The first question on most people's minds is "can the Voyager replace a Minimoog"
Short answer: you betcher ass.
I finally succeeded in nailing that elusive Minimoog G-R-O-W-L on the Voyager. I got six other vintage Moogs that couldn't do that. I haven't heard a single keyboard made in the last thirty years that could pull that off. I guess if anybody could match or beat the Minimoog sonority, it had to be the man that built them in the first place.
If you're gonna audition a Voyager, do it in person. Don't judge by mp3s on the net because most mp3 compression codecs do a good job of making mud out of the low end beef of the Voyager.
The resonant qualities of the Voyager filters are great, equal to the Minimoog and slightly better than the Moogerfooger MF-101 filter pedal. Having two filters with configurations of parallel dual lowpass (LP/LP) or series highpass into lowpass (HP/LP aka bandpass) is a great improvement over the Minimoog. The highpass filter is not resonant and will not self-oscillate, but that's a petty omission not worth crying about. The Moog 904B highpass filter module from the modular wasn't resonant either. Both filters are the classic 24dB Moog transistor ladder filter, and buried in the software waiting to be turned on in a future OS is a switch to set the filters in 12dB mode, just like the MF pedal. If the 12dB mode is anything like the MF pedal, it'll sound sweet in the Voyager.
The Voyager filters are constant Q; the original Minimoog's filter was not constant Q which gave it a unique sound when spiking the filter with a snappy zero sustain envelope, because the resonance decreases as the envelope decays to zero. That is the subtle trick that has eluded synth makers and programmers, and is why the Minimoog has reigned king of the synth bass for years.
Fear not, for there are two ways the Voyager can pull off the same trick. One is setting the resonance between 8 and 9 (on a scale from 0 to 10), the filters will self-oscillate but not across the whole range as it will with the resonance cranked to 10. The second (for non self-oscillating patches) is by routing filter envelope to filter resonance, which does consume a modulation buss but the facility is there. I did that trick on the Andromeda and it does make a difference. When you crank the filter into self-oscillation, the Minimoog filter drops off at about 100hz while the Voyager dips into subaudio. I have subwoofers so I can definitely hear them go that far.
The Voyager can definitely nail the classic Minimoog screaming leads, owing to the great VCOs and the filters. If you want only one of the dual filters running like the Minimoog, you can just put filter #2 in highpass mode and drop the spacing all the way counterclockwise so it rolls off minimal subaudio, or you can insert a dummy plug in the rear panel right output jack while listening to audio through the left/mono jack. The filters have that vintage warmth and squeal, with a touch more cream in the resonance. A major improvement over the Minimoog is that the keyboard tracking for the Voyager filter is completely variable from zero to 100%. That's really handy with the HP/LP mode. One minor gripe, which I have noted to Moog Music, is that the keyboard tracking to the filter is not processed by the glide processor. The cutoff control is an oversize knob for easier fine tuning and real-time filter sweeps.
The filters on the original Minimoogs did vary from unit to unit - some were better at soft smooth timbres, others did better hard sounds. However, the first couple hundred Minimoogs from thirty years ago, those with the "R.A. Moog" badge (like mine), did have one feature that set them apart - all the transistor pairs in the ladder filter were matched, versus only the top and bottom pairs in the later units. I have heard three of the early filters (Audities' #1001, Roger Luther's #1009, and my #1053) and those all sounded alike despite each having different oscillator boards. When I played later Minimoogs the difference in the filter was very noticeable. Next to my Minimoog #1053 the Voyager filters sounded spot on, so it appears that the transistor pairs in the ladder filters are all matched like the early Minimoogs.
Dual filters is the most fun I have had in years, especially when sweeping them with the touchpad. When you run the Voyager in stereo and play with the touchpad, the phase difference between the filters is dynamic and the sound moves in the stereo field. You can get formant vocal effects if you dial it right. I can't emphasize enough how excellent the resonant qualities of the Voyager are. The resonance control has a nice linear response to it so it is easy to dial in the resonance.
If you have independent stereo delays you're in for a treat. I have two MF-104 Analog Delays that I have been feeding S&H noises and modulating using the touchpad that is totally insane in the sounds it makes in the stereo field. Add a sprinkle of VCO3 audio FM to the filter, stir with the touchpad, serve warm, feeds for hours. If you thought a single delay on a single filter monosynth was fun...
The spacing control sets the difference between the cutoff frequencies of each filter; one stays fixed (reference cutoff) while the other is changed (offset cutoff). Spacing moves the offset cutoff either higher or lower relative to the reference cutoff and the range is +/- three octaves. The effect this has in the stereo field has to be heard to be believed, and it is dynamic based on how much resonance is used. The front panel headphone jack is stereo so K-Mart shoppers should check out the stereo operation in lieu of a stereo monitor system. Spacing also works when in HP/LP mode, it moves the HP filter higher or lower relative to the reference lowpass cutoff. There's enough range to cover the spectra of any traditional instrument, so it should be sufficient for new unheard sounds.
When you use the touchpad, look at it as a four quadrant two dimensional graph with an X axis and a Y axis having zero origin at the center which is the junction of the axes. I make no apologies for reliving nightmare memories of high school algebra classes :) When you move your finger to the right of the origin along the X-axis, you're opening the filters; to the left, you're closing them. Moving your fingers up or down changes the filter spacing. It's like have two extra hands changing the cutoff control and the spacing control at the same time.
There's a third dimension on the touchpad and it is finger AREA, not pressure. Picture in your mind a plate of glass between your face and your hand; gently touch the glass with your fingertip and you'll see a small portion of your fingertip flat against the glass. This is the area that the touchpad is sensing. Apply a little more pressure to the glass and you'll see a larger portion of your fingertip flat against the glass, hence more area. While holding your fingertip on the glass, bend your hand down as to put your palm against the glass and you'll see more area. This is not the same as pressure sensing.
Area sensing controls the resonance of the filters, so now you got a third extra hand moving the resonance control with the touchpad. Area sensing does not cover the full range of resonance from zero to ten so if you want to push the filters into self-oscillation using the touch pad you have to set the resonance control to about three or greater.
I have found that you can get increased "area" sensitivity (and screaming filter squeals) if you keep an opposite finger (or thumb) in contact with the exposed grounded chassis while playing the pad - best spot is right above the hinge on the bottom. I found this to be a very effective technique for controlling cutoff, spacing, and resonance all at once. The touchpad is a really fun controller for manipulating the filters in real time.
Having the variable waveshaping on the VCOs in addition to those great filters really really helps to dial in a lot of sounds. There are three fully independent VCOs, two with detuning controls (+/- seven semitones) and all with independent controls for variable waveshaping, octave ranges from 32' to 1', and mix levels with on/off switches. The tuning controls have oversize knobs which helps to fine tune the VCOs. The Voyager's waveshape control continously varies the waveshape from triangle to ramp to variable pulse - another big improvement over the Minimoog. VCO3 can be set to low frequency mode for LFO and the keyboard CV can be disconnected from VCO3 like the Minimoog. When keyboard control is turned off, the range of the detuning control is increased. The Voyager ramp waveforms are falling ramps; the only thing missing is rising ramp waveform, which was available on VCO3 on the Minimoog for modulation. I'm not crying over this one, it's a petty omission. If you really want a falling ramp waveform you can patch an external oscillator through the mod buss from the rear panel.
I had the opportunity to view the Voyager waveforms alongside the Minimoog on an oscilloscope. I did take digital pics and may put them up on a website at a later date. What surprised me was the Voyager triangle waveform; it is a duplicate of the original Moog 901B VCO module triangle waveform with the "notch" in the top peak. This "notch" was caused by the UJT in the reset circuit of the 901B VCO, which does add a little edge to the timbre. Interesting that this was implemented in the Voyager. They don't make VCOs like this anymore :)
Even the highly curved slope of the Minimoog's ramp waveform is duplicated in the Voyager. I'd say that this makes up for the omission of the reverse ramp from the Minimoog VCO3. The rising and falling edges of the Voyager pulse waves are not as fast as the Minimoog, perhaps showing a leaning towards the 901B pulse waves. Variable pulse waves is another improvement over the Minimoog's three fixed pulse waves, and at extreme setting the pulse width is about 5% and you can drive it into zero pulse with the mod buss.
What about the combination ramp/triangle on the Minimoog? The closest to the Voyager is dialing the waveshape at "1.5". Well, on the scope they don't look the same but in audio they SOUND the same.
Bringing the Voyager into the 21st century are hard sync and VCO FM. VCO2 can be hard synced to VCO1, and VCO3 can FM VCO1. The FM is linear which is the same used on the Yamaha FM system licensed from John Chowning (the patent is now expired). Hard sync works great for leads, but it doesn't seem to be as good as the Moog Source; I have slap bass patches on the Source using hard sync that I couldn't duplicate with the Voyager. VCO FM is a whole new ball game; with combinations of VCO3 frequency and variable waveshaping you can get a world of alien timbres and even vocal formants. Double that with VCO2 hard synced to VCO1 FM with VCO3 and the results get pretty wild. Add touchpad control of the filters...
What is very impressive is that it takes only about twenty *SECONDS* for the Voyager's VCOs to warm up and lock in tune, even when turned on cold. I didn't think that was possible. Any other VCO- based analog synth needs twenty minutes before the VCOs are solid. I've been using the Voyager on stage and have had zero tuning drift to date.
According to Moog Music, noise is a combination of white and pink. In audio it sounds pretty good, as good as the Minimoog and thankfully lacking the "heartbeat" of other noise sources from the Norlin/pre-Big Briar Moog Music. If you want some stereo fun, run noise through near resonant filters and change the spacing with the touchpad or the front panel control.
The mixer WILL distort pleasantly if you have the mixer levels pegged to 10. Like the Minimoog, you can process external signals and there is an clipping LED. I haven't tried the "feedback" trick of the original Minimoog but I have read that it can be done on the Voyager.
Like the Minimoog, you can overdrive the filter by maxing the mixer levels. The Voyager overdrive seems a little milder, Moog Music claims the mixer will overdrive at a setting of "5", to my ears it sounds more like "7" is where the overdrive comes in. I think one of the reasons is that the Minimoog has a passive mixer (not active) that permits audio interaction between the VCOs, and the Voyager being a programmable synth would require an active mixer. There's an insert jack on the rear panel that lets you put a processor between the output of the mixer and the input of the filter. I haven't tried this yet, but I can think of all kinds of applications for this; ring modulation, phase shifting, nonlinear wave warpers, fixed filters, frequency shifters...
Full ADSR EGs for both filter and amplitude, and filter EG can be inverted. There is a RATE rear panel jack which is a CV input that modulates the rate of attack, decay, and release transients. The transients are continuously variable from 1ms to 10sec and they have that classic Moog snap and log slope to them.
The latest OS adds multiple triggering to the standard single triggering. There's a front panel switch for keyboard gate or external gate - with nothing plugged into the rear panel GATE jack, this defaults to full on so you can slam the VCA wide open and use the filters for processing external audio.
Triangle, square, and S&H waveforms are supplied with the LFO along with an LED to indicate its frequency. You can sync the LFO to keyboard (resets to new key), to MIDI clock, to Envelope Gate (external triggering), or you can leave it free running. The LFO frequency ranges from about one cycle every five seconds to 50hz, but the frequency can be modulated from the mod buss or from the rear panel jacks. If you need wider range or keyboard tracking, VCO3 is still available as an LFO.
There are two mod buss systems, one for the Mod Wheel and the other for a Pedal (defaults to full on until you plug a CV controller in MOD2 rear jack). There are source, destination, shaping, and amount controls for each mod buss. Source selects one of the three LFO outputs, VCO3, ON/MODx, or Noise/PGM. MODx is the rear panel jack that accepts any CV source; a CV pedal (passive or active), a controller (IE ribbon), or an external CV source from your modular synth. There are MOD1 and MOD2 inputs.
PGM is a source selectable from the menu system in software. In the latest OS, Moog Music has added filter EG, amplitude EG, smoothed S&H (one of my favorites), VCO1, VCO2, touchpad X, and touchpad Y signals.
Pitch, VCO2, VCO3, filter, VCO waveshape, or LFO Rate/PGM are the desintations that are selectable from the front panel. PGM is a destination selectable from the menu system in software and the latest OS adds filter resonance (YAY!), filter spacing, panorama, VCO1 mix level, VCO2 mix level, VCO3 mix level, and noise mix level. At present VCO waveshape affects all three VCOs, no word yet if a future OS will provide waveshape modulation of individual VCOs.
The SHAPING control selects a controller that varies the amount of modulation and can be filter envelope, velocity, pressure, or On/PGM. PGM again is a menu selection with additions to come in a future OS. The AMOUNT sets the maximum modulation depth of a SHAPING controller. Shaping evolved from the Sonic Five/Six and the Crumar Spirit (another design from Bob from the early 80s) and is a little easier to grasp in the Voyager.
The SHAPING control doesn't quite work as described in the manual. Let's say I want to use keyboard pressure to control LFO amount, that's what shaping is used for. According to the manual, I should set AMOUNT for the maximum mod amount and SHAPING will vary the amount from zero to max. What shaping really does is sum the shaping signal with the amount setting on the panel, so there's always some amount of modulation present with no pressure/shaping. You can dial in a small amount where you won't hear any vibrato at minimum pressure but you can't get wide sweeps using this technique, os it's a bit limiting. I told Moog Music that I preferred the implementation described in the manual, but no indication if this will be fixed in a future OS.
You can do all the modulation tricks of the Minimoog and then go beyond it. Filter FM from VCO3, vibrato, noise FM, no problemo. You don't have the red noise from the Minimoog but you do have smoothed S&H in its place on the Voyager. You can sweep a sync'd VCO from the filter envelope ala Moog Rogue or Memorymoog. You can use the LFO or the filter envelope to get PWM. With the new additions in PGM for source and destinations you can get some serious cross-modulation FM going between the VCOs. The amount control lets you get the insane mod wheel depth of the Minimoog.
I dialed up a great trumpet lead solo using the modulation buss -something the original Minimoog couldn't do. Using a dual VCO voice, I routed filter EG to modulate VCO2 pitch just a hair, so that you get a nice transient on the attack.
The keyboard is identical to the Fatar used in the Andromeda (except the Vger has 44 keys), including the weights under the keys. It is very close to the old Pratt-Read keyboards used on the original, I'd say slightly better. Nice affirmative action. When I am playing left hand bass with the club band, the LH is usually on autopilot while I am comping or soloing with the RH; when I had the Voyager for LH bass I noticed that I managed to hit notes a lot cleaner than usual. It feels a hell of a lot better than the featherlight action on a lot of new synths today. The Voyager keyboard feels better than my Source, Liberation, and Memorymoog (all with featherlight Panasonic keyboards) and being a piano player at heart I really like the "give" of the Fatar weighted action on the Voyager. It's as pleasant to play as a piano or MIDI controller with wood keys. The latest OS adds high/last/one key priority to the standard low key priority.
Although the Voyager is monophonic, the Fatar keyboard will generate polyphonic MIDI note messages with velocity. The keyboard also provides velocity and aftertouch CVs which are available in the modulation busses, but at the moment these are really hot signals and are too sensitive to be useful, Moog Music is aware of this and a future OS may offer a fix. Keep in mind that the OS was late to development because of insurmountable issues with the tactex touchpad that was ultimately withdrawn and replaced with the touchpad we have now. Routing velocity to the filter is way cool, especially when it's near self-oscillation. Pressure works really well when used for vibrato but not for pitch bending, the pressure CV is too discrete. Again, I bugged Moog Music about the power of using pressure as a manual vibrato which is a technique I use on the ARP ProSoloist and combined with reverb gets the most natural vibrato I've ever heard, better than an LFO.
I have been using the Voyager for left hand bass with my club band. My keyboard monitor system is a Moog Synamp biamped into a Peavey 2x15 cabinet with Scorpion speakers and a Bose 802 with companion Bose EQ/controller. Those low "B" notes have some serious beef that I couldn't get out of the Micromoog that I had been previously using for LH bass. They really radiate and move some air. Not since the Minimoog and the Moog Source have I encountered such beefy low end.
Our band is doing R&B and it really calls for that motown James Jamerson bass rather than the atypical synth bass. The Minimoog didn't really do the job, while the Micromoog and the Source copped a better bass for R&B. You can't have those phasing VCOs for simple bass parts. I used the Micromoog suboscillator to great advantage, I found that it is more effective so the octave higher source is more dominant over the fundamental in the mix before the filter, which goes against standard thinking but it really works. This also makes a difference when hitting those really low notes below low C. A little filter audio FM adds some "fur" to get away from the synthy bass and closer to a real bass guitar.
Yes folks, you can learn some practical bass programming tricks on the lowly Micromoog. The Micromoog trick worked well in the Source but not the Minimoog, it was hard to control the VCO phasing. This trick did carry over into the Voyager really well, with the advantage over the Source and the Micromoog that I can go below low C and have that extra beef with the better filter in the Voyager.
OK back to analog fetishes; the Voyager can indeed duplicate the synth bass of the Minimoog and can go beyond it with the extended modulation options and the second filter control.
Did I mention that you can store patches on the Voyager? Yup, there are 128 program slots where your panel tweaks can be saved. Try that on a Minimoog :-)
The usual left hand controls are next to the keyboard; pitch wheel, mod wheel, and switches for glide and decay. The decay switch on the Voyager works a little different from the Minimoog - if you set a long release time on the volume EG, turning off the decay switch will shorten the release time significantly, as opposed to dropping it to zero release as on the original. I like this new implementation, it's very musical. If you have the latest OS, you can program the range of the pitch wheel (per patch) to +/- two semitones, minor thirds, major thirds, fourths, fifths, 1 octave, octave & fifth, two octaves, or two octave & fifth.
The pots and switches are solid. I could not detect any stepping, zippering, or staircasing - oscillator and filter tuning are extremely smooth. Although the parameter display shows 8-bit values, the internal bit depth has to be higher because 8-bit depth is not this smooth.
The internal is beautiful. This thing ain't gonna break. Gold plated pins on the critical connectors that carry CVs, which will prevent problems that commonly plagued analog synths for the last thirty years. Play a Memorymoog or P5 or vintage Oberheim and you're likely to find tuning drift or other failures due to oxidizing tin-plated pins on the connectors, playing all sorts of havoc with the critical CVs. Play an ARP ProSoloist or an RMI KC-II and they're still rock solid - look under the hood and there are gold plated pins on the connectors, which won't oxidize. The Voyager will be reliable for years.
Like the Minimoog, the Voyager's front panel can be tilted in any of four fixed angles or laid flat. The case doesn't flex at all.
What is incredible is the population of opamps all over the voice board, yet the Voyager sounds like it has discrete VCOs, VCFs, and VCAs. That's a testament to Bob's design skills. I had a hard time locating the ladder filter on the board, the closest I got was the CA3086s.
The gig bag has a neat feature. There's a pocket underneath, with two straps inside. Put the gig bag on its side; in this position, the straps hook to the loop on the bottom. Now you can carry the Voyager like a backpack. This works better than using the handle 'cause the Voyager is heavy and gets weary carrying by the handle. The single shoulder strap is also a bit of a strain. The backpack straps are the way to go.
The manual is well written. In addition to describing what the knobs do, you're getting a course in Analog Synthesizer Programming 101 along with material for the advanced students.
With the optional breakout box becoming available, the Voyager has the potential of a modular controller and processor with all the external patching that can be done. The breakout box will bring out the touchpad and keyboard signals - touchpad alone is a worthwhile controller for a modular system.
You need the latest OS to use alpha names for patches, and that OS also displays old and new pot values like the Memorymoog, a valuable addition in my book. The latest OS also lets you tweak presets, which is probably now standard in the Stage Edition Voyagers being built. If you find a Signature Edition Voyager in a store it may have the early OS that doesn't let you tweak the presets, try and get them to update the OS it really is an improvement.
The Signature Edition has some features that will not appear on the Stage edition. The Signature Editions have a four year warranty, a certificate of authenticity that states that Bob Moog personally inspected and signed the machine, a 12V littlelite gooseneck lamp, and cases were available in cherry, maple, or walnut. The Stage edition have a one year warranty and is available in oak with walnut finish, although Moog Music is offering exotic woods for the Stage Edition at a hefty premium. Lighted clear wheels are standard on the Signature Edition, while they are a $159 option on the Stage Edition. The limited production of 600 Signature editions, all reserved in less than a year, are now sold and production has started on the Stage Edition models.
The Voyager isn't for everybody. No one synth is. If you look at the price and start wishing that it had a sequencer or arpeggiator or built-in effects or polyphony, then you don't understand the potential of this machine. This is a synth designed for players, with expressive tools and a great sound meant to be played and shaped with human hands. The Voyager is designed to be an *instrument*, much like the human voice, the trumpet, the saxophone, the violin, etc. Don't expect the instant groovebox gratification with the Voyager - you can get cool sounds right away, and learning to get the expressive qualities will take good old fashioned *practice*. Same with the trumpet, the sax, the violin. Good wine doesn't happen overnight, and neither does mastery of an instrument.
The Voyager is the only synth I have laid down cold hard cash sight unseen - I had no question that Bob Moog could deliver, and he did.
Back to Voyager...