In this article we will talk about aliases – namely when a brand identifies a product. Could it be rhetorical but few brands in history have been identified with the same conception of synthesizer, and, without a doubt, Moog is the prince among them. They know it very well at IK Multimedia, therefore, in a market where competitors beat the hell out of each other in sound researching, truly or allegedly, they discover the obvious, with the following ingredients: a huge sample collection by the most popular synthesizer producer and the solid engine by SampleTank to form the first and possibly the thoroughest Moog–dedicated ROMpler.
Samples and simulations
Writing down this article there is one thing we are glad about: we shan’t be forced through the same old exhausting diatribe which is usually associated with virtual synths for sale emulating Moog products. (Picture 1) (Arturia, Minimonsta, and several minor products), about how much emulation is faithful to the original. We are now in the presence of the original. As a matter of fact, samples are coming straight from 16 Moog synthesizers, there is no need to attempt to replicate the internal circuit. With that being said, all considerations about how much timbre sounds real would be amiss. However it must be said that the sample is a static form, “crystallized” by the sound of a synthesizer, that is to say that it offers a one moment image of its time, which, especially in the presence of analogic synths, is an undeniable limit. The other limit is given by the fact that samples, as static image, don’t carry any timbric-dynamic information neither any interaction possibility due to the well known Moog filter, which can brag about several attempts in imitation. But the timbre is undeniably the one from the original engine. In SampleMoog we find a 4 gigabites sample sound palette including 14 instruments (Picture 2), almost any of them designed between 1970 and 1982, such as MiniMoog Model D, ModularMoog55, PolyMoog, Taurus1, Prodigy, Vocoder, Concertmate MG-1, Rogue, Source, MemoryMoog. Technically we find all the instruments that have been produced by this brand which marked and revolutioned music productions at that time, influencing a little every genres, from rock by Keith Emerson (Picture 3) to funky by George Benson and George Duke till fusion by Chick Corea. All wrapped up in an engine that includes 2 LFO, 2 envelope generators, 2 oscillators, cut off and resonance filters, all of great fabric to complete this VSTi.
If we talk about Moog’s roots, or rather of its first use, we can not forget to mention Wendy (Walter) Carlos and his record “Switched on Bach”, as well as the famous “Pop corn”, to get straight to the 70’s to artists such as Stevie Wonder, Keith Emerson, Jan Hammer, Tangerine Dreams and the most fetish band above all in synthesizer field, the legendary Kraftwerk. Making a list would be really restrictive inasmuch , sooner or later, almost every band used a “sprinkle” of Moog in their music production. For the hardened readers we delegate it to Wikipedia and its dedicated page.The interface: SampleMoog shows a suitably modified SampleTank interface (Picture 4), the sampler by the software-house from Modena. The featured skin has obviously a “vintage” flavour, but its functions are the same as in the full version. And now it is getting interesting because, despite of some unsolved limits, such as the missing “disk streaming” or Round Robin, the SampleTank is a solid product capable of good work on basic samples. Filters, Modulators, LFOs, Envelopes and a definitely powerful effects section unfold innumerable sound possibilities to our ears, especially if combining them to the 1770 ROMpler sounds included: Headache stuff! Its skin uses, to be honest, some hard readable chromatics, with to two shades of red like in old screens. Perhaps we would have liked a less styilistic and more useful choice. Another slight defect is that it doesn’t allow you to scroll down through the sample list using arrows, but it is necessary to use the mouse to choose and open any.
The involved synthesizer and the sound
As mentioned earlier, the SampleMoog offers samples that comes from 16 synthesizers, starting from The MiniMoog up to the recent Little Phatty (Picture 5), passing through the PolyMoog, the ModularMoog and many more successful products. The first impression we get, opening and uploading samples, is the various basic selection when it comes to volume and equalizing sounds. The sound results vivid enough to prevent us any work on the channel (which too many times is due with other products) and with a rich frequency. We are stating it with some satisfaction though SampleTank is not famous for its booming voice and more than once we have found the programmed sound and played by this sampler a little weak. The sample sound selection, this time, is very successful according to us, alternating classic sounds with more usable patches even into non-vintage settings such as modern dance, trance and house. In addition to the large number of multisamples, collected under single “Presets”, SampleMoog is fabricated with a good amount of “Combies”, that is to say single presets combinations (up to 16 outputs) processed by the effects section. In other words, try and imagine to have 1700 samples you can combine at will in the 16 available slots, to understand the potential in one single Combi. Default ones are very well made, even though they don’t stand out in fantasy, but in general we can expect that the users community would bring some extras, as was, for example, for SonicSynth 2. (Picture 6).
In “multisamples” are included sounds which pass through the internal synthesizer filter, with many ways out. That is to say, it provides many features in “cutoff” samples, from high-pass to low-pass. Obviously, as mere logic, the closed filter sampled sounds could not be processed any further with a SampleTank filter. Therefore, due to a removing synthesis, the closed filter has initially removed a portion of the signal’s frequency spectrum, which is not recoverable anymore. So, it is no use removing it any further. However, it is possible to use SampleTank’s LPF (Low Pass Filter) with open filter sounds, and play a little to create “swells” or whatever. We take this opportunity to come down on IK Multimedia about the cumbersome knobs’ external controllers assignment , which requires more windows and many mouse operation. We can’t explain why they didn’t include at least a simple directory for LPF filters (eventfully with controller number 74 permanently set on Cutoff) so to allow users to play with the filter as soon as a sound is opened. Making up for this missing feature, anyhow, we got help from “Macro” controls, which allow knobs to have assigned controllers in the dedicated section, and allowing to control Cutoff and Resonance: we must keep in mind that it uses controllers numbers which are not usually assigned to filter, which could force us to reprogram the hardware controllers if them, as producers always do, are set as default on CC74 (Cutoff) and CC71 (Resonance). To avoid this drawback, it can be worth to insert into the chain, where the SampleMoog is, an external filter (such as the glorious FabFilter Volcano – (Picture 7) and set it permanently (and mapped) for the entire exploration time.
The effects section
The SampleTank player comes, as well as the SampleMoog version, with an interesting amount of effects. There is really something for all tastes: modulations, chorus, phaser, flanger, distorsions, cabinet simulator, bit crusher, rotary and many more effects. Honestly, all of good workmanship. Effects are selectable 4 per part ( in combi up to 16 instruments are collectable , which can be assigned to 16 midi channels). If you also have got SampleTank you have the chance to exploit the Send and the Master channels with further effects. Even not so well up in processing users can really have fun combining casual effects with the large number of SampleMoog timbres. As a matter of fact the often continuous nature of sounds ( most of the times provided by oscillators and filter, and little else) is very well suitable to further elaborations. It’s nice to notice how much the SampleTank is invisible to CPU, so that we can load up several sounds without overloading our computer’s processor. Yet, if you have SampleTank2.5 full version you can use SampleMoog’s library, combining it , for example, with SampleTron’s one, with Sonic Synth 2’s one, with the many David Kerzner’s (owner of Sonic Reality) group buys’ ones, or even with Miraslov Philarmonik’s one. (Picture 8). All to create monstrous multi-hybrid of the most fun and great sound effect. I recommend to explore this possibility which is a real manna for the geekest ones and for users that feel like experimenting . As for the computers used during the test, we have been employing two personal computers alike when it comes to configuration, but with different audio/midi interfaces. Here is the list: CPU Pentium 4 running at 3,6 GHz; 2 Gb RAM; 7200 RPM HD with 16 Mb cache unit; Windows XP Operating System; Audio Interfaces: RME Fireface 800, Echo AudioFire 4; Monitors: ADAM P11A, KRK VXT 6, Dynaudio BM15; Sequencers: Cubase4.5, Sonar 7; External controllers: Novation ReMOTE SL 61, CME VX70.
Required: APPLE MAC INTEL System
Average: 1.5 Ghz Intel Core Solo Processor; 512 MB (at least) Ram Mac OSX 10.4.4.Compatible applications: VST, Audio Units, RTAS.
Recommended: 1.66 Intel Core Duo processor; 1 GB RAM.
We have to admit that overall we have been impressed a lot by the amount of featured samples. It is a very respectable selection and timbres sound rich. If we should give those who approach this type of instrument we would define SampleMoog as a tool for “electronic arrangers”. As a matter of fact, in spite of all the products on the market, its software doesn’t use elaborate patches with frequencing that are free to act independently for entire minutes because of some algorithmic devilry. None of that. To get the best out of SampleMoog you must identify yourself with the arrangers that have been using those sounds for years through worldwide successful hits and arranging them so to take advantage of their magical sound, but letting music offer ideas and modulations. In conclusion, if you are like “ pushing a button i will get a full track”, then stay away from SampleMoog. Instead, if you really have fun arranging electronic music, whatever genre it is, we recommend it to you without a doubt, if only for its historical value and for its complete offer. Here you are some audio demos by Mistheria, who has kindly granted permission to share a fragment of his “Theme from MY DEAR CHOPIN” that you can listen along with the first track “Led Lead”. Pros: indeed a good attendance of sound, modulations, and the effects provided by SampleTank. The possibility to create new multisamples opens new scenarios to geek users or simple lovers ready to mix different ages sounds in one patch. Fun is guaranteed.
The main one is the missing basic filter’s map and its cumbersome assignment procedure, especially if we have to make it for more than 1700 built-in sounds. We really suggest IK Multimedia to provide, hopefully via download, an updated library version, with an already built in map at least for the filter 1. A little bit more of contrast in the display and an arrow based navigation would be really appreciated, but not of major relevance.
Let’s not forget that these synths have been played with special techniques when they were on a mono channel and then recorded on analogic outboards. It is strongly recommended to take a listen to some old tracks from that time to get hints and ideas for the best sound use. Another advice we can give is to warm up the mix to provide a more analogic look, through any of the vast number of available plug-ins, warmers, and signal distortions.
Italian to English translation: Umberto del Giudice