Moog Sub 37 reviewed

When Moog debuted the Sub 37 at last year’s Winter NAMM, attendees were somewhat split about its impact. We'll just say it up front: This synth is anything but “another Phatty.” In fact, it's probably the best bang for buck in Moog's product line. Here's our full review.
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0
When Moog debuted the Sub 37 at last year’s Winter NAMM, attendees were somewhat split about its impact. We'll just say it up front: This synth is anything but “another Phatty.” In fact, it's probably the best bang for buck in Moog's product line. Here's our full review.

When Moog debuted the Sub 37 at last year’s Winter NAMM, attendees were somewhat split about its impact. On one hand, there was a lot of commotion about its combination of paraphonic two-voice polyphony and a rather impressive display of enhanced synthesis functionality. On the other, there was some cynical grumbling about it just being “another Phatty.” Either way, there was a lot of buzz on both sides of the aisle and as a Phatty owner myself I was more than a little curious. After what seems like an eternity, the Sub 37 started shipping last autumn, and I’ll just say it up front: This synth is anything but “another Phatty.”

Hardware

From a design standpoint, the Sub 37 is the most approachable synth Moog has released since the Minimoog Voyager. Like the recent Sub Phatty (and unlike the Little and Slim models) the front panel is gloriously festooned with knobs and buttons. It’s pretty much one knob or switch per function, with only a tiny bit of function toggling to keep things tidy. And unlike the Sub Phatty, there are enough keys to truly rip when soloing—three octaves, to be exact. As with all Moog products, construction is top-notch, too. Moog certainly knows that its gear is a prominent part of touring rigs and the Sub 37 is definitely built for that.

Image placeholder title

Since the Sub 37 is based on the Phatty architecture, its audio signal path will be immediately familiar, with two oscillators and a noise generator feeding a Moog filter and amp. Straightforward and timeless, yes, but also a major leap forward as we’ll see when we dive in.

Oscillators. The Sub 37’s dual oscillators are based on Moog’s continuously variable waveform selectors, which are always a joy to use. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of working with them yet, here’s the big picture. The 21st-century Moog design eschews switchable waveforms in favor of a rotary pot that smoothly scans between triangle, then sawtooth, then square, and finally narrow pulse. In practice, this design really delivers the best of all worlds when it comes to dialing in precise harmonic spectra. For example, positioning the knob between triangle and sawtooth delivers that classic saw sound with the added benefit of a reinforced fundamental—perfect for meaty bass sounds. Positioning the value between saw and square delivers that distinctive lead sound that Deadmau5 and Wolfgang Gartner popularized with their early electro tracks. After that, it’s straight-up pulse width modulation, which we all know and love.

While previous Phatty models simply included octave, tuning, and hard sync options, the Sub 37 offers a few worthwhile additions to the original architecture. For starters, you can set the oscillators to reset their phase every time for each new note, which is an excellent trick for keeping basses tight and punchy. There’s also a new “Beat Freq” knob that allows you to precisely dial in a detuning value that remains consistent across the keyboard (a feature I always loved about my old Kurzweil K2000). Finally, there are two buttons that govern the Sub 37’s new paraphonic mode: Duo and KB Control. Duo toggles the paraphonic mode on and off, while the KB Control parameter switches oscillator 2’s priority between low and high note. While most users will focus on the new duophonic capabilities, I was instantly mesmerized by the ability to turn on both Duo and hard sync, which produced some searing lead sounds, with that classic sync effect controlled directly by my playing style. It’s hard to overstate how cool this sounds and it really gives the Sub 37 a truly distinctive flavor compared to the other Phatties and even the Voyager itself.

It’s worth mentioning here that the Sub 37’s glide (portamento) features are extremely comprehensive. It can be applied independently to either oscillator—another huge plus for duophonic playing—and can be switched between three different modes: linear constant rate, linear constant time, and exponential. This allows for some really subtle fine-tuning of its behavior and will definitely appeal to finicky prog rock soloists. There are also switches for legato and gated functions, as well as a simple on/off switch, which is a lovely touch.

Mixer. The Sub 37’s mixer is another step forward from previous models. Like the Sub Phatty, there are knobs for each oscillator, the noise generator, and an additional sub oscillator that tracks the pitch of oscillator 1 an octave lower. From there, Moog added an additional knob that serves the dual function of either controlling a feedback loop in the filter circuit or adjusting the gain of an external signal input (for processing by the Sub 37’s filter and amp sections). Finally, each knob also has a dedicated mute switch so you can quickly turn its audio on and off, which is a real boon for advanced sound design techniques.

Filter. Of course, the Sub 37 includes Moog’s legendary ladder filter, with its juicy resonance and velvety warmth. Like on the Sub Phatty, there’s a knob for Moog’s innovative MultiDrive feature, which blends nasty overdrive with a touch of compression for incredible fatness. The filter also includes front panel switching of its roll-off slope in four discrete steps from single-pole (6dB per octave) to the classic four-pole (24dB per octave) sound that Bob Moog pioneered in the 1960s. The Little and Slim Phatties also had this feature, but tucked it deep in their LCD menus. It’s great to see it on the front panel now, where it always belonged.

Envelopes. Obviously, the standard Phatty ADSR envelopes are included here as well: one each for filter and amp. But this implementation includes quite a few new options, many of which work harmoniously together to give the Sub 37 a lot more range than the majority of modern analog synthesizers, including the Voyager.

For example, each envelope now includes five buttons below the ADSR knobs: Multi Trig, Reset, Sync, Loop, and Latch On. Multi Trig and Reset are tailor-made for the new paraphonic features, allowing each new note to retrigger the envelope in various ways, even if a second key is held. Sync causes the envelope to retrigger in sync with the arpeggiator rate (even if the arpeggiator is off) or sync to a MIDI clock. Loop causes the envelope to continuously cycle, based on its settings, turning it into a highly-customizable LFO of sorts. Latch On is basically a VCA switch, with the overall level set by the sustain parameter.

Between the two envelopes is a “knob shift” section, activated by its own button. This switches the function of the ADSR knobs to control four additional envelope parameters, including an initial delay segment, hold time between the attack and decay segments (for added punchiness), velocity sensitivity for each envelope, and a keyboard tracking function that increases the envelope rates as you play up the keyboard.

All in all, these are the most comprehensive ADSR envelopes Moog has ever produced. By combining these various features, it’s possible to create some truly impressive effects that work in tandem with your playing (or sequencing) style.

Modulation. The LFOs are another area where Moog has really brought their A-game to the Sub 37’s design. Whereas previous Phatties included a single basic LFO that could be routed to a few destinations, the Sub 37 includes two identical LFOs with some really impressive routing options.

Like the originals, there’s a Rate knob and waveform selector that toggles between triangle, square, up and down sawtooths, random (sample-and-hold) and the filter envelope. That’s now part and parcel of the Phatty sound. What takes it up another notch is the fact that each LFO can simultaneously modulate the pitch of either (or both) oscillators, the filter cutoff, and a third source that’s switchable between each the oscillators’ waveform parameters, VCA level, noise level, envelope rates, or the other LFO’s rate. That’s a lot of sonic flexibility in itself, but both LFOs also include the ability to operate in the audio range, sync to the arpeggiator (or MIDI) clock, and retrigger with each note played. There’s an additional switch that allows the each LFO to have its own performance controls, for modulation wheel and velocity effects.

If these updates were applied to a single integrated LFO, I’d be impressed, but the fact that the Sub 37 now sports dual LFOs of this complexity means that this synth is more than just another iteration of the “Moog sound”.

Arpeggiator. Moog’s latest synth is no slouch in the arpeggiator department either. The amenities here go quite a bit further than the usual multi-octave up/down fare in several ways. For starters, there are two additional arpeggiator patterns included in the selector. The aptly named Order mode arpeggiates according to the order in which the keys were played, while Random delivers that classic Roland-style randomized pattern that was a big part of the sound of Duran Duran’s early hits. Another intelligent inclusion is the ability to tweak the results with both “back and forth” and inverted options, which add greatly to its originality in live performance situations.

The real show-stopper here is the arpeggiator’s step sequencer mode, which allows you to set up custom sequences similar to a vintage Roland SH-101, with the ability to add rests and ties, as well as the added bonus of being able to transpose those sequences on the fly.

What’s more, this step sequencer makes great use of the Sub 37’s duo mode and elaborate glide features. In duo mode, steps can either use one or two voices, based on how you enter the steps. With some careful planning, you can get some truly impressive results that would be hard to achieve via any other method. As for glide functions, the Sub 37’s arpeggiator does a knockout job of emulating the slides and swoops of the Roland TB-303. Just set the glide to “mode 2” and use the sequencer’s tie function to activate the slide. Several of the factory presets ably demonstrate this feature, but with a little practice it’s fairly easy to whip up your own—a lot faster than on a real TB-303, incidentally.

In Use

While I was certainly excited to get my hands on the Sub 37, I honestly thought it would just be a cooler, updated version of the Sub Phatty with some duophonic features. After 15 minutes, that preconception was pleasantly shattered.

As a monophonic synth, the Sub 37 is a monster. If you take it easy, you can get pretty much any classic Phatty sound in moments, thanks to the knob-per-function panel. Dig a bit deeper and you can generate some incredibly dynamic and fluid performance patches that go beyond simple controller tricks, thanks to the new envelope and LFO amenities. With these, you can create unique patches that are tightly tailored to your playing style—even in a song-specific capacity, since these details are all integrated into the preset memory, as opposed to being global settings.

Duophonic mode was far more impressive than I’d originally anticipated. There are a few live performance videos on the Moog site that show how “polyphonic” the effect is, if you tackle it correctly. In fact, I dare say that Clavinet players will have a blast with it, since many of the classic Clav approaches involve a lot of syncopated, staccato alternating of hands with open voicings on the top.

That said, if you’re not a chops-heavy player, you can still use the duophonic mode in a more traditional style, with bass in the left and lead in the right hand, which works especially well if you make use of oscillator 2’s note priority modes and the extensive glide options. The fact that the sub-oscillator is tied to oscillator 1 will make those bass notes rather massive, too.

The real coup for me was the hard-sync duophonic trick I mentioned in the oscillator section. There’s a demonstration of it in the audio examples for this review, but it has to be played to be experienced. I’ve never heard another synth do this trick so beautifully, and for some keyboardists this alone will be worth the price of admission.

Conclusions

Moog Music is probably going to hate me for saying this, but given the choice between the Sub 37 and a Minimoog Voyager (which is about double the price), I’d go for the Sub 37. Between the utterly unique sound of its paraphonic architecture, the extensive modulation amenities, and the immediacy of its panel layout, the Sub 37 is an absolute beast. If you’re on the fence about picking up a modern Moog or are thinking about upgrading from an older Phatty model, the decision is made. It’s time for a new love affair.

PROS

Two-voice paraphonic polyphony. Trademark Moog sound. Extensive new modulation features. Impressive and powerful arpeggiator includes step sequencing functions.

CONS

No realistic grand piano sounds? Lacks built-in espresso machine? We’re scraping here . . .

Bottom Line

Much more than an updated Phatty, and quite possibly the best bang for buck in Moog’s whole product line.

$1,579 list | $1,499 street
moogmusic.com