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Moog Minitaur - Introduction
The mere mention of the name Moog brings everything from reverence, stories of capes, to online forum debates about who does the most authentic Moog clone. All that aside, it is without a doubt that when it comes to synths, the name bears so much weight and importance, it cannot be ignored. Bob Moog's contribution to the world of synthesis is immeasurable. We are still working within many paradigms and methodologies started by him and his colleagues. That's a stone cold fact. And it must have been a tall order for Moog Music to move forward as successfully as they have after his untimely passing. One of the products to emerge post Bob is the Moog Minitaur though, I will argue, this is the product that gets as close to the vintage Moog sound people know and love, moreso than anything else Moog Music makes.
The Minitaur's lineage stems from the original MK1 Taurus bass pedals. These were a bass only synth section, striped down to do really one thing (that would be bass), controlled via organ style foot bass pedals. If you've played a multi-tiered organ that had large wooden bass pedals at the floor, this is close to what the Taurus 1 had. Aesthetics aside, the sound the Taurus pushed was something else. Aggressive, hard, simple. Sort of like a good action film with high production values but a simple heart. Hit a note with a long filter sweep that takes the filter into the subsonics and watch the audience shake apart. Moving to the 2000s, Moog Music felt that it was time to revive the Taurus MK1 bass pedal as faithfully as they could. And to a large extent they succeeded. While there have been many arguments about how close the new Taurus is to the old, to my ears, Moog have to be commended for the attention to detail they went through pulling that strange and wonderful circuit together again and getting it to sound as convincing as they did.
Enter the Minitaur. The Minitaur takes the core synth engine of the remade Taurus bass pedal, adds a couple of improvements and features but drops the pedal completely, instead appearing as a desktop synth monster aimed at shaking the bass cones of unsuspecting speakers.
Moog Minitaur - Basic Specs
At it's heart are two analog oscillators that are switchable between square or saw waves. Oscillator two can be detuned over a two octave range (1 up and 1 down) while oscillator 1 is fixed. The oscillators have a discrete mixer section where their signals can be finely leveld and at louder volumes, can drive the filter harder thus producing distortion and saturation prior to hitting the filter. They are also capped at roughly C4. That means you can't play them past this note. I've heard all kinds of theories of why this is but the most convincing one was that it would be too expensive and increase the part count to stabilize this oscillator design for a wider frequency range. Internally the oscillators operate at Hertz per volt (like Korg and Yamaha synths of days passed) but this does not affect the CV ins (ALL CV ins are 1 volt per octave). What these VCOs lack in features they handsomely make up in sound. But more on that later.
There is a genuine Moog 24db low pass filter that is fully resonant. This is a filter that is different than the MiniMoog / Voyager VCF, instead, based around the remade Taurus circuitry. It has a large knob for setting the cutoff frequency as well as discrete resonance control that when turned all the way up, will self oscillate.
A single VCA is on board and, like the filter and VCOs, it is a fully discrete analog design. This also rounds out the truly analog components of the Minitaur. Everything else is software generated, but fear not, it's all of high quality.
The Minitaur has a single low frequency oscillator with discrete controls for rate and modulation amounts to the VCF and VCOs. It is locked to a single, triangular, waveform but the speed range is quiet flexible and can do everything from slow sweeps suited to drone music, to filter wobbles (if you absolutely have to, and if you don't, please don't … it's done … face it … it's done), to high frequency, almost FM suited speeds. You will have to try hard to notice that this is a software generated LFO. It feels and moves like analog.
There are two discrete envelopes, that, while also software generated, feel so close to Model D envelopes that no one should find a reason to fault them. Part of this similarity is due to the fact that they are arranged in the same way a Model D envelope section is: Attack, Decay, Sustain with a switch to turn on a Release stage and control it with the Decay knob. One envelope is hardwired to the VCF with a discrete amount control and the other addresses the amplifier. I will say this now, the envelopes are fantastic. Everything from Kraftwerk zaps, tight basslines, to long release drone hits is possible. If anyone is fearing Oberheim Xpander sluggishness in this department, rest assured that software generated envelopes have come a long, long way since those days.
Lastly there is a dedicated glide on / off button and a glide rate knob for helping you get that rubber Moog bassline.
Round the back of the beautiful metal casing is a plethora of connectors. There is a mono output, a headphone out on mini jacks, an audio input for filter processing, plenty of CV inputs for addressing pitch, filter, and VCA controls, a gate input (that thankfully runs on standard +5 volts) and the now obligatory USB and MIDI input jacks.
Moog Minitaur - Sound
Before diving into some of the behind the scenes and software controllable functions let's talk about the sound. In short, this is about as close as you are going to get to the sound that laid the bricks for the foundation of the Moog trademark. It is warm, aggressive, wide, and punchy without feeling too, for lack of a better word, modern. The VCOs produce an obscene amount of bass and have a wonderful warm peak in the low mids. I don't know why a lot of synthesizers ignore this part of the frequency spectrum (Roland System 1 anyone) but it's there on the Minitaur. It really feels vintage in all the right ways and, again, due to the sheer amount of low end energy, can hold down solid in any modern production. The pre filter saturation in the oscillator mixer section is also dialed perfectly. Whereas on the Sub Phatty it feels like it's too easy to go into super distortion territory, here it feels perfect. Backing the oscillators down a bit produces a cleaner sound and mixing both all the way up reminds of the driven Minimoog sound. The filter, without much resonance is a monster and a welcome alternative to the standard Moog filter. It can completely shut a sound off and then bring it in with the super smooth travel of the large cut off knob. Strangely, bringing in the resonance can lead to an almost picture perfect 303 sound, but with a bass response and raspiness that only Moog can claim their own.
Moog Minitaur - Applications in todays world / How it fits in hybrid modern set up
When you've tweaked all you can with the onboard controls, hooking the Minitaur up to a computer and downloading the latest editor will let you tweak a lot more parameters. I won't get into too many details as there is plenty of documentation online about this and Moog has consistently updated the editor but everything from changing how the envelopes work (discrete control over all stages as opposed to the Model D style) to phase syncing the oscillators to key ons is possible. With the latest firmware, it is also possible to store 100 patches internally and change them either manually or from program changes.
Moog Minitaur - Conclusions
For anyone looking for a proper bass synthesizer that clearly represents that famous moog sound, this is the box for you. The Minitaur successfully brings together many aspects into one beautifully built package that truly represents a best of all worlds approach: the heart and sound of discrete analog synthesis under the precision and flexibility of digital modulation with a user interface and playing experience that only the knob laden, treasured synths of the (unfortunately) past can provide. It fires off like a champion under midi control but is slightly faster jacking in direct via the CV / Gate inputs but it has a small flaw that you have to send it a C note through MIDI for the tuning to be correct when playing over CV / Gate on initial boot up. So don't disconnect the MIDI even if you want to be a purist about it. The USB section works exactly as it should and the latest software editor works as an AU plugin (I believe RTAS and other formats are also supported). You can't use USB for audio but for control and MIDI it works exactly as it should. Additionally you can automate every knob via MIDI as they all send out the corresponding MIDI messages and respond quickly.
Review by Matia of INHALT