What’s the Hype about Moog Synths? Their Importance from a Producer’s Perspective

Author: Tomas Morton | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

If you’re like me and love exploring new music and producer profiles on Instagram, you’ve probably noticed one thing popping up now and then – a Moog synthesizer. These unique keyboards, with their angled interface and chunky, black knobs with shiny chrome centers, are hard to miss!

Have you ever spotted someone bringing a Moog to a studio session or carrying one on stage for a live gig? Ever wondered, “Why is everyone so crazy about these things?”

Well, let me tell you, it’s all about that bass. Take the Minimoog, for example.

It’s famous worldwide for its warm, full, yet punchy bass. You can hear it in chart-toppers like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Bruno Mars’ “What I Like,” and countless electronic tracks.

But the love affair with Moog synthesizers doesn’t stop at the bass. They’re super versatile, handling lead sounds and melodies with ease.

They’re often used to add unique auto-wah lines alongside the live bass player, giving the music that extra “oomph.”

What’s truly amazing is that Moog isn’t just surviving; it’s thriving! The company keeps rolling out new synths, reissuing their iconic Minimoog Model D, and even creating plug-ins for some of their funky pedals (they call them Moogerfoogers).

Not only that, but several virtual synthesizer companies, like Arturia, GForce, UVI, Native Instruments, and Softube, are following in Moog’s footsteps. They’ve all got Moog-inspired models in their collections.

As a proud owner of many of these fabulous synths, I’d be delighted to share why Moog is such a legendary and sought-after brand. So stick around!

Vintage vs. Modern Moogs – 6 of The Best!

Minimoog

The Minimoog burst onto the 70s scene, delighting music lovers with its fantastic filter, cute compact size, and perfectly tuned playable keyboard. In an era where most synthesizers resembled confusing, bulky modular or semi-modular beasts like the ARP 2600, with their detached keyboards, jamming was no easy task.

But then in waltzed the Minimoog, answering the prayers of recording artists and musicians around the globe. It empowered them to recreate the magical sounds they had crafted in the studio with enormous, difficult-to-handle synthesizers, now on a reliable, expressive keyboard that felt right at home on stage.

Bob Moog, the creative genius behind Moog synthesizers, did such an incredible job with the Minimoog that it didn’t just become a pocket-sized Moog modular—it set a brand-new standard.

Take this for instance, it was one of the very first keyboards to sport a pitch and modulation wheel on the left side. This clever design allowed users to play lines with their right hand while adding that expressive touch with the wheels.

Not only that, but it also boasted three oscillators, one of which doubled up as an LFO. This nifty feature enabled players to create fresh, innovative sounds—highly modulated, much like what you’d hear from modern synthesizers like the Access Virus and dubstep synths like Massive X.

Of course, one possible drawback, or bonus feature (depending on how you look at it), is its monophonic nature—it only plays one pitch at a time, meaning chords are off the table.

But in a way, this limitation sparked creativity, leading to the invention of the infamous Moog bass, which has since featured on countless iconic recordings.

The Source

As the 80s rolled in, the music scene began to shimmer, digitize, and take on a cosmic vibe.

Moog had to roll with this change. Now, Bob Moog wasn’t exactly ready to go all-digital like Yamaha was starting to. Instead, he came up with a slick, modern version of the Minimoog, and hence, the Source was born.

What really made the Source stand out was its ability to save presets, a first for Moog. With the Minimoog, you had to seize the moment with the sound you dialed in because once it was gone, it was gone.

If you wanted a new tone, you had to start from scratch. It’s a bit of a shocker for those of you used to Arturia emulations who’ve never played around with a real Minimoog. But the ability to save your favorite presets? It’s kind of a big deal these days.

The Source didn’t stop there, it also had a rich-sounding arpeggiator and a built-in step sequencer. You could save these features in the onboard presets, which meant musicians could recreate not just the baseline or lead sound from a record, but also some rhythmic sequences.

This was a game-changer for bands like Depeche Mode and Erasure and for the new romantic movement of the time.

Now, the Source came with a hefty price tag, which put a bit of a damper on its sales. But speaking as an owner of this synth, I can tell you its sound quality and power outshine the Minimoog. Its sharpness really cuts through in modern tracks.

So, for all you modern producers out there looking for that vintage synth warmth in your music, the Source could be just the ticket. Despite its age, this synth is still a hot property, being the only vintage Moog with presets.

The Source is still a beloved go-to for hip-hop producers all around the world.

Prodigy

After receiving a significant amount of criticism about the quirky look of the Source, Moog decided to combine the classic Moog style with some of the innovative features they had introduced with the Source. This led to the creation of the Prodigy.

Fun fact: the lead singer of the electronic band Prodigy was so enamored with this synth that he named his band after it!

The Prodigy is essentially a compilation of Moog’s greatest hits, simplified and compact. It was not only affordable and lightweight, but it continues to be a highly sought-after synth even today.

While some people refer to it as the “poor man’s Minimoog,” this isn’t entirely accurate as the Prodigy features an oscillator sync which the Minimoog lacks. I own one of these gems and adore it for its soft tone, which is a departure from both the Source and the Minimoog.

This is likely because it doesn’t have the feedback loop that the vintage Minimoog had.

The trick is to add Reverb and Delay pedals to a Prodigy. The moment I passed my Prodigy through my Eventide H90 pedal, I was in another world.

I would say the Moog Prodigy was the last “truly great” vintage Moog.

Subsequent 37

You know, most producers would tell you that nothing beats the vintage Moogs. They were in a league of their own, even outshining the last Moog that Bob Moog himself made, the Voyager, which isn’t really my cup of tea.

But then, along came the Subsequent 37, and boy did it shake things up! It was an upgrade on their initial Sub 37 model that, while pretty cool, had a few kinks. Some folks found it a bit too harsh for their taste. It just didn’t sound like a Moog.

But the Subsequent 37, that was a game-changer! Moog, once on the brink of becoming a relic, breathed new life into its legacy by giving the sound a modern touch.

They introduced a sharper, more potent drive circuit that just oozes harmonic distortion. You can hear it all over Dua Lipa’s tracks and in the modern hip-hop beats of Drake and Travis Scott.

Moog was really ahead of the curve with this one. They did their homework and made sure the Subsequent 37 was the Minimoog for today’s generation.

It’s got all you could ask for: more presets, an enhanced iconic filter, superb distortion, and analog drive, not to mention an unrivaled step sequence. It’s all packed into this nifty little device.

Did I mention the keyboard on the Subsequent 37 is fantastic? Trust me, it’s a total winner.

But hey, if you’re a purist who adored the old 24 dB ladder filter in the vintage units, you might find this filter a bit too intense.

Model D Reissue

There was a bit of a stir when the filter for the new-generation Moogs was changed. Many potential buyers considered snagging a vintage model and fixing it up.

But Moog, always keen to their fans’ desires, gave the people what they wanted – essentially, a fresh and improved version of their beloved Minimoog, now called the Model D.

It’s virtually a twin of the original, with the added bonus of Midi and its very own LFO knob by the pitch wheel and mod wheel. Naturally, this version was snapped up like hotcakes.

While it might not have the identical warm or gritty sound as the vintage Mini I own, without a side-by-side comparison, you’d be hard put to find fault with the sound of the new one.

Plus, dealing with the old units was a bit of a chore, not to mention expensive, and they weren’t always the most reliable. So, it wouldn’t be a surprise if some folks decided to sell their old units just to enjoy the midi enhancement in the new ones.

And let’s not forget, the keyboard is so much better – bouncier and perfect for playing bass lines. Super cool!

The Grandmother

When Moog decided to breathe new life into their classic Model D, they sprinkled in a dash of the modular synth vibe into the compact keyboard format, resulting in the fantastic creation we now know as the Grandmother. This device isn’t just visually appealing, with its miniature modular modules set above a mini-style keyboard complete with a pitch wheel and modulation wheel.

The possibilities are endless, enabling you to patch the last module to the second, and so forth. One of the unique touches they included was a genuine spring reverb at the end.

Unlike many other synthesizers, Moog has always been steadfast about keeping their synths effect-free.

So, you’d typically have to break out your own pedalboards or other plugins to add a touch of atmosphere to those vintage units. When I found out this synth was Moog’s first to incorporate a built-in reverb, I was on the phone with Sweetwater to place an order before you could say ‘synthesizer’.

I’ve been a die-hard fan ever since. There’s just something about the dark, cool, spring reverb on this Moog that gets me every time.

Is a Hardware Moog Still Relevant for Modern Producers?

You might be wondering, “Why should I invest a good chunk of change in a hardware Moog synthesizer when there are tons of emulation plug-ins out there that can mimic the sound quite closely, hitting about 75-85% accuracy?” It’s a fair question!

The key is in the sound nuances that many digital emulations and budget recreations in the style of Behringer just can’t quite nail. They often miss out on capturing the unique quirks found in the filters and envelopes of the original synthesizers.

Let’s chat about envelopes for a second. They’re represented by the ADSR (attack, decay, sustain, release) knobs that you typically find on the right side of synthesizers and plug-in emulations.

Now, these little guys are crucial! They control how a note starts and fades away. Most musicians are familiar with these, but their importance can sometimes be overlooked.

Hardware Moogs have this distinct snap and flexibility in how they attack and release notes. It’s a neat feature that not only helps create their signature sound but also makes them really pop in a mix.

I’ve noticed this when I’ve had to use an emulation because of time crunches or, let’s be honest, pure laziness. Even when I load up on the low end, it doesn’t punch through the mix like a hardware Moog can.

It’s funny, when you play the plug-in and the hardware back to back, they sound pretty darn similar. But as soon as you add other instruments into the mix, the hardware consistently stands out in the track.

A lot of this magic is thanks to the snap and attack that the hardware envelopes provide.

The filter, along with its envelopes, is another thing that makes Moog a favorite for modern productions. The resonance of the Moog filter has a pleasing quality that sets it apart from other synthesizers.

Even when you’re getting heavy with distortion and effects, it never gets too harsh. It’s just another reason to love the Moog!

Final Thoughts

In my humble opinion, if they didn’t come with such a hefty price tag, I bet every musician, especially producers, would have a hardware Moog synthesizer sitting in their studio.

That’s probably why there’s such a demand for budget Moog alternatives from companies like Studio Electronics, Behringer, and Waldorf.

As a music producer, Moog synthesizers became an essential part of my toolkit, contributing to my unique sound. I have always had a soft spot for the human touch of a real live bass player, and I still do.

But, let me tell you, it was quite a tough call for me and many of my fellow producers to get that modern pop sound from a real bass. They often felt a bit too thin, whether they were miked or even when run through top-notch preamps and EQs.

That’s when the magic of Moog synthesizers came into my life and revolutionized my music. Since then, there’s been no turning back.

It’s not that they can take the place of a real player. It’s a unique experience that adds a whole new dimension to your drums, tracks, and compositions.

I genuinely don’t think it’s a sound that’s ever going to go out of style, particularly if you dial it in perfectly with the filter. It can mimic the sound of a real bass player with an absolutely amazing tone, which, in my book, is a dream come true for any producer or mix engineer.

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About Tomas Morton

Tomas is a record producer, engineer, and synthesizer enthusiast based in Pasadena, CA. He received training at Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA. When not in his studio, he can often be found scouring garage sales or Craigslist ads for vintage gear treasures.

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