While this review is in no way intended to be a complete explanation of what Sub Phatty has to offer, I will do my best to outline the experience of using it for the modern musician. There are a ton of sites where you can read a complete breakdown of the synth, I will focus on what it’s like to use it in the real world.
The Moog Sub Phatty is the newest in a long line of fine synthesizers made by Moog Music. While it brings new tools to the table which allow the user to take it into new territory (for a Moog) it retains the true essence and character of it’s predecessors.
I went back and forth for some time deciding how to rank the Sub Phatty’s features. Initially, I viewed the lack of arpeggiator/sequencer and only 16 programmable presets as a big negative. However, as I took the time to study the user manual and began to unlock it’s “under the hood” features, I realized that this synth is full of usable features.
I won’t lie, 16 spaces for presets does not even scratch the surface of what I’d like to do live, but there are ways around this. For one I made a theme for each of my four sound banks. So bank one was four patches of lead sounds, bank two was bass sounds, bank three was pad type sounds, and bank four was misc. sounds. This way, as long as I was in the proper sound bank for the type of sound I wanted to create, I was never more then a few minor tweaks away from creating the patch I wanted.
As for the arpeggiator, while it would have been a nice feature as on the Little Phatty, I realized that for recording I could get by with multi tracking and making the parts fit together. It turned out to be a situation that was easily remedied.
As for the key range, it’s only 25 notes. As a trained pianist, this was the most difficult part to wrap my mind around. How could I make this work? Here’s what I did. First of all there are octave buttons that allow you to quickly jump up or down + or – 2 octaves. This in effect adds four more octaves to the instrument. Then I took it one step further. I programmed my pitch wheel to bend up or down by + or – 1 octave. This made it much easier to complete longer lines on the synth that continued for more than an octave. I found it much smoother because I could use the pitch bend for minor expression and I did not have to take my hand off to transpose the octave in which i was playing. So the smaller size makes it so much easier to carry around and I didn’t really lose any key range. Excellent.
EASE OF USE
The Sub Phatty has one knob per function. If I remember correctly, that’s 31 knobs on the face. This makes sound crafting so much fun. Instead of diving through a ton of menus, you can quickly achieve your desired sound or spend hours on end experimenting! I mean it. Hours. And I couldn’t ask for a better knob layout and the large, high quality knobs are a pleasure to use. The filter knob is extra large and it really makes it easier to locate quickly and use.
The “under the hood” features however are not complicated to use but I find them somewhat tricky to memorize. With my manual in hand it’s a breeze, but in a live situation I’d rather just not try to deal with it.
Let me begin by saying I’ve owned many synthesizers over the last 27 years. Some great, some not so good. Each one has had it’s own unique character that shines through regardless of the “features” of the instrument. Let’s not mince words. For me, the bottom line is the sound quality of the instrument. I want the sound emanating from the instrument to resonate with my heart.
When I first touched the keys on the sub phatty, I immediately fell in love. Something about this synthesizer just sounds and feels “right”. It has a certain impingement that can cut like a knife, or can massage your soul. The oscillators sound very
precise yet in a way untamed. In the studio the sub phatty sounds sits so nice in the mix and just fills out its space well. Waveforms, from the thin pulse wave type sounds to the thick, stacked sawtooth waves seem to instinctively know their place and play well with others.
Then there’s the live sound…
I brought the sub phatty out for a week with a top 40 cover band. We play most of the hits from the 80’s on up including everything from hip hop to country. On the big stage with 18″ sub woofers and a stack of 15″ and 12″ mains with horns, this synth sounds larger than life. As I didn’t have a chance to program any presets for the shows, I had to create sounds on the fly. With it’s one knob per function and intuitive layout, I found that more times than not I was able to create a usable patch that was similar enough to the original sound in the song with the first 20 seconds of each song. Even our sound guy who rarely gives compliments said he loved how the sub phatty sat in the mix.
BANG FOR THE BUCK
The Sub Phatty is not a “cheap” keyboard in terms of build quality or price. It’s components seem to be of high quality and it feels solid in general. I’d say that the weakest components IMHO are the keys which felt a little bit strange to me at first, but I’ve since grown accustomed to them. For the price tag, I would have expected more immediately recognizable features but the “under the hood” section more than makes up for it to me. Sure you can buy a cheaper synth with similar sound and features but this synth sounds majestic and inspires me every time I turn it on, and that’s what I’m in this for. It also gives me a sense of pride to be part of the Moog “heritage” and that’s gotta be worth something as well.
So if you love high quality components, straight forward layout, some great features, and that sweet Moog tone, I say get the Sub Phatty asap. I promise you will be glad that you did.