No one can deny that the name of Moog has held a long standing position of importance in the electronic music field, with classical music and popular music alike utilising the creativity of the first large '55' and '35' voltage controlled modular systems as well as the rich 3-oscillator/filter sound and pitchwheel performance qualities of the Minimoog. Whilst a steady production of monophonic synthesisers included the Multimoog, Micromoog, and the portable Sonic Six and Synthesiser XII, the one major polyphonic achievement was the Polymoog synthesiser/keyboard. Its fully polyphonic, touch responsive keyboard, program and controller functions set the path for future developments.
Now the scene has changed dramatically, with the new range of Moog instruments including the Opus, the Source (with its touch sensitive/single wheel panel control combination), the Rogue (replacing the very successful Prodigy), the Taurus II Pedal synth (which allows you to control other synths as well), the portable Liberation and, completing the line-up, the long awaited Memorymoog polyphonic.
The Memorymoog is a voice assignment polyphonic synthesiser with programming for up to 100 sound patches. Following the trend of several polyphonic instrument manufacturers, it is 6-note playable, but with the obvious advantages of these six independent voices having 3 VCOs, low pass VCF, 2 ADSR contour (envelope) generators, linked to numerous modulation facilities. Control of these facilities is in the usual way, with one main set of panel controls acting on every note played.
The key to the Instrument is its System Controller — a keypad/display that offers multi-function control assignments through a Z80 microprocessor.
The Memorymoog is finished in light brown wood with brushed aluminium trim. The main panel has a black 'flexible plastic' finish like the Moog Source with neatly inset red LED indicators for all switches. Synth sections are clearly marked and all control knobs on the sloping panel are black with silver trim, with strong, firm touch, grey switch buttons (except for light grey octave and system controller buttons). The latter has a 2-digit ¾" high LED display for programs and ¼" high alphanumeric LED display for instructions and settings.
The instrument is sturdily constructed, if a little heavy for one person to lift, with a large flight case for safe transit. Control knobs operate smoothly, although the two dual concentric pots for Osc 2 and 3 frequency control are possible weak points. At the front right of the keyboard is located an 8 ohm mono headphone jack socket. At keyboard left are +1 and -1 Octave buttons and the familiar Moog Pitch and Modulation wheels, with Pitch having a solid centre-stop position and Modulation moving freely — neither being spring-loaded. An electric cooling fan is fitted in the cabinet and operated on switch on.
The keyboard has 61-notes from C to C with a novel switch contact system under each removable sprung key. The latter goes on top of a conductive keypad that makes a push contact link with two-adjacent etched circuit tracks, all enclosed in a sealed rubber mould. This new design is cost saving and minimises noisy operation in the long term, although it does give a slightly 'spongy' feel.
At the rear are power switch and Eurosocket for separate mains cable, plus 15 in/out sockets as follows: XLR and unbalanced standard jack high level line out, 2 foot pedal inputs (0-5V range) for various panel functions: CV out (1V/octave) and two types of Trigger out: V-Gate ( 0 to 15V swing), S-Trig. (15V to 0 swing) — most synths will operate from one of these triggers: foot-switch inputs for control of Contour Release and Hold, Program selection 'advance' and 'back'; Glide; External Clock In replacing internal LFO clock (for arpeggio control via drum machine etc.), and Cassette Interface Save, Load and Remote sockets.
Four rubber feet and a large rear plate name logo complete the instrument.
The expansibility and versatility of a synthesiser's functions are obvious criteria in choosing a relatively expensive machine. Moog provide their own solution with the System Controller, which enables multiple operations from a straightforward keypad containing 0-9, A-D, Record Interlock and Enter keys. The program display and the a/n (alphanumeric) display give you a constant visual check as you change programs, store patches, change keyboard modes, use the cassette interface, alter arpeggiation modes or set up program sequences.
Once the synthesiser is switched on, program '1' is indicated and ready to play. At any time, one of the 100 factory (or your own) pre-programmed sounds can then be dialled by keying a number from 0 to 99 followed by 'Enter'.
Since manual tuning of all six voices (i.e. 18 oscillators) would be impractical, an Auto Tune button does this in some 10 seconds, after which the display reads '6 Tuned' (a lower figure indicating a possible fault).
Another important feature is that after a program is selected, any of its parameters can be altered by means of the control panel switches and knobs in the other sections. The moment you press a switch the a/n display reads 'Edit', and when a control knob is turned, two sets of three numbers appear instead, to show a value for the control as it is in the memory (on the left), and the current value (on the right). Getting back to the existing program is easily done by pressing the 'Enter' key.
The two buttons A and B on the controller allow you to advance to the next program or go back to the previous one. Holding down either button continues the stepping automatically, with looping from end to start numbers (99-0). Footpedal control of these functions is also provided.
One of the most useful performance features of this section is that up to 10 'Program Sequences' can be prepared, to enable you to instantly select 10 sound programs for a piece in the correct order using Key 'D' plus the sequence number 0-9. 'A' & 'B' keys will step through the sequences one after another.
The 'C' key followed bya number 0-9 (and Enter) has various functions. C1 to 3 Save, Load and Verify your programs with a standard mono cassette recorder so that you can build up your own library of sound programs (100 at a time).
C4 will turn off voice channels that did not autotune correctly; C5 gets you out of tuning difficulties by putting all oscillators in unison, regardless of your manual settings; C6 and C7 are service tuning aids; C8 is a useful protection function that puts the instrument into Enabled or Disabled states (shown on the a/n display). A unique security code of 4-digits can be assigned so that only you can record new programs or use the cassette interface: C9 puts the front panel into 'Live' mode and overrides memory settings for creating your own original sound; and C0 flashes on and off all LEDs as a service check.
A nice extra has been provided whilst you create a new sound using the live program function C9, or start from an existing program 0-99. At any time you can press the 'Record Interlock' key to temporarily 'Lock' these front panel settings into a buffer memory space. Then the existing program (or one of the others) can be dialled up, using the 'Enter' key alone, to make comparisons.
Storing a new program is easily achieved by holding the Interlock key, followed by Enter. This loads the front panel settings into the current memory place shown on the display. The controller's a/n display indicates 'Recorded' as your new sound is loaded (virtually immediately). Obviously, a little care has to be taken otherwise you may erase a patch you wanted to save.
At first glance at the panel, it may appear that the oscillator pitch range is only from 16' to 2'. In fact, the octave switch and pitchwheel together can increase this upwards or downwards by a further two octaves. Also the footpedals, LFO, filter shape and Oscillator 3 can all affect oscillator pitch. Each of the notes played on the keyboards can use Oscillators 1-3. These have separate switch buttons for alternating between 16', 8', 4' and 2' pitch ranges and can use a mixture of pulse, sawtooth and triangle waveshapes (LED indicators show your selection). Pulsewidth can be set from 0 to 100%, producing a wave that becomes square at 50% and turns off at both ends, I would have liked the square wave to be at control centre rather than appreciably off. In practice, there is little benefit from mixing these waveshapes together except as an unusual modulation source on Oscillator 3.
A Sync switch locks Oscillator 2 to Oscillator 1 in 'hard' synchronisation. This means that Osc 1 controls Osc 2 by causing it to reset to the beginning of its cycle, which is dependant on the time Osc 1 starts its own cycle. At studio frequencies this produces interesting and unusual tonal changes; at low frequencies it can make complex rhythmic patterns.
It is worth remembering that although the frequency still remains under the control of the keyboard and other modulation sources, the tonal changes are completely unlike normal filtering or modulation. With Osc 2 running faster than Osc 1, more coherent waveforms result than vice versa, and a particularly distinctive timbral effect is heard when Osc 1 remains at a fixed frequency whilst Osc 2 is modulated. (Soft sync simply holds the two oscillators together without producing odd waveforms).
Both Oscillator 2 and 3 each have dual concentric pots for coarse and fine 'Frequency' tuning up or down a minor Sixth. Oscillator 3 can also become a versatile LFO with its 'Low' switch on, dropping the pitch around 5 octaves, and the Frequency control range becomes 2½ octaves. Some very interesting percussive effects are then produced with the oscillator modulating Osc 1 and 2 pitch — tinkling marimbas and bells that speed up or slow down over the keyboard! You'll hear this on E&MM Demo Tape 9. For complex, but regular rhythmic pattern making, the keyboard control can be switched off. If you keep the oscillator in normal pitch, the latter control still increases the Frequency dual pot range to 2½ octaves for large manual sweeps of pitch during performance. It's use as a modulation source also gives an extremely large sweep range.
A mixer section then has separate level controls for Osc 1-3 and an additional pink noise source prior to entering the filter. The controls are designed to produce slight clipping distortion of the signals at high settings. As well as adding more 'bite' to the sound, this changes triangle waves to approximate sine wave shapes.
At this point, some mention of the circuitry would be useful, as the filter is the original 24dB/octave low pass type designed by Dr Robert Moog, while most of the sound processing is done with the popular Curtis chips. The Z80 micro runs at 4MHz, using 3x 2532 EPROMs for 12K of control logic, and 3x TCC5517APL-2 for RAM program storage. The whole base of the Memorymoog is packed with circuitry that is double-layered and has a large number of presets for precise calibration at the factory. Battery back-up is provided for the memories and a large rear panel heat sink runs quite hot during operation. There are two large empty IC sockets for further developments (although the review instrument was one of the early production models), and two cut-outs in the aluminium rear panel are for future connection to an Apple II, Roland MC4 Microcomposer and the Oberheim DMX drum machine.
Coming back to the filter section, there is surprisingly no high pass or band pass provision, although despite this omission the huge variety of sound treatments available more than compensates for this. The filter contour generator has the standard ADSR controls with specified times of A (1ms to 10S), D and R (2ms to 20S). These were approximately correct but the timing marks shown on the panel for these controls were unfortunately widely inaccurate. While the Edit a/n display does show a precise figure for knob settings, it would have been useful to have real time settings as well.
Other filter controls are Cut-Off Frequency, Emphasis, (or Resonance, with oscillation on high settings), Contour Amount (or depth of contour effect on Cut-Off) and two Keyboard Track switches that select 0, 1/3, 2/3 or all of the key voltage for Cut-Off control. The latter is useful for maintaining a reasonable sound shape over the whole range for presets like piano or strings.
The VCA has a similar ADSR to the filter and there are also four switches that affect both contour generators. These are: 'Return to Zero' for reset of Attack on new keys; 'Unconditional Contour' enables the entire Attack phase to be completed before going onto Release, instead of jumping to Release as soon as a key is lifted; 'Keyboard Follow' gives the interesting effect of extending or reducing the ADSR times as you play over the keyboard; and 'Release' simply turns off the Release segment specified (overriden by the Release footswitch for piano-like sustain).
The final audio signal goes to the Output Section which has both programmable Volume (for matching levels of each sound you've stored), and Master Volume (to set final output to mixer, amplifier etc.). There's also an independent Headphone level as well.
This is one of the most versatile modulation sections you'll find, offering the possibility of LFO as well as Voice modulation.
Five switches select either triangle, positive or negative sawtooth, square or sample-and-hold waveshapes, with frequency set by a Rate control (.1 to 100Hz). Another LED here gives a useful visual aid for slow rates. Up to seven 'destinations' can be selected for modulating Osc 1, 2 and 3 pitch or pulse wave shape, and the filter.
The Voice Modulation is a special feature of the Memorymoog and uses the filter contour shape or Oscillator 3 for control of up to five destinations — Osc 1 and 2 pitch and pulse wave shape, and the filter. These sources affect each voice independently and therefore help create a freer control modulation that's not found on many synthesisers. It is however, a very desirable function, and, as you'll hear on the demo, makes real woodwind, string, and brass ensembles (without a touch of 'chorus') that's as authentic as you'll get.
As well as separate amount depth controls for Osc. 3 and Filter Contour, you can either send the normal or the inverted filter shape to vary Osc 3's amount of modulation with time (for delay vibrato simulation and other 'moving sound' effects). On the review instrument, the Filter Contour did not trace pitch jumps in tune for all the voices (a possible preset misalignment may have been the cause).
Beside the Autotune facility, there's a fine tune control for 3 semitone pitch change up or down (non-programmable). The instrument can play in monophonic as well as polyphonic modes, and in mono mode powerful single note melodies can use from one to six of the voices — 18 oscillators per note!
The Keyboard Mode Switch also affects the keyboard priority for both mono and poly playing. For mono it sets last note, lowest note, or highest note priority; for poly, it sets cyclic and 'reset to voice A' (both with or without memory). When using the external synth CV out, it's obviously affected by your choice to send bass, lead or exotic cyclic lines. You can also have your external synth linked up and only bring it in when you want by pressing the Keyboard Out switch — a good idea! Multiple or single trigger can also be selected. Linear Glide (or portamento) works for mono or poly playing, with maximum time over the keyboard range taking about 10 seconds.
Two amount controls vary Pitchwheel range at least up or down an octave, and give a programmable 'initial' modulation amount for the LFO — then the Modulation Wheel adds to this setting for performance effects.
A versatile Hold function allows chords to be played (even ones you couldn't possibly stretch over the keyboard) and memorised. Consequently any note played will neatly transpose the chord to the new basic pitch — this is really an exciting effect to use as it plays normally difficult pitch mixtures from your solo lines. You can even put your held chord to use with the Arpeggiator! Switching in this function gives 8 different arpeggiation effects that continuously trigger notes played on the keyboard: from bottom to top, top to bottom, bottom to top and back, top to bottom and back, all notes at once; then any of these with memory (so you can remove your fingers). The only control missing appears to be 'random note selection'. Normally, the rate of arpeggiation is set by the LFO, but an external Clock In allows it to operate in sync with a drum machine or sequencer — an essential requirement.
More emphasis is placed on footpedal control these days and the Moog scores well here, with a complete panel section devoted to various control possibilities. Unfortunately, footpedals are not supplied with the instrument (imagine buying a portable organ without a swell pedal!). Since two inputs are available, each is 'cross-coupled' to enable full operation from either input. Normally, Input 1 can control overall oscillator pitch, volume, and/or filter cut-off. Incidentally, all these functions are programmable as well. Input 2 controls the LFO modulation amount and/or Oscillator 2 pitch.
The Memorymoog retails at £3,100 (including VAT) and for its price does offer sound synthesis at an advanced level in a format that's ideal for performance. The system controller is a sensible update to micro-age technology that has great potential for further expanding the instrument's functions.
The general presentation is good, with solid switches and flush mounted LEDs and displays, although there are small points that I've noted in the review already. The keyboard is not touch or pressure sensitive and the output is mono. The noise generator output in use with the oscillators really would benefit from a white noise output as well as pink. Nevertheless, the potential for making music with the Memorymoog is enormous — from as powerful a solo line as you'll ever get in mono mode, subtle modulated polyphonic sounds, to its exceptional sync timbral effects — and the demonstration tape for this instrument includes 10 minutes of one distinctive sound after another. Like other big polyphonics, it is aimed to be totally expansible through the system controller and possible computer link, whilst retaining all the features of a good analogue instrument.
The Memorymoog for this review was kindly loaned by The London Rock Shop, (Contact Details). Please contact them at this address or telephone (Contact Details) for further details.
Review by Mike Beecher
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