parameters, the main lower group with effects parameters. The upper-right corner controls keyboard behaviour, while the lower-right corner adjusts Part pan and volume. Examining the synth parameters more closely, we find nine white switches on the right, each presenting a different 'page' of knobs. The number of knobs on a page varies (inactive ones are greyed out) depending on the type of parameter, and is sometimes dependent on the actual preset selected. The main functions of each page are as follows:
- Range: sets key and velocity range for each Part — particularly relevant for Combis featuring key splits and velocity-switched layers. Parts are also transposable over a plus or minus 60-semitone range.
* Macro: available parameters are dependent on the preset selected, usually providing quick access to filter cutoff, resonance and filter key tracking.
* Synth: SampleMoog can use one of two synth-engine types, Resample and Stretch. Resample behaves like a normal sampler, which is to say that sample playback speed changes with pitch. Stretch, on the other hand, uses a time-stretching algorithm that allows independent control of a sample's pitch, speed and timbre, and is worthy of more detailed examination. Three additional parameters are provided in Stretch mode. The first is Tempo, which alters playback speed from one tenth to 10 times the sample's original speed, without altering pitch. This is useful for extending or shortening the original sampled amplifier or filter envelope of a preset, or for changing the speed of any inherent motion within the samples. The second parameter is Harmonic Preservation, which controls how much the formant frequency tracks the fundamental pitch of each multisample's keygroup. Finally, we have Harmonics, which adjusts formant frequency, providing often dramatic timbral variations. Of these parameters, Harmonic Preservation has perhaps the least noticeable effect in SampleMoog, due to the relatively small key ranges of many of the presets' multisamples. If this were applied, say, to a sampled vocal phrase with a two-octave key range, its effect would be quite apparent.
Two stretch algorithms are provided — Note and Phrase — each optimised for single notes or tempo-dependent sounds. The benefits of the Phrase algorithm would undoubtedly be most obvious in a phrase-based virtual instrument, although here it can usefully be applied to presets comprising a smaller number of 'rhythmic' multisamples spanning large keygroups. While the sound quality of the Stretch engine remains impressively clean in general, it can on occasion adversely affect the quality and tone of some higher-pitched samples. Things can also deteriorate at speeds below 25 percent, although this does depend on the samples being stretched — some can take it, others can't. This can lead to interesting effects, so it's worth experimenting.
* Filter: this page offers a choice of low-pass, band-pass and high-pass filter types, in 6dB-, 12dB- and 24dB-per-octave flavours, plus master cutoff and resonance settings. At high resonance settings, this filter does not self-oscillate.
- Env 1: the amplifier envelope, with AHDSR controls and pre-effect output level.
- Env 2: the AHDSR filter and/or pitch envelope, with individual positive and negative control over filter and pitch.
- LFO 1: offers five waveforms with rate, depth and delay time, and can be sync'ed to the host DAW's tempo. A 'free-running' option selects whether the wavecycle will reset with each key press or not — although I found the LFO to be always free-running regardless of this switch's position. Three destinations are available, namely level, pitch and filter. LFO 1 is also assigned by default to MIDI Continuous Controller (CC) 1 (modulation wheel) but cannot be disassociated from it, so if you'd like to use the mod wheel to only control other parameters, such as filter cutoff, you must set LFO 1's master depth parameter to zero and forgo this LFO altogether.
* LFO 2: similar to LFO 1 but with four destinations: level, pitch, filter and pan. This can also be sync'ed to the host DAW's tempo and is not affected by the modulation wheel.
* Vel: controls MIDI velocity response to amplitude, filter, pitch, resonance, LFO 1 depth and Envelope 2, although this last parameter seemed stubbornly unresponsive under any circumstances.
- Modular Moogs 3C, 55 and 15
- Taurus 1
- Concertmate MG1
- Etherwave Theremin
- Minimoog Voyager
- Little Phatty
The synth-editing parameters all act upon a preset as a whole, as expected. However, SampleMoog has a handy trick up its sleeve. Click on the Zone button at bottom right and the virtual keyboard display is transformed into a vision of pink, showing the multisample grouping of whichever Part currently has focus. Play a note, and the active (sounding) sample group is highlighted in grey. Any synth parameter you subsequently edit will only apply to that sample group. This may appear more relevant to something like a multisampled drum kit, where you might want to apply specific edits to individual drums, but it does have its uses in SampleMoog. Say you were playing a pad sound with a very slow attack and release, but wished the bass end of the sound had a dryer, faster envelope. Using Zone Edit, you can adjust the envelopes of only the lower notes, while the upper range retains its dreamy character. Similarly, you could adjust the filter of the upper ranges to be darker, or apply pitch-bend only to selected groups of notes.
Lastly on the synthesis menu is the section governing keyboard behaviour. Each SampleMoog Part can be monophonic or polyphonic (up to the maximum set in the Mixer pane). There are three monophonic modes: Mono, which simulates multiple triggering by restarting the cycles of Env 1 and Env 2 (as well as sample playback) for every key press; Legato 1; and Legato 2. Both Legato modes simulate single triggering, so Env 1 and 2 do not retrigger if you are playing legato. Additionally, so that samples containing an inherent envelope or movement will play smoothly in Legato mode, a lag-time generator modulates the samples' start points, ensuring that each new legato note 'picks up' at a point in its timeline relative to the initial trigger note. The difference between the two Legato modes is in how Portamento (or glide) works. Portamento time for Legato 1 is absolute — the set glide speed is constant regardless of the distance between notes. Legato 2's portamento time is relative to the distance between notes, so the further apart they are, the longer the glide time. Portamento only engages with legato playing, so all non-legato notes start on pitch, unlike a real Minimoog. Another 'real-world' analogue synth behaviour that SampleMoog cannot recreate is the way in which détaché notes played with a long release envelope recommence their envelope cycle from the falling 'voltage' of the previous note — SampleMoog always restarts the envelope cycle (and sample playback) from zero in this case. Finally, SampleMoog operates on a last-note priority basis, which requires care to avoid unintentionally held notes triggering by accident, but on the plus side it makes performing trills very easy!
SampleMoog's Effects section is particularly versatile, being truly multitimbral. Up to four simultaneous effects can be applied in series to each Part, making a potential total of 64 effects running at once if all 16 Parts were occupied — although your computer's processor may not thank you for it! There are 32 different effects (see 'In Full Effect' box), ranging from staples such as reverb, delay and chorus to more esoteric examples such as crusher, phonograph and slicer. The range of effects is broad and well-chosen; in many cases effects become extensions of the synthesis palette, with the ability to add colour, thickness and ambience, as well as warping the original presets beyond recognition. I particularly like the meaty flangers, and the FM modulator makes a very passable substitute for a ring modulator. All effect parameters, including their on/off status, can be controlled by MIDI, allowing the effects to become an integral part of a SampleMoog performance. All tempo-based effects can also have their speed sync'ed to the host DAW's tempo. Although four effects per Part are available, the upper slot is always occupied by a combined EQ and compressor — which can be disabled but not replaced by a different effect.
Clearly, having the use of 16 classic Moog synthesizers (albeit somewhat vicariously) is the core attraction of SampleMoog. Of course, expecting the presets to cover the entire scope of these synths would be unreasonable, since some of the original instruments provided virtually limitless sonic possibilities — the Modular Moogs, for example. Others operated within a much more limited framework and are consequently represented by fewer presets.
A broad look at what the library has to offer reveals a sizeable collection of basses, leads, pads and polysynth textures, with a sprinkling of noises and effects here and there. For 'classic' Moog-style monophonic leads and basses in particular, SampleMoog delivers generously. Also well provided for are the squelchy basses, nasal leads and electro sounds favoured by the dance market. However, there is little in the way of imitative sounds (at which some Moogs excel), the accent being predominantly on the synthetic. Inevitably, certain sounds come to mind that are not to be found amongst the presets. In these cases you can try manipulating 'near-miss' presets using SampleMoog's synth parameters to get closer to the ideal sound, but this may not be possible without creating the sounds from scratch. To that end, some instrument categories, such as the Minimoog and Modular Moog, offer raw waveforms in addition to the complete, 'pre-sculpted' sounds. I couldn't help feeling that the Vocoder utterances were included purely for novelty value, but I'm sure they'll find their place in something like Terminator 12: Da Robot Massive before too long! The Etherwave Theremin is also an anomaly, in that its character is wholly dependent upon the playing medium — namely, waving your hands in front of two antennae — rather than playing the waveforms from a keyboard.
Whether the presets fulfil your needs and expectations is very much a personal issue. The sound designers who set out to program the original instruments for this project doubtlessly had their own set of paradigms, and I frequently found they did not conform to my own! A good example of this was the Memorymoog collection. I had developed a considerable library of sounds on my old Memorymoog that made use of what I felt to be the instrument's strengths, and which conformed to my idea of how a Memorymoog should sound. I found few presets that followed a similar line of thinking. One or two sounds were halfway into the right ballpark, yet the character of the underlying 'snapshots' remained immutable, despite extensive editing, and I couldn't get exactly what I wanted. I also had a problem with the (presumably intentional) tuning vagaries of some presets. Although Memorymoogs' notorious oscillator drift was part of their character, the tuning could be brought more or less back into line on a well-maintained machine by hitting the 'Autotune' button, Nevertheless some preset samples have just a bit too much 'character', seemingly having been made without executing Autotune.
All of SampleMoog's continuous parameters can be assigned to standard MIDI controllers, with the option to set each one's minimum and maximum operational ranges. The assignment method is perhaps not as immediate as the 'click-and-move' MIDI Learn system used by many other plug-ins, but it does have some good points. With SampleMoog, you first click the MIDI Ctl button at top left, then the control you wish to assign. A window appears, showing the list of currently assigned controllers, plus the new one in question. The required MIDI controller number must then be selected from a scrollable list — simple enough, unless you are using a hardware synth as your MIDI control surface, and are not sure of which controller types are output by its knobs and sliders. Nevertheless, having a clear list of current assignments is very helpful, and could be considered a fair trade for a little light controller-identifying detective work. Additionally, the minimum and maximum operating range of each controller can be set, a feature not always provided by other plug-ins' MIDI assignments. On a related note, I heard an audible 'stepping' when slowly sweeping certain parameters, especially filter cutoff. Hopefully, future versions of the SampleTank engine will include some sort of parameter smoothing similar to that found in NI's Kontakt.
Using SampleMoog as a 16-Part multitimbral preset sound module is straightforward enough. However, using it as a multi-layered composite synth reveals some frustrating aspects of the host player. Say, for example, that you want to recreate a three-oscillator Minimoog sound from scratch by layering a sawtooth wave on Part 1, a square wave on Part 2 and a pulse wave on Part 3. This requires each Part to have duplicate settings for filter, envelopes and so on, but annoyingly you have to visit each Part in turn, duplicating the settings manually. The problem is that SampleMoog offers no means of globally editing all three Parts, or even of copying parameters from one Part to another. I thought of assigning MIDI controllers to frequently-used parameters such as filter cutoff and envelope release time, to affect all Parts simultaneously. This worked in principle, but unfortunately SampleMoog tended to get its knickers in a twist, leaving notes trailing and Parts refusing to respond to the MIDI controllers after a short while. Having carefully balanced the relative levels of each 'oscillator', it then became apparent to me that SampleMoog has no Master Volume control, so adjusting the overall level meant having to disrupt each of those carefully balanced levels. Control over Master Volume is crucial, both when layering sounds and in multitimbral use, especially when using a single stereo output for all Parts.
Also inconvenient is the way in which synth parameters and effects settings are not retainable when loading a new preset into a Part. Sometimes you want to replace the basic sample but keep the same effect settings, or the same envelope or filter settings. As it is, each time a preset is loaded you have to reset those parameters. It would be nice to see SampleMoog using the Stylus RMX method of allowing you to choose whether to retain synth and effect parameters or have them replaced by those of the incoming preset.
Any edited preset can be saved as a new child preset within the parent folder from which it came. However, keeping track of personal creations is problematic, since they become swallowed up in the vast array of factory presets. Remembering what you've called all your presets is hard enough, so identifying them needs to be made easier. SampleMoog does include a search facility, but this curiously failed to work on the review copy. It would be good to see future updates including a User category for your own presets, as well as a Favourites category for the most frequently visited factory sounds.
SampleMoog undeniably has value as an extensive library of sampled sounds originating from classic Moogs. For many people, the authentic Moog 'signature' of the source sounds, together with the stamp of approval provided by Moog Music, will form a major part of its attraction. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with this concept, and if the library of samples fulfils your expectations and inspires you to be creative, it can be considered as completely successful in its aims. Nevertheless, the very nature of SampleMoog lends it the potential to thrill and frustrate in equal measure. Should the sampled representations not match your own sonic ideals, and if they resist attempts to manipulate them into submission, one of the alternatives may be more appropriate to your needs. As discussed earlier, designing sounds from scratch in SampleMoog has its frustrations: would those sounds, entirely dependent on SampleMoog's own filters and synth parameters, ultimately retain the character of a real Moog, and is this important to you? It could also be argued that it would take less time to create custom sounds, and still produce 'believable' results using a good physically modelled emulation — at the expense of a little extra CPU power. SampleMoog is sure to garner both ardent praise and stern criticism. The upshot is, quite simply, 'try before you buy'.
There are, it has to be said, a great many ways to get Moog sounds out of your computer. Below is a list of just some of the means available to you.
Virtual Analogue Plug-ins
- Gforce Minimonsta: Melohman.
- Arturia Minimoog V.
- Arturia Moog Modular V.
- Taurus Beta 4 plug-in (Taurus Mk 1 bass pedal emulation — donationware, highly recommended) http://antti.smartelectronix.com/.
- Minimogue VA and Minimogue LUXUS (freeware) www.home.no/gunnare/.
- Craig Anderton's Minimoog Tribute expansion pack (for Cakewalk's Rapture VST plug-in).
- Ultimate Sound Bank UVI Synth Anthology 'Soundcard' (Moog sounds form part of a larger collection).
- Zero-G Nostalgia virtual instrument (Moog sounds form part of a larger collection).
SampleMoog comes with a generous collection of built-in effects. They are:
- Auto Pan
- Reverb Delay
- Rotary Speaker
- Spring Reverb
- Envelope Filter
- Multi Filter
- Tone Control
- Multi Chorus
- Parametric EQ
- AM Modulation
- Channel Strip
- FM Modulation
- Envelope Flanger