Monday, August 29, 2011

Zeitdehner goes BIG

So, finally it arrived, on a beautiful summer first 5U, Moog unit modular by Mos-Lab.

It took 6 months from the moment I confirmed my order to delivery of the modules.

Why so long ? Well, because Mos-Lab is a one man show and S├ębastien, the man behind Mos-Lab, had to finish a few other orders before he could take on building mine. He works on an order by order basis and he does no stocking of items, he needs to outsource PCB and panel manufacturing, needs to source hardware and components and therefore he is dependent on delivery delays by his partners. That is obviously often the case with small manufacturers in modular business.

Why Mos-Lab ? Well, because I wanted to go back to the roots of modular synthesis and enjoy classic analogue sound, with a classic feature set, with classic ergonomics... and that's exactly what Mos-Lab delivers : faithful reproductions of original Moog modules.
Ok, but why no then ? Because Mos-Lab is a French manufacturer, which makes for easier, faster and cheaper shipping to Belgium (where I live)... no customs or import taxes, no VAT... and the price/quality ratio is excellent. This proximity facilitates communication and possible after sales logistics.
Also, S├ębastien is quite a fine chap, very smooth and correct to deal with and he deserves to be successful with his business (don't they all do, so we can keep on playing those wonderful instruments).

So, what's in the box ??

All modules are well packed and protected, separately.

After unpacking, I placed all the elements, just to see if they fitted the cabinet I made more than a month earlier :

Then I fastened and connected the whole lot :

Now, let's have a closer look at those PCB's :

 Above is the filter trio : HPF, coupler and LPF
These are the three VCO's, the driver and controller

All PCB's are stuffed with discrete components and very few analogue chips. Circuits are not very densely populated, no SMD here... all in respect with Moog's original circuits (with just a few improvements here and there).

Now, let's see how this synth looks from the front :

I designed the cab to hold 2 rows of 12 MU . Shape and size remind that of Macbeth's M5.

When thinking about the system configuration, I deliberately chose for a basic selection of sound sources and treatments, to have a full Moog like quality audio path, leaving modulation and utility tasks to modules from my Eurorack system :

Upper row :
- CP10 mixer
- 904-A LPF
- 904-C filter coupler
- 904-B HPF
- CP10 mixer
- 905 spring reverb

Bottom row :
- 992 controls to oscillators
- 921-A oscillator driver
- 3x 921-B VCO
- Moon Modular 2U blanking panel with logo
- 2x 995 attenuators
- 911 envelope generator
- 2x 902 VCA

The blanking panel is there to replace the no longer produced, very rare and elusive 970 waveform processor (clipper/ring modulator) that I intended to include. The 970 just went out of production a couple of weeks before I placed my order . Though, I 'll be getting a 970 that I found second hand in the next few weeks :-)

  A family shot with his playmates : Moisturizer, The White Dwarf, FriFri Deluxe and Little Putney :

Just about a week after having received my system, I found a second hand 905 spring reverb and I couldn't resist grabbing it  for stereo reverb or to use in 2 voice multi timbral context, so here's the system as it looks today :

First impressions:

Assembly of the PCB's is done quite carefully and overall build quality of the modules is very good.
The hardware feels very solid and secure, controls are very smooth and well calibrated.
Layout of panel controls is logical, clear, very roomy and comfortable, which makes for easy access even with all ins and outs patched up.
The lack of attenuation on CV inputs makes several 995's, mixers and  VCA's indispensable.
Overall sound is very rich, wide, vibrant, organic, with bags of character. Both PWM and Sync are very effective and musical.
This system is taylor made for very expressive, classic leads and basses but also proves to be very effective at FX and more abstract or atonal works.
The LPF produces a very nice sine when driven into self oscillation, though with limited frequency goes higher than it goes low... still, very much usable!
The HPF  also has a nice character and comes in very handy for all sorts of applications.
The filter coupler provides for band pass and band reject duties, putting the LPF and HPF in series or parallel. This one is a bit more tricky to master, but, when used correctly, provides a wide palette of very interesting timbres.
Both filters have a very nice and natural saturation at high input levels.
Oscillators are quite stable but not too much... there's just enough drift to have some movement and life in multi oscillator sounds. Also, tuning of the oscillators is a breeze and fine tuning is very precise. It makes it very easy to dial in a beating in between oscillators or to iron it out by dialing in the exact same frequency... very nice !
The envelope is quite snappy and it does a fine job but I miss a manual gate...
Reverb is quite nice and natural even if I would have liked it a bit less nice at times... with the possibility to distort the signal... like on an EMS synthi...

In conclusion:
This Mos-Lab synth had me waiting for a long time but it was well worth the wait. I now feel like I'm discovering real analogue modular synthesis again... leading me into uncharted sonic territories. This is such a different experience from Eurorack, on sonic level as on functional and ergonomic levels. Not better or less good, just different...and complementary. It's true that Mos-Lab modules are very "basic" but in combination with all the "crazy" modulators and treatments I have available in my Eurorack system... this is quite an explosive cocktail !
I'm so excited about this that I'm already planning on expansion of this rock solid, classic Mos-Lab modular  with some more "modern design" modules by Rob Hordijk, Oakley, COTK, ...

Watch these pages !