Sonic LAB: Dave Smith Mopho Keyboard

Analog mono for all      29/06/10

No flash plug


   QuickTime (MP4)  | iOS MP4
12:16 mins

Firstly, thanks to all those who contributed questions to the review after we posted the un-boxing video. I have tried to answer all of them in the review and if not, in the comments of that item.

 

 

Review

The original Mopho gave the budget concious a way to get into the unique world of Dave Smith's synthesizers, and as a result, it was a popular synth for them, although it lacked the interface for programming and tweaking that many people find the most compelling thing about owning an analog mono synth.  Dave and the gang have now released a keyboard version named of course, the Mopho Keyboard. 


Form

Its YELLOW - kind of roadsign or school bus yellow, with darkwood end cheeks, plenty of knobs - 25 to be exact and 20 buttons, with a 32 char 2 row LCD. The keyboard is 32-key, synth action type -  which transmits both velocity and aftertouch (not polyphonic), pitch and mod wheels sit atop main panel. Its a pretty self contained little unit, with a sturdy, but not over-engineered quality.

 

Around the back, connections are:


 

 

Connector
Power 13-15v 400 mA
USB 2.0 for MIDI and editor comms
MIDI IN
MIDI Out/Thru Switchable via Global settings
Polychain for stringing units
Sustain switchable polarity
Pedal/CV will accept CV 0-3.3v (protected)
Audio in mono, line or instrument level
Audio out L
Audio out R
Phones


 


The Mopho Keyboard is pretty well constructed, with two boards, one has the ins and outs and the other the panel controls -  the knobs and buttons are surface mounted but appear to have little metal collars that make them more sturdy. They do display a little 'wiggle' but I dont feel that they are of poor quality.

 

Architecture

This is a monophonic synth, with 2 identical oscillators, each with Saw Up, Triangle, Saw/Triangle  and Square (with variable pulse width) waves. Osc one has a 1 octave sub oscillator (square wave) and Osc 2 with a 2 octave down sub.

 

The filter is 2/4 pole - switchable, low pass resonant and can scream quite well, though it does lose some low end, when resonance is introduced.

 

Three ADSR envelopes: 1= Filter, 2= Amplitude, 3=Aux assignable

Envelope 3 also can be set into repeat mode for an additional modulation wave.

 

Four LFOs each with TRIANGLE, REV SAW, SAW, SQUARE and RANDOM -  with a range from  1 cycle=30secs to 216Hz (C3). They are all syncable to Clock - either internal or external, with a Key sync function - the wave is re-triggered on key press - so you can use it as an additional envelope - sorta.

 

The Mixer section lets you mix the two oscs though the sub-osc are not effected by this and have their own dedicated level control.

 

There's also a very powerful audio feedback feature which introduces distortion through additional gain loop, tapping the left output back to the audio input path. Some pretty crunchy and haromically rich distorted sounds can be created here - sort of like the trick of plugging the headphone of a Minimoog back into itself, but with more control.

 

Routy, Routy

Modulation/ routinf matrix offers four modulation slots - each one with 22 sources to 48 possible destinations with positive and negative amounts of depth. This almost takes the Mopho Keyboard into the semi modular domain, with plenty of routing and patching possibilities.

 

 

Function

 

Over all, the front panel is fine for programming, with all but the most obscure parameters easily accessable, where they are not theres either a shift function to some of the knobs/ buttons, plus  a 'misc parameters' section with 2x rotary encoders to page/value.

 

 


 

Sequencer and Arpeggiator

Of course, there's a 16 step sequencer on board with four channels - that means each step has four independent channels, each one can have its own routing. This is actually very powerful and can be programmed via front panel, but to be honest, doing it this way might drive you slightly mad  - probly best for your sanity to use the free, downloadable editor for this.


Arpeggiator Modes

 

  • Up        
  • Down               
  • Up Down          
  • Assign               
  • Random            

 

 

All can be set to 1, 2 and 3 octave ranges and of course the clock can be set internally via dedicated BPM knob and divided into a number of beat divisions, including triplet and dotted values.

 

 

 

Sound

Well, it certainly sounds like a Dave Smith synth - the complex and capable synthesis with that tinge of  distortion (which is entirely controllable). Its a shame that the filter is not multi-mode - that would really complete the picture for me and open up the sonic possibilities even more. There are plenty of big bass voices and complex tuned oscillator voices, but there are also a number of voices that sound like they would really shine as part of a chord, but obviously this is a mono synth. However, you can hook this up via the Polychain function to say a 4-voice Tetra to create a 5 voice poly synth - you just need to copy the patches from your Mopho to the Tetra, set up the unit to be the slave and the whole shooting match is controlled by the Mopho keyboard - even patch saving.

 

However, if you don't already own a Tetra or Mopho desktops, this cost is going be near as dammit to buying a Prohopet '08 desktop. Which gives you 8 voices but no keybord, but of course you can hook up your main master controller..

 

Finally

If you are looking for a polysynth combination - say a Tetra and Mopho Keyboard combo and don't already own the Tetra - I dont think it makes economic sense - I would go for the Prophet '08 Desktop.

 

But, this is a cracking little monosynth, with good sonic possibilities and plenty of tweakability - plus the ability to process external audio. If you already own a Tetra and are looking for a front end for it and an additional voice, this is a great match.

 

Or perhaps you are a live guitarist or bassist and need a monosynth for the occasional tune, this not only looks good, but will fit the bill.

 

Pricing and Availability

 The Mopho Keyboard is shipping now at a retail price of $879 /£549

 

You will find this cheaper online or at your retailer.

 

 


 

 

 

 

More From: DAVE SMITH INSTRUMENTS
Even more news...

21 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
Benedict Johnson    Said...

If there was an iteration of the DSI Prophet engine I would buy, it would be the full 08 keyboard version.

However, something I've never understood about the Prophet 08.. I've never tried one myself but I've watched every online demo I can find - I just don't think it sounds as good as the Native Instruments PRO-53 plug-in *boo hiss*. I've been enjoying PRO-53 for years now and the prospect of being able to play it's preset "Super Sync Lead" on a hardware synth seemed too good to be true - and was.

29-Jun-10 04:32 AM


dorremifasol    Said...

Excellent review, Nick.

I'm hearing a lot of clicks in the right channel, just from the beginning of the video. I thought it was my Fireface, but the clicks happen always at the same places. Perhaps you should check your equipment! Regards

29-Jun-10 05:54 AM


Nick B    Said...

Hmm, thats something wierd we get with our (expensive grr!) flash encoding. Try the MP4 that wont have them, but I will look into it.

29-Jun-10 06:00 AM


Marc JX8P    Said...

Great review and a great little synth - although I do agree that it should perhaps have been polyphonic (or at least have a cheap internal expansion option for extra voices).

29-Jun-10 12:32 PM


SteveFromBerlin    Said...

Nick, great review!!!

Maybe I missed it, but how good do the pots feel, especially the rotary ones? The feel of the rotarys on the Mopho is pretty bad and you'll get jumps sometimes, while the ones on the Tetra are a bitter - at least in my experience.

29-Jun-10 01:37 PM


Antony Fewster    Said...

I found the lack of a sub oscillator on the prophet to leave the bass somewhat thin, which is where the mopho and tetra excel. The external input is also a nice feature.

Same voice architecture but the sub really makes it for me.

29-Jun-10 10:16 PM


CG    Said...

The prophet does lack sub oscillators but you can stack two whole voices, this reduces the polyphony to 4 but you can create some amazing thick bass sounds by tuning the oscillators of the second voice down a few octaves and your not limited to square wave either, plus activating unison gives massive monophonic bass sounds.

30-Jun-10 10:57 AM


Alex Juno    Said...

I just had a play on one at DV today, i agree a couple of the patches really wanted to be played polyphonically (there was a cs80-like brass patch which would sound brilliant poly!) however i am still considering getting this one for several reasons. I already have a couple of polysynths including a DW8000 and a Juno (Duh) which can't really be beaten for brass and string synthy stuff, also if i really needed a polyphonic patch i could sample it into my workstation. i have lots of plugins, a couple yamaha DX synths and even some of the Kawai Additive stuff, what i really feel i'm missing, is a killer monosynth, and this certainly was that.

with just a few knob turns i was getting some killer bass sounds, some insanely noisy glitchy distorted sounds, some crazy percussion and it also does vintage/retro leads really well, including a brilliant sync lead and some of the best pwm stuff i've ever heard.most importantly it sounds analogue, feels analogue, but doesn't have the tuning instability problems and has 3 banks of 128 patches!plus i reckon itd cause quite a stir on stage.

this one's going on my wishlist for xmas.

30-Jun-10 11:00 AM


Juicy Audio Productions    Said...

Nick's review, as usual, was fair and spot on, so little niggles like audio crackle due to codec compression are neither here nor there for me.

However, having at one point - i kid you not- owned 3 different dave smith synths in my studio (i never did use them all at once), i always thought the original evolver was an amazing concept, and that this was a bit of a quick throwaway. I had the mopho desktop, which was a fantastic bang for the buck, but at 500 pounds or thereabouts for the keyboard version...

It's a bit much, considering that it REALLY DOES need another voice or two, cause of the patch design; a lot of the presets are direct ports from the prophet 8 and tetra.

Nick has again hit a good nail in its potential market, but how many synth designers design bits of gear with bass players in mind?..other than moog and the taurus, of course :-)

I can remember emailing dave smith and asking him wether the tetra would end up in a similar keyboard enclosure to the one theyve used here, to which he said no. Given that this may have been on the cards, that's understandable. But i keep thinking this is a half bake, when a KEYBOARDED tera, with its 4 part multi timbrality, would have been the real contender. Perhaps the price point would have brought it too close to the prophet 08, which is only bi-timbral.

So, in a mixture of design evolution, and production cost-to-profit realisation, we have this, which in my opinion- humble or otherwise- is a "...mmm maybe", when it could have been "ill put my name down for one now!"

Right..back to the studio.

regards

Shekhar

30-Jun-10 07:15 PM


AnalogueBoy    Said...

Nick I have to dissagree with your comparison to the Prophet 08 module choice over the Mopho+Tetra combo

I would take the Mopho kb+Tetra over the Prophet 08 any day,

5 voice multitimbrality 5 separate outputs sub oscillators feedback circuit

with the 08 you get limited outputs, only 2 note multitimbral, and if you use one voice as a mono voice for a bass line etc then you only get to access 4 more notes not 7

01-Jul-10 04:20 AM


GNeuman    Said...

Hi Nick

Wonderful review, as ever!

For me, I hear nothing new here...I think what could be a killer analogue mono-synth is if one was brought out that matched the sonic agressivity of a Seq Ccts. Pro-1..Now that would be something!

What do you think?

Best regards

Mike

01-Jul-10 05:27 AM


Nick B    Said...

Analogue Boy, thats a fair point I guess. I was coming at it from the point of view of a polyphonic instrument rather than a multitimbral one.

I guess it depends on if mutltitrimbrality is of key importance.

I'm not sure how you would control that from the Mopho Keyboard as its own OS is based on monotimbral setup, most likely you would need the editor involved in there somewhere. An interesting question raised there.q

01-Jul-10 06:39 AM


AnalogueBoy    Said...

Hi Nick, this is the answer I got from DSI a couple of weeks ago, seems like individual voices on the Tetra can be programmed from the Mopho KB: ---------------------- Thank you for your interest in the MoPho Keyboard. Poly chaining is for adding polyphony only. All edits done on the keyboard are transmitted to the Tetra so in essence, the two units combined become one poly-synth and you never have to touch the Tetra.

However, you can use the MoPho Keyboard to edit individual voices on the Tetra in Multi mode simply by changing the MoPho's MIDI channel to match each of the voices on the Tetra. All the controls are mapped, so in that way you do get access to the individual voices on the Tetra. ----------------------

01-Jul-10 09:03 AM


P jack    Said...

off subject but.. 4.35 are those Sonodyne monitors in the back! really want to know how good they are..

01-Jul-10 06:12 PM


Nick B    Said...

P jack, eagle eyes! Yes they are, the SM 100AK, I havent really got around to evaluating them yet.

02-Jul-10 09:35 AM


Nate    Said...

I own this little guy and I absolutely love it. Works great with a Tetra as well, especially in poly chain mode. Using them both together in multi-mode (basically giving you a 5-part mono synth, all controllable from the mopho's front panel) works well, but there's maybe a few bugs that need to be squished (on the Tetra side), AND I'd like to see some workflow enhancements on the mopho to make it a quicker process, instead of having to dive into the Global menu to change midi channel, turn off local control (so you don't ruin your current mopho patch), etc. I'm sure it's something that can be addressed rather simply with an OS update or two.

And you compared their price to a Prophet rack, but in reality, by looking around, you can get both together for a great price.

I actually got both, the mopho keyboard AND the tetra together, for just about the same price I could get a single Little Phatty. Just something to think about.

Great review, Nick!

02-Jul-10 06:13 PM


Nate    Said...

I own this little guy and I absolutely love it. Works great with a Tetra as well, especially in poly chain mode. Using them both together in multi-mode (basically giving you a 5-part mono synth, all controllable from the mopho's front panel) works well, but there's maybe a few bugs that need to be squished (on the Tetra side), AND I'd like to see some workflow enhancements on the mopho to make it a quicker process, instead of having to dive into the Global menu to change midi channel, turn off local control (so you don't ruin your current mopho patch), etc. I'm sure it's something that can be addressed rather simply with an OS update or two.

And you compared their price to a Prophet rack, but in reality, by looking around, you can get both together for a great price.

I actually got both, the mopho keyboard AND the tetra together, for just about the same price I could get a single Little Phatty. Just something to think about.

Great review, Nick!

02-Jul-10 06:13 PM


Nate    Said...

Sorry for the double post above.

Also forgot to add (and I hope this can be addressed somehow with updates), some of the parameters are NRPN only, so when you switch to CC mode or when you use some sort of non-NRPN-capable environment these parameters simply will not transmit. Most typical synthesis parameters will transmit fine, but stuff like the step sequencer, arpeggiator, and LFO's are affected by this.

Just another thing to keep in mind. I was running from Mopho into my MPC 2000XL and then into Tetra, to sort of ease my workflow, and it all went fine, until I realized this. The MPC 2000XL doesn't seem to handle NRPN's well.

02-Jul-10 06:22 PM


Cerebral Infect    Said...

Good Review Nick. I think your comments from the 10th minutes are spot on.

Lots of features, good oscillators and a not bad filter. Feels the urge to be played polyphonic...

Yep your are bang on. Since the since chips are used on the Evolver and the Prophet, I can tell you, the filter is actually really weak for a mono synth. That is probably why you feel the urge to play it polyphonically, i.e. to have more power to your sound. When I sold my Akai MFC42 filter, I did a demo to the buyer using the Evolver raw osciallitor into the filter. I wished so hard that the akai filter would be IN the evolver, that would have been whole different synth.

So in terms of monosynth, knowing the + and the -, would it better to cash a little bit more and get a Little Phatty (albeit with way less features) ?

That being said, I am going to get a Prophet 08 rack in a near future... to be always played polyphonic and to replace my Matrix 1000.

04-Jul-10 03:19 PM


Nick B    Said...

Thanks for the comments folks, Cerebral- I guess that might be the nub of it. The curtis chip was more suited to poly stuff as it never was the cream of the crop as a filter, obviously plenty of people do love the sound of it, but perhaps in a mono, it is rather more exposed.

05-Jul-10 03:37 AM


   Said...

You regret having no polyphonic aftertouch on a monophonic keyboard. Why should it? The previous note may resonate for a while, but the aftertouch of the next note is not going to affect it. Polyphonic aftertouch is wasted on a monophonic synthesizer. QED, they did not include it.

22-Aug-11 07:06 PM


Post a comment 
 

More Videos

Review: Roland AIRA TR8 - Drum Machine 

Its the new old school beatbox


MESSE 2014: Nektar Panorama Integrates With BitWig Studio 

Nektar announces controller's workflow integration with BitWig Studio DAW


MESSE 2014: Prism Sound Lyra, Titan and Atlas 

New additions to the Prism Sound range


MESSE 2014: MacBeth Elements (video) 

Mr MacBeth gives us the new synth