22 Producerís Edge Jan-Feb 2009
Dave Smith Instruments
Monophonic Analogue Synthesizer
Words by Drew Spence
Smaller than a Breadbox with Knobs
tís metal. I donít know why I expected a hard plastic
chassis. Maybe Dave Smith took design inspiration
from guitar pedals for the size, build and striking color
scheme. Itís going to be that
mustardy metal box
stands out in all the studio pics. The knobs are detented
and endless rotaries placed just close enough for
uninterrupted tweaks. There is a raised notch for a pointer
thatís easily read by the finger tips although I wish there
was a colored stripe to indicate its value at a glance.
The knobs on the Prophet 08 are of a higher quality but
exhibit play just below the surface whereas the Mopho
plastic encoders are studded firmly in place. Clearly labeled
on front are Pitch, Cutoff, Resonance, Attack and Decay/
Release. When I first saw the unit I thought 8 knobs- killer!
But then I saw four were Ďassignableí which was code
speak for
Ďdo some programming before you have any
. In a nice move, they are already programmed for
parameter. You
can explore each specific tweaking choice per patch.
Assigning your own parameter couldnít be easier as
you press the Assign Parameters button to arm it, grab
your knob, scroll through the list of choices and press
the Assign button again.
Presets Test Tones
Youíll cruise through three banks of 128 Programs-
about 380 presets ranging from the classic to the
bizarre. Easy enough using the + and Ė and holding
23 Producerís Edge Jan-Feb 2009
either one down briefly switches banks. And above is the
program knob which rotates through the current bank. The
Mopho retains the tone and texture of the Prophet. Itís an
aggressive sound that really shines for leads and nasty stabs.
Even the swelling bass patches have a pleasing undertone
of growl. The cutoff is default to gentle tonal shaping- that
wonít do for us! To get the oft-used hip-hop super deep and
warm bass tone, I simply grabbed my Assign and dropped
the Low-pass Frequency toÖzero! Then snatched the
Low-pass (set to 4-pole) Envelope Amt and lowered it till
my bright and snappy bass was substituted and subdued
by a blue-hued mushroom boom. You can up the noise to
bring in an
or make variations by
altering the Oscillator shapes. Osc 2, Pulse 27 is a nice
place to be.
Soft Editor Browser
Itís a utilitarian presentation that
works just fine to display all the
programmable facets. Although
the view menu has a screen
resolution of 1024 X 768 it still
wraps onto my second monitor
and changing the resolution to
1154 X 864 had no effect. I wish
you could resize it manually. To be
fair, this is only the current (and
free) version. Soundtower has
already released new updates
since the initial launch and will
soon be releasing the MophoPRO version. We expect
the same level of detail and functionality as their well
received analog Moog Voyager soft editor. Check the
Soundtower.com website for updates.
Iím delighted to NOT see a tree system where categories
open in branches. The three banks are listed in a vertical
scroll of presets which makes jumping around a breeze.
Youíll first see the program number, name and then
category. Youíll have to go through the presets and learn
how each one sounds or youíll overlook a great tone
or two with a misleading category, not misleading by
description, but how youíll be using it after a few tweaks!
The virtual knobs are huge and jump to wherever you
place the mouse pointer as you engage them.
I would have liked clicking on the virtual knob
to just engage it while it stays put AND THEN
my mouse movements change the value. Itís a
minor drag. Dragging is best done in a horizontal
wide arc and I wish there was a way to right click
and enter exact numbers. There is a V-piano
to trigger the Mopho, a sequencer to edit your
steps. The little red push it button triggers the
sequencer. I dived into the step-sequencer on
the hardware by scrolling to the end and picking
a destination for each of the 4 sequencers
followed by choosing a velocity at each of the
16 steps. It was the
aha moment
in figuring how
DSI managed to get a whole electronic drum
track going on a monophonic synth. Itís an easy
enough process, but still a little too tedious. Soft
Editor to the rescue.
24 Producerís Edge Jan-Feb 2009
Clicking in the vertical space above the step drags the velocity
bar into position. Itís wickedly fast and here you can right click
and enter exact numerical values. Letís load
A:012 Sequence
and see whatís good. As stated earlier, itís a destination
thatís playing on any
step and NOT an
individual program.
For a snare to drop,
I chose sequence 1
and used Noise Level
(7). For a Ďclappier í
type sound I could
have used the Mod 1
amount. If it seems like weíre approaching the nerdier aspects
of sound design, itís a simple process to study and analyze
the sounds used in the different sequencer-based presets. Itís
electronic music on tap here. Never the less, the program bank
does have a good amount of usable drum hits for hip-hop and
rap and should be remembered for future sampling and as
starting points for your own kit construction.
The engine of the Mopho is powered by two analog oscillators.
Each is paired with a sub-oscillator- generating a square wave;
one octave down under Osc 1 and two octaves down for Osc
2. It can be raised in volume underneath the main oscillators
for more
rough support
or used as mod
sources for creative sound sculpting.
Itís one of the nice touches that keep
the Mopho from being the poor manís
Prophet 08. Tip: since our square wave is
a pulse wave with a 50 duty cycle, youíll
want to filter a triangle wave to reach for
a sine wave-like building block tone.
Audio In
We know the trick of using any module
with an audio in as a filter box. Usually
itís the headphone jack that gets routed
back in to play with feedback distortion
effects. The Mopho has it hard-wired.
Simply crank the External Input up and
you get the audio output mixed back in
pre-filter. This means the headphone out
is free to be used somewhere else in your
studio chain. Weíll approach this whole
filtering audio idea from the angle that
you have your ROMpler bread and butter
sounds covered. You have strings, keys,
pads and other traditional instrument
categories covered and you want to move
beyond the few synth patches available
in your workstation. Synth sounds are
all the rage and you want to add them to
your palette. You with me.
Now you add new life to old patches by running them
through the Mopho and extend the life of your played
Ė *ahem* familiar sounding keyboard. I used
a Triton string [only because an old Triton was the
closest keyboard- honest!] and ran it through the open
filters. I then picked the
first lead I came across
A:004 Bright Lead and
merged the two together
and finally arped the
patch and dropped
drums behind it.
Tone Stop
Itís an aggressive metal box that changes the
conversation surrounding the current crop of VA
and digital synths and what manufacturers should
do about bringing back that ole analogue tone. Itís
one more indicator of the sonic renaissance ahead
and it comes at a perfect time as rap and hip-hop
continue to embrace and explore electronic and
classic synth sounds. At ~$399 itís going to sit right
next to the Korg MicroKorg and Alesis Micron. So in
conclusion, we have a third choice for affordable synth
sounds, except this one is analogue. Well done Dave
Smith Instruments.
The review unit ainít going back
The Soft Editor V-Piano and Step Sequencer Screen
ďI wanted to give it a character of its own,
something to distinguish it from its big brother. It
has taken on a life of its own. Itís an inexpensive,
feature-rich mono synth that really excels at
basses and big, fat lead sounds." ĖDave Smith
25 Producerís Edge Jan-Feb 2009
Mopho: Hello guys, any room for a real analogue at this party.
Micron: Donít be a pretentious a-ho --
Mopho: A whole lot of producers want my sound.
MicroKorg: A whole lot of producers HAVE my sound.
Micron: Hey, Iím selling well too.
Mopho: Didnít your big brother bomb. Too bad nobody respects specs.
MicroKorg: My big brother is a classic!
Mopho: How old is that dude anyway.
MicroKorg: You aint even got keys!
Mopho: And nobody plays yours.
Micron: Youíre yellow!
Mopho: Youíre the last guy to be talking about looks. Nice end caps by the way.
MicroKorg: I have a monster sound for 399.
Mopho: Me too.
Micron: Yeah, but you donít have a key-
Mopho: He said that. Besides, Iím an analo-
MicroKorg: You said that. We know.
Micron: Iím multitimbral and Iíve got a sequencer!
MicroKorg: No knobs.
Micron: Hey, whose side are you on.
MicroKorg: Iím just sayingÖ
Mopho: Iím easy to tweak.
MicroKorg: Me too; Matrix Editor once you pick it upÖ
Mopho: Once you pick it up.
Micron: Wait, wait..waitÖIíve got drums!
MicroKorg: Heís got drums.
Mopho: Iíve got some drum sounds too.
Micron: Iíve got more.
Mopho: Itís easy to make more; Iíve got analo-
*Micron and MicroKorg: WE KNOW!
Mopho: I was saying; Iíve got two analog Oscillators and two sub-oscillators, I can Ė
Micron: Hold up! Iíve got 8-voice polyphony with 3 oscillators per voice!
MicroKorg: Iím a 4 voice polyphonic with two oscillators embedded inside a monophonic
mode with a dual-oscillator configuration locked in unison!
*Micron and Mopho: What.!
MicroKorg: I sound great.
Micron: Me too
Mopho: Me three!
3-Way Conversation...