Sonic LAB: Dave Smith Mopho Keyboard

Analog mono for all      29/06/10

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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.

 

 


 

 

 

 

z

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