The synthesizer as we know it today owes a lot to the analog pioneers of the past. Early designs from Tom Oberheim, Dave Smith, and the late Bob Moog not only laid the groundwork for the modern synthesizer, but also for an industry that would boom in the decades to follow. But like many tech companies of yesteryear, there was a point where these three synth manufacturers seemed as though they would be gone forever. Fortunately for us, they were just down and not out. Fast forward to 2012 and Moog, Oberheim, and Dave Smith are back doing what they do best, making killer analog synthesizers. Deciding which one of their synths to buy can be a tough choice though. So let the shootout begin.
Below is a list of features that each synth must have to compete in the shootout. In general, the synth must be analog, sell for under $1000, and be designed and built in the USA.
These features are a sweetspot in today’s synthesizer market and Moog, Oberheim, and Dave Smith Instruments each have a model that fits:
The Moog Slim Phatty is a modern day analog synth built by Moog Music. Though the Slim Phatty alludes to Moog models of the past like the Source and Rogue, it’s officially a slimmed down version of another modern day synth, the Moog Voyager. The Voyager’s ties to the past however are a little more direct. It’s the modern day incarnation of one of the most famous synthesizers of all time, the Minimoog.
Released in 1974, the SEM, or Synthesizer Expander Module, was originally intended as an expansion for other analog synthesizers of the era. But the SEM’s exquisite sound quality helped to define it as a serious machine in its own right. It even went on to expand itself into the famous Two-Voice and Four-Voice versions. The modern day SEM is a near circuit-for-circuit replica of the original.
The Mopho by Dave Smith Instruments has roots going back to the legendary Prophet line by Sequential Circuits. Released in 1978, the Prophet 5 ushered in a new wave of polyphonic synthesizers that would go on to define an era. The sound engine of the Mopho is similar to that of the Prophet, adding a few new features like distortion and MIDI.
Each of these synthesizers brings with it a unique, time-proven approach for creating and interacting with sound. At the heart of this approach are the features that each designer decided on for the design. The chart below compares some of the most important ones.
But you can’t have everything for under 1k. Compromises are found in all but the most expensive of synths and these three are no exception. Because of this, each synthesizer has certain strengths and weaknesses which are illustrated in the chart below.
So which will it be? The Slim Phatty with it’s powerful and flexible sound? The SEM with it’s cool balance of sound power and control? Or the Mopho with it’s multitude of features? In a perfect world the answer of which one to buy is easy: all three. But this is a shootout… and in a shootout only one can win.