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MOOG MUSIC Minimoog Voyager

October 1, 2003
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electronic musician webclips additional contentInthe beginning, Moog Music made modular synthesizers, and they were verygood. But it wasn't until 1971, after Bob Moog and company designed andbuilt the portable Minimoog Model D, that synths were sold in musicstores. Between 1971 and 1984, the Minimoog sold approximately 13,000units and permanently altered the modern soundscape, etching itsinfluence on late-20th-century music.

Fast-forward to the year 2001: Bob Moog's North Carolina —based company Big Briar, maker of theremins and sophisticated effectspedals called Moogerfoogers, announced a Minimoog for the 21st centuryby staging a contest to name the new instrument. After severalprototypes and dozens of design changes, the Minimoog Voyager beganshipping in August 2002. By then, Big Briar had successfully regainedthe rights to use the name Moog Music.

The monophonic Voyager is everything the Minimoog was and more. Inaddition to voltage-controlled oscillators, filters, amplifier, andenvelope generators (EGs), the Voyager offers two distinct advantagesof digital technology: Preset memory and MIDI communication. Othertechnical refinements, along with true analog sound, have made theVoyager a serious contender for pride of place onstage and in studioseverywhere.

VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY

FIG 1: Consumer demandfueled the creation of the Minimoog Voyager. Like the originalMinimoog, it was a classic from the moment it hit thestreets.

Like the original Minimoog, the Voyager is housed in a beautifulwood case with a 44-note keyboard and a control panel that tilts upwardat an adjustable angle (see Fig. 1). The entirely hand-built40-pound instrument's construction is as solid as ever. Although thefront-panel layout has been changed a bit, the new Minimoog bears aremarkable resemblance to its namesake except for the center section,which provides access to the analog synth's digital features. Even theknobs and rocker switches are the same types as on the original, givingthe Voyager quite a retro look and feel. Immediately above the wheelsare Glide and Release switches, just as on the original. My review unithad transparent pitch-bend and mod wheels that glow a backlit blue, a$119 option that looks really cool onstage.

Considering Moog's experience with synthesizer ergonomics, it is nosurprise that the Voyager's arrangement of front-panel controls has anintuitive flow that makes it easy to navigate. In the upper left is theLFO section, with Fine Tune and Glide Rate knobs just below. TheModulation Bus section is to its right, and next to that is theOscillator section, which contains all the controls for the Voyager'sthree audio oscillators. The main display above and the touch pad belowdominate the center section, with a row of seven buttons between them.Next come the Mixer, Filters, and Envelopes sections, and finally theOutput section, containing only the Master Volume, Headphone Volume,and a ¼-inch stereo headphone jack.

The Voyager's controls are plentiful and most are convenientlyplaced, but they aren't perfect. Even though placing the Volume controlon the far right is pretty standard, I'd prefer a knob that's easier toreach with my left hand when my right hand is on the keyboard. I liketo be able to shape loudness manually, like an electric guitarist can.Luckily, a control input for volume lets you dedicate a control-voltage(CV) pedal to that function. The Voyager's 1.25-by-2.25-inch backlitLCD is just a bit small by today's standards, especially consideringthe quantity of information that's crammed into such a tiny space. Onthe other hand, I do appreciate just how much data is available at aglance, even if I have to squint to see what looks like 12-point type.Happily, Preset names are twice as big. But the best thing about theLCD is that it simultaneously displays original and edited parametervalues whenever you turn a knob.

FIG. 2: The Voyager'spatch panel provides unprecedented voltage control capabilities, analogaudio I/O, and MIDI too.

Other than headphones, most of the Voyager's connections to theoutside world are atop its tilt-up panel (see Fig. 2). Ofspecial note is the multipin accessory port that connects the Voyagerto the optional VX-351 CV Expander. Except for three MIDI ports, a BNCconnection for the optional 12V gooseneck lamp ($38.50), and an IECpower socket, all the remaining connectors are ¼-inch jacks. Thoseinclude two audio outputs, an external audio input, amixer-out/filter-in jack, ten red control inputs, and four blue gateinputs. Those color-coded control and gate inputs open up a world ofexternal modulation capabilities, which I'll later discuss in moredetail.

FIG. 3: Scientist at work:Bob Moog personally inspected each Voyager Signature model before hesigned his name to it.

The Voyager is available in Performer and Signature models. At$2,995, the Performer model costs twice as much as the Minimoog didwhen it was introduced; when you take inflation into account, though,it's certainly less expensive. The Signature model is a limitededition; all 600 have left the factory and are available fromauthorized dealers. For $500 more than the Performer model, theSignature model offers such niceties as a choice of solid cherry,maple, or walnut for the cabinet; the aforementioned illuminatedwheels; a four-year warranty with two free tunings; and Bob Moog'ssignature certifying that he personally inspected it prior to shipping(see Fig. 3). For this review, I had the Performer model.

SURFACE WITH A SMILE

At first glance, the touch pad, which Moog calls a Touch SurfaceController, might appear to be a 5.00-by-3.25-inch video monitor that'sswitched off. When you touch it, however, you'll discover a subtlyribbed surface that Moog calls a three-dimensional XYA controller. Itresponds to movements of your finger from side to side (thex-axis) and up and down (the y-axis), and to changes inthe amount of area covered by your fingers (the A-axis).

By default, the touch pad controls three filter parameters: cutoff,spacing, and resonance. You can reassign it to control other modulationdestinations in the Edit menu, with different assignments for eachPreset. Possible destinations include LFO rate, glide rate, waveform,noise level, envelope values, and modulation bus depth. If you enablelatching, then the touch pad holds its value at the last location ofyour fingers on the x- and y-axes. You can set the touchpad to generate either positive or negative control signals, and youcan set its modulation depth to off, halfway, or full.

I found it rather odd that the touch pad is in the center ratherthan on the left side, as it is on instruments such as the RolandV-Synth and Korg Triton. I suppose that arrangement is meant toaccommodate either right- or left-handed playing, but it's just a bitawkward when you're forced to cross hands for the sake of musicalexpression. In practice, though, the Voyager's touch pad is a veryeffective real-time controller; in particular, controlling modulationby applying additional fingers feels quite natural as a means ofmusical expression.

ANGELS IN THE ARCHITECTURE

The Minimoog Model D helped establish the synthesizer voice's mosttypical configuration, but the exact selection of components has alwaysvaried somewhat from one synth to another. The Voyager begins with itsforebear's basic structure and adds features such as multimode filtersinstead of merely lowpass, four rather than three controllable envelopestages, and considerably more modulation possibilities. You won't findan onboard effects processor, though, so you'll probably want toprocess the Voyager's sounds with reverb at the very least.

In an initial moment of confusion, I searched in vain for anautotune function; I quickly discovered that you must tune the Voyagerby hand. The Fine Tune knob allows you to change the overall tuning bya minor third up or down. In the Mixer section, you can switch on andcontrol the level of each oscillator, as well as white noise and theexternal audio input, independently. In my test unit, tuning stabilitywas excellent and required only minimal warm-up time.

The Voyager's three audio oscillators add a terrific twist:continuously variable knobs let you select triangle, sawtooth, square,narrow pulse, or any waveshape in between. As you turn the Wave knobclockwise from triangle to sawtooth, harmonic complexity increases.Turn it a bit further, and the even-numbered harmonics drop out.Continue to turn, and the pulse width varies from square to narrow.That capability gives you as many different waveforms as you can getfrom a traditional voltage-controlled oscillator. Waveshape is avoltage-controllable parameter, which means that you can create a lotof interesting sonic motion by modulating it with an envelope, LFO, modwheel, or CV pedal.

Although each oscillator has a six-position Octave knob, it'sassumed that it will produce the fundamental frequency, so oscillator 1has no Frequency control. Instead, you change its tuning with themaster Fine Tune knob, and you can't deviate more than a minor thirdfrom concert pitch. Dedicated Frequency knobs let you tune the othertwo oscillators up or down a perfect fifth relative to the first. Twored rocker switches hard-sync oscillators 1 and 2 and enable frequencymodulation of oscillator 1 with oscillator 3. Oscillator sync wasn'tavailable on the Model D, but now it's considered a modern necessityfor analog synthesis. Two other switches toggle the third oscillatorfrom audio range to low-frequency and from keyboard control to a fixedfrequency, allowing it to serve as a second LFO when you need one or todrone independently of what you play on the keys.

The old Minimoog is still famous for the sound of its 4-pole filter,and rightfully so. The Voyager offers a pair of filters with the verysame 24 dB-per-octave response, but you also have a menu choice ofselecting one, two, or three poles for more flexible filtering.

In Dual Lowpass mode, the two filters operate in parallel so thatone is applied to the right stereo output and the other to the left. Asingle knob controls the cutoff frequency of both sides, and a Spacingcontrol shifts the cutoff frequency of the right filter. The result isa much more dramatic stereo separation, especially when you apply amodulation source to the cutoff frequency. Using the touch pad tocontinuously change the resonance of two different cutoffs at the sametime is a really cool effect that you have to experience foryourself.

In addition to Dual Lowpass, there's a Highpass/Lowpass mode thatsplits the two filters in series for bandpass response. The Spacingknob shifts the Highpass filter's cutoff frequency, and therefore thewidth of the passband. In Highpass/Lowpass mode, only the lowpassfilter is resonant, and identical signals are routed to both stereooutputs.

The Minimoog Model D had EGs that applied the Decay setting to therelease stage as well. You could defeat the prescribed final decay byflipping the Release switch, which was conveniently located above theleft-hand wheels. The Voyager has the same switch, and although its EGsare true ADSR generators, the Release switch is an excellentperformance feature. One EG is devoted to the filter and the other toamplitude, and a Rate input lets you skew the envelope times with anexternal CV source.

MOD OR ROCKER?

The Modulation Busses section provides a lot of functionality thatsynthesists have come to expect but that wasn't available on the ModelD. The Voyager provides two programmable modulation routings: onecontrolled by the mod wheel and the other controlled by either anexternal CV source (most likely a footpedal) or a fixed maximum value.Compared to a synth with matrix modulation, two programmable routingsaren't especially generous, but that's two more than the first Minimoogoffered. Although the mod buses account for vibrato and most othertypical mod functions, a few expected routings — such as LFO toamplifier for tremolo — are missing.

Your selection of modulation sources includes three LFO waveforms(triangle, square, and sample and hold), oscillator 3, the noisegenerator, an external CV input, and a fixed voltage. Mod destinationsinclude the pitch of all three oscillators, oscillator 2 or 3 only,filter cutoff, and waveshape. In a software menu, you can also selectfrom a list of eight additional modulation sources and eight additionaldestinations; such sources include filter envelope and the touch pad'sx- and y-axes, and destinations include LFO rate andfilter spacing. A dedicated Amount knob provides control over mod depthfor each of the two buses. It would have been useful to be able toinvert the modulation signals — most mod sources apply onlypositive modulation — but you can reverse the touch pad'spolarity when you need negative modulation.

In addition to specifying the source and destination, you canmoderate the modulation signal by means of the Shape control, whichvaries the source's depth using the filter envelope, Velocity,Aftertouch, or a programmable source. Those choices open up lots ofclassic modulation tricks, such as modulating a synced oscillator withan EG. The ability to select a Shape source in software hasn't beenimplemented in the most recent software revision, but it'sexpected.

MOOG Á LA MODE

FIG. 4: You accessthe Voyager's software-based functions using seven buttons and the LCD,which here displays the modulation source menu for the modwheel.

The Voyager's software-based functions are tucked away in what MoogMusic calls its user interface. Physically, the interface consists ofthe main display and the seven square buttons located below (seeFig. 4). The Voyager has three main modes, each with a dedicatedbutton: Panel, Edit, and Master. Three other buttons scroll thedisplay's contents up and down and move the cursor laterally, and theEnter button confirms your selections.

The Voyager powers up in Panel mode, and that's where you'll keep itmost of the time. Panel mode simply displays the name of the currentPreset. Edit mode is where you make any edits to the current Presetthat can't be done using the front-panel controls, such as makingmodulation assignments, changing the keyboard triggering mode, andsaving Presets. Master mode is where you assign MIDI channels, enabledata dumps, and perform various other global tasks.

PRODUCT SUMMARY
Moog Music

Minimoog Voyager
analog synthesizer
Performer model $2,995
Signature model $3,495

FEATURES4.0
EASE OFUSE3.5
QUALITY OFSOUNDS4.5
VALUE4.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO5
PROS: Sounds great. Hands-oncontrol with plenty of performance expression. Programmable modulationroutings. Lots of CV inputs. Upgradeable functionality through systemupdates. Solid construction. Looks cool.
CONS: Small LCD. No effectsprocessor. Only two programmable modulation routings. No CV outputswithout optional VX-351.
Manufacturer
Moog Music
tel. (800) 948-1990 or (828) 251-0090
e-mail info@moogmusic.com
Web www.moogmusic.com

When you press the up and down buttons, a cursor vertically scrollsin the display. Only four items appear at a time, so every fifth presscompletely changes the LCD's contents, and that's just a littledisorienting. I'd rather see items scroll one at a time, so that theprevious item always appears either just above or below the currentchoice. For navigation, I usually prefer turning a knob to pressing upand down buttons, but at least the buttons don't operate in reverse asthey did with the previous operating system. The current softwarereally threw me for a loop after I performed an update and the cursormoved in the opposite direction from what I'd grown accustomed to inthe prior version. One quibble I hope to see addressed in a futurerevision is that when you exit a menu, the display always goes back tothe first item in the previous menu rather than to your last selecteditem, and that slows down programming needlessly.

After I downloaded the operating system update, the Voyager'sfaculties were greatly enhanced and much of the disappointment I feltwith the original was ameliorated. The Voyager's software is written byRudi Linhard (www.lintronics.biz), a German programmer who'sobviously a longtime Moog synth aficionado. Installing it was a simpleas opening two SysEx sequences on my computer and enabling reception onthe Voyager. Because the Voyager's MIDI functions depend on its currentsoftware revision, its capabilities will continue to grow.

GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY

One aspect of the Voyager that sets it apart from almost any othersynth is its external interfacing. Its ten continuous controller inputs(color-coded with red nuts) accept signals from a variety of sources,including CV pedals, envelope followers, and analog sequencers. Threeof the four gate inputs (color-coded with blue nuts) accept standardfootswitches. (The gate input for sample and hold requires a fixed +5Vgate signal.) All have sturdy jacks that accept regular instrumentcables — a vast improvement over modular designs that provide⅛-inch minijacks. The control and gate inputs extend theinstrument's real-time modulation options immensely.

The Voyager uses external control signals to modulate volume,panning, pitch, waveform, and the like. Except for the Mod1 and Mod2inputs, however, the inputs don't provide any attenuation. Gate inputsare provided for sample and hold, LFO sync, EG release stage, and EGgate, which initiates the envelope's attack and release.

Most of the external inputs are for control signals only. On a truemodular synth, you can reroute audio signals, too. The Voyager suppliestwo audio inputs: one that sends audio through the synthesizer's signalpath and another that serves as an insertion point for externaleffects. Because there's no provision for triggering the envelopes byexceeding an audio threshold, though, you'll need to either flip theEnv. Gate switch to its On position (disabling keyboard control) ormanually press a key to trigger each envelope for processing externalsounds.

You can also address dozens of parameters with MIDI. Eachfront-panel knob and switch responds to a fixed MIDI Control Change(CC) number. The controls don't send MIDI data, but CC transmission isplanned for a future software update.

As useful as all the external inputs are, I certainly wish Moog hadincluded a few control outputs, too, particularly LFO and EG. Theability to reroute control signals would have extended the Voyager'smodulation capabilities to overcome a few minor shortcomings in thatdepartment.

If you add the optional VX-351 CV Expander ($265), however, yourVoyager will gain many of a modular synth's control-routingcapabilities. Using the VX requires that you open up your Voyager andinstall an output adapter mounted on a small circuit board. The VX-351houses 2 attenuator knobs, 21 ¼-inch jacks, and a 25-pin Dconnector on its 5-by-9-inch surface. It supplies control outputs forthe touch pad, keyboard, wheels, noise, pedals, EGs, LFO, and sampleand hold. Adding the VX to your Voyager setup gives you a wealth of newchoices for modulation routings. If you want to program your ownsignature sounds, I definitely recommend springing for the VX-351.

SOUND AND FURY

The Voyager has enough memory to store 128 user-programmable Presets— that's not a lot, especially when you consider the thousands ofuser patches that might appear online as a result of the instrument'seasy programmability. The shortage of memory reserved for storingPresets is perplexing, particularly because there's no need formultitimbral programs in a monotimbral instrument such as theVoyager.

But what wonderful sounds they are! What the Voyager lacks inquantity, it certainly makes up for in quality. Punchy basses, searingleads, striking effects — the Voyager puts them all at yourdisposal. It can perfectly reproduce all the timbres that made theMinimoog famous, and it extends its ancestor's patch programmingpossibilities tremendously, so you can craft sounds the originalcouldn't touch. Virtually every Preset exhibits a luxurious warmth thatyou just can't achieve without analog electronics. In exploring thefactory Presets, though, I was surprised at how few took advantage ofthe keyboard's velocity- and pressure-sensitivity. You can also enableReal Panel Control, which ignores what's in memory and plays thesettings on the front panel, just like a synthesizer that doesn't havePresets.

I spent some time exploring the Performer model's standard Presets.Not surprisingly, the emphasis is decidedly on the sounds ofyesteryear. Of all the bass Presets, In the Pocket and Bass for E.Vonallen are my favorites; both are definite blasts from the past, andcertainly the most authentic Moog basses I've ever heard (becausethat's exactly what they are!). If you want to sound just like RickWakeman or Tony Banks in the mid-'70s, Chiffy Lead is an excellent soloPreset. Familiar Growl is straight from Wakeman's The Six Wives ofHenry VIII. He Was Lucky, of course, is the perfect ELPsimulation.

Going Baroque falls far short of Wendy Carlos's complex timbres, butit's vaguely similar. Funny Vox resembles one of Isao Tomita's classictimbres. Cool vocal-like sounds such as Robovox and Wheel Talker wereimpossible on the Model D. Most of the sound effects, such as CropCircle Delivery and Sasquatch Speaks Up, are gimmicky at best andirritating at worst, though you still might find them useful. Most ofthe factory Presets only hint at the Voyager's timbral possibilities.Fortunately, you can download several other Preset banks from MoogMusic's Web site, including a bank of sounds that come standard withthe Signature model.

THE FINAL FRONTIER

The Minimoog Voyager begins with everything that the Minimoog had tooffer in the '70s and adds MIDI, 128 memory Presets, a touch-sensitivekeyboard, continuously variable waveforms, a stereo multimode filter,and expressive real-time modulation capabilities. With the addition ofsome affordable hardware to harness its potential for external voltagecontrol, the Voyager can perform many tricks that used to require amodular synth. If you've ever wanted a real Minimoog, there's nocontest: buying a Voyager beats owning an original hands down. If ananalog monosynth fills your needs, look no further.

Granted, for the same money, you could buy a used polyphonic analogsynthesizer or a less expensive monosynth. But then you'd probably begiving up the cachet of owning a real Moog, the retro styling, and thedecades of experience that went into its design. Most of all, you'dsacrifice something that's hard to attain without a Moog: the Moogsound. You'd also miss out on the expressive nuance that the Voyagercan achieve by means of its continuous controllers. If you want to plugin eight CV pedals and three footswitches for real-time performancegestures, you can.

Sure, the Minimoog Voyager is a little expensive; the finer thingsin life often are. It's your money, but if you're at all tempted to buyone, I say try it, and then buy it. Bon voyage!

Minimoog VoyagerSpecifications
SoundEngineanalogsubtractive synthesis
Keyboard44-note,Velocity and Channel Aftertouch
Controls(40) knobs, (13)switches, (7) buttons, mod wheel, pitch-bend wheel, Touch SurfaceController
Polyphonymonophonic
RAMPrograms128
AudioI/O(1) unbalanced¼" TS input; (1) unbalanced ¼" TRS insert; (2) unbalanced¼" TS outputs; (1) ¼" stereo headphones
ControlI/O(10) CV inputs;(4) gate inputs; (1) accessory port (for optional VX-351 CVExpander)
MIDII/OIn, Out,Thru
Oscillators(3) audio VCOswith continuously variable waveshape (1 with LF range); (1)LFO
Filters(2) VCFs,switchable from dual resonant lowpass to lowpass/highpass; selectable1, 2, 3, or 4 poles
Amplifierstereo
EnvelopeGenerators(1) filter ADSR;(1) amplitude ADSR
Display1.25" ×2.25" backlit LCD
PowerSupplyinternal 100-250VAC; IEC connector
Dimensions30.5" (W) ×3.0" (H) × 18.0" (D); 12.0" (H) when fully upright
Weight40lb.

 


EM associate editor Geary Yelton has beenmessing around with electronic music since 1971 and writing about itsince 1976. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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