by Francis Preve
IN THE MID-’70S, THE MOOG TAURUS BECAME SYNONYMOUS WITH BIG, BEEFY BASS. Designed as a one-octave pedal controlled synth, the Taurus was quickly embraced
by rockers—like Pink Floyd, Heart, and Rush—who used it to bombard arenas
with subsonic mayhem. While it was capable of a full, five-octave range, the name of
the game was bass—and lots of it. Then, around 1980, the Taurus II upped the ante by
expanding the pedal range to 1.5 octaves and replacing the original synth engine with
the one found in their entry-level lead synth, the Rogue.
|A knob for every function makes dialing in sounds fun and quick.
Fast forward to the 2000s. In 2010, the revitalized
Moog Music resurrected this epic bass
synth, aptly dubbing it the Taurus 3. Updating
the design cues from the original Taurus and
adding MIDI, USB, and a slew of modern amenities,
the Taurus 3 became a hit with the analog
set, due to its double-fisted haymaker of growly
filters and added low-frequency oomph. We loved
it when we reviewed it in our October 2010 issue,
which also feted the 40th anniversary of the
Minimoog. So when Moog announced their new
Minitaur bass synth, which essentially puts the
Taurus 3 sound engine into a wedge-shaped tabletop
form factor, we got out the drool buckets.
The first thing that caught my attention about the
Minitaur is its one-knob-per-function front panel.
As the owner of numerous analog synths both
vintage and new, there’s a visceral joy that comes
from reaching directly for the parameter you want
to tweak and going for it. No clicking through
menu pages, opening a software editor, or even
having to tap a button to select what some sharedfunction
knob does—just pure playability.
The parameters, while basic, cover all of the
essentials for bass synth riff s and then some. Each of the two oscillators delivers the classic
Moog sawtooth or square waveforms, which have
a character all their own. We were a tad bummed
by the lack of pulse width control, but that’s a
|You get 1/4" analog CV inputs for pitch, filter cutoff, and volume.
Oscillator 2 is tunable in either direction by
about an octave, which is wonderful for adding
upper-mid bite or whipping up punchy Deadmau5-
style fifths. Each oscillator has its own
level control for fine-tuning the balance.
Moog didn’t skimp on the filter either. This
is definitely the legendary Moog filter with its
slightly overdriven character and creamy roll-off
that lets the Minitaur go toe-to-toe with its bigger
brothers without breaking a sweat. Th e resonance
is juicy, too, delivering those classic Rush
sweeps when the envelopes are set just right.
Speaking of envelopes, there are two: One
for the filter and one for the amp. In a nod to
the original Minimoog, these are attack-decaysustain
affairs, with a switch that ties the release
segment to the value of the decay segment. In
practice, they deliver everything you’d need from
a standard ADSR, with a little less fuss.
Rounding out the engine is a single, trianglewave
LFO, which can modulate both the oscillator
pitch and the filter cutoff (great for dubstep
The Minitaur includes MIDI, USB, analog gate,
and control voltage (CV) inputs for pitch, filter,
and volume, so it snaps right into any rig with
zero hassle. Every knob sends and receives MIDI
continuous controller info, so as I was testing it
with Ableton Live, I incorporated knob twists
and turns into the sequence clips without a hitch.
Morphing bass sounds and mid-range comping
riff s were a breeze to conjure—and the low end
on the Minitaur was truly astonishing. Th is is a
muscular little powerhouse.
While the Minitaur has no onboard memory
for presets, a nifty software editor captures the
parameter settings and allows for preset storage
on your Mac or PC. Th is lets you store your sound
design work, if only for studio use.
I quickly became engrossed in the Minitaur,
using its external audio input to process my
other synths, much the same way I use the
Moog Slim Phatty in my rig. If you’re looking to route a soft synth like Ableton Operator or Native
Instruments Kontakt through a Moog analog
engine, this is by far the most cost-effective
solution, period. Audio output is monaural, not
stereo, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker for synth
bass, which you usually want panned straight
up the middle in a mix anyway.
Then, as I was riffing on a definitively
electro sawtooth fifth patch, I discovered that
the Minitaur cannot create any pitches higher
than one octave above middle C. At first I
thought the ceiling was in the MIDI realm, so
I switched to playing via analog CV, because
it’s all just voltage, right? Same thing. An
email to Moog revealed that the Minitaur’s
oscillators use a much more voltage-intensive design than most analog synths, where a
one-octave rise in pitch requires one more
volt of CV. On the Minitaur, voltage has to
double to raise the pitch an octave. Moog
preferred the sound of this design for bass, so
factor in the 12-volt power supply, and that
explains the limitation. The Minitaur’s bass
response was subjectively beefier than my
trusty Slim Phatty (which has no such pitch
ceiling), which bears Moog’s claim out.
The Minitaur nails the legendary Taurus vibe. On
the plus side, you get a knob for every function
(you don’t on the Phatty) and a software editor
for storing your patches on your computer. However, if you’re looking for anything more than
a pure bass synth, the pitch ceiling just might be a
deal-breaker if you’re a budget-minded keyboardist
who’s craving a “my first Moog.” In that case,
I suggest cutting your beer budget for another
couple of months and saving up the extra two
bills for a Slim Phatty.
That said, the Minitaur is an incredible
synth for subsonic and midrange riffs—and
the external audio input is a godsend for processing
audio through a real Moog filter and
amp. If you’re pinching pennies and have a
jones for authentic Moog bass, you should be
bullish about the Minitaur. Scroll after the audio player for our summary.
PROS Fully analog. Incredible
bass. Every parameter
has its own knob, which
sends controller data over
MIDI and USB. External input
for processing all kinds
of audio. Included software
editor allows saving and
loading presets via USB.
CONS Pitch range capped
one octave above middle C.
No variable-width pulse. No
preset memory if not connected
to a computer.
Both a badass bass beast and the
most affordable Moog yet.
$679 list | $599 street