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Page 3: Moog One

Polyphonic Synthesizer By Gordon Reid
Published August 2019

A Work In Progress...

Unusually for a hybrid polysynth, the One takes a full minute to start up but, once it has done so, programming is great fun, and shortcuts such as those to create an Init Preset, fine-tune values, and edit more than one Synth simultaneously help to make it both quick and productive. Sure, I occasionally got myself into a bit of a pickle but, once I had worked out what was happening, it was almost always because I had overlooked something. Nonetheless, there were a handful of times when problems proved to be the One's fault. For example, there's a factory Preset in which — for reasons that escape me — the Master Effects make a ghastly noise, the Hold function sometimes fails to release when you ask it to, and the operating system got stroppy and threw a handful of wobbles at me during the course of the review. Of course, one would hope that the One would be faultless in every respect but, at this stage in its development, that's unrealistic. Analogue synths have quirks, digital synths have bugs, and digitally controlled analogue synths have both bugs and quirks. The latest OS (v1.0.6) has eliminated some of these, but there are still some issues that need highlighting.

My biggest reservation concerns the One's heat generation and cooling fans. These would be no problem on stage, but I sometimes found the fans to be distracting in the studio, especially as they change speed when the One determines that it needs more or less cooling. A 'low fan' mode has now been introduced and this provides some relief, but the One overrides this if it thinks that it's getting too warm. In fairness, the 16‑voice version chucks out so much heat that the One would have to be significantly larger for convection cooling to be sufficient to keep it stable, and Moog's engineers told me that they spent months balancing the conflicting demands of cooling efficiency, quietness, and reliability. (A 76-note model would help considerably in this regard... he very blatantly hinted.) But despite their efforts, the result can still be too noisy. Then again, maybe I'm being too fussy; a Marshall head and a pair of 4x12s can be far noisier, even without a guitarist plugged into them. The other consequence of this heating and cooling is that the One occasionally emits a noise as various case components expand and contract. It's not a problem, but can be a bit disconcerting until you realise what's happening.

Next, there's no way to invoke a tuning function for the oscillators or to tune them manually. This isn't a problem when programming traditional polysynth sounds — indeed, small inconsistencies can often be pleasing — but when I programmed FM sounds, the tuning wasn't nearly accurate enough to allow me to play them conventionally. This is a shame because the One can generate a huge range of initial FM timbres. In addition, the cutoff frequencies of the Ladder Filters can vary by as much as a semitone from one voice to the next, which makes it tricky to use them as sources and impossible to play sounds based upon tuned noise. Again, I spoke to Moog's engineers about this. They told me that they're planning to release a calibration routine that will include a piano-tuning mode for fine-tuning all 48 oscillators, plus a new filter calibration algorithm that will improve the accuracy of each filter across its range, and between voices.

A rarer problem concerned the review unit's polyphony, which occasionally dropped to just five voices. This was clearly a bug, and power cycling the One would always correct it. When I reported this I was told that the issue had already been identified and corrected. To their surprise, I told the engineers that the review unit still exhibited the bug after upgrading to v1.0.6 so they undertook to look into it right away.

My final comment here concerns the effects of voice stealing, which occurs when you demand more voices than the One can generate. It isn't surprising that problems can arise because dynamic voice allocation within a multi-timbral analogue polysynth is far from trivial. Consider this... When a mono-timbral polysynth steals a voice, an existing note is curtailed and its voice is then free to play the same sound at a different pitch. On the One, an existing note has to be selected and terminated according to the chosen voice stealing mode, and the OS then has to determine which Synth needs that voice. It then has to download to the freed voice the hundreds of parameters that constitute the required Timbre and all of the voltage–controlled wotsits have to settle at their correct levels, and only then is the Synth is in a position to play the note... and all of this has to happen in the handful of milliseconds before you notice a lag. It's a monstrous job and, while the review unit is much better in this regard than the production prototypes, snapping shut and reopening dozens of VCAs in a few milliseconds is always going to be risky. Consequently, it's possible to generate pops if you ask too much of the One. The alternative is to turn voice stealing off. You won't hear any new notes if you play too many simultaneously, but you won't generate any artifacts either.

The Sound

But then there's the sound. There's something a bit special about 48 not-quite-perfectly tuned analogue oscillators passing through a trio of not-quite-perfectly calibrated analogue filters, not to mention the numerous VCAs with all of their gains and euphonic distortions. But be careful... to get the best from the One you need to respect the levels throughout the signal path, set the VCA and Master gains to sensible values (less than one o'clock lest you generate additional noise) and use TRS cables to connect to balanced inputs on your mixer or workstation. In short, turning it up to 11 is not the best way to proceed.

With that in mind, I programmed solo brass sounds of huge power and character, fanfares, electric pianos of surprising realism as well as the massive unison lead and bass sounds that just flow out of the One. Then, as my understanding deepened, I obtained some gorgeous choral sounds and pads. Next, I started to layer some of my Timbres, and the results could be superb. The same remained true when I started to experiment with multi-timbral rhythmic concoctions that synchronised the arpeggiators, the LFOs, the effects and even the sequencers, and it was immediately apparent that the One is going to be a mighty instrument for all forms of electronic music. What's more, with 20 modulation slots in each Synth's modulation matrix and 20 modulation lanes in each Synth's sequencer, there's the possibility of 120 programmable modulation paths (in addition to the fixed paths) in every Preset. If your forté is sound design or avant-garde experimentation, the One won't disappoint. Sure, you'll have to delve beneath its surface get the best from it but, when you do so, it will reward you. What's more, it doesn't suffer from the Memorymoog's shortcoming of trying to dominate every mix. It will do so if you ask it to, but you can also create simpler sounds, gentle pads and aetherial floaty stuff that sit beautifully alongside other instruments.

If there's a caveat, it concerns the effects. Sometimes they work very well. For example, when I polished the vocal sounds that I had programmed using the spaced SVF elements, I applied maximum spread to the direct signal and then created and added a chorused and reverberated signal that filled the stereo field. The results were lovely, with individual voices being placed at discrete positions while the effect provided a spacious ambience, much as you would hear in a hall or cathedral. But on other occasions I was rather disappointed with some of the algorithms. I spent considerable time trying to obtain a lush ensemble from the ensemble effect before concluding that I couldn't, and trying to get the vocoder to vocode cleanly using a dynamic microphone before, again, concluding that I couldn't. Furthermore, I would have found EQ, vibrato, and rotary speaker effects useful, and none of these are provided as yet. There's also a major issue that needs addressing. If you change Preset while holding existing notes or if the sound has a long release, you can obtain loud glitching caused by the unloading and re–initialising of the effects. Again, the chaps at Moog assure me that this is being addressed and that they are already working on enhanced algorithms and new effects types, so I expect improvements in all of these areas.

Final Thoughts

Moog have thrown everything at the One, which is large, heavy, pricey and can sound huge. It's still a work in progress, but Moog are bringing all guns to bear to complete the existing specification as well as address a wish-list as long as the product director's arm (and he's a tall bloke). Nevertheless, its current state of development shouldn't detract from the immense power and flexibility already on offer. Once it's finished it will be a monster and, when the history of synthesizers is written, it will command much more than a footnote.

But what of the price? There are several excellent analogue/digital hybrids now available for considerably less than the 8‑voice One let alone the 16‑voice version. But the more I used it, the less I worried about the cost and, when I checked the sums currently being asked for Memorymoog Pluses and Linntronics Memorymoogs (let alone Jupiter 8s and CS80s), the One started to look almost affordable. Sure, you might feel that a few hundred quid is about right for a synthesizer. If so, you're not the person for whom the One was developed. But however you feel about this, you should be glad that there are still companies that are willing to invest the vast amounts of time, effort and money to design and build magnificent/crazy/imperfect/wonderful instruments like this. It would be a sadder world if they didn't.

Horses For Courses

The Home screen shows the distribution of the three Synths that comprise a  Preset, here showing a  slightly offset layer of Synth 1 and Synth 2 with Synth 3 split below them.The Home screen shows the distribution of the three Synths that comprise a Preset, here showing a slightly offset layer of Synth 1 and Synth 2 with Synth 3 split below them.

The One employs non-standard nomenclature so we need to clarify this before going any further. In One-speak, what we would normally call a Part, a Program or perhaps a Layer is called a Synth, and there are three of these. The sound that you create on a given Synth would normally be called a Patch, but on the One it's a Timbre. Finally, the top level, which would usually be called a Performance, Combi or Multi, is a Preset.

Arpeggiator, Hold & Chord Functions

Moog One: Arpeggiator and Chord controls.Moog One: Arpeggiator and Chord controls.

Each Synth in the One offers an arpeggiator, a Hold function and a Chord memory that functions as you would expect both when you play the keyboard and when you arpeggiate sounds. You can have all three arpeggiators running simultaneously in a Preset, each with a different sound, each with a different pattern, each (if wanted) defined on a different part of the keyboard, and each synchronised at the same or different ratios of the Master Clock frequency. Clearly, you can create some huge polyrhythmic sounds if you're prepared to put the time into programming them.

Many of the arpeggiators' parameters are as you would expect: the number of octaves, the rate, the gate length, the pattern, and various forms of sync. Others are less so. For example, 'direction' doesn't do what you might expect but can contribute to some excellent patterns. Elsewhere, you can define how the arpeggio responds to new notes, whether a given note can be repeated or not in random mode, and how it plays the notes at the top and bottom of bi-directional patterns.

Currently, you can create glitches and pops when arpeggiating certain sounds. I sent an example of this to Moog and the engineers determined that the arpeggiator itself wasn't the culprit, but it was revealing an unexpected characteristic of the VCAs. They said that this is something that can be addressed in firmware, so I hope that all of my arpeggios will soon be pop-free.

Talking To The Outside World

The One's rear panel is replete with 26 inputs and outputs including the Main L‑R and Subsidiary L‑R outputs, all of which require quarter-inch TRS (balanced) cables for optimum results. Next to these you'll find four TRS quarter-inch audio signal inserts plus two external audio inputs with XLR/quarter-inch 'combi' (mic/line) and quarter-inch (line) sockets.

Moog One: rear panel connections.

Analogue control is provided by two quarter-inch CV inputs, a sustain/sostenuto pedal input and two expression pedal inputs that can be used as additional CV inputs. Signals presented to these can be directed to any or all of the three Synths simultaneously, with multiple destinations programmed in the modulation matrix, and you can determine the minimum and maximum voltages received in the range ±5V. (I would have preferred ±10V to maintain compatibility with a wider range of equipment.) The manual states that you can use an external gate to trigger a contour, but that's not implemented yet. However, you can use incoming CVs to step through Presets. In the other direction, you can create a ±5V CV at each of the four quarter-inch CV outputs. (Again, ±10V would have been preferable.) The manual says that there are eight sources for these but there are currently seven: the promised keyboard gate isn't in the source list. Note number is also missing so you can't use the One to play synths using CV+gate. Hopefully, Moog are working on this. You can store your CV assignments as part of a Preset.

The digital I/O comprises 5-pin MIDI in, thru and out, plus USB A for memory sticks and external controller keyboards, and USB B for connection to a computer (MIDI in/out and system data, but not audio). Although the manual implies otherwise, the One sends a full complement of MIDI CCs and I soon had it controlling external synths and soft synths. However, MIDI in appears to have a more limited implementation and seems only to work over the 5-pin DIN connections, so there's still work to be done here.

The final socket is CAT5 Ethernet, which is provided for "remote servicing and future expansion". There's a rumour that Moog are thinking about providing access to the One's API (Application Programming Interface) via Ethernet so that third parties can develop additional facilities for it.

Moog One rear panel connections.Moog One rear panel connections.

The One uses an external power supply. Normally I'm very critical of these but I'm going to be more tolerant of this one for two reasons. Firstly, the PSU has a very sturdy cable with a locking connector that makes it as robust as an IEC cable and even more resistant to accidental removal. Secondly, given the cooling issues within the One, it would not have been sensible to place the PSU inside the instrument itself.

In a novel twist, two quarter-inch stereo headphone outputs are provided on the front of the One.

The Sequencer

By far the largest section of the One's manual is dedicated to its three polyphonic step sequencers (one per Synth), which can each store note values and up to 20 parameter values on each of their 64 steps. You can program their tempos individually and, as you would expect, they can be synchronised to the Master Clock with their own sync ratios, so you can programme sequences of great complexity. You can save sequences individually (which allows you to import them into any Timbre) or you can save them as part of an existing Timbre so that you can recall the sound and sequence as a single entity.

The basis of every sequence is the Lane, which holds a single note on a given step. You can create and populate parallel Lanes individually, either by step entry or by playing, and you can record multiple Lanes by playing polyphonically. Three record modes are provided and, once recorded, notes can have a velocity, a gate length and a ratchet count of 2, 3 or 4 instances over the course of a step. You can also enter ties and rests.

Moog One: Sequencer display.Moog One: Sequencer display.

Recording modulation is achieved by tweaking a desired control while the sequencer is running. This will create a Lane containing the instantaneous value of that control on each step. Unfortunately, you don't hear the effect of the changes you make until the sequencer next loops around to those steps, which is a significant shortcoming, so it's just as well that you can edit the results in the Step Edit page or enter the data manually. The latter isn't a luxury; there are many parameters beneath the More buttons that don't have physical controls. When programming these Lanes you can add one of 24 controllers to modify the parameter values, so you can introduce changes using things such as the wheels, aftertouch, external CVs and more. All of this is also freely editable.

Upon playback, sequences can be directed to any combination of Synths, can be looped indefinitely or play through a single time, and you can use Note Trig to cause them to play only while notes are held on the keyboard. The last two facilities make it possible to use the sequencers to create sounds that evolve subtly or exhibit huge changes in nature as notes are held. Sequences can be transposed in real time, but there's no chaining function, so you can't build extended songs from them.

The outputs from the sequencers can appear at the MIDI output but, currently, they don't create signals at the analogue outputs so you can't play external CV+gate synths using them. With only four CV outputs, it would be tricky to know how to assign everything, but I suspect that there will be people keen to drive their modular synths and racks from the One's sequencers.

There are many additional editing and housekeeping functions available but, while there's no space to discuss them here, it should be clear that the sequencers can yield impressive results. I only encountered one problem when using them: for the reasons identified when testing the arpeggiator, it was possible to create sequences that 'popped' when playing certain sounds. No doubt Moog are already working on this.


  • It looks and feels like the top–quality instrument it is.
  • It's a joy to program and play.
  • All analogue synths should sound this good.
  • Like kidneys, grannies come in pairs. No-one is going to miss one of them.


  • It's a work in progress with many significant areas of operation still to be addressed.
  • The noise from the fans will cross it off some potential users' wish-lists.
  • It's not priced for the faint-hearted.


It's deep but not intimidating, and it's a joy to program and play. It's not cheap, but I'm not sure whether there has ever been another analogue polysynth quite like it. Provided that Moog sort out the issues discussed here it's destined to be a classic, potentially the stuff of legends.


Moog One 8-voice £5999, 16-voice £7799. Prices include VAT.

Source Distribution +44 (0)20 8962 5080.

Moog One 8-voice $5999, 16-voice $7999.