Model E Review + Tips & Tricks
The name Moog is synonymous with the word synthesizer. Bob Moog began building modular synthesizers in the late 60's, which sold for thousands and thousands of dollars. These monster modular synthesizers made incredible sounds that had never been heard before, but unfortunately, they were way out of reach for most musicians because of their price and complexity. There was also a problem with reliability which involved tuning the oscillators, the sheer size of the units and lack of portability. When the Minimoog first came out in 1970 it sold for $1,495. It was the first really affordable synthesizer available that had some of the basic features and sound of the modular but could be programmed without patchcords and was portable. The Minimoog was a realistic alternative to the massive modulars and quickly became one of the classic must have synths of all time. Since its release, the Minimoog has been used by legendary artists and synth pioneers like Keith Emerson, Jan Hammer, Chick Corea, Rick Wakeman, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream and many others. You can hear it on countless #1 hits and it is still being used all the way up through today as the definitive synth bass sound. Even though its main claim to fame was it's punchy, deep bass sound, if programmed properly, it could be incredibly versatile as well, creating wonderful analog bleeps and bloops.
The last Minimoog was made in 1981, so finding one in good condition became more difficult and finding qualified technicians and parts even more difficult The Minimoog has even been remanufactured by other companies like Studio Electronics, who recreated one and called it the Midimini which sold for $2,195. This was a great alternative to having the original and it is still available as the SE-1, but it has the same limitations of the original hardware synth. Since computers and software have become so much more powerful in the past few years, it is now possible to have something like a Minimoog modeled in software right inside Cubase VST, SX or Nuendo.
If you are not already familiar with VST instruments, they are part of "The System". Cubase is the center of your studio where you can record and edit your MIDI and audio tracks with additional capabilities for automated mixing, real-time EQ and FX. The system refers to the numerous additional elements that can "plug-in" into Cubase. VST instruments are similar to the way the audio plug-ins work in the VST mixer for your audio tracks, but they are really more like a virtual rack of MIDI modules that you can load up and play right inside of Cubase VST, SX or Nuendo.
Improvements and Advantages
Now, Karl Steinberg, the man who created VST himself, brings you the Model E. He designed a Minimoog type of synthesizer that is modeled in software as a VST instrument. It is very similar to the original design as far as sound and structure goes but it has vast improvements over the original hardware synthesizer and quite a few additional new features. First of all, the original Minimoog was monophonic, so you could only play one note at a time, which made it great for basses and lead lines, but what about chords? Talk about tedious. In the past, people were known to record multi tracked multiple passes of individual notes just to make chords. The Model E can produce up to 64 voices for each one you put into your VST rack so now you can play chords with Minimoog type sounds. The Model E is also multi-timbral, so you can play up to 16 parts with each synth in your rack. This is like having 16 polyphonic Minimoogs in one synth! The original Minimoog was not programmable either, so there were no presets. Every time you wanted to play a new sound, you had to remember where to move the knobs. Imagine trying to do that now for each song. The Model E has up to128 presets in each bank and there are 5 banks of sounds included that you can load up. MIDI did not exist back in 1970 so the Minimoog never had MIDI. There were some modification kits that could give it MIDI and some other ways to MIDI-fy it with CV and gate converters, but as with any MIDI instrument today the common complaint remains about the timing and feel of MIDI. What's wrong with MIDI? MIDI coming out of any sequencer means that you are dealing with your computer operating System, MIDI interface and cable going out of the interface into the keyboard. This can introduce many timing issues and delays along the way, which you can feel in the music. Since the VST instruments are built into Cubase, there is no physical output. The output and input to the synth is entirely in software, so it is a direct connection to the synth resulting in timing that feels much better and tighter than any existing hardware can achieve.
Besides having more features, there are many more advantages of having a synthesizer in software. One of the most important advantages is stability. A Minimoog was made out of many, many physical parts that were prone to wear & tear, warm up time, tuning problems and ultimately failure. This meant expensive replacement parts, the cost of service, plus you had to do without your synth for a few days while it was being repaired. Now, all those hardware oscillators, pots, filters, switches and circuit boards can be recreated or modeled in software and used right inside Cubase VST maintaining an all digital path.
Some of the other advantages of having a synth in software are that you don't have to plug them into a power outlet, which is a great source for ground loop hum in any studio. You also don't have to plug into a MIDI interface or use MIDI cables and deal with the negative aspects of physical MIDI connections, cables and timing issues. Best of all, you don't have to use any audio cables which are susceptible to picking up noise from lights and power cables and also take up more channels in your mixer. You don't even have to record your MIDI or audio performance into audio tracks into Cubase because the audio shows up right in your VST mixer. Now, when you add EQ and FX to your synth tracks, everything stays in the digital domain for a cleaner, better sounding signal.
Much like the original Minimoog, the Model E has 3 oscillators for making thick and fat sounds by detuning each one of them slightly. You have a choice of a 6 waveforms, with the possibility of using an oscillator as a modulation source. Noise is also included in the mixer section, which is good for more than just making wind sounds. Noise can give basses a sharper attack, flute sounds an overblown effect and drum sounds more snap.
Loading up and playing the Model E
Go to panels in Cubase VST or devices in Cubase SX or Nuendo and click onto VST Instruments. The rack will appear where you can load up to 8 or more different instruments. You could load up 2, 3, 4 or more Model E's if you like. You can also load different banks of sounds into each one, giving you access to hundreds of sounds simultaneously. I always have 2 Model E's loaded in my VST instrument rack and people always wonder why. I do this because I load up a different bank of sounds in each one. This way I have instant access to many more different sounds.
Output and Channel
To play the Model E from your MIDI keyboard, go to the main arrange page or project page and make a new MIDI track or choose an existing one that is unused. Next, click on the output column to the right of your tracks in the track list or from the output window in your track inspector and choose the Model E.
You might see other numbers in the parentheses like (V2) or (V3) which refers to the instrument's position number in the instrument rack if you have more than one instrument or other instruments loaded at one time.
Which Channel should I choose?
This is really important. The Model E is multi-timbral which means that you can play up to 16 parts on each synth. For some VST instruments like the LM-4 and the Pro 52 the MIDI channel doesn't matter. For the Model E the channel does matter when you start adding more parts, want to use different preset sounds for each track and especially when you want to tweak the sounds. Now you can play the Model E from your MIDI keyboard. If you want to add another part, make another MIDI track and set the output to the same Model E. Be sure to set the MIDI channel to 2. Now you have 2 Model E parts and you can add more up to 16.
Where is the audio?
So, where is the audio coming from or going to? Look in your VST channel mixer and scroll over to the right, just before the groups. You will see new gold colored channel strips that say ModE. This means that you can play the instrument and run it through all the VST EQ, FX and Plug-ins as you would any audio track.
In the VST mixer, you will also notice that there are ModE 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. This means that you can assign different sounds to different outputs to the VST mixer. On the Model E front panel you can click on output and send different preset sounds to stereo outputs 1 through 4. Now, you can add EQ and effects to the sounds differently.
Choosing programs and playing the knobs
You can choose the sounds or "patches" directly from the Model E front panel. Just click on the first arrow next to the number of the patch to click through by banks of 10. You can click on the second set of arrows to click through presets one by one. If you prefer, you can also click right in the red LCD numbers window to scroll through the patches as a list of names.
Now that you have loaded up the Model E, you should start tweaking the sounds with the knobs. It is really important to be sure you are on the right channel so that when you start playing the knobs, you will be affecting the sound you want. If you look at the lower left hand corner, you will see which channels are receiving MIDI (1-16). Over to the right a little more, you will see which channel you are actually on and which program and patch sound name you are also on. If you have something playing back on channel 2, you will see the MIDI channel 2 lighting up green, so if you want to tweak that sound, make sure you are on channel 2 in the red LCD as well. This way, when you start playing the knobs, you will be affecting the right sound you want to edit.
One tip on playing the knobs, like everything else in VST, is that when you play it in a circular motion, the further away you move the mouse from the knob the more it slows down. If you need smooth filter sweeps, remember to move away from the center, then play the mouse. On the other hand, playing quickly directly on the center of the knob can give you stepped filter effects which can also be very cool.
Recording the knob movements
All those knobs are on there for a reason. Tweak them! It will make your synth parts more interesting if they evolve throughout the song and it is fun. As you know, when you click on "Write" in the VST mixer, you can record all the movements in the mixer, eq, fx sends, plug-ins (actually the first 16 parameters) etc· With the virtual instruments it is different probably because there are more than 16 knobs on the Model E front panel and mostly because the knobs send sysex through MIDI. Remember, the VST instruments are just like any other MIDI instruments you have as a keyboard or a rack mount module, except that the MIDI and audio connections are internal. If you are going to record knob movements in any VST instrument, you must record on to a MIDI track.
To record the movements with your mouse, first be sure to go to your Options MIDI Setup Filtering and uncheck Sysex.
Cubase defaults to filtering Sysex (checked means on so it is filtering Sysex. Uncheck it so that you do not filter Sysex since you want to record it). Next make a new MIDI track and choose the same Model E as your output. Now hit record in Cubase (the transport bar) to record your knob movement performance onto this new track. I prefer to keep this automation track or recorded performance on a separate track other than the one with the MIDI notes, since it will be easier to undo, edit or move around the knob performance parts separately.
Moving and recording knob movements with an external MIDI fader box
Instead of using a mouse to play one knob at a time, think of how much better it would be if you could play cutoff and resonance simultaneously or as many other parameters as you have fingers. There are many external MIDI fader boxes that you can use to tweak many different knobs at once and it is really worth the investment since you can also use it to control the VST audio mixer channels. The Steinberg Houston or Mackie Control are great for automating the VST mixer audio channels and also because they already include some presets for the Model E. Best of all, they have a display where you can see the parameters by name for the knobs you are about to tweak. There are plenty of other controllers available that you can use such as the Phat Boy or MIDIMan Oxygen 8 but they do not have LCD displays where you can see the names for each parameter. If you need to program your fader box to play the knobs, it is very easy. Page 36 of the manual shows a chart of which standard MIDI controller plays which knob in the Model E.
I have a JL Cooper Fadermaster and it only took me 1 or 2 minutes to program the faders to play the parameters I use most often: Filter cutoff, resonance, envelope amount and Amplifier attack, decay and sustain. You could also use Keyfax Phat Boy or Native Instruments 4 Control, which have rotary knobs, just like the original keyboard. This preset will also work for the PPG since the controllers to the same type of knobs are similar.
There are also a lot of newer MIDI keyboards that have 4 or more sliders that are programmable to send standard MIDI controller numbers. It is easy to program these as well, but a dedicated fader box is nice.
Using the VCO as a modulator
LFO's (low frequency oscillators) are a great way to get more expressive sounds or wacky sound effects. Instead of setting an oscillator or VCO (voltage controlled oscillator) to the "lo Range" to act like a LFO, you can set it to the audio range of 32, 16, 8, 4 or 2 to use it to get some bright, spikey FM like sounds by sending it to modulate the pitch or filter cutoff frequency.
We're not talking about bad side affects of deep sea scuba diving here, we are talking about how guitarists play 2 notes at the same time and bend the second note up and down to get a cool dynamic detuned effect. Play a note with one hand and adjust the fine tune of an oscillator with the other using the mouse.
Using the Spread knob
One of my favorite features of the Model E is the Spread knob. The more you turn this up, the more the notes you play become scattered to the left and right as you play. This makes sounds move around the stereo field more, which can give your music a sense of space. It's quick, easy and automatic, but it makes it sound like you did something that was difficult to program.
Hear Spread in action!
Check out this mp3 of a bass line with Spread turned all the way up.
Another cool feature of the Model E is that it is velocity sensitive for the amplifier (VCA) and also for the filter cutoff frequency (VCF). Turning up the VCF Velocity knob will make your sounds more velocity to filter sensitive, so the harder you play a note, the brighter the sound gets. To really hear this effect, depending on the sound you are starting with, you may need to turn the Filter Cutoff and Filter Amount knobs down a bit.
Hear VCFVelo in action!
Check out this mp3 of a bass line with VCFVelo turned up on the same bass line as before.
About the writer:
Costa Kotselas worked for Steinberg for many years as a product specialist and content producer for cubase.net. Costa has also been working as a consultant to some of the world's top film composers and is now offering intensive weekend "learn cubase" seminars.
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