I have long been swept up by a snowballing obsession with analog synthesizers. The bug bit me six or seven years back, when a substantial gig opportunity sprang up, and keybass was a prerequisite. Luckily, as a longtime keyboard player—thanks again for those piano lessons, Mom!—focusing on synth wasn’t a huge stretch; at least I didn’t have to learn keyboard from scratch. Keybass, in the hands of someone like Stevie Wonder, Bernie Worrell, or Greg Philliganes, is just as exciting, inspiring, and important as any line by our bass-guitar-bearing brethren. Most contributory to my burgeoning obsession were the first few gigs I played with a synth: Like it or not, synth is fat and overwhelming in a way that bass guitar isn’t. What the bass gains in organic, unmistakably human nuance, the synth puts aside in favor of full-on, disorienting low-end wallop. If you’re in the bass game for the visceral thrill of physically feeling your playing, then start playing some keybass. There’s nothing like it, and the Moog Minitaur is one of the best options for bass guitarists who want in on the fun.
GET IN THE GAME
As tempted as I am to embark on an exhaustive elucidation of synthesis, I’ll save this mothertopic for an upcoming feature on the subject and its application for bass players. In short, the typical analog synth produces sound with one or more voltage-controlled oscillators (VCOs). This is the raw sound of a synthesizer, and the waveform of the resulting audio signal has a substantial impact on the synth’s basic sound because of the unique harmonic content of different wave shapes. For example, a sawtooth wave is buzzy and bright, while a triangle wave is mellow and muted. Most often, the sound from the oscillator section is mixable to varying degrees and subject to the influence of a filter that blocks high frequencies depending on an adjustable cutoff frequency. A resonance circuit emphasizes the point of the cut-off for more aggressive filtered effects. The filter cutoff is controllable manually or with the aid of an “envelope,” which essentially shapes the filter’s response over time. By manipulating the relationship of the filter envelope and the filter cutoff frequency, a huge array of thick, quacky, and classically funky tones are available. There is also a similar envelope that governs the attack, decay, sustain, and release of notes played. The essential concept of a synthesizer is to offer access to and control over the fundamental constituents of sound.
When the Moog Minimoog keyboard hit the market in the early ’70s, it brought an unprecedented level of portability and potency to the consumer synth market. It also happened to deliver huge bass, thanks in part to its famed Moog Ladder filter. Yet, though Moog is best known bass-wise for the Mini, Moog’s well-known Taurus pedalbased synth factors more heavily into the Minitaur’s origin story. Originally released in 1974, the Taurus is a floor-positioned synth, not unlike the bass pedals of an organ. It became an indispensible tool for folks who needed both hands free to play bass or guitar, but still wanted to inject some unmistakable synth-y sounds. The Minitaur shares its oscillators with Moog’s latest version of the Taurus, and in that sense, it sounds different from the other Moog synths currently offered.
The Minitaur’s construction is exceptional. The knobs turn smoothly, with a high-quality gentle resistance. All the switchgear and buttons worked perfectly and felt great, and the metal-cased box exuded quality. To get it going, I simply plugged in a MIDI controller, in this case an M-Audio Axiom 49. The Moog instantly recognized the incoming MIDI. Additionally, the Minitaur’s USB jack recognizes and sends MIDI, which facilitates integration with a digital audio workstation. Since the Axiom features assignable MIDI continuous controllers (CC) and lots of knobs, buttons, and faders, I was quickly able to assign each of the Minitaur’s front-panel controls to the controller of my choice on the Axiom.
I could dive deep into the surprising flexibility the Minitaur offers for those with some experience in analog synthesis. The unit features a variety of hidden features accessible via various combinations of frontpanel button presses, as well as via a handy standalone editor/librarian for PC or Mac. Its simple look and small size are deceiving; the Minitaur is a fairly deep monosynth; it’s just that many of its special features are hard to access due to the limited interface.
All of the above is out of the scope of this review, though. What matters is the sound, and on that front, the Minitaur delivers. It sounds huge, with bite, presence, and a beguiling fatness that is somehow even more textured and authoritative than some other recent Moog gear I’ve used for bass. It also offers patch memory, though it’s a clunky system, given the Minitaur’s lack of a display. Nevertheless, for that irreplaceably huge sound Moogs are rightly famed for, there are no more authentic and inexpensive options. Yes, you could get an analog modeling synth that does way more for less, but there ain’t nothing like the real thing.
Pros The easiest way to get the uniquely fat sound of Moog bass
Cons The Minitaur’s minimal interface obscures some of its cool features
Bottom Line If you’ve got a hankering to play keybass, this is one of the best options, provided you have a MIDI controller
Oscillators Voltage-controlled with sawtooth/ square waves
Filter Resonant 24dB/octave lowpass; cutoff, 20Hz–20kHz
Envelopes Filter & Voltage Controlled
Modulation Triangle-wave LFO, 0.01Hz– 100Hz; assignable to VCO and VCF
External input ¼"
Audio output ¼"
MIDI inputs DIN, USB
MIDI outputs USB
Power 12V DC
Dimensions 8.75" x 5.12" x 3.12"
Weight 2.5 lbs
Made in USA