The latest in Moog’s synth arsenal is monophonic, has just 16 presets, and no screen. What’s not to like, asks Andy Jones in this Moog Sub Phatty Review..
Price: £859 inc VAT, $1,099
Contact: Source Distribution 020 8962 5080
The brand new Moog Sub Phatty is analogue, monophonic and described as ‘Moog’s grittiest synth’ yet. This is down to it being the first Moog to feature a ‘multidrive’ circuit, sitting just before the amplifier section, offering a few extra stones for the aforementioned grit. This, combined with a couple of other extras under the sonic bonnet, gives Sub Phatty an edgy Moog sound which you might want to sell your gran for. Fortunately, you won’t have to because, as well as being Moog’s grittiest synth, it’s also one of the company’s cheapest releases yet…
Out of the box, the quality is clear. Sub Phatty is reassuringly heavy, is built well, and has a rock solid feel. I especially love the end plates and that curved back – cool, modern but retro all in one.
It’s a subtractive synth with a familiar layout but there are several tweaks that Moog’s designers have added to give the synth more interest. At its heart are two main oscillators, a sub and a noise generator. The two oscillators can move gradually between waveforms (unlike many other synths where you switch between them) so you can sit between two waveforms. Already we have just that little extra flexibility and we’ve barely started. The sub oscilator is a square wave oscillator locked to one octave below that of oscillator 1’s pitch so dialling it in brings in the bass…
The biggest knob on the Phatty is the filter cut-off, always that dial you go to along with resonance to instantly show off acid stylee. The amount can also be controlled by other factors, including two envelope generators. The EG envelope controls how the filter cut-off is modulated by to the shape you’ve dialled in the filter envelope ADSR. The KB envelope gives you a similar reaction but this time dependant on the note played. Both offer some fantastic note movement options over both pitch and time.
The last dial in the Filter section is the multidrive circuit as mentioned above. It’s quite a simple concept, basically a drive circuit for added distortion and aggression placed between the filter and amp. But add it to the Sub oscillator and those sweepable waves and you have three factors that already give this synth some extra sonic character.
The LFO section is the last major one to cover and again it’s simple… on the surface at least. You get five waveform sources plus the aforementioned filter envelope so you can get more hands on with the LFO shape using the ADSR dials. The rates at which these oscillate are determined by the LFO rate dial and what they oscillate – pitch, filter and waveform – are determined by the remaining three dials. The excellent manual takes you through how these can be used in practical situations including a great pulse wave modulation walkthrough that will have you pushing a waveform to its limits, all the time in time with the LFO. I’d recommend everyone to initiate one of the presets (i.e. so it’s silent – again this is clearly detailed in the manual) and then follow the walkthroughs. There’s an excellent kick drum one in there that recreates a classic 808. I took it further to create the ultimate bass kick – well, in my mind it was anyway…
Shift Mode is where you can get a lot deeper into the Sub Phatty programming by adding functions to existing buttons and dials. So, for example, in Shift Mode the filter envelope decay dial becomes an additional hold parameter, adding a stage to the ADSR making it AHDSR so your note can linger between attack and decay. You can also access and change several other hidden parameters in Shift Mode like those filter slopes I mentioned earlier. There are also extra hidden parameters to access for transposition, Legato, glide, the LFO and both envelopes, plus as a huge amount of MIDI and system information.
Shift Mode is clever but constant referring to the manual to see which dial does what soon becomes tedious. Everything you change in Shift Mode can also be saved with the preset. The Phatty comes with 16 presets and you will have to save over one – a simple two button press process – if you come up with a great sound. Just 16 presets does sound limiting and Shift Mode is a little clunky. Luckily Moog has supplied free software to add unlimited presets and make programming a lot easier. As you can see from the screenshot in this article the software replicates the Phatty front panel and shows more of the Shift Mode functions as well as the load and save preset options. It therefore makes using all of this extra functionality and preset management a breeze.
So what do all of these parameters give us in terms of sound? It would be very easy for me to just say ‘really fat sounds’ and just move on, but you deserve more and, in fact, the synth is capable of more. I’ve already touched on the sub oscillator and this will give you plenty of bottom end. That’s not to say that the two main oscillators are lacking anything down there. But it’s the multidrive section that really enables you to add grit, and grit is what this synth is all about.
One of the presets has a fantastic filter envelope which takes it from an almost punchy lead to a deep bass in a second. The grime you get with it is palpable and it’s all from the multidrive – there is almost no sub oscillator on it as it simply isn’t needed. The next preset is all bass, again a lot from the multidrive and this time with heaps of sub, short attack times and long releases for a sound that could be the backbone of any bass tune. Other sounds include a fantastic punchy, almost metallic bass that was produced, on further discovery, by two pulse waveforms, plenty of sub for a massive analogue finish and almost no multidrive. It would have been nice to have different banks of 16 different presets to load in to really hear what the synth is capable of from the off but I suspect that these will come with updates to the software.
Which leads me to conclude that the bass is big in this one, yes, but the Sub Phatty is capable of a lot more than that. Within the 16 presets you get are some superb examples of this, both the biggest basses you can imagine along with some incredibly punchy lead sounds. Delve into Shift Mode for the extra programmability that this brings (although do use the software!) because you will get some great results out of the Sub Phatty very quickly.
It would be easy to focus on negatives with the Sub Phatty. Certainly the lack of screen will put many post 1985-synth users off, as will the number of presets and their selection. But hook it up to a computer and both negatives are pretty much negated – and who hasn’t got a computer in music making these days? And, sure, the keyboard’s not exactly a playing vehicle – two octaves does not a Richard Clayderman make – but do you need more than a couple of octaves to play bass or lead? These sounds are clearly (especially the former) where the Phatty’s strengths lie, so it will be used for playing either basslines and the occasional tearing lead, not both simultaneously.
The Sub Phatty excels at sound creation and manipulation – exact and very effective tweaking, dramatic dialling and almost constant saving as you come across a sound you will want to return to. And I really do see its home within a creative programming environment like this, something to take your sounds higher, and in that respect it fills its tight brief superbly and your sounds will benefit hugely…
And the word ‘your’ is probably the crux of Moog’s argument, and to a certain extent mine. If you want ‘your’ sound to be the same as that produced by everyone else with a similar set-up of VA soft synths then look elsewhere. But if you want one item to take elements of your sonics onto another level and make you stand out just that little bit then the Sub Phatty is a great option. It might cost to do that – £859 is not cheap for any synth these days – but, once upon a time, it cost a lot to make music and that limitation resulted in people being a lot more creative with their kit. So perhaps if we all spend rather more on higher quality beasts like the Sub Phatty we might get more original results and rediscover our creative selves in the process? I can only dream…
+ Stunning sound
+ Easy signal flow
+ Great drive circuit and bassy sub oscillator
+ Extra layer of options for deep programmability
+ Easy preset management within the software
– Could have done with more ‘banks’ to show the sounds off
A boutique synth that will give you some great lows and punchy highs to work with. Use it with the accompanying software and you won’t look back…