Posted on Wed 09 March 2011 in entries


If there is one category of synthesiser which is as popular now as it has ever been, it’s the Analogue Synth, although as any synth-head knows, 'Analogue' doesn’t always mean 'Analogue', as there are often contemporary twists on the theme which can interfere with the sonic form. So when I heard that Dave Smith, the legendary synth designer who gave us the equally legendary Prophet 5, was back in the business of making synths, I was exceptionally keen to find out more.

Over the last couple of years, DSI have been finding their feet, tampering with their early designs to find something that can deliver in build and sonic quality, but without making the product unaffordable, which is a difficult ask when making an analogue synth. Moog have managed to bring the Mini-Moog back to the fore, in the shape of the Voyager, but it has a very large price tag, making it unaffordable for many synth devotees.


So the latest Dave Smith Instrument design is the Mopho, Mono Phonic synthesiser. When I saw the product description my eye was immediately drawn to the next line, which reads ‘with a pure analogue signal path’, and they certainly weren’t lying!

The sound of the Mopho is undeniably analogue! Having become familiar with many other analogue synths over the years, I found myself immediately drawing comparisons to some of the legends of yester-year, and then it started to dawn on me that despite it’s sonic heritage, this is actually a brand new synth, with a unique sound, achieved through a variety of basic but very useful features.


The first point that struck me, as I meandered through the 3 banks of already populated patch memories totaling 384, was how a mono-synth was able to produce some of the sequenced patterns that I could hear, often sounding polyphonic, and this is essentially down to a very useful step sequencer, which allows numerous synth parameters to be controlled at the same time, and to great effect. More of the sequencer later!

At the very heart of the synth are the analogue oscillator and filter sections, offering 2 oscillators per voice, as well as 2 Sub-Oscillators per voice. There are the usual array of waveforms to choose from; Sawtooth, Triangle, Saw-Triangle and Square Wave Pulse, the latter having the ability to modulate the Pulse Width. All quite standard, but when mixed with the beefiness of the Sub-Oscillator, and then repeated in a second oscillator, you get an enormous sound.


The Filter section is equally well equipped, with the immediately accessable Low Pass Filter, available in 2 and 4 pole, including the ability to self oscillate. There is also the addition of an ‘Audio Mod’ facility, which can achieve some excellent overdriven effects.

There are also 3 envelopes, 4 LFO’s, a white noise generator, arpeggiator, analogue VCA’s and so the list goes on! There are some nice touches on this synth, for example, the portamento is assigned via the oscillator, not globally, meaning you don’t have to apply it to both oscillators. Very nice! It’s also very easy to use and edit, thanks to the large array of pots on the front panel. Granted, you can’t get at every parameter without a small degree of button pressing, but you do get used to this as it is reasonably intuitive, with the possible exception of the sequencer, which is pretty fiddly to get to and edit via the front panel.


So it’s at this point that you reach for the Software Editor that is included with the synth. This runs on either a Mac or PC and connects via USB to the Mopho. It allows quick and easy access to all of the Mopho’s parameters, including the sequencer, which is very easy to edit on screen, so much so, you wouldn’t want to attempt it in any other way, unless you really had to.


My only other criticism would be that compared to other analogues, I found the pots, or more accurately the knobs, a little small. When dealing with analogues I like nice chunky pots and I found these a little thin. Perhaps I just have big fingers!

Lastly, I think this the Mopho is a looker! Certainly, it is important to consider sonic abilities over looks every time, but in it’s sunny yellow with matching LED’s, and with the wonderful wooden end cheeks, I smile every time I walk over to bring up a patch!

This is a charming little synth which is no slouch - it packs a punch in the bass department, offers numerous searing leads and leaves you looking closer to see what you can do next, and at an affordable price for a fully charged analogue synth, this is going to be a hard one to beat! In fact, if it wasn’t analogue it would be hard to beat, but the unmistakable analogue sound is real analogue icing on a beautiful yellow cake!

Purchase the Dave Smith Instruments Mopho Keyboard

Purchase the Dave Smith Instruments Mopho Module