The Rebirth of Cool
No synth in history has been more widely used, abused, poked, prodded, copied, cloned or imitated than the venerable Minimoog Model D. The first portable production synthesizer to put subtractive analog techniques into the hands of the masses, it has seen a massive resurgence in popularity in the last 15 or so years, both in software and hardware versions.
But what if you don’t have $3500 to spend on a mono-synth, yet still NEED funky basses, wormhole leads, detuned chords, and ear-shredding osc synced mad- ness in your productions? The good news is, soft synth companies have been trying to emulate the Minimoog for a good while now, and analog modelling technology has come a long way, baby since some historically forgettable, first attempts.
No less than five software synths are currently based on the Mini; Arturia MiniV, now on version 3, GForce Media’s MiniMonsta, U-he’s Diva (which is, of course, more than a Mini emulation, but does have a selectable Mini-like GUI among it’s feature set, and Native Instruments’ Monark, which is used inside the endless, modular rabbit hole known as ‘Reaktor’.
The GUI on the Legend is familiar enough. On the front panel, from left to right, there are the 3 oscillators, where you can select the famous Moog wave shapes (triangle, square, etc), the octave, and the tuning. This is followed by a mixer which allows you to not only shape the levels of the various oscillators but to add noise, feedback, or a “drive” function which lets you saturate the unit. Next is the ubiquitous Moog filter, which allows switching from 12db to 24db, and the ADSR for the Filter and the Amp. No mistaking where “The Legend” got all of it’s inspiration from. One of the joys of using a Minimoog is the sheer simplicity of use; compared to later analog and digital synths, which added tons of features, the Minimoog is very straightforward, which, as an aside, makes it one of the best devices on which to learn about subtractive synthesis.
The question is, how does it sound? Is it enough like the Minimoog to warrant such a bare- bones interface in this day and age of hyper complex digital synthesis? When testing the unit side by side with the hardware Model D, flipping through the waveforms and applying the filter, the similarities are immediately apparent. However, when starting to use the Legend in a musical context, the differences vanish almost completely. In fact, it’s likely there are more variations between 2 vintage Minimoogs than there are between the Legend and the synths it was modelled after. We say “synths” because the Legend is not a model of one Minimoog, but two.
Flipping the GUI around reveals a back panel which allows the user to switch between an “early” Mini or a “later” one. This creates a subtle, but definitely notable, change in the sound. Other features available from the back panel allow fine tuning of the instrument, allowing the user to dial in “drift” i.e., the tendency of the analog oscillators to go out of tune slightly over time. You can also adjust the cutoff and resonance ranges of the filters, the saturation of the amplifier, and velocity and aftertouch.
There are also a reverb and delay with the usual controls. Synapse Audio, as proof of their obsessiveness with “getting it right” even modelled the power supply. You can switch between 60 and 50hz, and even this will have an effect of the overall sound.
Stacking It Up
In a way, you can trace the evolution of analog modelling technology by comparing the various iterations of Minimoog emulations. The Arturia MiniV, while one of the first emulations to really make a splash in the marketplace, and a very charming and useful synth in its own right, nevertheless is easily distinguishable from the hardware Moogs; ditto the Minimonsta, which might be one of the best VST synths of all time, but nevertheless, doesn’t quite “feel” like the original unit. The other three, however, (Diva, Monark, and The Legend), have upped the clone game significantly. Of these three, Diva does much more than model the Mini, and I always think of it as more of a polysynth emulator. However, it does have Moog skins and can emulate the filters very convincingly.
For that one to one realism then, we are left with NI’s Monark and The Legend. The Monark I find to be a more aggressive sounding synth in almost every application, whilst The Legend is smoother, and maybe a bit more musical. Other advantages of The Legend over Monark are that it doesn’t need to be used inside a container or environment like Reaktor, which I find to be a big plus, and unlike Monark, you have the option to add up to 4 voices of polyphony. It also uses significantly less processing power.
The Legend ships with 400 presets, which are a veritable treasure trove of analog subtractive synth techniques. Studying how the presets are made, and tweaking them, will make it a lot more fun if you ever do get the chance to spend a few hours with a real Model D. The only bad thing I found with The Legend is that most of the patches and presets use copious amounts of reverb and delay. You can switch the effects “off” from the front panel easily enough, but it would be nice if there was a way to browse through the presets with the effects ‘Off’ globally, so you could really hear the “analog-ness” in all its imperfect and wheezy glory.
If your burning ambition is to pick the Vsti that most accurately models the exact Minimoog sound then you’re going to be hard-pushed to beat The Legend from Synapse Audio.
“If your burning ambition is to pick the Vsti that most accurately models the exact Minimoog sound then you’re going to be hard-pushed to beat The Legend from Synapse Audio.”
Compatible on Mac:
OS X 10.6 or newer, 2 GHz quad core CPU or better, at least 4gb of memory, VST2 or AU compatible host software,
Both 32- and 64-bit versions are provided.
Compatible on Windows:
Windows XP or newer, 2 GHz quad core CPU or better, at least 4gb of memory,
Both 32- and 64-bit versions are provided.
Also Available as a Reason Rack Extension for both OSX and Win
- Nearly 'bang-on' Minimoog Sound
- Light on CPU
- Very nice price
- Only 4 voices (still 4x better than the original)
- No way to globally disable FX section while browsing patches
- Unlike the original, it doesn’t look so cool when you play it wearing a cape