SOUND ON SOUND REVIEWS
SOUND ON SOUND magazine Vol.17 No.4 February 2002.
Review by Chris Carter
Big Briar Moogerfooger effect processors.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last 20 years, are only 8 years old or picked up this magazine thinking it was about yodelling then you would have heard of Moog, probably the most famous name in electronic music. Although the Moog Music company and its once famous Minis and Modulars may have come and gone over the years Bob Moog’s own Big Briar firm has been busy producing various Theremins and other such esoterica for the discerning electronic musician.
In recent years Big Briar have produced the award winning Moogerfooger range of effects processors. These oddly named units are all direct descendants of the original Moog systems analogue circuit designs and contain many of the basic building blocks of modular synthesis. The Moogerfooger processor family now comprises five: the MF-101 Low-Pass Filter, MF-102 Ring Modulator, MF-103 Twelve-Stage Phaser, MF-104 Analog Delay and the CF-251 Control Processor.
It’s also probably worth mentioning that the legendary Mini Moog is about to be reborn as The Mini Moog Voyager, a new analogue/digital hybrid version of the original. Exciting times ahead I think.
The four effects processors each live inside chunky oversized ‘stomp boxes’, approximately 9” x 6” x 3”. The units are constructed of steel with real hardwood end caps and familiar Moog style knobs, rocker switches and tri-colour LEDs. Around the back of each unit are a multitude of jack sockets for interfacing with other Moogerfoogers, the CF-251 Control Processor, foot pedals, MIDI to CV units or other analogue gear.
MF-101 LOW PASS FILTER
If at this point you are experiencing feelings of Dejavu that’s because Paul White first reviewed the Moogerfooger Lowpass Filter in SOS in April 1999. However for those of you without that review to hand I’ll briefly go over the basic functions.
As you can hopefully see from the accompanying photos the layout (which is pretty much the same on all the units) is relatively basic with just five or six knobs and a couple of rocker switches.
The circuitry comprises a switchable analogue 2 pole (12dB/octave) / 4 pole (24dB/octave) low pass filter with
knobs for Cut off (frequency) and Resonance and Drive (input gain). The filter can be controlled by an internal envelope follower with adjustable envelope Amount and a switchable envelope Response (fast/smooth). A Mix control is for blending the filtered and unfiltered sounds.
The rear of this (and all the Moogerfoogers) is populated by an unusually high number of sockets for a ‘stomp box’. In this case we have jack connectors for mono audio in and out (naturally), plus an Envelope Follower voltage-control output and voltage-control inputs for Cut off, Mix, Resonance and Amount. The voltage-control inputs can accommodate any standard 0 to +5v variable control source as you would find on the majority of ancient and modern of modular systems. All the Moogerfooger units are powered from the same type of standard 9v wall wart adaptors.
As analogue low pass filters go the Moogerfooger can’t really be faulted but then again this IS a Moog so I suspect that you’d expect that wouldn’t you? Well I did. And with the right material I doubt you’d be disappointed. But to get the best out of this filter (and most filters really) you need to give it something to chew on, something rich in harmonics such as a raw square, saw or pulse synth waveforms. Distorted guitar and complete mixes are also good sources for low pass filtering. The 4-pole setting is my favourite and has a warm, deep quality, while the 2-pole setting gives a slightly brighter but still very pleasant sound. Cranking up the Drive and Resonance controls emphasises the Moogy'ness of this filter and turning the Resonance knob to maximum causes the filter to self-oscillate. Keep your eye on the input level LEDs to avoid serious overloading and the word ‘sweet’ springs to mind when listening to this VCF.
The Envelope follower option is useful in certain circumstances, though I have to admit I didn’t use it much in this review and instead opted for manual knob sweeps and external voltage-control. For the guitarist however it could be a useful tool, following the amplitude of your playing. The case isn’t so clear cut for keyboard players though as auto-envelope following (as opposed to true keyboard triggering) can be a bit of a hit and miss affair.
I would like to have seen even a basic LFO included in this unit for sweeping the filter range but this is a situation where the LFO in the CF-251 Control Processor could be patched in.
MF-102 RING MODULATOR
The Ring Modulator has the same physical layout as the filter but is an entirely different beast and contains all the features you need to get those classic metallic, discordant RM sounds and effects.
Just in case you don’t know what a Ring Modulator does it takes two different sounds (known as the carrier and modulator) and by secret alchemical means (only joking) produces a third sound that is a weird mixed hybrid combination of the two inputs (the final sound is known as the sum).
In the Moogerfooger any sound you feed into the audio input becomes the modulator while the carrier is an internal VCO with a switchable sine/square wave output. The VCO can in turn be modulated by an internal LFO (low frequency oscillator) or an external voltage-control signal. Controls are kept to a minimum with a Frequency knob, Frequency range switch (Lo & Hi) and Sine/Square switch for the VCO, a Rate knob with LED and LFO Amount. The balance of treated and untreated audio signal can be adjusted with a Modulator Mix control and a Drive knob governs the level of the audio input.
Around the back are sockets for mono audio in and out, voltage-control inputs for LFO Rate, LFO Amount, VCO Frequency and audio Mix and control-voltage outputs from the LFO and Carrier (VCO). A Carrier In socket also allows you to use an external VCO or oscillator as the carrier signal, pretty comprehensive eh?
It’s not all roses in the garden though as the Ring Modulator has a couple of slightly annoying foibles. One is the (undocumented) inclusion of an automatic noise gate on the audio signal, or squelch circuit in Moog terminology. The reason for including this feature is understandable and is to help suppress oscillator breakthrough, an unavoidable side effect of using analogue circuitry. The problem is that there is no control over how the noise gate functions and it can cut off the tail end of some soft sounds, also oscillator breakthrough is still occasionally audible with little or no signal present.
This is undoubtedly the most sound bending processor of the Moogerfooger bunch and can perform some amazing sonic acrobatics because unlike the Low pass Filter even the most basic of material will get results, guitar, keyboard and voice (preamped of course). You may need to spend some time tweaking the controls to get the best out of it, the Mix and Drive controls for instance can drastically affect the depth of ring modulation.
It is quite capable of producing all the usual metallic klings, klangs and harmonic sweeps, plus you can also use it for subtle tremolo and slow modulation effects. Connecting the rear CV inputs with other Moogerfooger units or CV capable systems opens up a whole new range of ring modulating possibilities too. All in all a versatile piece of kit.
MF-103 TWELVE-STAGE PHASER
This processor contains an LFO and a switchable 6-stage/12-stage analogue phasing circuit. There are controls for LFO Amount and Rate plus a Hi/Lo rocker switch for the LFO speed, which is also indicated by a flashing LED. The phaser section has a Sweep knob to change the phasing effect manually, a Resonance control for a deeper and more pronounced phase effect and a rocker switch to select 6 stage or 12-stage phasing. There is also an input Drive control, an Output Level knob and a tri-coloured LED to help setting the optimum audio input level.
I should briefly explain the differences between the two phasing modes. In six-stage phase mode the audio signal is fed through a comb-filter which has three distinct frequency dips, or notches. There are intervals of about 2 octaves between these notches and when the centre frequency is swept or modulated you get that classic analogue phasing effect you hear in the majority of phaser pedals. The Moogerfooger takes this a step further and offers the option of doubling the number of frequency notches the signal has to go through. The result is a much more pronounced phasing and is quite similar to the rarely heard so called ‘barber pole’ effect, in which the phasing seems to continually rise (or fall) without end. But as with all phasers the effect is only really apparent if the phase frequency is continually moving, either modulated by the LFO, being swept by hand or via the external CV input.
Although this effect is really only a one trick horse, with combinations of deeper and shallow and/or faster and slower phasing, it is also one of my favourites in the range. In either mode but particularly in 12-stage mode it can impart a very analogue and extremely pleasing musical timbre to a sound. Unique amongst the Moogerfoogers it also includes an additional inverted audio output that when used in conjunction with the normal output (and if both are panned hard left and right) can give a pleasent stereo phased-shifted panning effect.
MF-104 ANALOG DELAY
This type of delay unit is quite a rarity these days as it uses old (by today's standard anyway) delay chip technology that is no longer in production, namely ‘bucket-brigade’ integrated circuits. Big Briar have managed to track down the last remaining stocks of these special but once common items and are producing a limited edition run of just 1000 Analog Delay processors. Coupled with the Moog name this pretty well guarantees it will become a collectable item.
The top panel layout is the same as the other Moogers but instead we have controls for Delay Time, Feedback, Mix, Drive (input level with tri-coloured LED) and Output Level. Also included is a Loop Gain control (and LED) and an Internal/External Loop rocker switch. The Loop option is nothing to do with sampling and break beats but harks back to good old analogue terminology and is a welcome featurette (more on this below).
One drawback with analogue delays (as opposed to digital) is a much lower audio bandwidth, often less than half what digital would be. Compared to what most of us are used to they can sound muffled and decidedly low-tech, an acquired taste to some. However, with the right kind of music and in the right situation, such as live or when adding ‘warmth’ to digital instruments, they can be just what the doctor ordered.
A feature many analogue delays are good at is voltage-control of parameters and this delay is no exception with options for external control over Mix, Feedback and delay Time. Tricks like sweeping the delay Time in realtime without digital noise or stepping artefacts can be a revelation to those who haven’t tried it before. It may not be an effect that suites all types of music but dub, remixing, experimental and electronica styles could all find a use for it. Used at the minimum delay time settings it will produce flanging, while at the mid settings you gan get it to simulate ‘boingy’ type spring reverb sounds. The maximum delay is a respectable 800 ms and is eminently suitable for spacey ‘Frippery’ type effects.
The External Loop feature allows you to re-route the delay feedback signal out of the audio chain and into an external processor, you can then insert the effected signal back into the feedback path. By judicious use of the Loop Gain control (used to avoid overloading) and choosing the right kind of external processing the results can be quite unusual. For instance if the Loop option is sent and returned to the Ring Modulator and a sound is played into the Delay processor the original signal is heard as it should be but the delayed echoes are ring modulated more and more with each repeat. The Loop feature works best with an external effect that has a pronounced affect on the sound, such as the phaser or ring modulator, but it doesn’t work so well using the Lowpass Filter unit.
CP-251 CONTROL PROCESSOR
This unit is the odd one out of the Moogerfooger family, in looks and features. As you can no doubt see from the photo it isn’t in the same sloping ‘stomp box’ style of the other units, and although it is approximately the same size it is quite a bit heavier too.
Usefully this box of tricks can function on its back or standing tall, in which case the power plug can be inserted in a second 9v socket on the base plate, a thoughtful design touch.
It is divided into roughly eight sections: a Four Input Mixer, a Lag processor, an LFO, two Attenuators, a Noise generator, a Sample & Hold module and a Four-Way-Multiple group of jack sockets.
Although the instruction manual states this is ONLY control processor and has no audio input or output sockets this isn’t strictly true, as the Noise source can be connected to the audio inputs of the other Moogerfoogers and the Four Input Mixer and Attenuators can also be used with audio signals. However, for all intents and purposes it is true that it’s primarily intended as a voltage-control source or modifier for the CV inputs and outputs of the Moogerfooger processors or other analogue or voltage-controlable gear.
Unless you’ve come across modular synthesisers before a few of the Control Processor features may sound a wee bit odd. The Sample & Hold, Lag Processor and Attenuators for a start. Quite simply the Attenuators are for reducing the level of a CV signal, although unusually the Attenuation level itself can also be controlled by another CV source. The Lag Processor provides a means of slowing down a fast changing control waveform such as a square wave. Two knobs adjust the Rise rate (leading edge) and Fall rate (trailing edge) of the incoming signal. This a handy feature for changing the shape of basic waveforms that are controlling other Moogerfooger CV functions. For example a square wave could be modified into a normal (or inverted) sawtooth or triangular waveform.
The LFO (low frequency oscillator) is a fairly basic affair with independent Sine and Square outputs, although it also has a voltage-controllable rate.
Although the Four-Input (control source) Mixer does what it is supposed to it’s a bit of a mixed bag as only inputs 1 and 2 can be attenuated while inputs 3 and 4 are mixed at their maximum level. However, the mixer output stage includes a Master Level and an Offset control for shifting the mixer output control-voltage in a plus or minus direction. A useful inverted output is also included.
Despite the fact the Sample & Hold module only has two inputs (IN and TRIG), two outputs and no knobs it is a very useful control-voltage source. But before you modular synthesis novices get too excited I should point out that the Sample & Hold module has nothing at all to do with audio sampling. Instead the term is referring to the process of sampling a moving or random voltage applied to the Input and then outputting that signal until a new voltage is sampled. The sampling action commences when a trigger signal crosses a preset threshold at the trigger input. Depending on the sample and trigger source the outcome is a random stepped effect at a constantly changing rate and is most often heard controlling a VCF or VCO.
The sampling source for the S&H IN socket is an internally patched connection to the Noise generator output while the TRIG input socket is internally connected to the LFO square wave output, both these connections can be overridden by inserting a jack from an external CV source. S&H Out 1 carries a normal CV signal while Out 2 is via a special low pass filter which smoothes out any signal peaks. The filtering feature on Out 2 is also directly related to the LFO/S&H trigger speed, the faster the rate the smoother the CV output. Apart from a lack of variable threshold control on the TRIG input the S&H module works well. The separate Noise socket generates a straightforward random white noise signal suitable for feeding into the audio input of other Moogerfooger audio processors.
The Four-Way Multiple module’s jacks are all connected in parallel and allow CV inputs or outputs to be used by more than one destination, which is exactly what you’d expect it to do.
The voltage-control inputs on all the Moogerfooger audio processors use 3-conductor/ring-tip type jack sockets. The ring terminal is supplied internally with +5v and if the right kind of expression/foot pedal is correctly connected to the VC inputs (details are in the instruction manuals) it can be used as a constantly variable control source.
The CP-251 Control Processor also includes 8 of the same type ring-tip sockets (in the LFO, Mixer, S&H and Attenuators), thoughtfully they are indicated by red nuts. The informative instruction manual even has a section suggesting that “electronically-inclined users are encouraged to experiment with novel control devices that are powered by the CP251’s red jacks”. And reassuringly it also says “there is little danger that in plugging a patch cord into the wrong pair of jacks will damage the CP251”.
So there you have it, I think I’ve pretty much covered all there is as far as the individual Moogerfoogers go. As I said above my favourite effects are the Phaser and the Ring Modulator but my ideal set-up would be to use all of them as a rudimentary Moog modular system (see box), and I’m sure the less cash strapped of you reading this will take that route, though bear in mind the complete set is going to set you back a not inconsiderable £1540.
And here’s a dilemma, would you use a £500 limited edition analogue delay pedal as stomp box on some manky old stage? Personally I wouldn’t dream of it, but that’s just my opinion. But then again if you are seriously interested bear in mind this will be the first and last Moogerfooger Analogue Delay processor, do you get one now while you still can?
Although it is obvious from the stomp box design the Moogerfoogers are primarily intended for the guitaring fraternity I have a sneaking suspicion they are going to find themselves hooked-up to quite a few keyboards, samplers and mixers too, and being a keyboardy type myself that’s exactly what I used for this review.
Apart from a few idiosyncrasies like the lack of a true bypass function (the circuits are always active) and the decidedly mono bias the Moogers get a thumbs up from me. They sound great, they’re well built and they have an adequate if basic feature set.
One of the biggest criticisms I kept coming across while I’ve had the Moogerfoogers for review and I have to agree, is their price compared to other manufactures effects units. Admittedly they ooze quality and are obviously aimed at the professional gigging musician but £300 is a lot of money to pay for a mono Phaser, no matter who made it.
Ultimately the decision is down to you dear reader, you pays your money you makes your choice.
The Moog modular analog synthesiser, in pedal form.
Personally I would like to see all the Moogerfoogers also available in a true desktop modular design, along the lines of the CF-251 Control Processor, and possibly interlockable or stackable, for that real hands-on Moog modular patchability experience. I’d also be a very happy chap if there were a socket for a remote bypass switch, not just the expression pedal option, so they could be tweaked from a desktop or keyboard and still be foot activated.
When used in combination or connected together the Moogerfoogers really shine and would probably be the closest many of us come to anything like playing with a real Moog modular system. The number of patching permutations and configurations are almost endless and at one point I found myself using more than a dozen patch cords for a totally mad but great sounding set-up, and that was without using any expression pedals too.
But unfortunately using them this way also highlights one of the major failings of the Moogerfooger ‘stomp box’ design, accessibility. As ‘patched in’ guitar or desktop/keyboard effects units the design is fine, just plug them in and play. The Moog literature describes using the units as a ‘modular analog synthesiser’ and including all those wonderfully versatile CV inputs and outputs cries out for experimentation but when used in combination the inevitable rear patching frenzy becomes a major pain in the neck (literally). So why is the CP-251 Control Processor unit, a model of logical design with everything accessible on one panel, the only Moogerfooger available in this configuration?
In my humble opinion Mr Moog I think you should also give some thought to non-stomping, non-guitar toting electronic musicians. Go on, you know it makes sense.
MF-101 LOW PASS FILTER
£219.99 Including VAT
MF-102 RING MODULATOR
£219.99 Including VAT
MF-103 TWELVE-STAGE PHASER
£299.99 Including VAT
MF-104 ANALOG DELAY
£499.99 Including VAT
CP-251 CONTROL PROCESSOR
£299.99 Including VAT
Excellent authentic analogue sound.
True ‘plug and play’.
Useful connectivity options.
Used in combination they make a rudimentary ‘ Moog modular system’.
Rugged pro-quality units.
No true effect bypass, circuitry is always active.
No power on/off switches, they’re always on.
Relatively basic features compared with other makes.
‘Stomp box’ design may not appeal to everyone.
A very respectable range of simple to use but great sounding analogue effects units, with a higher than usual quota of interface sockets than you would expect to find on a ‘stomp box’. Include the Control Processor in the equation and you have a rudimentary Moog modular system. Pricey but nice.
+44 (0)20741 9999
EP-1 Expression Pedal
Control pedal for foot control of any Moogerfooger knob-controllable performance parameter.
Black nylon: for one moogerfooger pedal, expression pedal, power adapter and cables.
Replacement End caps.
Custom-made end caps in various colours and finishes other than the original hard wood.
Copyright © 2002 Chris Carter / SOS Publications.