A classic monosynth
gets an extended
THE BIG word in electronic music over the past
few years has been analog. Synth builders have
been reaching back to their roots, eschewing
modern digital wizardry and assembling
instruments the old-fashioned way: with
discrete electronic circuits. Perhaps it’s an
effort to balance out studio environments
dominated by software instruments, but
synthesizer hardware with an all-along
signal path is more desirable than ever.
|The Mopho SE is the fourth instrument to wear the Mopho moniker. By virtually every
measure, except voice count and storage capacity, the monophonic SE is identical to the
four-voice Mopho x4, but it sells for about $350 less.
One of the first synth designers to embrace
this analog resurgence was Dave Smith,
whose groundBREAKing Prophet-5 was the
most popular polysynth in the 1970s. In 2008,
his company introduced its most affordable
analog instrument ever, the tabletop Mopho, followed by the Mopho Keyboard in 2010 and
the polyphonic Mopho x4 in 2012. The new
Mopho SE (Special Edition) draws its entire
feature set from the Mopho Keyboard and x4.
Black Is Back The Mopho SE is wrapped in
a black steel exterior with buffed wood side
panels. In contrast to the Mopho Keyboard’s
32 keys, the SE has 44 full-size keys that sense
velocity and pressure. Pitch-bend and mod
wheels are comfortably positioned on the front
panel’s left side.
The control panel is studded with 25 knobs
that feel reassuringly solid and turn smoothly,
along with almost as many buttons and
indicator LEDs. Whenever you turn a knob,
the 2x16-character LCD reveals the associated
parameter and its values. A few knobs serve
double duty by means of a Shift button, and
four knobs address miscellaneous parameters
such as glide rate and oscillator slop. The
assignable manual-trigger button (labeled
Push It!) performs functions such as running
the onboard sequencer and entering tap
tempo. Like the tabletop Mopho and Mopho
Keyboard, the SE stores 384 user-rewritable
Back-panel connections include mono
audio in, stereo audio out, MIDI I/O, and
connections for a footswitch and an expression
pedal. To boost the voice count, a 5-pin DIN
socket lets you link the SE to other synths from
Dave Smith Instruments. The power switch is
tightly jammed between the USB port (which
handles MIDI data) and the connector for the
wall-wart power supply.
Two analog oscillators, a white-noise generator,
a lowpass filter that switches between two and
four poles, and three DADSR generators with
Velocity tracking provide essential sound-shaping
tools. Each oscillator gives you four
waveforms, an independent glide setting, and
a square-wave suboscillator. Envelope 3 can
be looped and routed to almost 50 modulation
destinations, and each of the four LFOs can
modulate any destination. You can assign three
16-step sequencer tracks to any modulation
destination while a fourth track plays a melody.
A feedback effect routes the audio output back
through the filter, resulting in distortion and
clipping that can get quite extreme.
Wrap This Mopho Up With the Mopho
SE, Dave Smith Instruments is slugging it out
in the marketplace with Arturia, Korg, and
Moog, among others. Although the SE’s price
is near the high end compared with some
competitors, its keyboard supplies more notes
than most, and that makes all the difference for
many keyboard players.
The SE delivers a sound associated with
classic synths like the Pro-One and Prophet
’08, and its factory patches exemplify exactly
what you want in an analog instrument. If
you’re looking for a versatile analog monosynth
with an impressive pedigree, give the Mopho
SE a spin.
After reviewing one too many Mophos
and Moogerfoogers, Geary Yelton wishes
someone would just name their product
“Mo****f***r” and be done with it.
STRENGTHS Terrific sound and
feature set. USB connectivity.
Compact, lightweight form factor. Free,
downloadable editing software.
LIMITATIONS No effects other than
$1,029 MSRP; $949 street