More On Modulation
Although we've touched on the basics, there's plenty more to say about modulation. In essence, every sound parameter — that is to say every knob on the front panel — can be modulated by up to nine modulation sources. Those sources are: Note (pitch), Velocity, M1-M4, a Global LFO, a local LFO and an envelope (global or local, but not both). Each of these modulation sources has at least one dedicated button, sometimes more, but they will all have extra parameters available via the screen.
Modulation sources M1-M4 can be assigned a global source in the synth's Setup pages. These include MIDI control changes, aftertouch, pitch-bend and the CV inputs 1-4. Setting these at a global level is rather clever. If you plan to use the Motas‑6 with a standard MIDI keyboard, for example, you might set M1-M4 to be modulation wheel, pitch-bend, aftertouch and another MIDI control change, whatever combination suits your controller. Alternatively, if you want to integrate with a modular system, you might set these to CV inputs 1-4 (CV inputs can be used for pitch, gate and clocking too). Not only does this system mean you get a dedicated front panel button for your most used modulation sources, it also means that if you change your setup, all the presets you've made will respond to your new sources in a meaningful way, without the need to amend saved patches. I really like this system, it feels as if the synth is tailored specifically to you.
Along the top of the unit are five buttons labelled 1-5. You can load a separate preset into each of these five slots and use the buttons to switch between them. This alone is a nice feature. Having five quick-access presets could be perfect for a live performer.
In addition to quick-preset access, the first four preset slots can be used for vector morphing. When morphing mode is enabled, the screen shows a square graphic where presets 1-4 each occupy a corner of the square. Using two input modulation sources, you can morph between these four sounds. The modulation sources, chosen in the global Setup pages, can be MIDI control changes, aftertouch, pitch-bend, or the four CV inputs. The ideal controller for this is a joystick or X-Y pad, and I must say that it's a shame there isn't one on board. I tried a CV joystick from my Eurorack modular and a MIDI X-Y pad and both worked perfectly. CV inputs can be scaled and offset in the Setup menus if required.
Morphing is jolly good fun if you bear a few understandable limitations in mind. It works by altering the values of every parameter as you move around the vector space. So continuous parameters like filter cutoff or oscillator pitch will morph smoothly. Any discrete parameter, however, such as LFO waveforms, filter routing and many of the modulation options, won't change smoothly. Instead, these parameters will snap to the nearest value. To combat this you can enable 'smooth' mode which will lock any discrete settings to the current patch values and stop any sudden changes in the sound.
I found that loading unrelated presets into the four vector slots often didn't produce musical results. However, if you start with one preset and then copy it into the other slots, altering it along the way, bearing in mind the caveats above, you can create some stunningly complex and musical morphs. Not only that, but the front panel controls can be used to offset parameters whilst you morph. Want to change the filter cutoff as you go? No problem. You can even include or exclude any of the four presets to be affected by these offsets. So you could morph away and have a couple of the presets responding to knob tweaks, whilst the others don't. All in all, vector morphing is an impressive feature which really makes the Motas‑6 stand out from other analogue monosynths.
Sequencer & Arpeggiator
The arpeggiator can be accessed with a dedicated button and encompasses three pages of parameters and options. It can work in either Patch or Global mode, both of which can have independent settings. Patch mode is saved with the current preset whereas Global mode is independent of preset. In global mode, you can use the arpeggiator whilst vector morphing and there are various modes where it can cycle around the five quick presets in different orders, selecting a new preset with each new note.
It really doesn't feel like any other analogue monosynth I've ever come across.
Of course, all the usual options are present: clock sources, direction, step length, timing division, swing and even an octave repeat of up to 10 octaves. There's also a very useful delay parameter which can be used to compensate for clock latencies coming from other gear. Another thoughtful addition is a chord memory specifically for the arpeggiator. Choose a chord type, or set a custom chord of up to eight notes, and then that chord will be used to trigger the arpeggiator, with the chord transposing when a MIDI note is received.
The sequencer is equally well equipped. It is patch independent, so like the arpeggiator in global mode, it can be used whilst switching presets or vector morphing. Up to 15 one-bar patterns can be held in memory and they can be chained and repeated in playlists called 'sequences'. Sequences can be saved into one of 16 slots and recalled at any time. When a sequence is saved, it also saves the five quick presets with it. The reason for this is that a sequence can play any of the five quick presets on a per-note basis. As such, a sequence becomes a kind of meta-preset.
Patterns can be recorded via MIDI or manually programmed. Each note can have its own value for pitch, velocity, time offset, duration, micro-tune and patch select. You can also set the value of any analogue parameter for any given step, or record continuous automation. The screen is used to move around various pages, including a form of piano roll. It doesn't show a piano grid, but it does show approximate pitch and length of notes. Notes can be highlighted and edited. Lastly, you can record automation of modulation sources M1-M4, which provides easy expression when the loaded patch uses those modulation sources.
When in Sequence or Pattern edit modes, the buttons usually used for modulation editing are repurposed. Editing complex patterns can feel a little difficult and the screen doesn't always present information in the most user friendly way, but nonetheless, the Motas‑6 sequencer is a powerful tool.
The Motas‑6 requires a certain forget-what-you-know approach which I found refreshing, but the flip-side is that you may be initially frustrated by its non-conventional design. I certainly wouldn't recommend it as a first or only synthesizer. If you're looking for a familiar analogue monosynth with classic layout and a knob for everything, this isn't it. However, if you're willing to learn some new tricks, the Motas‑6 will reward you. It really doesn't feel like any other analogue monosynths I've ever come across. It brings several innovative and musically useful features to the party. Vector morphing and phase modulation stand out to me as features which push this synth beyond what a normal monosynth can do and they should keep the most adventurous sound designer busy for quite some time.
Describing the sound is a difficult task (isn't it always?). It's certainly got the raw analogue vibe you would expect. I wouldn't describe it as refined, like a Moog, but it is unmistakably analogue. The oscillators and filters have the hallmarks of a good steak dinner: juicy, fat and satisfying (apologies to any veggies reading). There are no effects here beyond some analogue overdrive and distortion, so it's a 'naked' sound, but the vast modulation capabilities, vector morphing and phase modulation give the Motas‑6 a much wider palette than most synths of its ilk.
Of course, nothing is perfect. I'm still not convinced that making all modulation sources bipolar is the right way to go, there are times when you may miss having knobs and sliders for modulation parameters and occasionally the menu system and screen can feel unclear. But on the whole, the Motas‑6 is a very mature and flexible synth. I keep reminding myself that this is Motas Electronics' first commercial synth, and that makes it all the more impressive.
I would have no problem recommending this synth to anyone looking for something a bit different. The price could seem initially high, but when you consider the more advanced features, I think it's about right — this isn't a mass-manufactured product after all. The Motas‑6 has surprised me in a good way and, after spending a couple of months with it, I still feel like there is a lot more to discover. Frankly, my other analogue monosynths are looking on with worried expressions.
Despite its status as a three-oscillator monosynth, of which there are many, I'm struggling to think of anything quite like the Motas‑6. The Moog Subsequent 37 or MFB Dominion 1 will give you a modern take on the three-oscillator monosynth, at a similar price, but neither offer morphing or phase modulation. If you like the desktop form factor, something like the Novation Peak might be of interest, but that's an eight-voice polysynth. In a rackmount format, the Studio Electronics SE-1X might appeal, but again it is much more of a traditional three-osc mono.
Bipolar Vs Unipolar
Here's something we don't often have to think about with the average synth review: the subject of bipolar and unipolar modulation. There has been, for as long as I care to remember, a standard adhered to whereby LFOs are bipolar, meaning they oscillate around a 'zero voltage', and all other modulation sources are unipolar, meaning they rise positively from a zero voltage, but never go below it.
The reasoning behind this is that LFOs were most often used for vibrato. In this case it is desirable to have the pitch fluctuating around the base value, so the LFO oscillates equally into positive and negative values.
Envelopes, on the other hand, are generally used for amplitude or filter modulation, where the base value needs to be added to. With amplitude, that base value would normally be silence, and the envelope would open the amplifier from there. In this case, a bipolar envelope makes little sense.
I was therefore rather surprised to find that all modulation sources in the Motas‑6 are bipolar, with no option for unipolar. This presents an interesting challenge. For example, to get a basic amplitude envelope working, one must set the base output volume (which Motas call an 'offset') to 50 percent and then apply the envelope 100 percent. This will give a 'proper' result. If, as you might normally do, you apply the envelope with the output amplifier fully closed (zero percent), the envelope will only start working (ie. generate a sound) once the attack phase is 50-percent through. Worse still, if you have the sustain value set to less than 50 percent it will result in a sustain which is silent, because the envelope is in fact at a negative value and trying to further close an amplifier which is already at silence.
I did ask Dr Hayes, the synth's designer, about this apparent anomaly. He offered the following justification: "My thinking was that one modulation type should not behave differently to another — all sources should behave in the same way to modulate the current level around that value (bipolar)." He went on to give the example of vibrato. If you set oscillator pitch LFO depth to a non-zero value, then use a modulation wheel to affect the LFO depth, then the mod wheel at setting zero will reduce the effective LFO depth to zero.
In practice, it does take some getting used to, but everything you can do on a 'normal' synth is still possible, it just requires a mental shift which might take even the odd experienced synth geek by surprise.
Bits & Bobs
The Motas‑6 offers a bunch of useful features which didn't fit in anywhere else in the review, so I'll mention them here.
A button labelled 'Monitor' next to the screen offers several different pages of visual monitoring including large-format VU meters for the output, a MIDI input monitor, an oscilloscope and a spectrum analyser.
The Setup button opens up 17 pages of settings. These include patch–specific options like portamento settings and pitch-wheel sensitivity, plus global clock sources, extensive CV adjustment options, alternative tunings, SysEX dumps, USB and MIDI port settings (including NRNP and SysEX control), screen-related settings, oscillator and filter calibration and even a custom startup message.
- Rich and flexible analogue sound.
- Analogue phase modulation sounds wonderful.
- Staggering amount of modulation sources, yet it does away with the need for a modulation matrix.
- Vector morphing is brilliant. Preset sequencing is equally fun.
- Excellent build quality.
- All modulation sources are bipolar — this takes some getting used to.
- An integral joystick for the vector morphing would have been nice.
Don't dismiss the Motas‑6 as yet-another-monosynth, it's not. This is an analogue monosynth powerhouse with some impressive depth and complexity. Analogue vector synthesis and phase modulation? Yes, please!
£1250 including VAT.