When pro audio musicians hear the term “analog synthesizer,” they might get a little grin on their face. It’s probably because they’re thinking of the legendary Moog synthesizers. What they’re familiar with is possibly the fattest, warmest analog synth sound on the market available today. What they might not know is that the story actually begins nearly fifty years ago.
Robert Moog, the namesake of the Moog synthesizers, actually started when he was a student in the 1960s. Only he wasn’t making synthesizers. He actually started by making theremins. Theremins are devices that detect the motion of your hand and correspond with a frequency. Robert Moog took this idea and transformed it into a more practical level, and while you can still get theremins today, the synthesizer has become vastly more popular, and a lot of people attribute that to Moog’s work.
So I’d like to review the Moog Sub 37, a newer version of the analog synth that put synthesizers on the map for mainstream music back in the 1970s. Since then, we’ve seen a lot of amazing synth creators out there, such as Dave Smith, for instance.
I’d love to tell you about how the Moog Sub 37 is one of my favorite analog synths, what I love about it, what I feel like other synths do better, and how it compares to synths like the Dave Smith Pro 2, the Moog Voyager, the Minimoog Model D, and the Moog Sub Phatty (which is exactly what we’re going to do today).
I’ll be focusing on each of these synths features, their sound, their weight and portability, and their prices in order to help you when it’s time for you to get an analog synth when you’re ready to jump in.
Before we move forward, please take a moment to compare the Moog Sub 37 to other notable synthesizers that are currently on the market:
|Roland JUNO DS61
|Roland JUNO DS88
|Korg Kross 2
|Novation Impulse 61
The Flow of the Sub 37
Now when I demoed the Moog Sub 37 in order to prepare for this review, one of the most striking characteristics is how it seems to glide. The keys, the frequencies—everything just sort of flows together.
So when you run a quick C scale across its 37 key keyboard, it’s like running your hand across the water, making little ripples. That might sound too poetic, but I think you’ll understand what I mean. It’s really easy to play.
Better yet are the filters. Your standard cutoff and resonance filters are extremely potent. Turning the cutoff filter all the way up turned the saw waveform into a buzzing chainsaw. Turn it down and you’ve got a chimey, muted round sound that could put a baby to sleep.
Now, what I like to do, when I’m testing the filters, is turn up the cutoff and resonance all the way, leave the resonance up, and roll off the cutoff slowly. It achieves a sci-fi sounding sweep down different steps in the frequency range, and it sounds like you’re making music in space.
So, I know that if it sounds clean and precise, the filters are good. If it struggles with this, you know they could have designed it a little better. The Moog passes this test of course, but I never really had any doubt about it. If you get something cheaper like a Korg Volca synth, you’ll see it’s not quite as clean. But, it’s literally a tenth of the price at around $150, so you get what you pay for.
Below, please quickly take a moment to view some of the best-selling synthesizers currently on sale online:
|1) Yamaha MX88
|2) Korg Minilogue XD
|3) Roland JUNO-DS88
Sounds, Presets and the Moog Arpeggiator
So, I appreciate the value of a good monophonic synth, meaning you can only play one note at a time, and while this synth is excellent at that, I really appreciate the poly mode which turns the synth into a polyphonic synth, meaning you can play more than one note at a time. For me, this is always useful when I want to play synth chords, and with a mono synth, you cannot play chords. As a synth and keyboard player, a good fifty percent of what I need requires chords, so it always feels good to have that option. Even though it’s only a 37 key synth, there’s still enough room to hit those bigger chords.
If you’re not familiar with oscillators, they basically manipulate the soundwaves that come out of your synth. The Sub 37 allows you to run two oscillators at once, something only made possible in recent years. So, if you’d like to combine a saw and a square, you can totally do it.
My favorite combo is the sine wave, a smooth round sound, and the sawtooth, the famous edgy synth sound. This rounds out and thickens the flavor of the whole sound, which only adds to the famous Moog fatness.
Let’s talk presets. I scrolled through most of them and there are more than enough. There’s around 250 of them and they’re all pretty great. The only thing about the presets though is that they’re so specific, if you don’t immediately want that exact sound, you’re going to have to do a little bit of editing to get it the way you want it to sound.
However, once you start to get familiar with synths, you’ll know how to make it do what you want it to do. For instance, if it’s sounding too buzzy, you can turn down the cutoff filter or even change the oscillator to a different waveform if you want something radically different.
The Moog arpeggiator is one of my favorites of all time. There are options to do tons of different patterns, and there’s also a step sequencer where you can gradually add in notes in order to sequence melodies. I love using these kinds of features for writing and music production, and I would recommend you do the same if you’re ever interested in utilizing synths in recording and production.
I’m going to talk a little more about the price later on in this review, but two of the most important things to me as a synth enthusiast are the portability and playability element. The Sub 37 weighs 22 pounds, which is not light for me, but it’s far from heavy. If you pick up this synth, I’d definitely recommend getting at least a soft case for it, as you don’t want to accidentally drop it.
As far as playability goes, I appreciate that there are both audio and headphone outputs, with the option to change the volume separately for each output. So for instance, if I wanted to mute myself on stage but pick a new sound and test it, I could do it. Their website goes into detail about all of the features and all of the really technical specs, if you’re interested in reading up on it.
With that said, here are a handful of notable specs for the Sub 37:
- Monophonic /Duo-Paraphonic
- 37 keys, velocity sensitive
- Delay, Attack, Hold, Decay, Sustain, Release envelopes
- 256 Presets
- Syncable Arpeggiator and Step Sequencer
- Cutoff and Resonance Filters
- 22 pounds
- Audio and Headphone Outputs
This press release shows a little more details on the specs, as well.
Sub 37 vs the Competition
The Moog Sub 37 costs about $1,579, but I want to wait to talk about the price of this synth a little later because I first want to discuss some of the other analog synthesizers for sale on the market today, and how they compare to the Sub 37.
Sub 37 vs the Pro 2
Dave Smith’s synths are arguably some of the Moogs’ strongest competitors. As one great synth comes to power, so will others, in hopes to conquer the synth market. The Pro 2 is one of these competitors. Like the Moog Sub 37, it’s both monophonic and paraphonic, meaning you can get up to a four note polyphony when you need it.
As I mentioned before, for analog synths, this is a great option for me. It doesn’t look nearly as original as the iconic Moog shape, but a lot of people like the fact that it’s flatter and arguably more portable, at around 18 pounds.
One trade-off for this synth is that you get more keys, 49 to be exact. However, those keys will cost you, as this synth costs around $2,000 on average. Sound-wise, it’s really thick, maybe not quite as fat as the Moog, but definitely analog. The keys feel smooth, and they’re also velocity sensitive. So, if you basically want more of everything, with similar quality, check out the Pro 2.
Moog Sub 37 vs Sub Phatty
With some products, the competitors are still made by the same people. So, how does the Moog Sub Phatty do against the Sub 37? Well the sound is comparable, definitely. This thing sounds amazing. Everything I love about the Sub 37 can be found in the Sub Phatty.
However, there are actually some huge differences. There are only 25 keys, for instance. It’s only monophonic, which for me is a deal breaker, but tons of people who play synth bass only use mono synths anyway. It’s just not for me. But the filters are the same powerful ones, and the sound is just is crisp, punchy, and thick. It’s also only $839, so it’s nearly half the cost of the Sub 37. If you’re into synth bass, this is a beast you’ll want to pick up.
Moog Sub 37 vs Minimoog Model D
Near the top of the price range at almost $4,000 ($3,749 to be exact) is the Model D. The Model D is the vintage 1970s Moog synth where most of the spacey sci-fi scores came from. Its vintage sound is unparalleled, when it comes to all of the Moogs. There are three powerful oscillators, with detailed variations on waveforms to choose from, as well as two noise generators, whereas most synths only have one, if any.
It has 44 keys and weighs 32 pounds, which means it’s still very portable, and definitely has more than enough outputs, including MIDI IN/OUT and the control panel can actually lower down for storage purposes. It’s gorgeous to look at, and definitely maintains the vintage sound, arguably more than the Sub 37. But it’s fetched at a pretty penny, so you need to be serious about it if you’re interested in picking one up.
Moog Sub 37 vs the Voyager
Lastly, let’s talk about the Voyager. The new Voyagers are based heavily on the original Model D, but with a few modifications. One important distinction I’ve noticed is the X/Y expression touch pad you can find in the center of the console, in between the oscillators and the filters. You can mess around with it in order to modulate existing tones based on a parameter you’ve selected. This is a really neat feature, and it definitely allows you to play the synth in a way that you wouldn’t have been able to play it in the past, which can help you transform synth playing into something new.
It’s great to see this kind of innovation and while Moog didn’t invent this style of pad, it’s a great addition. Like the Model D it also has a lot of options for voltage control, which is something you can’t really do as easily on the Sub 37. The Voyager is $3,995 and you’re paying for some of the best quality sounds on the market, if you pick it up.
There are a lot of great synths out there by several different companies, but Bob Moog’s synths are some of the best, the Sub 37 fits perfectly in the Moog lineup as something a serious synth enthusiast would love for a price under $2,000. It’s portable, it’s accessible at home and on the stage, and it’s really fun to play.
It might be missing some of the features found on the more expensive Moogs, but it also has more features than something like the Sub Phatty, which is a better choice if you’d rather play synth bass and monophonic melodies, rather than chords.
But my favorite thing about the Sub 37 is that it manages to feel great while simultaneously sounding both old and new. There will always be ways to expand on the classic synth sound, and the Sub 37 gives you the tools to do it. I give the Sub 37 a 4.7 out of 5 stars, because it’s relatively affordable compared to top tier models but does so much great stuff.
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