Moog Mother-32 Semi-Modular Synthesizer
Review by: Michael Weeks
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If musical instruments are like religion, then modular synthesizers are like existential philosophy. Just when you think you are close to an answer, it bears down on you and defeats you with an overwhelming awareness of your own fragile mortality.
Options are plentiful these days. What started as a fairly niche format lead to a resurgence in modular synthesizers popularity, spearheaded by the Doepfer Eurorack standard. With more manufacturers arriving almost weekly, it seems, bringing new and unique ideas to the table, the old guard is creeping in and making the classic voices from the first generation of synthesizers an integral part of this new movement.
Moog entered this market in a big way with the Mother-32, a hybrid, semi-modular, standalone unit that can be moved from its custom case into your existing Eurorack system if desired. The Mother-32 is a great standalone product at a good price point, but it also adds some nice horsepower to a small modular setup that you may be creating.
With a crowded field of competing modules from many manufacturers, if your primary interest in the Mother-32 is as a general part of a larger modular setup, you will certainly want to assess your core usage plan, as integrating a semi-modular synth into a Eurorack setup is not always the most advantageous option. But as it stands today, if you want the classic Moog voice in a truly integrated format for Eurorack, this is your only option.
For a small modular setup, the Mother-32 is a killer option. You get a MIDI-CV interface, a built-in “button” keyboard for instant melodic patching, a sequencer, oscillator, filter, envelope generator, and VCA all for an incredibly low price. And, it’s built like an absolute tank.
Overall, this is a fantastic unit for just about everyone who doesn’t already own a Moog Modular System 55 (which would be nearly all of us). If you want to add some classic Moog sound and functionality to your modular studio, you just might have to buy your own Mother… that would be a Mother-32, to be clear. Just be sure to make extra copies of the patch worksheets if you want presets!
The Moog Mother-32 is a single-voice synthesizer module with an integrated sequencer and a robust patch panel for interfacing with external gear or integrating with other modular synthesizer equipment.
At its heart is a single “vintage-voiced” Moog oscillator, with sawtooth and pulse waveforms, each accessible via individual patch points.
In addition, it has a simple mixer, allowing a mix between the VCO and Noise/External signal, as well as a switchable Low Pass/High Pass Moog Ladder filter. There is a VCA, an LFO with Square and Triangle shapes available, and an Attack/Decay envelope generator.
There are direct controls for selectable VCO and VCF modulation, from either the envelope or from the LFO. And the Mother-32 acts as a MIDI-to-CV converter, too, allowing MIDI signals to pass through to the patch outputs as well as to the internal oscillator, with assignable continuous controllers (CC’s) to additional outputs.
For onboard control, it features a thirteen-note, rubber-button keyboard with octave selector, and the keyboard also functions as the input for the step sequencer, which has thirty-two steps, and sixty-four memory locations.
The namesake of the Mother-32 is its thirty-two point patch bay on the right-hand side of the panel. This includes inputs for: External Audio, Mix CV, VCA CV, VCF Cutoff, VCF Resonance, VCO 1V/Octave, VCO Linear FM, VCO Modulation, LFO Rate, Mix 1, Mix 2, VC Mix Control, Mult, Gate, Tempo, Run/Stop, Reset and Hold. Outputs include: VCA, Noise, VCF, VCO Saw, VCO Pulse, LFO Triangle, LFO Square, VC Mix, Mult 1, Mult 2, Assign, EG, KB, and Gate.
The Mother-32 comes in a desktop case, with an internal power supply and standard IEC power cable. For users looking to integrate into an existing Eurorack modular case, the Mother-32 includes a port for a power harness to connect to standard Eurorack power rails, drawing 230mA and requiring 60HP of space.
The Moog Mother-32 needs to be looked at from three angles: as a standalone synthesizer, as one of multiple, interconnected Mother units, and as a component of a larger modular environment.
As a standalone synthesizer, the Mother-32 is a dream. It is a pure expression of patchable, semi-modular synthesis, allowing the user to create an immense variety of sound with one unit and a handful of patch cables. The sequencer is well integrated and simple to use, with a straightforward interface that allows both instant playability as well as nuanced control with slide/tie and accent options.
Adding additional Mother-32 units (we reviewed a collection of three units) amplifies the potential in many ways, since it enabled us to create up to three-oscillator patches with multiple cross-modulation routing options and other unique, stacked, filtering effects. Setting up patches with multiple units is as complicated or simple as you want it to be. We used one unit as the “Master,” with patches from the master going to the slave units for pitch or other control. This enabled us to stack voices via the external audio input and use the blend knob to control the voices. This technique is similar to how you can manage with additional Eurorack modules, using the Mother as the “mothership” controlling final audio mix and envelope/VCA control. Alternately, you can use the individual oscillator outs to further integrate into your larger modular system to bypass the Mother-32’s mix/env/VCA control.
When integrated into a larger modular, the patch panel becomes even more vital, allowing for voice structures to be created with the Mother-32 mixing external signals into its path, or providing additional sequence/modulation output to the larger modular. In any of these scenarios, you maintain individual control of master pitch/tune of the oscillators for relative pitch offset, and can create stacked unison notes or create simple chord structure voicing (5th/7th/etc) for more complex melodic timbres.
With multiple Mother-32 units, the sequencers function independently unless you utilize MIDI Sync or CV clock inputs. It’s a true laboratory, where this can integrate into your system in a number of core ways that will enable exploration for many sessions and setups.
There are inherent limits to the true usability of a semi-modular synthesizer within a full modular environment. However—and this may hinder its utility to some users, when integrating it into our studio Eurorack setup, it was somewhat cumbersome to interface through the patch panel instead of via patch points directly near their related function. While not a deal breaker, it does make for decision making early on in a patch creation. You can’t truly treat the Mother-32 as a collection of modules, rather you have to treat it as a complex voice addition with supplemental utility.
In a word: perfect. You buy a Moog product for a certain sound, and the Mother-32 delivers it. This is a one-oscillator voice (expandable to more) with a four-pole Ladder filter, and it delivers the classic Moog sound in a compact package. Adding additional Mother units makes for even more fun.
Initial patches will inevitably veer towards some straightforward subtractive standards: pulsing sequenced basses, melodic staccato sequences, and adding in a MIDI controller will lead to some lead sound exploration. When working with multiple Mother32 units, it adds in not only multi-oscillator patch exploration for more complicated sounds and layered timbres, but you also begin to hear and understand the way nuanced inter-patching creates some fantastic organic fluctuation within your sounds.
Video courtesy of Moog Music
The included manual is an excellent resource, not only for the usual “Knob A does XYX,” but as a comprehensive introduction to synthesis in a modular environment. The documentation alone makes the Mother-32 an excellent starting investment for novice synthesists looking to explore modular synth technology.
The Moog Mother-32 (MSRP $649) sells for just under $600 street, making it an affordable option for adding some classy horsepower to a Eurorack setup or for someone looking for a semi-modular mono synth with a small footprint and excellent expandability.
Overall Rating - Product Summary
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