MATRIXSYNTH: Exclusive Moog Minitaur Review - All the Bass & More for Less

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Exclusive Moog Minitaur Review - All the Bass & More for Less

This is a MATRIXSYNTH review...

A brand new Moog Minitaur will set you back $599, a Slim Phatty, $795, an RME Voyager, $2695. So how does the Minitaur sound compared to its siblings? Pretty darn incredible.

For this review I had access to both a Minimoog Voyager and a vintage Minimoog Model D for comparison, and the Minitaur more than held its own. Actually it was capable of sounding identical to the Voyager with roughly equivalent settings. The Model D, whether due to age or physical design, has a brighter, fizzier, more unstable characteristic to it compared to both. It's kind of like the original Minimoog has a wild beast inside it while the Voyager and Minitaur have managed to keep that beast under control. I used to think of an analogy where the Model D sounds like it has a Tasmanian Devil inside it, while the Voyager has Darth Vader. Well, the Minitaur adds a massive fat bull. All three are extremely powerful sounding synths. The bass the Minitaur produces is as full as it gets and the filter gets wide open. It was a bit shocking when I first heard it. The Minitaur might be slimmed down in price, but sonically it has all the fat you will ever need.

As the Voyager sounded closest to the Minitaur, I primarily focused on it for comparison. For the most part I could get the Minitaur to sound identical, but there were subtle differences. An interesting thing I noticed was that the filter on the Minitaur seemed to open more than the Voyager, but then I realized that on the Voyager the filter opens up more if you apply the envelope to it. Once I adjusted the envelope on the Voyager, they sounded nearly identical. The saw waves were identical and the pulse waves varied a little, but I believe this was likely due to additional pulse width settings on the Voyager that the Minitaur does not have. I found myself spending more time attempting to get the Voyager to sound like the Minitaur vs. the other way around. This was clearly due to the extra parameters on the Voyager, and it reminded me that sometimes less can be more. With pulse waves, the Minitaur sounded a little more rounded, smooth and fuller. In many cases where I couldn't sonically hear a difference, I could feel it. A funny side note is I have an overhead lamp in the studio I did my testing in. The lamp has a metal hood over a small glass dome for the bulb enclosure that rattles with significant bass. It rarely happens but I noticed it happening quite a bit with the Minitaur. I decided to take the Minitaur, Voyager and Model D to town with a rattle test. The Minitaur won. It consistently produced the most intense lamp rattle. :) This is not too surprising considering Moog's reputation for bass, and that the Minitaur is based on the Moog Taurus 3 bass pedals, which in turn was based on the original Taurus I released back in 1975 (note the Taurus II unlike the I & 3 was based on the Moog Rogue - this is significant, and I'll comment on this in the summary). It's worth noting that although there are other dedicated bass synthesizers out there, there are essentially two types - TB-303 emulators and thundering bass pedals. The Minitaur of course is based on the latter, and few synths sound as full. The Novation BassStation keyboard which is also analog, for example, was geared more towards TB-303 emulation and does not really compare to the Minitaur.

Before we get into specs and finally the summary, there are a few things you need to know off the bat regarding the Minitaur:

1. It is a Bass Synthesizer and like the name implies its main purpose is to produce bass oriented sounds. There is a hardware limitation in the synth that prevents you from playing notes higher than MIDI note 72 or C5. Attempting to play a note higher than that will result in C4 being played. Don't be deterred though. Although a physical limitation, it actually opens up new doors. I'll go into this in the summary as well. Note that the Minitaur can go up to C5, meaning you can play midrange sounds on the Minitaur, including those classic soaring midrange leads Moog synths are known for - the filter opens up wide and you have linear and exponential glide modes. In other words, the Minitaur is not just a bass synth. One thing to consider when comparing it to other synths is that although most synths excel with the midrange up, they can't come close to the Minitaur in the bass department. The Minitaur excels from the midrange down. You haven't really explored bass synthesis until you explore the Minitaur. It can be difficult to grasp this until you experience it first hand. There is a reason why this synth exists. On a side note, one fun thing to do with the Minitaur is to layer it with your other synths. There is one hitch though. There is currently no octave transpose functionality on the Minitaur itself. As pitch only goes up to C5 you have to transpose your controller synth down an octave or two, which in turn, means it goes down in pitch as well. In order to layer the Minitaur with higher octave sounds on your controller synth, you'll have to pitch up its oscillator settings. I brought up the lack of transpose functionality on the Minitaur with Moog, and although they did not commit to anything, they did think it was a good idea.

2. Main sound editing on the Minitaur hardware itself is limited to the knobs you see on the front panel. There are hidden parameters accessible only via the dedicated software editor including external audio in, oscillator sync and some other parameters you might want real time control of via the hardware. There is no shift key to edit these on the Minitaur itself. This may or may not be an issue for some. You can, however, map a hardware or software controller including an iPad or Android editor to them. You can find a user created iPad template for MIDITouch on the Moog Forum that works fairly well here (note this is pre V2 though and does not support the additional CV mappings). I'd love to see the dedicated PC and Mac editors ported to mobile devices or even just the parameters not editable directly on the Minitaur itself.

3. With V2 of the OS you can now load and save presets on the Minitaur, however, you will need the editor to do so. There is no save functionality on the unit itself. Once loaded into the Minitaur via the editor, you no longer need the editor to access them; you can switch through presets in order via the front panel. See this post for a demo by Moog's head of engineering Amos Gaynes.

4. With V2 of the OS you can now map the Pitch, Volume, and Gate CVs on the back of the synth to nearly any parameter on the Minitaur (full list further below). I did notice that unlike the Filter CV input which is fixed, once you route a Pitch or Volume CV input to a parameter, it takes over, meaning any knob adjustments for that parameter will be immediately reverted back to the relative CV value as long as CV is being applied. You can actually get some bizarre grainy effects with the filter this way. Once the CV stops the knob takes full control again. With the Filter CV input however, the filter knob works in relation to the CV input so you can open the filter a little and have the CV modulate it from that point. Also worth noting is that there is no onboard attenuator for the CV ins, so you will need to adjust CV levels before the synth.

5. The Minitaur has an audio input allowing you to process your external gear through its signal path. An interesting comparison to make with it is the original MF-101 Moogerfooger Filter. Aside from the extra 2-Pole mode on the MF-101 and the ENV output jack on back, the Minitaur offers quite a bit more functionality, and it's not much bigger. The one thing I did miss on the Minitaur, both when running external audio through it, and when just wanting to have it drone while you play other gear, is a hold mode. You'll have to use something to hold down a key with the envelop set to full sustain in order to keep the filter open. I also noticed that the release time on the Minitaur envelopes are pretty short at about twelve seconds at max levels. The Voyager on the other hand is about forty seconds. Regarding the audio in levels, they seemed more than adequate, although the oscillators in the Minitaur definitely run pretty hot (loud). You you may need to boost the volume of your external gear depending on how hot its outs are.

So what does the Minitaur have to offer? On the surface you have access to the following parameters via the front control panel:

- Fine tune knob
- VCO 1 and 2 wave shape - Saw or Square
- Filter Cutoff
- Filter Resonance
- Filter Envelope Amount
- Volume Level
- VCO 1 Level
- VCO 2 Level
- Filter Env Attack Time
- Filter Env Decay Time
- Filter Env Sustain Time
- Filter Env Release Time (independent with V2 OS Update)
- Amplitude Env Attack Time
- Amplitude Env Decay Time
- Amplitude Env Sustain Time
- Amplitude Env Release Time (independent with V2 OS Update)
- LFO Rate
- VCO (Pitch) LFO Amount
- VCF (Filter) LFO Amount
- Release On/Off button
- Glide Rate
- Glide On/Off button

Each knob on the Minitaur transmits MIDI CC which means that you can record them as you perform in your DAW, and you can use the Minitaur as a controller for other synths.

Jacks on the back include:

- 1/8" Headphone Jack
- Audio Out
- Audio In
- Pitch CV In (assignable to other parameters with V2 OS Update)
- Filter CV In (fixed to filter only)
- Volume CV In (assignable to other parameters with V2 OS Update)
- Gate In
- USB In (MIDI and editor)

And that is it for direct control via the hardware itself.

The official software editor gives you access to more and consists of the following four pages (comments on each follow):

- Page 1: Editor - this is a clone of the Minitaur front panel (I'll skip this below as it was covered above)
- Page 2: Presets - V2 Presets page where you can demo, load and save presets on your Minitaur
- Page 3: Under the hood - the additional parameters for the Minitaur not accessible directly via the hardware
- Page 4: Hardware Settings - new modulation destinations for the Gate, Pitch and Volume CV inputs on the back of the Minitaur (full list further below) and additional hardware settings for MIDI CC Resolution, Knob Mode & Modulation Wheel

Page 2: Presets

OS V2 for the Minitaur adds the ability to load up to 100 presets via the Presets Page in the software editor. It comes with quite a few in the following categories (some more populated than others): a la Taurus 3, bass, effects, HS, lead, pads, rhythmic, stabs, and strings. There is also a Random button to create a patch consisting of random values which can be surprisingly useful to work off of. Oddly though, in the editor you have to physically click each individual preset with the mouse to hear it. You can't select one and then use the arrow up and down keys on your keyboard to scroll and preview each. Loading patches into the Minitaur is a three-step process. First you select the destination patch, followed by the preset to load, followed by the load arrow. This is good for fine control of your patches, but if you want to load multiple patches at a time it can become tedious. You also have to use the editor to save presets on your Minitaur and you have to do so one patch at a time. There is no save button on the Minitaur itself. Regardless, patches are definitely a welcome addition and the editor does make it possible to organize and save your patches in groups.

Page 3: "Under the hood"

The "Under the hood" page gives you access to the following additional parameters not accessible via the front panel hardware:

- VCO 2 Beat
- Note Sync or rather Oscillator Sync
- Filter Keyboard Tracking
- Filter Velocity Sensitivity
- VCA Velocity Sensitivity
- Pitch Bend Up Amount
- Pitch Bend Down Amount
- LFO Clock Divisions
- Key Trigger
- Trigger Mode (Legato on/off and Envelop Reset)
- Key Priority (Low Note, High Note, Last Note) For those not familiar with key priority, this allows you to set whether or not notes above or below a held note will trigger. This can be more useful than it initially appears when playing with different types of techniques. Try adjusting the glide amount with the different settings.
- Glide Legato switch
- Glide Type (LCR LCT and EXP) - LCR = Linear Constant Rate, LCT = Linear Constant Time, EXP = Exponential.
- External Audio In Knob
- MIDI Setup Inputs & Outputs

It's unfortunate that you need an editor for these parameters. If you look at the 'Under the hood' screenshot you'll notice that although the layout is different and several of the parameters use switch style knobs vs. the smooth pots on the Minitaur, you could technically line things up and use a shift key to access them. But I do understand keeping costs under control and prioritizing features. Considering there is a work around via external hardware controllers if the need arises, it's not the end of the world. A dedicated iPad app would be welcome though. Per above, you can find a user template for MIDITouch on the iPad here.

Page 4: Hardware

The Hardware page of the editor in OS V2 adds the following modulation destinations (think interfacing with CV pedals, CV outs on any of your synths that have them, and of course modular gear):

For the Pitch and Volume CV inputs: Volume Attack, Volume Decay, Volume Sustain, Volume Release, Filter Attack, Filter Decay, Filter Sustain, Filter Release, VCO 1 Level, VCO 2 Level, VCO 1 Wave, VCO 2 Wave, VCO 2 Frequency, VCO 2 Beat, VCO Reset On/Off, Filter Cutoff, Filter Resonance, Filter EG, Amount, Filter KB Tracking, Filter EG Velocity Sens., Volume EG Velocity Sens., Trigger Mode, Release On/Off, Key Priority, LFO Rate, LFO Clock Division, LFO MIDI Sync On/Off, LFO Key Trigger On/Off, VCF LFO Amount, VCO LFO Amount, Pitch Bend Up Amount, Pitch Bend Down Amount, Glide On/Off, Legato Glide On/Off, Glide Rate, VCA Level, External Input Level, Mod Wheel.

As mentioned above, unlike the Filter CV, the Pitch and Volume CV modulation somewhat takes over when active. You can actually watch the knobs on the editor move in real time to the CV input signal.

For the Gate input: VCO 1 Wave, VCO 2 Wave, VCO Reset On/Off, Release On/Off, LFO MIDI Sync On/Off, LFO Key Trigger On/Off, Glide On/Off, Legato Glide On/Off

The above modulation destinations are only assignable via the software editor or MIDI CC, and as with the presets page, you cannot use the arrow keys on your keyboard to flip through settings - it's point and click only. A cool trick, as demonstrated in the Minitaur V2 video posted here, is that the Minitaur acts as a CV to MIDI USB interface. You can route all of the CV in to MIDI out on your computer. Note that the Minitaur does not have a MIDI out jack on the back so you will need a computer to do the routing.

On the Hardware Page you also have the option of selecting 7 bit or 14 bit MIDI CC Resolution, Knob Modes of Snap, Pass-Thru, or Relative (whether the value jumps to the current physical position when turning a knob or waiting until you get to the patch setting), Load ModWheel On or Off, and finally LFO Sync Reset On or Off.


The Minitaur turned out to be a challenging synth to review. It's easy if you simply conceptualize it as a bass synthesizer and focus on the feature set that differentiates it from others, but that wouldn't be the whole story. On the surface it appears to be a Voyager with two OSCs, one filter, and one LFO that only plays notes below C5, and for a fraction of the price it stacks up against the Voyager for that full classic Minimoog sound. That's all true, but how do you give justice to a synth that although sonically is extremely close to its siblings, is a different beast entirely? How do you describe how a synth that appears to be so simple and almost limiting on the surface actually opens up a whole new world you were never aware of? First, I guess you start by defining what a bass synthesizer is and why it exists. As I mentioned above, there are generally two types of bass synthesizers: TB-303 emulators and rumbling bass pedals. They are completely different. I never explored bass pedal synths before now, and those that I am familiar with always appeared to be rather slim on the editing front. They seemed more like preset synths designed specifically to play certain types of sounds vs. full blown synthesizers meant to explore the depths of sound. The Minitaur opens up bass pedal synthesis to the world of full-on programmability, yet it maintains its focus on the subtleties of sound. Yes, there are subtleties in ground rumbling bass tones. At the same time you can of course open the filter wide open and head upwards toward C5.

That said, my initial perspective, like I'm guessing many of you, was why bother with a dedicated bass synthesizer that can only go up to C5? Why not just use the synths I currently have that surely are capable of playing bass notes including the Voyager or Model D?

Well, the Minitaur isn't just the bass half of a synthesizer. It's much more than that. There is a reason why its physical design limitations keep it from going higher than C5. It's familiar territory, but at the same time, it is a completely different paradigm towards synthesis, and that, is extremely difficult to explain. It's kind of like swimming underwater for the first time. Actually, a better analogy might be be to compare it to the world of other dedicated instruments. In the world of guitars for example, you have guitars and bass guitars. They are similar but they are distinctly different instruments, and typically dedicated musicians primarily gravitate to, and master, only one. In the world of synthesizers we tend to focus on synthesis methods like analog, PCM, FM, wavetable, granular, additive and so on. We focus on timbre and we take treble and bass for granted - they are just the different ranges of tones we play on our synths. Well, the Minitaur is to other synths as the bass guitar is to guitars. It's engineered to be different and in exploring it, although it feels familiar, and is clearly capable of sounds you might gravitate towards, it is different. Like swimming underwater, you might think there is nothing under there until you start exploring, and it isn't obvious at first. You might start by playing typical basslines, but if you dig deeper you'll find yourself exploring the depths of Hades, the subtleties in bass undertones. You'll get why there's a VCO 2 offset knob. It really is an odd experience to wake up one day and realize there is a whole sonic underground your weren't previously aware of. I never really got that before the Minitaur, not even with the Voyager or Model D. If you remember, in the intro of this review I mentioned the Minitaur was based on the Taurus 3 which in turn was based on the Taurus I, while the Taurus II was based on the Moog Rogue. There is a reason why the Taurus 3 and Minitaur were based on the I and not the updated II. The reason is that not all bass is created equally. The Taurus I was specifically designed for earth rumbling bass while the II was effectively the bass range of The Rogue. You might get bass notes out of your current synths but you aren't getting the same bass you'd get out of a Minitaur, and that's something you may have never experienced.

Do I wish the Minitaur could go past C5? The answer to that used to be, "Yes, PLEASE!" Now I am glad that it does not. I have other synths that can cover the midrange up, but I never had a dedicated bass synth like the Minitaur until now. Once you get past the C5 wall, and you consider the two thousand dollar+ difference in price to the Voyager, you begin to realize the true value of the Minitaur. The Minitaur is not just a bass synthesizer. It is perfectly capable of leads in the midrange with the filter wide open. It packs an unbelievable punch and a low end that is second to none including the Minimoog Voyager and Model D. With the addition of the new OS V2 you now have CV access to all the internal parameters on the Minitaur, and the Minitaur will translate that over USB MIDI that you can in turn use with your other MIDI synths.

Simply put, I am floored at how good the Minitaur sounds. I love this synth.

Extra: Be sure to click the pics in this review for the super size shots. You'll find a full set of Minitaur unboxing pics on flickr here. The Minitaur comes with some extra promotional materials in the box, which was a nice surprise and icing on the cake.  Moog did a really nice job here. You can tell, they care about the quality of their products and how they are delivered.

Update:  I'm noticing a very small amount of noise with my unit with the volume past 12 o'clock with very low filter settings at 80Hz or lower.  It is very subtle but it is there.  It's more noticeable with longer sustain levels and it disappears when the envelope ends.   The Voyager does not appear to do this.  If you test this out yourself be very careful with the volume and filter settings as it can get really loud fast.  This could just be my unit. I'll report back when I have more info. 

Update2: Moog believes the noise was specific to my unit. They are sending me a replacement. I'll report back after testing it out.  So far I have not received any reports of others having this problem.

Update3 12/3: Moog said they fixed mine and it's on its way back. I get attached to my synths so I asked Moog if I could get this exact one back rather than going with a replacement. They said no problem. :)  Thank you Moog!  I'll report back when I get it and test it out.


  1. Nice review - thanks - now all I need is $600

  2. Very well done review! I have to say I use my Minitaur an awful lot and not usually as a bass synth. Lately I've been running it with my guitar through a pitch to midi converter. It's an amazing little synth.

  3. Great review. The noise you hear sounds like it might be coming from the filter. The filter on the Minitaur is different than the Voyager, so it might be a little more noisy.

    Do you have an oscilliscope? It would be great to see a side by side comparison of filter sweeps from the Minitaur and Voyager.

  4. Thanks everyone! Unfortunately I don't have an oscilloscope. As for the noise, I think it's just my unit. I will report back when I have more info.

  5. Fine review. As to the noise.... call it character. :o)

  6. Fine review. As to the noise.... call it character. :o)

  7. The noise is due to the filter ladder seen on the pcb shown at ;-)

  8. Hah! It must be the invisible little man climbing up and down the ladder. :)

  9. Hey Matrix, great review and some lovely photographs as well.

  10. I did see someone else report the same noise issue on GearSlutz. I think they also just got a replacement from Moog.


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