Mother-32 is a monophonic, analog synthesizer featuring a step-sequencer and a patch-bay for alternate routing configurations. This unique semi-modular platform is stirring up the synthesizer world and inspired Moog to expand the family tree with related models. As a long-time enthusiast of electronic music and student of the institution that is Moog, I approached this review with great interest.
Unboxing a Mother-32 is a treat for the sentimental. Along with the synth and power adapter, I found thoughtfully composed reference materials, a trim tool for calibration and a package of 5 (3.5mm tip) leads for the patch-bay. I also found a couple of limited-edition extras: a poster featuring a playful personification of a Mother-32 and an audio cassette featuring all-Moog compositions.
Each Mother-32 is handcrafted with apparent precision and care. The main housing is powder-coated aluminum adorned with traditional wooden end cheeks. All of the jacks, switches and buttons are sturdy. The potentiometers under the knobs are not the usual cheap and wobbly sort; they feel especially solid and track smoothly. The control panel may be removed from the housing and mounted into a compatible Eurorack frame. The rear panel has a Kensington lock, power input and mono (1/4″) audio out that doubles as a headphone jack.
A mini, one-octave keyboard (with octave transpose buttons) on the control panel is useful for sequencer note entry or playing simple patterns. This keyboard may be less practical when Mother-32 is mounted in a Eurorack frame. For access to all functions, be sure to keep it close to your external keyboard; Mother-32 only responds to MIDI note data messages. It will, however, convert other MIDI messages to CV and output them via the assignable output jack.
The classic sound of Mother-32 begins with either a tunable (variable-width pulse square or saw wave) VCO, a white-noise generator (bypassed by inserting any external audio signal) or a blend of both sources. Sounds take shape and come to life with switchable (source and destination routing) modulation, an audio-rate capable (square or triangle wave) LFO and a simplified version of Moog’s original Ladder Filter. A VCA/EG switch determines whether the instrument drones freely (VCA fixed at maximum value) or the VCA is modulated by the (EG) envelope generator. A variable glide control enables further expression in performance.
Tapping into the 32-point, semi-modular patch-bay increases the musical possibilities of Mother-32 exponentially. The manual includes instructions for creating some classic patches and you are encouraged to discover countless more by experimentation. I created lead and bass tones, linear and poly-rhythmic percussion patterns, subtle textures and sounds that defy conventional categorization. Musical relevance is in the ear of the beholder.
The Mother-32 step sequencer will store up to 64 song patterns. Each pattern may contain up to 32 steps and control data such as (up to 4 re-triggered notes per step) ratchet, accents, gate length or (rate subject to control knob value) glide on notes. Tempo and transposition are easily changed during playback. Best of all, a variable “swing” function can quickly relax the mechanical rigidity of a step-sequencer pattern into a tasty groove. To be clear: Patch settings are not stored with sequences; they must be manually recalled. The sequencer is generally better than most of the same type but it may require patience from some uninitiated users at first.
Numerous hours were spent listening to Mother-32 directly via Beyerdynamic headphones and Focal monitors. I also recorded it on analog tape and listened back to the patterns and textures I created. I then compared the Mother-32 to my 3-VCO analog synth in the rack. Although Mother-32 has but one VCO, that VCO is worth the price of admission. Mother-32 can sound as toothy and present or as airy and nuanced as you need it to sound. It does not have the most weighty bass tone ever generated by a Moog but it is versatile and always sounds sweet.
The control panel need not intimidate you. Patch-bay configuration is not required to hear sound or to compose music. If you have questions about terms or the science behind the magic, the manual is a very accessible resource and many tutorials exist online. So, if you have ears to hear the tone and find inspiration in exploring sound, Mother-32 will serve you well in the studio or (if you are more adventurous) on stage. If you want the true analog flavor with push-button recall of presets, check out the rest of Moog’s product line for options.
Many thanks to the dedicated team at Moog for their stellar support and service.