Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

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Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

Post by har35157 » Sun Jan 25, 2015 9:21 pm

Hi all, sorry to add to what is a rather tired topic. :oops:

For the past 8 months or so, I've owned a DSI Mopho Keys as my first ever synth and, no matter how much I've tried, have just been totally overwhelmed by it. I've got no closer to cracking synthesis with it, mainly due to its overwhelming number of features, huge number of presets to fall back on, digital interface, and lack of 'live'/manual setting option. As a result, I'm selling it and looking to pick up another analogue monophonic model which will be a bit more stripped-back and thus conducive to actual learning.

I'm looking for something with the following specs if possible:

1) Analogue - no hybrids or digital instruments (DCOs in an analog signal path is an exception). Much prefer the warmth of analogue from my guitar FX days. I know this limits me to monophonic models, but I don't mind - I enjoy the creativity that limitation brings (plus the Odyssey is duophonic I think!)
2) Hardware - absolutely no VSTs or software. Clicking dials on a screen turns me off massively. I need knobs to twist in real time.
3) Preferably one-knob/slider-per-function.
4) Keyboard included - no modules. 37 keys if possible - I would like to be able to play a bit too! I have been recommended things like the Monotribe to fiddle with first to get the basics, but I know that without a proper keyboard, I just won't be invested. A balance between playability and an educational/intuitive interface is what I'm looking for.
5) No presets if possible - I find them a crutch to learning how to actually sculpt sound. If it does have presets, then there also needs to be a 'manual' mode or something so I can start from the ground up and see how the turning of each knob effects the base sound rather than a pre-existing patch.
6) New and currently available on the market - I'm not keen to buy used as I probably wouldn't be aware if anything was wrong with it, and I've found the used market in the UK is very limited anyway.
7) My budget can go up to £1000, but cheaper is obviously better.

I've narrowed my choices down to the usual suspects, and was just looking for some thoughts, as well as some suggestions if I've missed anything out.

1) Moog Sub Phatty - this looks pretty good. Though it has presets, it has an 'Activate Panel' button so that the sound reflects the current settings, and I'm reading everywhere that the sound is great and worthy of the Moog name. On the flip side, it only has 25 keys, and I think some of the settings are hidden under a 'shift' button or similar?
1.5) The Moog Sub 37 was another consideration, and seems to have a superb interface, one-knob-per-function, and a pretty comprehensive feature set. However, I'm wary about splashing this kind of cash given my current ability level, unless the interface and sound/build quality was genuinely worth it.
2) Korg MS-20 Mini - On the surface looks to be the best of the bunch. 37 keys, no presets, one-knob-per-function, expandable via patch bay, and I think I've read that this synth was partly designed to facilitate synthesis learning. However, I have heard the build quality is questionable, there is noise and that, though the synth was partly intended for learning, the hard-wired configuration is somewhat bizarre and unusual, to the extent that it may be detrimental to the learner(?).
3) Arturia Mini/MicroBrutes (standard and SE) versions - these things have a good rep. No presets, too. Not really sure what's the best option out of them, though - standard or SE? Mini or Micro?
4) Novation Bass Station II - again, heard good things. Seems very feature rich for the price point, but not one-knob-per-function as a result, and I don't think there's a manual mode, just an 'initial patch' setting (a la the Mopho) rather than a manual mode. The layout (switches galore and one set of knobs for both filters, oscillators etc.) and presets without a proper manual mode put me off a lot.
5) Korg ARP Odyssey - these are more expensive than I'd hoped and aren't put yet, but they look quite easy to understand (rich, detailed, one-slider-per-function interface a la the MS-20 Mini), have no presets and have 37 keys. Could maybe be worth waiting for?

Just asking for some personal insight into the ones above, or any I may have missed that fit my criteria. Which gives the best tool for learning synthesis? Which is most playable? Which will last longest before I outgrow it and have to buy a more complex synth? Are any of these synths actually rather confusing and/or detrimental to a beginner? I ask as I was recommended the DSI Mopho based on these criteria and ended up being totally overwhelmed by the complexity of it. I want to avoid making the same mistake again if possible!

Many thanks for any advice, and apologies again for regurgitating a common topic!

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Re: Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

Post by commodorejohn » Sun Jan 25, 2015 10:05 pm

I'd seriously recommend the MS-20 Mini. It's inexpensive but full-featured, and the patch bay allows for a lot of experimentation with the control signals - fantastic for learning, and it opens up even further options for shaping the sound. The build quality isn't really all that bad; I think people just think it's "cheap" because it doesn't weigh twenty pounds and have wooden endcaps. (The one weak spot I've found is the button by the control wheel, but it's easily replaceable, and you can get these new under warranty anyway.) The noise isn't that bad, either - it just gives it kind of a slightly grungier tone; if you're already a guitarist, you should be quite comfortable in that territory anyway. And the sound is unique but fairly versatile.
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Re: Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

Post by meatballfulton » Sun Jan 25, 2015 11:29 pm

Before you spend a penny, try going back to the Mopho. After all, you already own it.

From the manual:
Basic Patch—Press the Write button to load a basic patch into the edit buffer. The patch will not actually be written to the current program location unless intentionally written to memory in program mode using the Write button.
Start with this basic patch and work from there. If it's anything like the Evolver I own, this patch will have both oscs set to saw waves, the filter wide open and both filter and amp envelopes set to A=0, D=0, S=max, R=0...essentially an organ like sound.

Then get a good reference on basic programming like the free Synth Secrets from Sound on Sound magazine.

You do not have to use every single feature it has on day one! It is just as hands-on as the synths you are looking to buy. Stick with it.

Good luck!
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Re: Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

Post by commodorejohn » Sun Jan 25, 2015 11:41 pm

meatballfulton wrote:Then get a good reference on basic programming like the free Synth Secrets from Sound on Sound magazine.
I can't recommend this enough - it's a marvelous course showing you how to use whatever facilities you have available to achieve all kinds of different sounds. However, I'd just do some basic screwing around first until you get a more intuitive feel for which controls do what, and then start working through a more in-depth education on deliberate, end-goal sound design with this series.
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Re: Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

Post by phesago » Mon Jan 26, 2015 12:18 am

Its weird that you think the mopho wont work as a learning tool for synthesis. Except for the few menu accessible things, that thing is as about straight forward as you can get honestly. Between the price and layout, me thinks that youve landed the perfect piece for the goal.

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Re: Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

Post by Stab Frenzy » Mon Jan 26, 2015 3:22 am

Nothing beats a synth without patch memory for learning synthesis. Sell the Mopho, buy a Minibrute or an MS-20 mini, or wait for the Oddy. My pick of those is the Minibrute, it's a very well laid out, very flexible synth.

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Re: Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

Post by clubbedtodeath » Mon Jan 26, 2015 1:20 pm

Stab Frenzy wrote:Buy a Minibrute or an MS-20 mini, or wait for the Oddy. My pick of those is the Minibrute, it's a very well laid out, very flexible synth.
The MiniBrute is indeed a well thought-out synth, with a surprising number of features for a cheap one-osc synth: lots of unusual modulation options, and the SE version includes a basic sequencer. That said, the MS-20 does give you that second oscillator and a rather nice patchbay. Both synths are very immediate, in that what you see in front of you is what you get - I'll certainly not be getting rid of either for quite some time.

The two questions I can think of are:
- What's your budget?
- Is one oscillator going to be enough?

Cheers

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Re: Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

Post by silikon » Mon Jan 26, 2015 3:46 pm

My personal suggestion to you is to forget looking at the synths you have in your narrowed-down list; if the Mopho is giving you fits, then I'd likely say that many of the others will as well. The Mopho is well laid out, and if you were to simply build a basic patch as meatballfulton suggested, you'd be all the better. They've all got a similar layout, some having more than others; and I would assert 'less is more' in this instance if you're grappling with the basics.

You've got a brilliant little machine for learning the basics; there's little reason to go hunting for another synth.

I concur that sticking with it would be your best course of action.

Manuals, youtube, this and other synth sites, they're all your mates. Take a bit of time to understand what each module does and focus on it for a spell. This might help remove excess complication instead of twiddling parameters around haphazardly, without really understanding what it's doing to shape the sound by itself.

Just thoughts and ideas. Good luck.





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Re: Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

Post by meatballfulton » Mon Jan 26, 2015 5:12 pm

Stab Frenzy wrote:Nothing beats a synth without patch memory for learning synthesis.
Lots of people say this but seldom say why.

When you recall patches from memory the knobs of the synth never represent the setting in the patch. That means you either have to move every single knob to an initial setting (pain the a*s) or call up an initialized patch with basic settings that are easily understood...no modulations, "gate" style envelopes...from which to start tweaking. In both cases you know the knobs are "in the wrong place" bu with the latter you do not have to move every single knob before you start creating your patch.

Of course, if there is no patch memory you still have to start with moving all the knobs back to an initial setting! Because of that, I have never bought the no-memory argument.

Just being devil's advocate, of course.
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Re: Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

Post by jonasbjarki » Mon Jan 26, 2015 6:11 pm

Hold on to your Mopho keys, it's a wonderful instrument. I have the Mono Evolver Keyboard and it can be pretty overwhelming with so many routing options, but sometimes I just pick one of the preset patches and edit it to my liking and then re-write it to a different bank. After a while you catch on to the signal route and can start shaping sounds from a basic patch.

I don't think I'll ever conquer the MEK, but that's a good thing. Always exploring and learning new things on the same old instrument is fun.

Best wishes.
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Re: Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

Post by ninja6485 » Mon Jan 26, 2015 8:43 pm

What if you saved your money, and the mopho, and downloaded some free softsynths with the intention of just learning how to use the basic controls of a synthesizer? The tal-u-no juno 60 plugin is free, and models the juno-60, which has a super straight forward, logical UI. If you spend a few hours a night or so starting from an initiated patch, you can learn the basics well enough to program your mopho for free in a week or two.

Give yourself assignments, possibly using the sos articles:
starting from an init patch, make a bass sound.
from an init patch, make a lead
from init: make a pad or string sound
etc.

From there, you can practice starting from an init patch on the mopho and recreating the sounds you made on the plugin by locating the corresponding sections on the mopho and adjusting them accordingly, viz.. Ok, I've located the filter section, I see cutoff and resonance, and now I will adjust them the same way I did on the plugin, now to locate the oscillator section, and so on.

Of course, getting a monosynth is always fun, and this is just an alternative solution working within what you already have.

I learned on a korg radias using its incredibly helpful manual:
http://c3.zzounds.com/media/RADIAS_OM_E ... cda0f9.pdf
This looks like a psychotropic reaction. No wonder it's so popular...

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Re: Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

Post by pflosi » Mon Jan 26, 2015 10:33 pm

Ninja just totally posted what I wanted to say as well: get the Tal-U-No JU60 plugin, work it till you have a grasp of basic "subtractive" synthesis, then try the Mopho Keys again. IMO the simple Juno layout is extremely educational for a first start.

On the Mopho, definitely go with the Init Patch. Then, no LFOs will be assigned. Maybe try to work it out just with one osc and LFO first, that should be pretty straightforward.

Also, read anything you can about synthesis. The SOS Synth Secrets articles recommended above are a great start.

Enjoy the process! It's what it's all about :thumbright:

If you got questions, don't hesitate to ask.

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Re: Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

Post by pricklyrobot » Mon Jan 26, 2015 11:30 pm

Stab Frenzy wrote:Nothing beats a synth without patch memory for learning synthesis. Sell the Mopho, buy a Minibrute or an MS-20 mini, or wait for the Oddy. My pick of those is the Minibrute, it's a very well laid out, very flexible synth.
+1 on the Minibrute. If you find you need a second osc, then it's time to start on your modular;)

You certainly could learn on the Mopho, probably, if you stuck with it. But if you're not gelling with it, why bother? All monosynths are capable of making 90% similar sounds, the trick is finding the one that is intuitive and fun to sit down at and start making music on.

As far as the "why" of a WYSIWYG interface being best for learning, probably depends on how much of a visual learner you are. In my case it helped quite a bit, because I started to really associate the envelope shapes (this is where sliders are probably better than knobs) with particular sound characteristics.
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Re: Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

Post by har35157 » Tue Jan 27, 2015 11:31 am

Hi all,

Many thanks for all your replies and advice.

On reflection, I'm going to keep the Mopho for a little while and try some of the tutorials you've posted, i.e. Syntorial, YouTube, SOS etc.

While I've not really connected with it yet and haven't been able to create a sound I truly liked, I'm fairly confident this is down to my limited knowledge, rather than the synth. I'll give it another shot!

If I'm still not getting anywhere, then I may look into downgrading to something with less options, a MiniBrute etc.

Thanks!

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Re: Most intuitive/educational current analogue monosynth?

Post by Rick N Boogie » Tue Jan 27, 2015 3:55 pm

Good choice- that little Mopho is an awesome machine. And, the SOS articles mentioned above are a great resource. Just take your time, you'll be glad you did.
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