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Moog Mother-32 Review
The Moog Mother 32 is a desktop synth with classic Moog sounds and exciting modern features. Its semi-modular capabilities and bounty of onboard features make it a great first buy if you're looking to get into modular or just want a great stand-alone synth.
There is something undeniably special about a Moog synthesizer. The design, the sound, the heritage, owning one is truly a special experience to a musician. The Mother-32 by Moog is no exception. There is a quote found on the first pages of the manual for the M32:
“What artists need is an endless resource, full of rough edges and dimly-lit nooks and crannies that one can explore as one sees fit” – Dr. Robert Moog.
This quote by the late founder of Moog perfectly sums up what the M32 is about; It’s an inspirational little machine full of tricks and features that provide hours of inspiration whether you’re a beginner or an experienced musician.
The Moog Mother-32 is a wonderful little synth with lots of potential if you take the time to learn it and explore all of its “dimly-lit nooks and crannies”. M32 is a great choice if you want a hands-on way to learn about synthesis, or are looking to dip your toe in the deep world of Eurorack. Either way, the Mother 32 is one of the best semi-modular synths on sale today.
Overview and Functions
The Mother-32 packs a lot of features into a compact desktop package. It’s is a semi-modular subtractive synthesizer, meaning it sculpts raw tones into harmonically interesting ones using a filter. There are lots of ways for it to be reconfigured and connected to other modular gear.
Here we will take a look at all the features it has to offer, and break down how to understand and use each important part of this machine.
The Moog Mother 32 contains an analog oscillator with a pulse and saw wave. A toggle switch on the panel selects the waveform, and the pulse wave has a variable wavelength for pulse width modulation.
Although only one oscillator can be selected at a time, there are individual outputs for each wave in the patch bay. This is useful for blending waveforms or processing them separately (more on that in the tips and tricks section).
The oscillator is great for classic Moog tones, beautiful singing leads, and fat analog basses.
The filter on a subtractive synth like the Mother-32 is really central to a lot of the sound design. So it’s really important that it sounds great but is versitile! This filter is great for getting warm low-end sounds as well as clean highs.
The filter on the synth is a classic Moog style 24 dB per octave ladder filter. The filter can be low-pass or high pass depending on the toggle switch. It has a separate resonance control for defining the peak of the filter frequency. The filter can also self oscillate when resonance is pushed high enough – a classic Moog feature we’ve come to expect!
Sequencer and Keyboard
To control the pitch of the oscillator, the Mother-32 has a 1-octave button keyboard and a powerful sequencer built-in. The keyboard has an 8-octave range accessed with the arrow buttons labeled KB and step.
The sequencer can have up to 32 steps, hence the name. Steps can be entered quickly in keyboard mode, or more precisely in step mode. It also has an adjustable tempo and a glide control (also known as portamento).
M32 has an attack / decay envelope with a toggleable sustain control. The envelope can also be routed to the VCO modulation or the filter for classic envelope filter sounds.
The envelope generator is routed by default to control the VCA or voltage-controlled amplifier, but the VCA can also be switched to on mode, which is great for drones.
The M32 has plenty of onboard modulation to keep it sounding diverse and interesting. It features an LFO (low-frequency oscillator) that has triangle and square wave outputs, as well as a variable speed control that can push into low audio rate.
For easy modulation, there are knobs for both VCO and VCF modulation, that can be sourced from either the envelope generator or the LFO. The VCO mod amount knob can also affect pulse with or frequency, and the latter is great for creating vibrato or more intense FM synthesis.
The Patch bay on the unit allows near-endless customization and sound design possibilities for the M32. Making patches on the unit allows you to reroute the internal components, and create new sonic possibilities.
The 32-port patch bay utilizes the Eurorack standard 3.5mm mono patch cables for easy integration with other modular gear (more on that in the semi-modular section).
Note that it is important not to patch outputs to other outputs, or multiple outputs to one input in order not to damage your synth.
Utilities on a semi-modular synth can often be overlooked, but M32 has some that can be quite useful once you understand what they can do.
Mixes between two input sources. Can be used as an attenuator when only one input is plugged in
Creates two identical copies of the input signal, can be used with CV or audio.
White noise generator, useful for creating percussive sounds or as a random source.
Control voltage is the main way for modular and semi-modular gear like the M32 to send and receive information, but it also has full MIDI in capability, meaning you can control the synth with most external MIDI controllers.
The MIDI jack is conveniently located on the front panel and takes a standard 5 pin MIDI cable.
There are a lot of advanced things you can do with this synth, here we will look at some useful ideas to get started exploring and performing music with it.
The ext. audio input jack can be used to replace the main oscillator with any other sound source. This means you can process any signal like your guitar or voice through the M32’s filter.
The sequencer can easily be transposed while it is running by pressing any key. If you have a sequence playing in C major and press the A key, it will play in A minor.
The most recent firmware update added new directions for sequencer playback, accessed by holding the KB and step buttons and pressing key 1-4 for forward, reverse, pendulum, and random modes, respectively.
The assign jack is a useful output that can be configured to do different things via the menu. Some options include accent, random voltage, tempo output, and even MIDI CC from the MIDI in port.
Helpful Shift Functions
The Mother-32 also has a variety of alternate functions available by pressing the shift key. Here are some of the most useful ones:
Swing can be accessed by holding shift and turning the tempo knob. With the knob at 12 o’clock swing is set to 50%.
Clearing your pattern lets you quickly start over. To do this hold shift, and then press reset and then pattern.
To save a pattern you like, press shift and run/stop, then select a pattern slot using the KB and step buttons. Once you have selected a location, press shift and run/stop again to confirm and your pattern will be saved.
Here are a few curated patch ideas to get some interesting sounds out of M32, and to start understanding how the parts of this synth make up a patch.
(Additional patch ideas can be found on the Moog Website here.)
Want the Mother-32 to create some analog kicks and snares, and even sequence them? First patch the KB (keyboard) output to the mult input, and then patch the two multiplied outputs to the mix CV and VCF cutoff inputs.
Next set the mix and cutoff knobs to 12 o’clock, and resonance at 10 or 11. Now when you play a note in a lower octave it will sound like a kick, and higher octaves will sound like snares.
This works best when sustain is off and you can adjust attack and decay controls to shape the sound of the “drums”. Use the sequencer alternating between very high notes and very low ones to create a basic drum pattern.
For some interesting new synthesis techniques, you can experiment with amplitude modulation on the M32 using the VCA CV input. The LFO is a good source for this, especially when it is running close to audio rate, and the VC mixer can be used as an attenuator to dial in the level of modulation. At slower LFO speeds this patch can be used for a tremolo effect.
If you want a slightly more unusual and unpredictable sound source, switch the filter to low-pass mode and turn up the resonance all the way. Patch one end of cable into ext. audio and leave the other end un-patched.
Next, connect the KB output to the VCF cutoff input. You can now play the filter like an oscillator! Try mixing the original oscillator back in to create some unison or detuned sounds by adjusting the filter cutoff.
M32 can actually be removed from its case and mounted as a Eurorack module (If you are curious about Eurorack, check out our beginner guide here). The world of Eurorack drastically widens what the Mother-32 can do, as there are hundreds of other modules that can connect to it and enhance its functionality.
For example, if you feel like the M32 needs another envelope for some advanced modulation, you could get a module like ALM’s Pip Slope and suddenly your synth has more envelopes.
Another great pairing is Warps by Mutable Instruments, a module with tons of modulation and effects like ring mods and vocoders to enhance the sound of the M32’s single oscillator.
These additions do require a new case for the modules, but building around a synth like the Mother-32 makes for a great way to get started with Eurorack modular synthesizers.
Moog Semi-Modular Ecosystem
Eurorack isn’t the only way to expand on the Mother-32 however, as Moog has a family of synths that go along with M32, and even different tier racks to house two or three of them together.
The DFAM, or Drummer from another Mother is a percussion synth in the same form factor as M32. DFAM is great for adding a rhythmic component to your jams and compositions with M32, however it is far from a traditional drum machine so be prepared to get experimental with it.
The newest member of the Mother-32 family is the Moog Subharmonicon, a polyphonic synth with a polyrhythmic sequencer.
You could even rack three M32’s together to get triple the melodic voices. The great thing about these three is how well they integrate together and give the feel and functionality of a bigger modular system, without costing the full modular price tag.
It features a simple VCO, LFO, Filter, and VCA. With the included CV expander it can be patched into itself and other modular or semi-modular gear.
If you’re looking for analog bass sounds, the Moog Minitaur might be the right choice for you. This synth is a desktop-sized successor to the classic Moog Taurus bass synthesizer. It features two square/saw wave oscillators that can be detuned for fatter bass sounds.