by Seamus Maguire
Moog, in my opinion, has always been the king of the synthesizer world. They have been a household name since the 70s. The creamy 24 db/octave filter found in the original Minimoog Model D sparked many controversial copies and subsequent infringements from competing companies. In the last five years they have shown no signs of slowing down: with reissues of their outrageous and huge modular synths, a new range of guitar pedals, their Sub 37 Paraphonic synthesizer, an impressive range of digital synthesizer apps, holding an annual music festival called Moogfest, all while keeping all of their products handbuilt to a superb build quality in Asheville, North Carolina. They can be impressively forward thinking too - recently the company announced a shift in ownership with the employees of Moog now owning 51% of the business, meaning that those who work there and those who own the business are one in the same. Moog has shown it has a knack for listening to what is happening in the world of electronic music, so with the huge uprising of modular synthesis over the last decade the Mother-32 comes as no surprise. It is interesting to note however that this is the first time Moog has truly dipped their toes into a new market since their Moogerfooger line of effect pedals. The Minimoog Voyager was an ‘updated Model D’, Their Phatty line of synths - while great - are still relatively safe products in the synthesizer market. Their Moog Modular reissues, as the name suggests, are reissues of a vintage product and pander to a small exclusive market with a huge income. On top of this Korg had already shown with their reissue of the MS20 that there is an interest for ‘new vintage’ synths. The Mother-32 is the first thing in recent times from Moog that is actually new and unlike anything they have done before.
Moog has really shown it understands what people want: modular gear, grooveboxes, analog sound design, and competitive low prices. The Moog Mother-32 is all of those in one. A rich and buzzing saw/pulse VCO (as well as noise and an external input) through the classic Moog 24 db/octave multimode ladder filter all of which is modulated with an LFO and envelope. Alongside a MIDI input the Mother-32 has an impressively sophisticated ‘X0X’ style 32 step-sequencer and a 32 point modular patch panel (the reasons for the ‘32’ in its name) that allows for some serious sound design and opens up a whole new world of modular synthesis. All while being at a seriously tempting price point.
The oscillator on the Mother-32 puts to bed the argument that you need more than one oscillator for a thick sound. Both the saw and pulse are rich in harmonics and offer more than enough for classic analog sound design. Admittedly a sub-oscillator would have been a nice simple addition for some more low end but I found the Mother-32 still held its own without one. The 24 db/octave ladder filter has always been the centrepiece of any Moog synthesizer and the Mother-32 is no exception. It is a creamy, resonant and self-oscillating classic that shows you why Moog is treated with such high regard. You can design bubbly melodies to serious synth-pop bass lines to percussion and sound effects. You also have the ability to pass external sound through the filter allowing anything from filtering samples from your DAW to passing through other modular gear. The highpass filter is also a nice addition.
Where the Mother-32 really shines is in its sequencer and patchbay. The 32 step sequencer allows for some great sequencing capabilities. While at first it may seem slightly counter-intuitive (the manual is your friend here), once understood it has a lot to offer. As almost a tribute to the success of 303 ‘groovebox’ style sequencing it offers both accent and glide on/off per step. The sequencer also has a ratcheting ‘stutter’ effect that triggers the synth several times per step to allow more rhythmic variety. You can also control the ‘swing’ of the sequence and the individual gate length of each step.
The patchbay is where the possibilities start to get serious. With 32 ins and outs (neatly out of the way from the rest of the knobs and sequencer) you have a lot more creative options beyond how the synth is hardwired on the inside. For example, while the layout of the Mother-32 has you choosing either the saw or pulse wave, with the patch bay you can re-patch them so that you use both for a more harmonically complex wave. On the front panel the LFO can go up to speeds of 350 hz but with the patch panel this can be extended to 600 hz which in turn can create some gnarly FM sounds. The voltage mixer/attenuator is also a subtly important addition for allowing you to mix voltages or reduce the amount of one. This proves to be very important if you are patching an LFO but you don’t want it to be at its maximum modulation. The Mother-32 also has an ‘ASSIGN’ output patch point that can be assigned to output a variety of different options including a lot of MIDI related information such as velocity, aftertouch, and pitch bend.
The patchbay is where you start to see the creative appeal of modular synths as well as where you start to see the intentions behind the Mother-32. It definitely appeals and works as an instrument on its own. With the front panel alone you can still dial in those iconic and simple analog sounds, but with the patchbay your sound possibilities expand profusely, and once you start to realise that control voltages and sound sources can come from beyond the synth itself, whether they be other Mother-32s, external modular gear, or other sound sources, it becomes clear that there are no limits to what you can do. If you are unhappy with only one oscillator you can patch another oscillator into the external input. If you want more complex envelopes you can patch in an external envelope to control one of the parameters. The Mother-32 can almost be treated as a separate oscillator, filter, envelope and LFO. With the patchbay and your own modular system there is no reason to think they can all be used on their own as part of a larger sound. With the onboard sequencer you can sequence other hardware too - Anything that takes a gate and 1v/octave for pitch. That could be your modular gear, an Arturia MicroBrute, old Roland monosynths like the SH101, or even a Moog Sub 37.
The Mother-32 can be accessorised with two-tier and three-tier stands that can hold additional Mother-32s or modular gear to really expand your sonic possibilities. There is no doubt that one on its own sounds great, but bringing two or three together to create patches between them opens up a lot of sound capabilities and lets you run wild. The tiered stands can also fit empty Moog cases that accept any Eurorack modules and similarly the Mother-32 can be removed from its wooden case and placed within your Eurorack system rather than in its stand alone case.
Moog intends the Mother-32 to really be the ‘mother’ of your modular system. It gives you the basics needed to start patching up sounds and making complex sequences as well as providing the ability to start expanding a modular system. All of this while offering the Moog brand and assurance of quality, not to mention that fantastic Moog filter. At its price point it is a very admirable piece of gear; to get the same capabilities out of a Eurorack modular synth would cost far more than the price of a Mother-32.
Seamus Maguire is 95bFM's in-house musicologist, a member of many Auckland musical outfits, and an all-round synthesizer enthusiast.