Review: Moog Little Phatty Stage II Analog Synthesizer

Bob Moog's last ever design was the Little Phatty Stage II. This monophonic analog synth with 37 keys is now discontinued, but Sara Simma got hold of one and gave it an in-depth review for old times.  

Little Phatty


The Little Phatty (LP) is a monophonic analog synthesizer that is a direct descendent of the classic Minimoog Model D. It's also the final Moog product that Bob Moog had direct input on, which makes it a very special synth. The LP features 2 oscillators, a genuine Moog 24 dB/Octave low pass filter, two four-stage analog envelope generators and a modulation matrix. The LP's front panel has four variable-function edit controls for real-time adjustment of the Modulation, Oscillator, Filter and Envelope Generator parameters, plus dedicated controls for Fine Tuning, Octave Switching, Glide and Volume. The LP comes with 100 great-sounding factory presets, which you can modify or replace with your own sounds.

I was delighted when the Little Phatty arrived in my studio, and found it easy to incorporate into my creative workflow. The first thing that caught my eye about the LP was its brilliant design, which is simple yet robust. I was happy to discover that the LP sounded even better than it looked; it gives synthesists a wide range of sound creation possibilities, and its 37-note keyboard makes it perfect for using in the studio, or in live performances.

The LP Stage II model has many new features, including MIDI over USB, Midi Clock Sync, an Arpeggiator and Tap Tempo. The USB connectivity makes the LP easy to intergrate into your rig, and you can also connect it directly to a computer running the Little Phatty Editor/Librarian. MIDI Clock Sync allows you to synchronize the LFO and arpeggiator rate to the tempo of your MIDI sequencer and/or hardware. Both old and new school synthesists will love the arpeggiator, which can be used to create classic synth lines. Last but not least, Tap Tempo saves the day by bringing LFO and arpeggiator functionality to instances in which there is no MIDI clock.

Here's a breakdown on the LP's components on the front panel:


LCD Display and User Interface

front panel


This section gives access to presets and other software functions. The LP comes loaded with 100 Moog presets that provide a wide range of sounds, from thick bass tones to fluid, warm leads. The LP has two operating modes: Master and Preset. Master mode allows you to access and change global parameters and other utilities, and preset mode allows you to access the presets and manipulate the sound from the front panel controls. When the LP is turned on, it starts in Preset mode. Presets can be selected by rotating the value encoder; I thought it was helpful to be able to scroll through 10 presets at a time by pressing down and turning the encoder. It's easy to edit the presets, and shape the sounds into your own creations by using the four analog editing controls on the front panel. I believe the real fun begins when you start to make your own sounds on this synth, and I would encourage everyone who would like to use the LP to create their own unique presets.


Oscillator Section

oscillators


The oscillators in the LP are analog Voltage Controlled Oscillators (VCOs) and are capable of producing a total musical range of 9 octaves. The LP's oscillators are great at staying in tune. Oscillator One is the master oscillator, to which Oscillator 2 is tuned. Many of the Oscillator's parameters can be edited by adjusting the analog edit control, which is the large knob surrounded by LEDs. Each of the oscillators has an Octave switch that selects the relative frequency range, and you can select from 16', 8', 4', and 2'. Each oscillator has a switch labeled OSC Level that allows you to adjust the relative strength of each one in the mixer. Both of the oscillators feature a continuously variable waveform, from triangle, to sawtooth, to square to rectangular. Oscillator 2 has a switch labeled OSC 2 Freq that allows the analog edit control to adjust the frequency of OSC 2 relative to OSC 1 up or down by a fifth (seven semitones). In the center of the oscillator panel, there's also a 1-2 Sync button, which forces Oscillator 2 to restart its waveform every time Oscillator 1 starts a new cycle. This effect is especially noticeable if the synced Oscillator is set to a higher frequency than the Reset oscillator. You'll also find a switch called Glide Rate, which can be used to set the portamento between notes, and adjust the time the LP takes to transition from one note to the next.

The main source of the frequencies of the oscillators is the keyboard, but you can access additional CV control through the Pitch jack on the side panel, and control the frequencies of the oscillators via CV.


Filters

filter


The LP features the classic Moog 24 dB/Octave low pass filter that is found in the MiniMoog Voyageur, and the Moogerfooger Low Pass Filter Pedal. It's a very rich and warm sounding filter, and you can adjust the filter's cutoff frequency by turning the analog edit dial. The cutoff frequency is adjustable from 20 Hz to 16 kHz. The filter section also features Resonance, which adds a resonant peak to the cutoff frequency. You can add resonance to create tones that sound buzzy, or zappy depending on how you use it. Other keyboard controls include Keyboard Amount (KB Amount), Envelope Generator Amount (EGR AMNT) and Overload. I found the Overload section to be a particularly useful; it can be used to warm up sounds to give them a distinct tonal edge or create 'growls' provided by hard clipping.


Envelope Generators

envelope generators


The LP features two identical Envelope Generator (EG) circuits; one is dedicated to the filter (to control the cutoff frequency) and the other EG is dedicated to the amplifier (to control the volume). The filter EG can be used as a modulation source through the Modulation Matrix.


Modulation Section

modulation


The sound of the LP will start to get really interesting when you apply modulation. The modulation section allows you to select from six modulation sources, four destinations, and set the modulation amount. You control the output of the Modulation section using the Mod wheel. Mastering the use of modulation is one of the keys to unlocking the power of the LP; new synthesists will want to spend some time on this section.


Output Section

output


On the far right of the LP, you'll find the Output section; it has a single monophonic audio output, which can be adjusted by the Volume Control. There's also an On/Off switch (be sure to turn this on to receive audio output) and a headphone input.


Keyboard

The LP features a 37-note (3-octave) keyboard, which can be combined with the octave buttons to produce a range of 7 octaves. The keys feel great under your fingers, and respond well to changes in velocity. To the left of the keyboard is a pitch bend wheel, and a modulation wheel. It's handy to know that each preset has the modulation wheel programmed to introduce additional dimensions to the sound; you'll want to be sure to try this out to hear its effects on each of the of the presets.


Input/Output Panel

The side panel provides all of the input and output connections. There's a 1/4” Audio In jack, which allows an external audio source to be mixed with the LP's VCOs, and then routed to the filter. This feature can be used to create all sorts of unique sonics, and you can process any sound source through the input. The audio input is designed to distort if the external audio level gets high, which will add color to the sound.

Other connections include: a 1/4” Audio Out jack, and CV Inputs for the Pitch, Filter, Volume and KB Gate. On the MIDI side, there's also connections for MIDI In/Out; one standard MIDI and one USB.

The Little Phatty is a synthesizer that must be played to be truly appreciated; it's truly a remarkable instrument. The layout, design and sound creation possibilities of the LP will appeal to both beginner and advanced synthesists. It's a pleasure to sculpt your sounds using the oversized analog wheels (one of my personal favorite features) and LED buttons. I think you'll be impressed with the range of sounds you'll be able to create with the LP; it's easy to make everything from thick, classic bass tones to squelching leads. The LP's sound quality, intuitive front panel layout and affordable price tag make it a choice synthesizer for musicians who only want to play on the best in the studio, or on the stage.


Specs:

  • Type: Monophonic Analog Synthesizer
  • Sound Engine: Analog
  • Number of Keys: 37
  • Other Controllers: Pitch Bend, Mod Wheel
  • Price: $1,475.00 (now discontinued = collector's item)


The Good:

  • Easy to create and sculpt your own presets
  • Arpeggiator is a great new added feature
  • Easily integrates into your studio or live rig
  • Phat analog bass sounds


The Not-So-Good:

  • What's not to like about this synth? It was Bob Moog's last design; let's just leave it at that. 
  • Not longer available


Sara Simms captivates the world as an innovative musician, DJ, turntablist and electronic music producer. She's a multi-instrumentalist who's known for her love of music technology. Sara makes her mark in the music community by crafting diverse sets with styles ranging from pulsating techno to house. She balances technical skills wi... Read More

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