The Motas‑6 brings together the worlds of analogue and digital for a unique take on the classic three-oscillator, analogue monosynth.
Motas Electronics are a new company from the UK and their founder, Dr Jon Hayes, clearly loves building synthesizers. The '6' refers to this being the sixth revision of his pet project. Revisions 1-5 were never mass produced or sold to the public, but a peek at the Motas Electronics website confirms that they were fully formed and rather beautiful. Development started back in the early 1990s, when Jon first started tinkering with electronics. So with over 25 years of development, the Motas‑6 arrives as a fully mature and very capable synthesizer and Motas Electronics' first commercial venture.
At first glance the Motas‑6 looks like a conventional, high-end, three-oscillator monosynth: triple analogue VCOs, three filters, digital modulation system, MIDI and CV control, presets, an arpeggiator and a sequencer. All things you'd expect to find. But as we delve further it is clear that this synthesizer likes to do things a little differently. For example, there are no fewer than 37 LFOs with 50 waveforms each. That's one for each analogue parameter. There's analogue phase-modulation, which gives you Yamaha-like FM tones from analogue oscillators. Most exciting for me, however, is the vector morphing — on an analogue synth, by Jove!
The medium-sized desktop module, measuring 408 x 218 x 58 mm, has a reassuring ruggedness. The chassis is a combination of stainless steel and aluminium. The front panel comes in a choice of 'naked' stainless steel or, in the case of my review unit, white painted stainless steel. Both options look fantastic. On the front panel are 34 knobs, 37 buttons, a large rotary encoder, a bunch of LEDs and a 128 x 64 pixel OLED graphic display.
Round the back we find a 12V DC power socket, USB Type-B for class-compliant MIDI, conventional MIDI DIN in and out, four CV input sockets (on 3.5mm jacks), audio in, out and headphone outputs (all on quarter-inch TS jacks).
The Motas‑6 is a synth of two halves. The sound generation is purely analogue. A bank of potentiometers on the left deals exclusively with this side of things. If you want to tweak the filter frequency or change an oscillator's pitch, you just grab the front panel control and adjust it, much like any other analogue synth. The other side, literally and figuratively, is the modulation. This is generated digitally. The buttons and large rotary encoder on the right-hand side are dedicated to the task of generating and assigning modulation as well as managing presets and settings, with the sharp OLED screen keeping you informed at all times.
Combining the two approaches makes a lot of sense: analogue for the sound, digital for everything else. Under the hood is an Arm Cortex-M4 processor, which is more than capable of handling hundreds of modulation sources and destinations at once. The Motas‑6 offers you a dedicated LFO and envelope per parameter, which adds up to 37 LFOs and 37 envelopes. There are global sources too. Because they are digital, modulation sources can be far more complex too. For example, each LFO has 50 waveforms to choose from. Clearly, this is something no purely analogue synth could ever achieve. So, the best of both worlds.
Given that the Motas‑6 does things differently, it's worth explaining the workflow. You can of course load presets, much like any other synth — there are 10 banks of 50, for a total of 500 presets. But assuming you want to design a sound from scratch, you might start by tweaking some knobs to get a basic sound you like. As you tweak parameters, an LED will light next to the last knob you moved. It indicates which parameter is currently 'in focus' and the screen will update to show you the precise value of that parameter, plus any modulation assigned to it.
When you're ready to introduce, for example, an envelope or LFO, you hit the appropriate button on the right and the screen will focus around your chosen modulation source. The buttons are grouped into modulation types: pitch, velocity, M1-M4 (more on these later), LFO X (aka Global LFO), LFO (local) and envelope. There are often more than one button per modulation source. For example, there are three buttons for the LFO. Hit the Amount button, and use the data encoder to add some LFO to the parameter currently in focus. If you want to...