The rumours are now confirmed! At last, after much gossip and potential spec-sheet conjectures, the new Moog One is finally appearing in some music retailer’s web stores. At the time of writing this article (3rd of October 2018) the official specifications have been made public and lots of images have leaked so, even though this last part probably wasn’t intended, everybody nows how it looks too (if you still don’t, scroll down!). To celebrate this we decided to make a little pre-analysis of this upcoming monster, and also look back at Moog’s own history, specifically in regards to polyphonic synthesizers.
A CLOSE LOOK AT THE NEW MOOG ONE
The Moog One is the first true polyphonic offering from the company in over 36 years, so the expectations are awfully -even dangerously!- high. But fear not, Moog has definitely delivered, and their new poly is sure to satisfy the palates of even the most demanding synthesists. It’s a BEAST! The thing features three oscillators per voice (which amounts to a total of 24 VCOs for the 8-voice variant, and a whopping 48 oscillators for the 16-voice version), two independent filters for each of those voices (a classic Moog ladder filter and a “state variable” Oberheim SEM-like one), four syncable LFOs (with fading capabilities), three envelopes (in a six-stage DAHDSR configuration), a very well featured dual source analog noise generator (violet noise, here we go!) and, last but not least, the obvious array of mixers and VCAs.
The routing and modulation possibilities seem almost endless, allowing VCO shape modulation, oscillator FM, ring modulation, hard synchronisation, a dedicated noise envelope -great for drum synthesis!- and the possibility of using both filters in parallel or serial operation.
But it doesn’t end there! The Moog One also boasts a 5 octave keyboard (with velocity and aftertouch sensitivity), sequencing and arpeggiation, an X-Y expression pad, an amazingly huge space for memories (ten thousand presets no less!), Eventide FX (it seems to have something like an H9 onboard), plus it’s 3 part multitimbral (allowing some cool layering techniques, potentially more complex than previous bitimbral monsters like the Jupiter 8 or classic Oberheim polys).
To be honest, if somebody told me a year ago that these were the specs for a future Moog offering, I would’ve thought it was a hoax (vaporware! too good to be true!). But it’s real. As a whole, specs-wise it seems to be quite similar to the old Alesis “A-6” Andromeda (just look at its dual Moog/SEM filters, its three multi-stage envelopes, maximum of 16 voices, integrated digital FX, etc.), with a bit of Memorymoog heritage thrown in (have a quick glance at those 3 oscillators per voice, and of course, that classic look!)
There is only one little problem: the price is sure to make this one an exclusive piece. If you expected Moog to fight Behringer and it’s “Boog” Model D with affordable synths, think again. At $8000 a piece for the 16-voice keyboard -and a “mere” 6k for the 8 voice version- this is no toy. It’s a professional instrument for sure, although probably more of a studio machine (even if you’re filthy rich maybe it’s a bit overboard to tour with something this expensive), I’d say.
That’s basically all we know at the moment. Since we haven’t tried it -nor heard it- we don’t know yet how it sounds or behaves… and precisely because of that we sincerely can’t express an actual opinion about this one. Other than commenting on the previous specs and -as per usual in recent Moog products- the weird name, there’s not much else to say.
So with nothing else left to do, we thought it was a great opportunity to do a little bit of time traveling, look back, and let you have a glimpse at the brand’s previous efforts regarding polyphonic musical instruments… To the Delorean, Marty!!!
POLYPHONY IN THE DAYS OF THE OLD MOOG BRAND
The late Robert Moog first stablished R.A. Moog (the original Moog company) in 1953. His passionate interest in the works of Leon Theremin had turned into a business by then, as selling both kits and fully assembled theremin instruments allowed him to make a living. Later on, around 1964, he began experimenting with more complex and advanced designs, inspiring new modular synthesis devices that would change the nature of his core business.
By 1967 Bob Moog’s custom modular synthesizer systems were slowly becoming the main source of income for the company, but much like the theremins these were initially purely monophonic instruments -there was no proper way of playing more than one note at a time with them-. Sure, you could “cook” an interval by offsetting the pitch of a second or third oscillator in a big system, or use multitracking to simulate chords, but this was still very primitive and either fixed (in the case of the offset frequency technique) or non real time (in the case of track overdubbing).
Around 1968 Moog would create the first product capable of achieving -at least in certain conditions- proper real time, non fixed interval polyphony. The first polyphonic control source was unexpectedly not a keyboard, but a sequencer: the classic Moog 960. This device had three rows of knobs, each with 8 steps allowing control of, amongst other things, the pitch of three oscillators at once. With the aid of primitive sequencers like the 960 musicians could now build not only melodies, but also chord progressions, since each row had it’s own individual CV out. But even if this could be tweaked or programmed in real time it wasn’t really a real time performance in the truest sense.
By 1972 R.A. Moog had changed it’s name to Moog Music Inc. and after the incredible success of the Minimoog -namely the most recognisable synth ever made-, the brand was pretty much synonymous with monophony. However, that very same year Moog made its first foray into polyphonic performance control, creating the model 952, a duophonic keyboard. Meant to control the new model 15, 35 and 55 Moog modulars, this machine would allow keyboardists to play two notes at a time -as long as the accompanying synthesizer system had two or more VCOs-.
This duophonic technology -similar to the one found in other classic synths like the ARP Odyssey or Octave’s The Cat- would later appear in one of the brand’s coolest designs: the Sonic Six (pictured below).
But sometimes you need to play more than two notes at a time, right? Larger polyphony would be first achieved by Moog via the use of divide-down techniques, similar to the circuits inside most electronic organs (like Vox Continentals, Farfisas…) and string synthesizers (like the ARP Solina or the Logan String Melody). This is often called “paraphony” -instead of polyphony-, given the fact that there’s not really a dedicated vco/filter/envelope for each note played.
The Moog CDX (released around 1974) was one of these primitive devices, combining a monosynth -similar to the cheap Moog Satellite- and a polyphonic organ made under license by Cordovox and Thomas Organ in Italy. Although not a “true Moog” to some -because of its foreign origin- this lovely, space-age looking beast, was the first commercially available Moog keyboard capable of playing more than two notes at a time.
Using this divide-down technology, Bob Moog himself would later create a few one-off products like the Polyphonic Oscillator Bank, a custom unit specially made for Wendy Carlos’ modular system. This early attempt at polyphony would also plant the seed for the Moog Apollo prototype.
The original Moog Apollo, designed by David Luce, was a polyphonic synth -part of the unreleased Moog Constellation System- that would later come to be the much better known Moog Polymoog.
The Polymoog, finally released in 1975, combined it’s divide-down means of sound creation with fairly unusual filter options, via its “graphic equalizer” module. As such, even though it was closer to a string synthesizer in theory, its quirky filters and EQ made it sound fairly different to most classic stringers. The Polymoog would later be sold in two variants, the Polymoog Synthesizer, and the less expensive Polymoog Keyboard -a stripped down version of the former-. Later Moog instruments, like the “keytar” style Liberation synth, and the more traditional Opus 3 keyboard, would also feature paraphonic technology in order to achieve polyphony.
In 1977 Bob Moog left his former company, Moog Music Inc. -after disagreements with Norlin, who bought the brand in 1973- to form a new one, called Big Briar. The following years Moog Music Inc. would continue to create new instruments, although none of them would be Bob Moog designs anymore. By 1982 several other competitors -Sequential, Oberheim, Roland, et al..- had released what most would call “proper polyphonic” instruments, with each voice having it’s own oscillators, filter, envelopes and VCA.
In 1982 Moog released their answer to monsters like the Jupiter 8 or the Prophet 5: the long awaited Memorymoog had finally arrived! It was a six note synthesizer, with three oscillators per voice, six trademark Moog ladder filters and a hundred user memories (hence the name). While the Memorymoog was certainly a landmark achievement for the brand, it was in fact a fairly unreliable, unstable instrument. But, to be fair, its real problem had more to do with timing: it was too late to the party.
Just a year later, in 1983, Yamaha would release the DX-7. The DX-7 was a fully digital synthesizer that had lots of polyphony, was very reliable, very affordable and super stable (quite the opposite to the Memorymoog, in fact). Plus it had MIDI! This protocol was a the future -as we all know now-, but Moog hadn’t initially included it in the Memorymoog. This design choice made it almost useless in a modern studio, specially if sequencing was required. Moog tried to solve this by releasing the Memorymoog Plus -a MIDI equipped variant- in 1984, but by that time digital was the new thing, and analog substractive technology was no longer relevant for most consumers.
Around that time (1983) another true polyphonic Moog instrument was in the works: it was called the SL-8. This was a DCO synthesizer, originally meant to be a more affordable (and simpler) mid-priced alternative to the Memorymoog, that even made it to winter NAMM 1983. It’s name (SL-8) was an acronym for “split/layer 8 voice”, something that described its bitimbral capabilities fairly well. Unfortunately for Moog, that very same NAMM Yamaha unleashed the DX-7, and we all know how that went…
Like most classic brands focused on substractive analog synthesis, Moog was facing financial difficulties, and these were aggravated by the fierce competition posed by Yamaha. The SL-8 project was later shelved, making the Memorymoog the last commercial product of the classic Moog era. The brand was no longer a big player in the synth market, and this was an untenable situation for the company. As a result, Moog Music would finally close its doors in 1986, after declaring bankruptcy.
THE NEW MOOG MUSIC
After leaving the original Moog Music in 1977, Bob Moog started selling theremins again with his new company, Big Briar. This would later lead to more innovative designs that shared their heritage with Bob’s former company, like the much loved Moogerfooger line first appeared in the late 90’s. By 2002 Bob Moog had reacquired the rights to the Moog brand -effectively morphing Big Briar into the “new” Moog Music Inc.-. That very same year the Minimoog Voyager arrived on the market effectively revamping the brand. The Voyager and later products like the Little Phatty could be “polychained” to make a polyphonic Moog, but this was expensive and cumbersome, since you needed to buy a bunch of monosynths in order to play chords.
After Bob Moog’s death in 2005 the brand continued to make several monosynths, while many fans begged for a new polyphonic Moog. Years passed, but a successor to the Memorymoog seemed unlikely. The closest thing to that was 2014’s Sub-37, the first Moog duophonic since the Sonic Six. But, as we all know by now, the new Moog Music just needed some time to make it perfect. After all, designing a 16 voice, 32 filter, 48 oscillator synth is quite a challenge. The Moog One is right around the corner, and all we can say is: it’s a great time to be a synth-head!
To sum up, we can’t wait to try “The One” but… will it honor it’s name?
Well… only time will tell!
About the author: José -Pepe- Coca is a musician, producer and audio engineer from Zaragoza (Spain). He has a PhD in Art and teaches Sound Systems, Synthesis and Mastering courses at CPA Salduie and SEAS. He has also worked as a sound designer for companies such as Elektron, Befaco or HelloSamples.