Review by Gino Robair
Who would’ve thought that an analog monosynth would be taken
seriously in 2010? Apparently there was enough demand from fans of the
Mopho desktop module (reviewed Jan. ’09) that Dave Smith decided to
create a keyboard version—and thank goodness he did!
Review continues after these Web Extras:
Like other keyboards from DSI, the Mopho makes it fun and easy to create new sounds. The controls are logically organized and everything is easy to read.
Dave didn’t just slap a keybed onto the module and up the price. This
baby was designed to be a full-on performance instrument, giving you
immediate, hands-on access to the most important synth parameters in
an old-school way. Whether you’re using the Mopho Keyboard for bass
lines, leads, or sound effects, the keys and controls make this a fun and
inspiring synth to play.
Feel and Controls
The Mopho Keyboard has the same analog voice architecture as the module:
two oscillators (each with a sub-oscillator), a noise generator, a lowpass
filter (two-pole and resonant four-pole), a VCA with stereo outputs,
panning, an internal feedback path, and an external audio input.
The 32-note keyboard is semi-weighted and offers velocity and aftertouch.
Although the keyboard has a synth action, it provides comfortable
resistance as you play and doesn’t feel flimsy.
The front panel is divided into eight sections (oscillators, envelopes,
filter, mixer, etc.), making it easy to edit sounds. With 25 knobs, sound
design is a pleasure. The knobs are small enough that you can move two
at a time with one hand if you want, which is fun when you’ve got the
More importantly, you can change multiple parameters simultaneously
with one control. For example, in the Oscillators section there are
knobs for frequency, pulse width, glide, and sub-octave level, as well as
a waveform selector. At the touch of a button, you can change the parameters
for either or both oscillators, simultaneously. That means you can
add a bit of portamento to only one oscillator, or to both at the same time.
The Envelopes section works the same way: You can change any of the
three ADSR settings—filter, amplifier, and aux—individually or together.
This is powerful stuff when you’re looking for new sounds or increasing
musical tension during a solo.
If you program yourself into a corner, you can hear the original patch
by pushing the Compare button. I use Compare while playing to jump
quickly between related sounds.
The Misc Parameters knobs access multiple, deeper functions: arpeggiator
modes, VCA level, patch naming, and the like. It’s here that you’ll
find a setting called Oscillator Slop, where you can dial in a bit of frequency
drift to simulate the desirable inaccuracies of a vintage synthesizer.
Once you’ve nailed the sound you want, simply press the Write button,
select the Bank/Patch location where you want it stored, and hit “Yes.”
With 384 places to save sounds, it’ll be awhile before you run out of space.
You can swap patches between a Mopho module and the keyboard, and
both instruments can use the free software editor. Of course, the Mopho
Keyboard retains the Poly Chain connector, so you can gain polyphony
by connecting, say, a Tetra (reviewed Jan. ’10) using a regular MIDI cable.
What Else Is New?
Using SoundTower’s freeware Mopho LE editor (Mac or Windows), I was
able to create some very twisted patches in minutes. For $39.99, the
full version lets you set up sound banks and manage presets.
Say goodbye to the Mopho module’s odd little input gain control and the
Assign Parameters button, and say hello to internally programmable input
and feedback gain, more arpeggiator modes, and adjustable slew rates for
each sequencer step. To the back panel, Dave Smith added a USB MIDI
port, a footswitch input (for sustain or latching the arpeggiator), and a
control voltage/sweep pedal input (for modulating parameters). Other
enhancements include dedicated switches for the sequencer and arpeggiator,
and “Transpose” buttons (actually octave shift—they don’t transpose
in half-steps) offering five keyboard ranges.
The only issue I had with the panel is that the volume knob is on the
upper right—fine if you’re playing with the left hand, but difficult if you’re
playing with the right. In addition, some players might find it awkward
to have the pitch and mod wheels above the lowest notes of the keyboard,
although that’s common on smaller keyboards.
Here’s where the Mopho Keyboard kills. Not only can it deliver the rich
basses, screaming leads, and sparkly effects of the module, but now, you
can play and tweak the sounds in an organic way right out of the box—
without having to pre-assign parameters to a separate MIDI controller.
You have to hear this synth in stereo, because many of the presets take
advantage of panning. There are plenty of classic analog sounds to start
with, whether you want Moog-like weight, Oberheim growl, or hints of
Pro-One or Prophet.
Of course, presets are just stepping stones to your own sounds. Don’t like
a patch? Simply dial down the envelopes, play a chord, latch the arpeggiator,
and tweak the envelope and filter—instant Dark Side of the Moon. This helped
me rework the few presets in the Mopho Keyboard that I didn’t like.
Don’t forget that the audio input lets you send external signals through
the synth for filtering or gated effects. Presets are included to help you
set it up for processing other instruments.
In the early ’80s, the Sequential Circuits Pro-One (also designed by Dave
Smith) put the sound of the coveted Prophet-5 into a more affordable
and compact monophonic package. By offering everything you’d want in
an analog monosynth at a very aggressive price, the Mopho Keyboard
stands in a similar relation to the Prophet ’08 of today. Moreover, it sounds
so good that, at times, you’ll forget it’s monophonic. For sound quality,
fun factor, and sheer value, we award it a Key Buy.
PROS Excellent sound quality. Easy to edit and save patches. Knobs for
every important parameter. Can edit multiple parameters at once.
Buttons for arpeggiator and sequencer. Footswitch inputs.
CON: Volume control placement is awkward.
CONCEPT Analog synth with onboard sequencer and arpeggiator.
POLYPHONY Monophonic (one voice).
OSCILLATORS PER VOICE 2, each with a sub-oscillator.
FILTER 2-pole or resonant 4-pole lowpass filter.
SEQUENCER Gated 16 x 4 step sequencer.
WxDxH 11.1" x 8.65" x 3.6".
WEIGHT 9.4 lbs.
Approx. street: $800