The MiniMoog is quite possibly the most important synthesiser ever made!

Before the MiniMoog, there were only modular synths... vast, sprawling things that cost tens of thousands of dollars, took up an entire room, were difficult to understand (and operate) and required metres of spaghetti-like patch cords just to get a sound out of the things. But this all changed with the MiniMoog.

Compact and portable and relatively affordable, it did not require patch cords and sounds could be created quickly and easily even by people unfamiliar with synthesisers.

After the enormous success of Walter Carlos's 'Switched On Bach' albums, everybody wanted a Moog synthesiser (even the Rolling Stones bought one!!) but Dr Bob Moog was aware of the fact that his huge modulars were intimidating (and expensive) and sought ways to make this exciting new technology more accessible.

Through close association with the early pioneers such as Carlos, it was determined that the principle building blocks for almost every sound were an oscillator (or two) into a filter into an amplifier with pitch controlled from a keyboard and the filter and amplifier controlled (or articulated) by an envelope generator. Armed with this knowledge, Moog sat down to design a simplified synthesiser that did not require patchcords but could still offer a lot of tonal flexibility. The result, of course, was the MiniMoog... the world's first pre-patched synthesiser.

There were several versions of the MiniMoog that never saw the light of day. There was the Model A, something not unlike a mini-modular to look at. Then came the Model B with a sloping panel. Then there was the Model C which was closer to the design we know today and finally, the Model D (shown above) which sported Moog's unique pitchbend and mod wheels.

MiniMoog Model A MiniMoog Model B MiniMoog Model C

Today, the design (whilst classic) is now taken for granted and it is for this reason alone that the MiniMoog is the most important synthesiser design ever - the voice architecture defined in the MiniMoog has formed the basis of almost every other synth since and has been adopted (and adapted) by almost every manufacturer in one way or another. From humble monosyths through to the mighty Yamaha CS80, the Prophet 5 and every subsequent analogue polysynth... the PPG/Waldorf too. The Roland D50... the Korg M1... the Prophet VS and Korg Wavestation... the modern Yamaha Motifs, the Korg Tritons and Karma, the Roland Fantom.... with the exception of the Yamaha FM synths, you name a synth and you can bet that its voice architecture is pretty much based in one way or another on the one defined by the MiniMoog back in 1970! Even the Kompakt player that will host these samples owes much to the synth they were taken from. The technology involved might be different but the influence of the MiniMoog is literally everywhere.

But what else made the MiniMoog such a special synth? On paper, it wasn't actually that well specified! Heresy perhaps but it's a fact!

The MiniMoog had an impressive complement of three audio oscillators but, in the absence of a dedicated LFO, Oscillator 3 was invariably switched to its LOW FREQUENCY setting and tied up as an LFO for vibrato and filter sweeps, etc., so essentially, the MiniMoog really only had two audio oscillators most of the time. That said, many did use the three oscillators and many others had their MiniMoogs modified to add a simple LFO.

There was a 5-channel mixer that allowed you to balance the levels of the three oscillators and also a white/pink noise source and an external audio input.

The output of the mixer passed to a 24dB/Octave lowpass filter and then an amplifier and these were controlled by a somewhat unusual ADS envelope (there was no dedicated RELEASE control... release time was set by the DECAY control and was only active when the DECAY switch to the left of the keyboard was enabled).

But the MiniMoog had no pulse width modulation, no oscillator sync, no ring modulator, no sample and hold, no elaborate modulation matrix ... in fact, it was missing many of the functions and features that we take so much for granted now

So why was it a success? At first, of course, it was because there was nothing else like it available. However, even after the Odyssey was released and was followed by other monosynths from other companies (and, indeed, from Moog themselves), the MiniMoog continued to dominate the market. What's even more peculiar is that in its eleven year life, the MiniMoog didn't change.... at all. There were changes to the internal circuitry to improve stability but there was never a MiniMoog II or anything like that and all those 'missing features' were never added. When, in 1981, the very last one rolled off the production line (serial #13259 which was ceremoniously given to Bob Moog in recognition of his achievement), it still lacked all the features expected of a synth of the era. I guess the attitude must have been "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"!

So what was the secret of its enduring success and appeal?

The user interface to begin with. There is just something about that hinged panel that just screams "tweak me" and the size of the knobs and the space between them makes this possible for even the pudgiest of fingers. The large rocker switches (colour coded - blue for audio, red for control voltage) were also reassuringly comfortable to use. The left-to-right 'flowchart' of the panel also made it easy to understand and even novices could get something out of the MiniMoog. Also, the construction was sturdy and robust and the quality of the woodwork was such that you felt you were playing an instrument, not a box of electronics and although cosmetics have absolutely no effect on sound quality, the MiniMoog's classic good looks were (and remain) important aspects of the MiniMoog's desirability. The keyboard too, whilst synth action and not velocity sensitive, was very playable. And those wheels - they were difficult to master at first but they gave the MiniMoog a truly expressive voice and in the hands of a MiniMoog virtuoso such as Jan Hammer, the thing could really sing.

But more than anything, it was the sound of the thing that defined the MiniMoog. Some may disagree but nothing sounds quite like a MiniMoog (other than, perhaps, a Moog modular). It has a full, rich character that was unique during its lifetime and remains unique today. Each oscillator on the MiniMoog was like some living being and a waveform from one won't sound quite like the same waveform on another. The fact that they didn't track particularly accurately was also a contributing factor to the almost 'organic' sound of the MiniMoog. The way the oscillators interacted when detuned and mixed also introduced certain pleasant non-linear artefacts and pushing the mixer levels to maximum also caused soft clipping which added further to the character of certain sounds. Then there was 'that filter'.... the famous Moog 'ladder' filter... technically flawed and imperfect but who cares... it just sounded fabulous! The envelopes were also fast and punchy and their attack, decay and release slopes were just... well... so 'natural', almost acoustic sounding. But it was the sum of its parts, the combination of all these factors that led to the legendary sound of the MiniMoog.

When the MiniMoog finally ceased production in 1981, there was a void in the market waiting to be filled.

American company, Studio Electronics, had built their business taking original MiniMoogs and cannibalising them into a rack-mount case and these were very popular with many pro musicians. They also added a dedicated LFO, oscillator sync and other features such MIDI, velocity sensitivity, new triggering options and more. Initially, they did this to order, taking in customer's own MiniMoogs and rack mounting them. Then they started buying in MiniMoogs to create the MIDIMoog which was sold as a product in its own right.

When the supply of Minimoogs started to become scarce, SE started building their own circuit boards. These were an exact clone of the original's and were hand built with all of the original components.

With the new circuit board designs, SE couldn't use the Moog name for copyright reasons and so changed it to 'MidiMini'. They sounded great and if there were any sonic differences between SE's new circuits and the original MiniMoog, they were too insignificant to notice. The only thing that dogged the MidiMini was its price - at around $3,000, it was only die-hard MiniMoog fans who bought them. Even now, a used MidiMini will fetch $2,500 or more!

Studio Electronics went on to make the SE1, a programmable version of the unit with added LFOs, envelopes, etc.. Opinion is divided about the sound of the SE1 though - some claim the it is a perfect reproduction of the original whilst others claim it isn't.

But the story of MiniMoog cloning doesn't end there.

In 1998, a company from South Wales in the UK (of all places!) rather unexpectedly brought out an almost 100% perfect clone of the original MiniMoog (left) complete with walnut casework - even the knobs were the same as those used on the original (they couldn't source the original rocker switches though).

This company had (somehow) acquired the Moog name and traded under the name Moog Music UK - the Moog MiniMoog was reborn!

This new MiniMoog also added MIDI and PWM but herein lies a puzzle.....

Moog Music UK were apparently intent on preserving the original as closely as possible and so deliberately left off things like oscillator sync, a dedicated LFO, a velocity sensitive keyboard, sprung pitchbend wheel and so on in order to remain true to the original design. From a purist's point of view, these were noble intentions I am sure but they had already deviated from the orginal's specs by adding MIDI and PWM.... why not, then, add these other refinements rather than shackle users with the 'failings' of the original? Hmmmm! A missed opportunity.

Moog Music UK had ambitious plans to produce modular synths, a rack version of the MiniMoog, a polyphonic MiniMoog with memories and more. However, in 1998, the asking price of £1,500 for their new MiniMoog was just too much for most people to justify on a non-programmable monosynth especially when the same amount could buy a complete synth workstation. In fact, for less money, you could lay your hands on a genuine MiniMoog with a MIDI retrofit and given that this new Welsh MiniMoog offered nothing intrinsically new over the original, this seemed a more attractive option. Ok... for £1,500, Moog Music UK offered a brand new unit and a year's warranty and so on but for £1,000 (or less at the time) you get yourself 'the genuine article'.

With very few or no sales, this little company from Caerphilly, South Wales, floundered and the company folded not long afterwards.

Of course, the legend now lives on in the form of Robert Moog's own MiniMoog Voyager (right). Most if not all of the MiniMoog's endearing qualities remain but have been augmented and enhanced with new and innovative features not least of which are memories to store sounds.

It retains three oscillators but also has a dedicated LFO as well as oscillator sync, 'proper' ADSR envelopes and a simple but very versatile modulation matrix. It also has a totally variable (i.e. not switched) waveform selector control for each of the three oscillators and this can be modulated for some very interesting tonal movement.

It also has dual filters to expand the synth's tonal capabilities beyond that of the original. At the centre of the panel is a unique, touch sensitive XY controller pad for some interesting performance possibilities.

However, once again, the jury is out about how it sounds. There are claims that it sounds nothing like a MiniMoog but esteemed reviewers have put the Voyager through its paces side-by-side with an original Mini and whilst the sound might be slightly 'different' in some respects, it would appear that it still retains the essential MiniMoog personality and character. It's not cheap, however, but I guess you have to pay for quality!

Nostalgia contains some choice multi-samples from an original MiniMoog and also a Moog Voyager and even though these sampled 'snapshots' cannot compare with the real thing, they are highly representative of these classic instruments' essential sound quality.


Sadly, the genius who created the MinMoog left us recently when he passed away on August 21st, 2005 but he leaves us with a heritage that will live forever - Dr Robert Moog changed not only the way music is made but the very music we make and he has inspired millions of people across the world whether they be players or just lovers of electronic or synth-based music.

Sleep gently Bob - your work will live on forever!