Hot dog purveyor Gray’s Papaya in New York is beloved for its “Recession Special”: two dogs and a drink. Their champagne is made from coconuts. And you don’t just scarf these down in bear markets; you enjoy them any time.

Dave Smith’s monophonic Mopho synth is perhaps the greatest recession special in the history of synthesis. It’s got the soul of a single voice from the Prophet ’08 analog synth, but with sub-octave generators, distortion that they claim ranges to “extreme skronk,” and the ability to process audio input. Interestingly, that means its “skronkiness” and input processing address some of the complaints I’ve heard from people who didn’t immediately take to the new Prophet. The whole, 7.5×5″ package, with the 100% analog signal path mono synth, the Curtis analog low-pass filter, and a Mac/Windows editor, costs just US$400 street.

And then there’s that mysterious “Push It” button.

If you want some hands-on experience, our friend Chris Randall of Analog Industries (and Audio Damage) just got his:
Honky Mopho

I’m about the last person to mention the Mopho (I was out of town when it launched), so I went to the good peoples of Dave Smith to get a little more information. DSI’s Andrew McGowan responds.

And yes, we get to hear something about the ever-mysterious upcoming Dave Smith – Roger Linn LinnDrum II, which this is not.

Peter: Why a “Push It” button? Is it assignable when you’re designing your own patches?

Andrew: The Push It button is a manual trigger. It can act just like a key (push it plays, release it stops) or it can latch on with one push and off with another. Because Mopho has a gated sequencer, that means the Push It button can also play or latch a sequence. There is also a trigger mode where pressing the Push It button (or a key) can step through a sequence, so it’s actually possible to play a simple melodic line without a keyboard. And that’s all configurable per program.

Peter: The signal path is basically the same as one voice on the Prophet 08, correct? Aside from the sub-octave generators, are there any other differences — subtle or otherwise — or is it best to think of this as a single voice from the Prophet in a box?

Andrew: The voice architecture is the same. The additions are the sub-octave generators and the feedback loop. The feedback loop is made possible by the Audio In, which is not present on the Prophet. Both of those things can give it a pretty distinctly different character from the Prophet.

Peter: Is 14-bit control possible in the MIDI implementation?

Andrew: It responds to double-byte NRPNs, as some of the parameters (filter cutoff, for example) have a range of more than 128 values.

The Mopho software editor. Click for full-sized version.

Peter: The audio input/filter capability — in which you can take any external audio input and run it through the Mopho — is unique to the Mopho? It’s not on the Prophet ’08?

Andrew: The Evolvers have audio inputs, but not the Prophet. It’s a little trickier on a polyphonic instrument. (The Poly Evolver skirts the issue somewhat because it’s essentially 4 Evolvers in a box.)

Peter: I see it’s made some trips out to some celebrity synth users. Anything to share from their experiences?

Andrew: From Felix Martin of Hot Chip: “We’re very proud to be the first official owners of the Mopho! It certainly is a powerful little box with a incredibly immediate, rich sound. The first time I got it hooked up and run through a big PA, I cranked up the Sub Oscillators and they sound absolutely amazing – gives Joe’s Voyager a run for its money! I have already programmed some sounds and sequences which I will be running for the first time tonight in Dallas, will send over a photo of it in my little machine world once it is fully integrated. I hope it’s a success and that it finally convinces people to stop paying hundreds of $s for bashed up tb303s.

“I really do like this little machine, it’s a great thing to have on the tour bus and on stage as well.”

Andrew Everding from the band Thursday also wrote to say he had already used it on their new album. As far as I know, he’s the first one into a studio with a Mopho.

Peter: Will we see any of the spirit of the Mopho in the upcoming LinnDrum II? Now that the Mopho is out the door, does that mean DSI’s attention turns to the LinnDrum while the rest of us (ahem) sit in eager anticipation?

Andrew: Well, the attention never really turns away from the LinnDrum II. Dave worked on both the Prophet ’08 Module and Mopho during those times when Roger was working on aspects that required less of Dave’s time. I’ve known Dave for nearly 30 years, and he’s not really one to remain idle for long. He’s always working on something. The LinnDrum II will have the analog voices and processing and will use the Curtis chips that we use in our other products. I’m not really at liberty to say much more than that right now. It’s gone through some pretty major changes and I think it’ll definitely be worth the wait. I’d like to get my hands on one, too!

(More videos)

  • 4lefts

    ahh. this is more like it. ich wants.

  • Paul Norheim

    Fantastic. This also represents a challenge for Moog. They should respond with a tiny "recession special" module, perhaps built on the Little Phatty?

    I have the Voyager (Rack Mount Edition), but the Mopho would be a great addition, not only for its portability, but also to connect to the moogerfoogers, the MP-201 Multi Pedal and other modular stuff.

    This is also great for the hardware analog modular synth marked in general, as it represents an affordable entrance into the analog modular world. It`s not much more expensive than some soft synths – and will hopefully last much longer…

    I really hope this will become a hit among musicians!

  • dead_red_eyes

    Wow, I *must* get one of these a.s.a.p.!

  • That little synth sounds pretty banging

  • velocipede

    I ordered a Mopho the week it was announced. It is waiting in a closet for me to open it on my birthday. 4 days to go!

    I would love to have a Voyager Rackmount because the full compliment of Moog knobs is really appealing, but the Mopho is about 7 times cheaper, has a nice free editor, and great sounding demos.

    I had been looking at the Evolver, and I know that some people prefer its matrix interface, but the Mopho's features are more appealing to me overall.

    Great timing for a budget-priced analog synth. I hope they sell a lot of them.

  • Paul Norheim

    "It is waiting in a closet for me to open it on my birthday. 4 days to go!"

    Wow, velocipede, what a discipline!

  • llamas_are_everywher

    I bought a Mopho, and my only complaint is the knobs move too slow for performance.

    I think a Matrix editor with the LCD display would have been ideal, though this isn't bad. The software editor is good.

    Possibly could supplement it with a BCR 2000 board o' knobs (or the other board o' faders) and make it quite fun.

    That all being said, if Moog makes a knobby LP module I think I'd buy it. I liked my LP, just that the keyboard was teh suck to like it THAT much. But very nice responsive and fun knobs.

    And it needs an expression pedal input or two.

  • It has an input and it's analog, why doesn't it vocode? That is what I want out of it.

    It does look like a good deal though. Might have to make it my x-mas present to myself…

  • How is this different than the Evolver? Can someone do a comparison?

  • 4lefts

    not a comparision, but the evolver has digital and analogue oscillators, right?

    i reckon they're going to sell these quicker than they can make them.

  • SiUnit

    This thing looks awesome! Ive been waiting for a decent budget synth for ages but everything felt a little sub-par and came with all this extra crap [keyboard/audio interfaces etc] that I didn't need.

    Genius design [mmm sub oscillators] and a genius price point, cant wait to get my hands on one =)

  • The computer interface seems quite complete for all related to routing, which considered sequencers are now used makes it a cool tool to get that hardware sound, without the small LCD hardware interfaces (and with full MIDI control, compared to old synths).
    I think I might give it a try (at least start out by checking how the thing sounds through something else than internet-MP3)

  • Well, the Evolver:

    * four oscillators – two analog, two digital to the Mopho's one analog voice (2 analog oscillators)
    * also has Curtis filters, 16×4 step sequencer, ability to modulate external input
    * slightly more expensive ($600 list)
    * *adds* onboard effects the Mopho lacks
    * *lacks* sub-oscillators
    * different editing approach – matrix instead of the simpler assignable controls on the Mopho

    So, basically, the Mopho's edge here is that it's got the all-analog signal path, the voice from the Prophet, those sub-octave generators, and a simpler design. The Evolver's draw is that it has four voices oscillators plus effects. Both really great-sounding, really cheap synths, but it comes down to whether you want four voices or one really amazing voice.

  • After years of playing with soft synths I'm asking Santa Claus for a hardware thing for Christmas. I've been angling toward a Micron, even though the interface isn't as knobby as I'd like. The filters sound so lovely and I like the all in one thing, and I could lose the keyboard controller and stick with my MPD32 and the Micron for control over Live and Reaktor and stuff.
    But now I'm not so sure. With this Mopho out there running around, is there any reason I should still be considering the Micron? I'd miss the vocoder but the Micron's vocoder wasn't much, I gather. Im not any kind of snob for analog vs virtual-analog either — like I said I think the Micron sounds pretty great.
    Push me one way or another please. Santa knows nothin about synths and I want to give her the correct list.

  • mr ecklie

    "The Evolver’s draw is that it has four voices and effects"
    The mono Evolver, to which you're comparing here, doesn't have four voices. It's a mono synth with four oscillators.

  • dead_red_eyes

    Brian, for one … the Micron is polyphonic, where the Mopho is monophonic. That might affect your decision right there.

  • @mr ecklie: sorry, brain fart, yes. Osc, not voices.

    Someone really needs to do a Prophet 08 vs. PolyEvolver comparison, as well, as I know some people actually prefer the Poly to the Prophet.

    Brian, the thing is, I think if you really want a hardware synth, some of the unique editing workflows and such, you're going to be happier with the Mopho than a Micron. And, anyway, you can do a lot of what the Micron does in software. Just sayin'.

    But if you can get your hands on a Mopho, of course, that'll help … I think you need to experience these things first-hand. I know with the Prophet, some people had this immediate emotional response, and others didn't; it's all really subjective.

    Just stay away from the presets, it sounds like. 😉

  • mg

    peter –
    4 comments above you said that the mopho has one analog oscillator, but in the signal flow diagram in the article above it appears to have two (one per channel), plus the two sub-oscillators.

  • That's correct — clarifying:

    (Mono) Evolver
    One voice
    Two digital osc
    Two analog osc

    One voice
    Two analog osc
    One sub osc *for each* analog osc

    Also, anyone know if Evolver has the noise source like the Mopho?

  • dead_red and Peter
    Thanks. After playing on the Micron a lot, I do have my doubts in that editing the patches is a bit un-hardware-like. Click turn, menu menu menu, click, turn, etc. I love the rhythms and the filters and the audio input. And yeah the polyphony – didn't even think of that.
    The Mopho I'd still have to plug it into the Axiom which means one more thing to carry around. And would I miss the poly with this? When I have Reaktor and Thor and Ableton and…
    Maybe the Guitar Center will get one so that I can, um, test the emotional response…

  • Jinsai

    Evolver has a noise source as well.

    The "sub oscillators" on the Mopho are not "sub oscillators". They are "sub octave generators". Dave hasn't come out and said as much, but the general consensus is these are simply generated (square-wave divide-down) from the existing analog oscillators. This means they are less flexible than true oscillators.

  • stepwriterun

    Seems to me that the Morpho is the 21st century Pro-One without the crap keyboard.

  • @Jinsai: fair enough, so they're I guess *not* discrete oscillators. (or, at the very least, they're fixed — but yeah, that makes sense, more likely that they're generating from existing oscillators)

    This does raise a point, though, which is that you do in general wind up with less flexibility on hardware. I mean, you can throw in actual sub osc's easily enough in software. I still love analog hardware, but it does have this different set of design challenges.

  • Not to ask a dumb question, but if those subs are generated by divide-down of the existing analog oscillator, how do they have a separate volume routing?

  • Jinsai

    To elaborate a bit on the Mopho Vs. (Mono Desktop) Evolver and how they are different:

    Different UI. Evolver uses a matrix UI for programming and has only a 3-digit LED display, Mopho has some dedicated knobs and fewer buttons and features a 2-line LCD display.

    Same chipset for analog oscillators and filters…but tweaked differently. They will sound similar but not identical.

    Mopho's "envelope 3" can be set to repeat. Evolver's cannot (yet).

    Evolver has a more sophisticated feedback system – it's stereo, and the feedback frequency and amount can be modulated independently. Mopho has a simple loopback to the input, the gain of which can be modulated. Evolver's feedback system means you can do Karplus-Strong synthesis. Mopho's is more like the old Minimoog trick of routing the output to the input.

    Evolver has digital oscillators which enable things like FM and Ring Mod. The oscillators alias a LOT.

    Evolver has a 3-tap digital delay. Mopho does not.

    Evolver has a digital highpass filter. Mopho does not.

    Evolver's oscillators are stereo – 1&3 hardwired left and 2&4 right. Mopho's oscillators are mono – both in the center. You can pan Mopho's oscillators, but not independently.

    As a result of the digital features, Evolver's output has an analog-digital-analog conversion that Mopho does not. Some people find this conversion objectionable and a "minus" for Evolver. They claim it's not "true analog" and that the sound quality is compromised.

    If I were to summarize, I'd say:
    If you are someone who just wants a simple but powerful analog synth for basses and leads, nothing too fancy, get Mopho. It's simple(r), sounds great, and it is undoubtably "analog". It ain't gonna sound like a Moog, but if you really wanted a Moog, you'd be getting one.

    If you are someone who really enjoys programming synths, creating sounds, and is interested in more than just "the analog basics", get Evolver. It is practically a modular synth in a box, and has the flexibility to theoretically do everything Mopho can.

    Mopho's main points of distinction:
    all-analog signal path
    "sub octave generators"

    Evolver responds:
    Analog signal path is minor difference
    Can emulate/replace sub octave generators with ACTUAL oscillators
    Stereo signal path
    Digital Oscillators enable FM & Ring Mod effects
    Digital Delay, HPF, and Feedback lines

  • Fantastic writeup, Jinsai, thanks — you put me to shame! 🙂

    Obviously, there's a market for the "just the basics" approach. But… I was unaware of the feedback system there on the Evolver. That's excellent. And nicely-aliasing digital oscillators ought to be a selling point.

    I think there are plenty of hardware lovers out there for whom the additional digital features are *not* a demerit… I agree.

  • Shane…

    Just because it's analog and has I/O doesn't make it able to vocode. The Mopho has one real analog filter, whereas a real analog vocoder needs two sets of at least 10 bandpass filters (i.e. 20 filters).

    An analog vocoder also needs an envelope follower for each "band", so that's more hardware. All that hardware is why real analog vocoders tend to be pricey. Your garden-variety micro-Korg has all that stuff done in software, where making lots of filters is way easier and cheaper.


  • Marc

    "The “sub oscillators” on the Mopho are not “sub oscillators”. They are “sub octave generators”. Dave hasn’t come out and said as much, but the general consensus is these are simply generated (square-wave divide-down) from the existing analog oscillators. This means they are less flexible than true oscillators." – Jinsai

    Most sub "oscillators" on old analog synths are the same way (on the Juno for example). They do what they're supposed to.
    The dsi site says they're suboctave generators under the specs, so your implication that Dave is somehow hiding information is a wee bit fallacious.

  • Chris

    Hey Brian — I've got a Micron and it rocks. But it IS limited for the deep tweak on the fly, and the learning curve was somewhat steep for me due to the one knob and all. But, the polyphony does help for lush backdrops and such…though I strongly wish I had me a MoPho to plug into the Micron to settle in for evenings of endless arp morphing.

  • bri

    heh I discovered this great synth two days ago… God, I need one! 😀

  • lilith

    aw crap and I wasn't going to buy any more synths. at least it's only $400.

  • poopoo

    Synth is cool.

    Chris Randall really comes across as a burnt out pony tail music scene wanker, in the style of saxondale.

  • Hey Chris — thanks for the note.
    Yeah I'm seeing the possibility for the Micron from Santa, and the Mopho from the birthday fairy in March. I think running the Mopho through the Micron would be lovely. Of course, maybe they'll all get got by the Credit Card demon before any of this, so stay tuned…

    Back to Reaktor…

  • Filch

    you can put me down as sold.

  • Chris

    Cool, Brian — to me the Micron and the Mopho seem made for each other. Get rolling with the Micron first and you'll have some sweet set-ups ready for the Mopho to cut through with its mustardy sqwonk. Endless fun without being anywhere near a computer….

    Also, the relative lack of knobs on the Micron is not always a bad thing. In fact, I've come to love its bare-bones, no-mess, econo-style. Forces me to limit myself to a few choice options, compared to the endlessness of a laptop setup, which improves how I set up my laptop setups too. Limits!

    The Micron Yahoo Group has got a treasure chest full of goodies to get you going, including a BCR2000 sysex template you can use to add a knob-box to your Micron for the not-quite-on-the-fly deep tweak. 🙂

  • velocipede

    Brian, if you are still reading, I had a Micron and actually really enjoyed it for a few months. I really liked its controllers and had fun with the built-in sequencer and multitimbral splits. It is possible to make and play live an entire tune with multiple voices in the Micron.

    Why did I sell it? I got tired of the tedium of patch programming and remembered that sequencing on a computer was so much easier.

    There is now an editor for the Micron (by the same folks who do the one for the Mopho's editor, I believe) and I consider getting a used one as I occasionally miss it.

    For now, though, I am just looking forward to my Mopho tomorrow!

  • <blockquote cite="Jinsai">Evolver has a more sophisticated feedback system – it’s stereo, and the feedback frequency and amount can be modulated independently. Mopho has a simple loopback to the input, the gain of which can be modulated. Evolver’s feedback system means you can do Karplus-Strong synthesis. Mopho’s is more like the old Minimoog trick of routing the output to the input.

    To clarify even further, Mopho's feedback is an analog loopback intended to allow some overloading of the filter.

    Evolver's feedback is really a tuned resonant delay line. It also has a separate standard delay feedback (regen) on its delay lines (although the two can have some effect on each other).

    Ain't it great when two different concepts get lumped under the same name?

    Another big plus to both of these units is their external inputs. The Evolver especially excels at turning whatever is put through it into something bizarre and wacky. External inputs plus lfos and sequencers that sync to midi clock make both of these very useful and flexible.

  • sounds awesome!
    because of that i decide to buy Prophet 08 – Morpho's big brother 🙂

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  • Ras David

    YES! But another possible Missing element that no one's covered-LFOs…Do the osc go into modulation ranges for that sort of thing? (aka minimoog etc)

  • fatcat88

    In 1995 I bought a all analog Basstation (syth version) and in 96 a Nord Lead (w/ 12voice and PCMCIA) the 1st 'virtual analog' to mass market. I still own both of them (11-2008). Guess which one is hooked up to my laptop now and which one is collecting dust?.
    The Basstation analog is being used daily for recording. I use it now more than ever. A VERY minimal synth (two osc) that was touted as a TB303 emulator during its debut. It does the 303 all day if you like, but it really shines its analog heritage when rolling out the sub bass that literally shakes cement walls and its modern twist of the Cars classic mono 'head turners'. Real analog leads all day with a modern drum and bass loop at 180bpm (most excellent!). I think the crew at Dave Smith deserve our votes in the magazines for coolest product, however minimal, who is making stuff that is completely usable, sounds fantastic and is under 500.00 in the syth department. I wanted a TI synth, now I KNOW what I am buying. I might be late with my post (just out of the hospital on a long stay) but I will have one in my hands, they are available, three ninety nine.n n . Perfect price and I love the canary yellow, reminds me of a exotic sports car.
    Sam and his fatcat

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