Pros: Fully analog signal path. Massive sound. Huge bass. Each
parameter has its own knob, which sends controller data over MIDI and
USB. External input for processing audio through Moog filters. Included
software editor allows saving and transferring of presets via USB.
Cons: Two-octave keyboard may disappoint some soloists. Only 16 preset memories.
Bottom Line: Hands down, the best Moog Phatty yet—and an incredibly ballsy sounding and fun way to go analog.
$1,099 list | $999 street | moogmusic.com
Over its 40-year history, Moog Music’s product line has
always included evolutionary products that crib ideas from their
flagship synths—variations on a theme, if you will. In the ’70s, for
example, the Minimoog begat the Micromoog and Multimoog. Similarly, the
Liberation, Rogue, and Taurus II pedals all shared the same essential
synth engine. In keeping with that approach, modern Moog synths are
variations on three distinct designs: Voyager, Phatty, and Taurus. Each
synth fills a niche with specific strengths, and this year’s evolution
of the Phatty series, the Sub Phatty, is no exception.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Sub Phatty is that
there’s no LCD or menu to page through. Huzzah! Like the Minitaur, the
Sub Phatty features a knob for every function in the synth, which gives
it a lot more immediacy in the programming department. Better
yet, the Sub Phatty’s architecture features two massive improvements
over the Little Phatty in the oscillator and filter sections, which give
it a sound that’s even bigger than the previous units.
The oscillators are of the “new Moog” variety, with
continuously variable waveforms for each. Frankly, I’ve always loved
this approach, as it delivers a boatload of sonic flexibility,
especially when you morph the sawtooth waves with either squares (a
favorite trick of EDM producer Wolfgang Gartner) or triangles (like on
the latest Dave Smith synths).
The two oscillators can be hard synced for growling,
flanger-like tonal effects, much like the original Phatties. But the
real boost in performance comes from the new Phatty’s inclusion of a
sub-oscillator in the mixer section, which creates an additional square
wave one octave lower than oscillator 1. Let me say this now: I prefer
the Sub Phatty’s bass response to even that of the legendary Taurus
synths. Of course, that’s a subjective thing, but to me it’s a huge deal
when we’re talking about Moog.
In addition to the two oscillators and sub-oscillator, the
Sub Phatty’s mixer section also includes a white noise generator that’s
awesome for whooshes, drum sounds, and adding grunge to leads.
Filter and Modulation
From there, the vaunted Moog ladder filter takes over. At
first, I was a tad confused because the other Phatties included the
ability to change the filter slope from a deeper menu, so I assumed that
the Sub Phatty was strictly four-pole. This wasn’t a huge issue for me
since the resonance on a four-pole Moog filter is so much sweeter than
almost every other synth out there. Whether you’re going for liquid
basses, wild sweeps, or retro funky leads and comps, having that
resonance at your fingertips is a joy indeed. What I later discovered
was that these “second page” features were actually accessible via the
Phatty’s software editor/librarian, along with a slew of other
That said, the filter section is another area where the
Sub Phatty truly trumps its predecessors. While the earlier models
included overdrive for adding grit and distortion to the filter, this
Phatty includes a new implementation called multidrive, which sounds
dramatically different from their original overdrive circuits. At low
values, the multidrive does the same tricks as the previous version. At
high levels, it’s an entirely different animal. It’s hard to simply call
this a “distortion” because the results are extremely nuanced in
relationship to the input, whether it’s an increase in resonance or a
shift in the continuous waveshapes. What’s more, the multidrive also
imparts a kind of compression/limiting to the sound, which makes it sit
in a track quite nicely. That’s saying a lot for a single knob.
Modulation options include amplifier envelope, filter
envelope and an LFO with all the usual waveforms along with an option to
use the filter envelope as a waveform. While I originally thought this
might allow for looping on the filter envelope—thus generating custom
waveshapes—what it actually does is allow you to use the filter envelope
as a modulation source for the pitch of both oscillators (or just
oscillator 2 for hard sync sweeps), the waveform of both oscillators, or
the filter. Modulation depth is hardwired to the wheel, so you’ll have
to reset that manually, even when using presets. Once you know about
this, you can easily work around it.
While the front panel is an absolute godsend, there are
two areas where the Sub Phatty’s lower price involved Moog cutting a few
corners: the keyboard and preset memory. In the big picture, these are
minor sacrifices, but they still affect its overall usability.
Let’s start with the keyboard. Unlike the Little Phatty’s
three-octave keyboard, which is absolutely perfect for soloing and
octave-walking bass lines, the Sub Phatty’s two-octave keyboard feels a
bit cramped. Granted, two-octave keyboards are quite common on modern
gear like the Arturia MiniBrute and M-Audio Oxygen series. But at twice
the price of the MiniBrute, it would have been nice for Moog to do a
two-and-a-half octave affair like so many Moog monosynths from the ’70s
and ’80s. Granted, you can easily use another MIDI controller or
sequencer to get around this, but it’s still going to be a consideration
for gigging live.
Next, there’s a slight issue with preset memory. That is,
there are only 16 presets on the Sub Phatty, in contrast to the Little
and Slim Phatties’ 100 presets. Now, it’s fairly obvious that it would
be hard to access more presets without an LCD screen. I get that. And
the Sub Phatty’s free software editor/librarian lets you
store oodles more presets on your computer very easily. I guess with so
many knobs, it might be better to think of the presets as 16 “starting
points” that you can easily tweak live once you get the hang of
navigating its sound.
Speaking of tweaking, the Sub Phatty sends and receives
MIDI continuous controller info for all of its knobs. This makes for
some incredible automation tricks, allowing you to morph and twist your
riffs by simply recording your knob twiddling into your DAW. If your DAW
supports embedded automation loops, such as Ableton Live with its clip
envelopes, you can whip up some truly astonishing rhythmic effects on
While we’re on the topic of studio use, here’s another
biggie: You can easily route audio into the Phatty’s filter and
amplifiers. In conjunction with the multidrive and modulation options,
this makes the synth an awesome asset for processing other synths or
recorded audio tracks from your DAW. I do this sort of thing in my
studio all the time and the way the Sub Phatty does it makes me grin
from ear to ear.
Which brings us back to the sound. Oh, the sound! I’ve had
a Slim Phatty for several years now and I can easily say that the Sub
Phatty surpasses it from an audio standpoint. The sub-oscillator gives
it a low-end depth that outranks every other Moog out there, with the
possible exception of the Voyager. On top of that, cranking the
multidrive is like making the Hulk angry. This Phatty can go from smooth
and buttery to a full-on audio assault with a single knob twist.
When Moog informed me that the Sub Phatty includes a free
editor/librarian, I was surprised. After all, there’s a knob for every
parameter, so why even bother with a software editor? I mean, unless the
unit is across the room, you just reach over and start tweaking. Isn’t
that the whole point of a panel full of knobs?
After firing up the editor, everything became much
clearer. This Phatty’s editor gives users access to a wide array of
functions that are accessed via the other models’ LCD screens. For
example, you can select from between one to four poles of filter slope,
each with its own character. You can also customize the behavior of the
envelopes, with necessities like single or multiple triggering, as well
as über-cool amenities like being able to adjust the Moog’s
distinctive hold time between the attack and decay segments. In
addition, you can select the speed range for the LFO, sync it to MIDI,
and even adjust its keyboard tracking behavior.
For setting up for a live performance, the editor also
provides access to the pitch-bend range, velocity adjustment for
envelope time and amount, external audio input gain, and of course, MIDI
channel assignment and various related MIDI functions.
Finally, there’s a librarian that allows you to shuffle
and reorder the presets and their banks, which is a boon for organizing
your sounds for gigging. It also helps offset the unit’s minuscule
memory, especially if you’re using the Phatty primarily for studio work.
After using it for a few days, it quickly became clear
that the Sub Phatty’s editor provides easy access to a lot of much
needed functionality and customization. Kudos to Moog for including it
as a free bonus.
It goes without saying that Moog had to cut a few corners
to make the Sub Phatty three hundred dollars cheaper than the Little
Phatty, so any gripes we might have with the presets and keyboard size
are relatively small in context. Especially when you keep in mind that
this synth has a knob for every parameter and is an absolute sonic
The overall Sub Phatty experience is a perfect example of
Moog’s obsessive devotion to quality and innovation. Bottom line: This
synth is actually better than my beloved Slim Phatty. The
price-to-performance ratio should make it absolutely irresistible, even
for current Phatty owners. We’re blown away by it. You will be too. Key