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Moog Music UK Minimoog

Analogue Monosynth (Preview) By Steve Howell
Published July 1998

Moog Music UK Minimoog

It's true; the Minimoog is back! Manufactured in Cardiff by a new company, they're designed to resemble the original as closely as possible. Long‑standing Mini owner Steve Howell attended the UK launch.

If there is one synthesizer that will go down in the annals of history, it will almost certainly be the Minimoog; to say that it was an influential design is something of an understatement.

Conceived in the early '70s by the father of synths, Robert Moog, the idea was to produce a portable synth that could be played live without the patch cords required by the unfeasibly large (and expensive!) modular systems he was manufacturing at the time.

The Mini's simple and straightforward synthesis architecture of oscillators, filter, amplifier and envelope generators became something of a standard, and was employed in a vast number of successful synths, both analogue and digital. Even today's samplers owe something of their basic voice architecture to this simple design.

Interesting, then, that many years after production of the original Minimoogs ceased, they are now making a return. What's more interesting is that the new Mini comes not from America or Japan, but a far more unlikely source — Cardiff in Wales!

How Do You Get To A Mini In Wales?

I attended the recent launch of the new Minimoog, and what I learned was most interesting. It would seem that the recently formed Moog Music UK have acquired the rights to use the Moog name and logo, and have many ambitious plans to revitalise the now legendary Moog product range. For the moment, however, the company's attention is focused on their replica Mini (and when I say replica, I mean it; even the walnut case, hinged panel, classy knobbage and colour‑coded switches of the original have been faithfully reproduced!). One thing that particularly endeared me to the new company is that they have been quietly working on this product for some 18 months, but are only launching it now, when they have a working synth to show the world. This is not some piece of vapourware scheduled for release at an unspecified time (as has been the case with other supposed Moog re‑issues you may have read about in the past) — the new Minimoog should be available by about the time you read this.

Better By Design?

The new Minimoog does not employ DSP modelling to recreate the original Moog sound, but instead uses analogue circuitry throughout — although it is of course '90s analogue technology, and therefore more reliable and stable than that used in Bob Moog's original design. Nevertheless, although the new Mini has been technically improved, the designers have deliberately (and wisely!) striven to retain many of the little sonic imperfections that made the original Minimoog sound so great.

Apart from a few additions, the new Mini has exactly the same spec as the original synth, sporting three oscillators offering various waveforms: triangle, triangle/sawtooth mix, sawtooth, square and two widths of pulse. The latter two waveforms depart from the original Minimoog spec by having switchable pulse width modulation on Oscillators 1 and 2. Each oscillator is capable of producing tones from sub‑sonic to 2' (just as on the original Mini) and Oscillators 2 and 3 have a tune control variable over +/‑7 semitones. Oscillator 3's keyboard control can also be switched off for when Oscillator 3 is being used for vibrato or filter sweep duties.

All three oscillators can be mixed with a switchable white/pink noise source and any audio source you care to feed into the classic Moog 24dB/octave low‑pass filter via its external audio input. Once again following the original design, the filter has two keyboard track switches and a modulation switch, and is controlled by a simple ADS (with switchable R) 'contour' generator. The output of the filter passes to a voltage‑controlled amplifier which may be shaped by its own ADS(R) envelope generator.

Of course, not everything remains unaltered; MIDI In, Out and Thru sockets are provided. The keyboard mechanism is also improved; the keyboard is digitally scanned, unlike the somewhat unreliable switched type on the original. Furthermore, the keyboard can be switched for single or multiple triggering.

Cutting To The Chase

This is all very well, of course, but design isn't everything. You're probably dying to know how it sounded; as an original Minimoog owner myself, I certainly was. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to have a play with one of the pre‑production models at the launch, and rapidly set to making fat, pokey basses, biting Jan Hammer lead lines and much more. To my ears, it sounded pretty damned convincing. Thick and classy analogue noises just fell out of the Mini's latest incarnation fairly effortlessly — just like on my original, in fact! I was pretty impressed, although I will reserve final judgement until I am able to do a direct A/B comparison with my own trusty old box.

Many people like the idea of owning a Minimoog, but finding an original is tricky, let alone finding one that is in good condition, is reliable and stable, and is MIDI‑retrofitted. The new Minimoog is all of these out of the box — in fact, one of the oddest feelings I had trying out the new one was playing a pristine Minimoog where all the knobs, switches and keys were intact, and there wasn't a scratch to be seen anywhere on the perfect casework! It even carries a year's guarantee, which you wouldn't get on a second‑hand find in the SOS Free Ads.

So, the initial impressions are good, but a more detailed examination of the new Mini is definitely in order. Watch out for a full review in SOS in the very near future!