Moog Music Minitaur

July 27, 2012
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by Francis Preve

A knob for every function makes dialing in sounds fun and quick.
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.

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.

Architecture
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.

You get 1/4" analog CV inputs for pitch, filter cutoff, and volume.
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 quibble here.

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

In Use
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.

Conclusions
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.

Snap Judgment
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.

Bottom Line
Both a badass bass beast and the most affordable Moog yet.

$679 list | $599 street moogmusic.com

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