AF’s Weblog

July 8, 2011

Moog Music Slim Phatty Review

Five years after having introduced the Little Phatty, Moog decided to launch the compact synth in module version. Did the Slim Phatty succeed in making the famous Moog sound available to anyone?

The Little Phatty is the last project of the late Bob Moog who passed away in August 2005. A few months before passing way, he recruited Cyril Lance who finished the work of his master. The first Little Phatty saw the daylight for the first time at the Frankfurt Musikmesse in March 2006. The unit is a mix between a Prodigy and a Source, two synths based on the Minimoog D and developed in the early 80’s. In fact, the Little Phatty resembles the Prodigy in its looks and the use of two VCOs, but it takes advantage of the memories and programming method of the Source. In late 2010, Moog Music announced an affordable Little Phatty module. Don’t be fooled — affordable Moog means under $1000. Is the Slim Phatty the small synth everyone was waiting for?

Lightweight

Moog Music Slim Phatty

The Slim Phatty is Moog’s “feather-light” analog synth, considering that it weights less than 6.6 lb. and is 20″ width. Its fully metallic construction is very solid and even if the metal sheets are slim, they don’t bend easily. Like all Moog products, the housing was not screen printed but coated with Lexan instead. The front panel features not less than 34 switches with LEDs (some of them are two-colored, red/orange, depending on the status of the device), four big controls surrounded by 15 red diodes (which show the value of the parameters assigned), two standard controls (a bit too responsive) for tuning and volume setting, one push-encoder for value setting, program selection and browsing), and 18 LEDs. The controls and encoders are a bit loose, so they don’t feel as solid as the ones on the Voyager. A 2×16 light blue LCD display shows additional parameters while editing or playing.

The connections on the rear panel are a bit recessed, which allows you to mount the unit on a standard 19″ rack without any cable problems. The unit requires 3U in a 19″ rack. As it is always the case with Moog, the device is equipped with high-quality connections firmly screwed to the housing. You get one USB connector, one phones out, one mono audio out, one audio input, four CV/Gate ins, MIDI in/out/thru, a power switch, and a power connector (universal internal power supply… thank you!). The type-B USB connector only transfers MIDI signals. The CV/Gate inputs allow you to control the Slim Phatty with an external analog controller (foot controller, modular synth, sequencer, Theremin, etc.): they are connected to the pitch (CV), filter (CV), volume (CV) and keyboard (Gate). It’s a pity that Moog didn’t provide optional CV/Gate outs like on the Little Phatty: they would make the Slim Phatty the perfect USB–Midi–CV/Gate converter. It’s also a pity that Moog placed the phones out on the rear panel while it was conveniently placed on the front panel of the Little Phatty…

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

The Slim Phatty is the most affordable Moog synth ever. Described and marketed as the antithesis of the luxurious Voyager XL, it still provides the typical Moog sound without making you go bankrupt. It is well thought-out, very simple to use and easy to transport. However, there are sacrifices to be made: it has no directly accessible noise generator nor a comprehensive set of modulations. Nevertheless, for studio or live musicians who want to add the typical Moog sound to their setup without mortgaging their house or having to stack modules in order to build an analog polyphonic Moog, the Slim Phatty is a very nice solution that combines a real analog sound with an affordable price.

Advantages:

  • Typical fat and punchy Moog sound
  • Oscillators with continuous waveforms
  • 1 to 4-pole filter with overdrive
  • Very fast envelopes
  • Integrated arpeggiator
  • Microtonal scales
  • MIDI CCs can be sent and received
  • Responsiveness of the controls
  • Well thought-out design
  • Compact size
  • Affordable price

Drawbacks:

  • Very limited modulations
  • Noise generator only for modulations
  • No ring modulation
  • No additional effects

To read the full detailed article see:  Moog Music Slim Phatty Review

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August 5, 2010

Akai Miniak Review

After having repositioned Alesis on the market, Numark seems to have entrusted Akai with the fate of the synth/drum machine product range. The Miniak is the first Akai synth “in the modern era”.

Late after the extinction of analog dinosaurs, musicians started to rediscover and revere these fat monsters. Manufacturers, which were developing preset-based digital workstations, decided to digitally model the behavior of analog circuitries. The last step was to conceive ergonomic user interfaces that included direct controls for a more authentic playing feel (to make the illusion more real, say analog fundamentalists). Very few manufacturers started to develop real programmable, polyphonic analog synths… One of the exceptions was Alesis who, against all odds, launched ten years ago the most powerful analog synth in history: Andromeda. This was a masterly achievement but also their deathblow: Numark bought the manufacturer in 2001, drastically reduced the Andromeda market price and launched a very successful range of analog modeling synths.

In 2003, the Ion provided eight voices of pure happiness with three powerful oscillators, two full-featured filters and a front panel fully packed with control elements. More affordable versions came out pretty fast: born in 2004, the Micron used the same sound synthesis as the Ion and even added effects to the rig, but it was hosted in a compact housing with reduced space for controls — not very ergonomic. Numark bought Akai Professional the same year and immediately redeployed the MPC product range. Now, they have introduced the Miniak: a Micron synth repacked under the Akai brand. So, the key question is: do they need cash and have relied on a tried and tested technology already amortized, or is it a strategic move to try to reposition the two brands? Anyway, people under 20 will think the Miniak is the first Akai analog synth. With a bit of luck, the rest of us might remember that their first analog synth was the AX80. In 1985!

New Look

Akai Miniak

Repacking means getting a new outfit. With its strong black PVC housing mounted on a rugged metal bottom side, the Miniak is no exception to the rule. The unit is manufactured in Taiwan and has a remarkable construction quality. The impression of sturdiness is reinforced by the weight of the unit: 11 lb. are quite a lot for such a compact device. It’s actually a big difference in comparison to the Micron’s aluminum lightness! The finish is perfect, be it the silkscreen or the encoders that use a metal axis screwed on the housing for a longer life. The three XYZ encoders are absolute encoders: they can be assigned to sound synthesis parameters and they have 12-bit resolution, which translates into 4,096 possible values. The fourth encoder is labeled Data. This incremental control with push function allows you to switch between menus and parameter edition.

Akai Miniak

Besides the play mode, sequence triggering and volume controls, you’ll find three quality wheels (pitch plus two freely assignable modulation wheels) that light up orange. The 37 half-weighted keys are velocity and aftertouch but not pressure sensitive. The response of these standard sized keys is quite good and make playing easier. There is an XLR input for dynamic microphones, like the gooseneck mic included. All other connections — firmly screwed on the housing — are on the rear panel: a socket for the external power supply, power on/off switch, stereo inputs and outputs on balanced TRS connectors, phones out, two footswitch inputs, MIDI in/out/thru, and a connector for a notebook-type anti-theft device. Just like on the Micron, we miss a USB port on this synth…

Arduous Editing

Akai Miniak

Getting started is pretty straightforward: just look at the silkscreen and push, simultaneously, the “program” button and a key to select a bank; then simply browse the programs with the incremental knob. Now, you can play the keyboard, trigger rhythm patterns and arpeggios, depending on the note you play; adjust the tempo with the “Tap tempo” button; and edit three sound parameters using the assignable XYZ encoders or the three wheels. Dedicated buttons allow you to transpose the keyboard up to three octaves up and down, considering that the Miniak can handle all 128 MIDI notes. It’s ideal for live performances!

Akai Miniak

On the other hand, editing possibilities are very frustrating because, excluding the three assignable encoders, all other settings must be made via menu pages. Once again, push the “Programs” button and a key to access the section you wish to edit (oscillators, pre-mix, filters, outputs, envelopes, etc.). Afterwards, you’ll have to browse the menu pages using the “Data” selector: push it to edit a parameter and push it again to toggle back to navigation mode… Considering the large number of editable parameters, you’ll beg for a dedicated editor. But it’s no use: Akai doesn’t provide anything! However, you’ll find a VST/standalone editor for Windows from HyperSynth: http://www.hypersynth.com/miniak-editor.html (which we haven’t tried out). By the way, we would also like to criticize something else: the backlit LCD display has only 2×16 digits and is much too small to manage the countless parameters. It is hardly readable in spite of its adjustable contrast (blue characters on blue background) and it is too recessed into the panel (the readability decreases when you don’t stand directly above the display).

Now let’s dig into the sound!….

Born to Run

Finally, the Miniak is a very compact, rugged and clever instrument that produces vintage synth emulations as well as modern techno sounds. Compared with the Micron, the biggest change is only aesthetic. However, the Miniak does bring some improvements in the control layout, which enhances operation. The Miniak is a stage monster conceived to be transported all over the world to play live on stage. On the other hand, it is not so powerful for direct editing. That’s the other side of the coin: with such a small size and price, it offers a very limited number of direct controls. This is when we start dreaming about a Maxiak fully packed with knobs and buttons!

Advantages:

  • Sound quality and versatility
  • Powerful sound synthesis
  • Control resolution
  • Construction quality
  • Compact and easily transportable
  • Integrated effects
  • Included gooseneck mic
  • Pattern generator
  • Real dynamic keyboard

Drawbacks:

  • Complex direct editing
  • No USB port
  • No dedicated editor
  • Vocoder’s intelligibility

To read the full (this is just the beginning) detailed article with sound samples see:  Akai Miniak Review

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