Analogue synthesisers rarely come at such an affordable price, so there was no wonder I decided to jump at the opportunity to review the new Dave Smith Mopho!
Dave Smith…doesn’t sound like the most inspiring brand in the world does it? In fact, he sounds more like a boring neighbour! But if I told you that this guy was actually a pioneer of a number of essential and groundbreaking musical technologies, then maybe you will change your mind?
DAVE SMITH MOPHO – THE MAN WITH THE PLAN
In fact, with a background as an engineer and guitarist, Dave Smith was responsible for the first polyphonic and microprocessor-controlled synthesiser, the Prophet 5! If you know anything about vintage synthesisers, then this beast will certainly not have escaped your attention, having been put through its paces on records by artists such as Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, the Eurythmics, Kraftwerk, New Order, Roxy Music, Gary Numan, Jean-Michel Jarre, and the Prodigy to name but a few.
Sound impressive? Well, there’s more! Dave Smith is also often referred to as the ‘Father of MIDI’ as he was heavily involved in the development of this now widely used protocol. Oh yeah, and he also introduced the concept of multitimbrality for electronic instruments! Does your boring neighbour’s offer of a cup of tea sound a little more tempting now?
DAVE SMITH MOPHO – TIME TO SKRONK!
The Dave Smith Mopho is based on the award winning Prophet 08’ subtractive synthesiser. In fact, the voice architecture is identical to one voice of the Prophet 08’, but with a couple of unique additions to enhance it’s usability. Also if your familiar with the Sequential Circuits Pro One, then this is basically the new improved version of this (if not, then give it a Google and see how much they are now being sold for!) Perhaps the most exciting prospect is the addition of two sub-octave generators (one per oscillator), which can be used to beef up flimsy lead sounds into crushing basses. It also features an audio input, which allows you to process external audio and mix the Dave Smith Mopho’s own audio output back in pre-filter, for feedback effects that can range “from subtle distortion to extreme skronk” according to the Dave Smith website! I’m not too sure exactly what ‘skronk’ means yet, but i can’t wait to find out! Other connections on the module include MIDI In, MIDI Out, Left and Right Audio Out, and a Headphone output.
DAVE SMITH MOPHO – MOPHO MODULE
The Dave Smith Mopho is a fully programmable monophonic synthesiser, and all parameters affecting the 100% analog signal path can be controlled from the front panel of the unit. On the module, the four ‘Assignable Parameter’ controls are assignable per program for optimum performance control. These dials work in a very simple way, allowing you to build and modify a custom set of 4 controls. For example, if you wanted to set the first dial to control LFO Amount, simply press the ‘Assign Parameters’ button, turn the first dial until the screen reads ‘LFO 1 Amount’, deselect the ‘Assign Parameters’ button, and when the dial is now turned, as if by magic it will control the LFO 1 Amount! If you want to reassign the dial to control LFO destination, LFO frequency, oscillator level, arpeggiation mode, etc. then simply select the ‘Assign Parameters’ button again and make another selection. It’s a fantastic way to keep the module compact, yet cram it with a load of hands on features, and a free editor is also available for Mac OS and Windows to make programming even easier, and make it more accessible to people who prefer working with a computer screen. Additionally, if you already own a Prophet ‘08, most of the Dave Smith Mopho’s parameters can be controlled from the Prophet’s front panel via MIDI!
It’s also worth noting that the Dave Smith Mopho module also features 5 dials that are not assignable in this way, and are hard wired to control some of your most commonly used sound shaping parameters: pitch, filter cutoff, filter resonance, filter attack, and filter decay/release. By using these 5 dials along with the 4 that you set-up and assign for yourself, the Dave Smith Mopho ensures that you have fantastic flexibility at your fingertips along with a highly compact device.
DAVE SMITH MOPHO – PRESETS
The Dave Smith Mopho comes loaded with three banks of 128 diverse presets that will act as useful starting points for most projects, and what’s great is that they all have that sought after and unmistakable analog sound. With the internal arpegiattor, 4×16 step sequencer, and routable envelopes and LFOs, the range of preset sounds within the Dave Smith Mopho really is impressive.
DAVE SMITH MOPHO – THE KEYBOARD
The Dave Smith Mopho can also be purchased in a 2 octave metal encased keyboard unit, which comes complete with standard pitch and modulation wheels. The Dave Smith Mopho keyboard is capable of creating exactly the same sounds as the module, but due to it’s larger size, it features a number of additional immediate controls, meaning it has no need for the assignable parameters of the smaller module.
The sprung keys on the Dave Smith Mopho keyboard have a nice solid feel to them, and are velocity sensitive. As an added bonus, it is also worth noting that all keys enable aftertouch, which can be assigned to any modulation destination, giving you an additional layer of creative flexibility.
The layout of the controls on the keyboard are all simple to follow. At the heart of the synthesiser are 2 oscillators (selectable between sawtooth, triangle, saw-triangle, or square wave), which can be manipulated in the Oscillator section. The pitch, shape, pulse width, glide, and sub can either be controlled independently for each oscillator, or simultaneously depending on your preferences. One press of the Oscillator button switches the dials from controlling oscillator 1, to controlling oscillator 2. A second press of the button switches the unit to control both oscillators at the same time, and a further press of the button switches back to simply controlling oscillator 1 again. Like most parameters on the Dave Smith Mopho, your selections are indicated via yellow LEDs, making knowing where you’re at and what you’re controlling a breeze! As previously mentioned, each oscillator also comes with it’s own sub-oscillator, which generates a square wave at one octave below oscillator 1, or two octaves below oscillator 2, for some real rumbling bass noises!
The Mixer section of the Dave Smith Mopho keyboard can be used to balance the volume levels between the oscillators and the Noise Generator, as well as control the volume of the audio input before the combined signal is routed to the low-pass filter, which is switchable between 2- and 4- pole functionality.
DAVE SMITH MOPHO – PUSH IT REAL GOOD
The ‘Push It’ button featured on both the Dave Smith Mopho module and the keyboard can be used as a manual trigger, allowing you to play a specific note or latch notes and sequences ‘on’, and it can also be used to step through a sequence to play short melodic lines without a keyboard. However, to take full advantage of the Dave Smith Mopho, it can of course also be triggered via an external sequencer or MIDI controller!
DAVE SMITH MOPHO – KEYBOARD CONNECTIONS
The Dave Smith Mopho keyboard features an extended connection section compared to the module. Looking at the back of the unit, you are met with a USB to host port (for MIDI interface into the unit), MIDI In, MIDI Out/Thru (switchable), MIDI Poly Chain (to connect and control additional Dave Smith instruments for more voices), sustain pedal input, expression pedal/CV input (takes a Control Voltage between 0 and 3.3 volts), Audio In (for feedback effects, or to process external audio through the Mopho’s filters), stereo audio out (right and left), and a headphone socket.
DAVE SMITH MOPHO – ARPEGGIATOR
The Dave Smith Mopho features a fantastic arpeggiator, which is controlled from the Clock panel. A cool feature of the Dave Smith Mopho is that the ‘Push It’ button can be used as a Tap Tempo control, meaning that the units tempo (and hence the arpeggiator speed) can be manually controlled and altered in real time, just by tapping out your desired pattern.
The easiest way to get started with the arpeggiator is to use the Latch button to trigger constant note output without having to keep a key pressed down. The next step should be to select the arpeggiation mode from the Miscellaneous Parameters panel, and select the shape and range of the arpeggio. The Assign mode can then be used to specify how the arpeggiator plays notes (e.g. random, up and down), and hey presto, you’ve got yourself a dance bassline or rhythmic lead!
DAVE SMITH MOPHO – STEP SEQUENCER
As previously touched upon, the Dave Smith Mopho contains an onboard step-sequencer. This addition really adds to the retro feel of the synthesiser, as these were around even before the introduction of MIDI! In fact, that’s quite a while before I was even born!
If you are not familiar with what a step sequencer is, then I will give you a quick summary. A step sequencer is used to change a parameter over a set of timed intervals (steps). In this case, the Mopho uses 16 steps, with up to 4 sequences able to run simultaneously. The time intervals are determined by the projects tempo (BPM) and Clock Divide settings, meaning you can use the step sequencer to create dynamic parameter changes over time (e.g. filter sweeps). I found that the software editor was the easiest way to create such sequences, as it gives you a quick visual way to control each step. However, if you don’t want to boot up your computer, it is still possible to achieve via the units LCD window, but unless you are some kind of superhuman synth programmer, you will find it a little more time consuming.
DAVE SMITH MOPHO – SUMMARY
With it’s tasty price and quality construction, the Dave Smith Mopho is ideal for anyone wanting to add a true analog synthesiser to their set up on a budget. Many people still swear by the analog sound, and once you have got hands on experience with such units for yourself, it is highly likely that you will be bitten by the same bug! The only small niggle that I would have with the Dave Smith Mopho is that i think it would benefit from having a sine wave option for each oscillator. However, it’s not the biggest problem in the world considering the price of the unit! And if you like the sound of the Dave Smith Mopho, but feel that it is let down by it’s monophony, then fear not, as the Dave Smith Tetra module functions as a 4-voice polyphonic Mopho! Check it out!
So, whether you're wanting to learn the ins and outs of real analog synthesis, wanting to add some retro sounds to your music, or simply want a versatile, yet portable mono synth, then the Dave Smith Mopho will not let you down! Check it out at Absolute Music today!