Review byGino Robair
Who would’ve thought that an analog monosynth would be takenseriously 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:
- Keyboard Video: Mopho demo by author Gino Robair.
- Keyboard Video: Dave Smith, Roger Linn, and Tom Oberheim discuss analog synths.
- Original audio example - arpeggiator and Gino's favorite sounds
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 arpeggiator going.
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.