so I have been lucky enough to play with Moog’s latest addition to the Mother family for a while now and am now free to tell you all about it, give you a bit of a tour and show some sound demos.
If it kind of rings a bell that is to be expected, as it was the self build device if you bought a VIP engineers ticket to MoogFest in 2018. Similarly to the DFAM, this has spent some time in development and has now come to market, with some tweaks and changes.
The Subharmonicon is a very different beast to other members of the family, although it does keep some familiar elements, like Typical Moog filter sounds, VCO voicing and, most obviously, industrial design.
Moog describe it as a semi-modular polyrhythmic synthesiser. I think that’s pretty much sums it up but what does that mean in the real world? Well, basically it’s a synth with six voices (kind of) and a sequencer that allows steps to run at different tempos. I’ll come on to that later.
Ok, so the controls look and feel like a Moog, except the shiny new led based selector buttons that replace some of the toggle switches from the MoogFest version, which also had a different layout. Everything feels solid, smooth and built to last, much like the Mother 32. If I had to make a criticism here it would be that the tiny little sequencer knobs are just a bit too small. I can see many users will upgrade these like they did with the DFAM. The originals are useable but bigger versions will make it easier to use on the fly.
In the track below you can hear an example patch I made. This makes use of all the normalled controls available with no cables in use at all. Recorded directly to Logic, around the halfway mark I add some reverb to give it a more ‘in context’ feel. I hope it shows some of the SubH’s capabilities.
Let’s take a quick tour of the faceplate then. One the left is the sequencer section, with two 4 step sequencers. That might sound a bit lame but when you add in the poly options it turns into a whole lot of sequencer. The poly sections sits below that, with transport controls at the bottom.
I mentioned 6 voices earlier and there are but in an unusual set up. The SubH has two main VCOs with a large frequency knob. Each of these has two sub oscillators but rather than adding simple lower octaves these are independently tuneable and, unlike other areas of subtractive synthesis, actually add to the basic wave (of which there is saw, square and both together). When you start playing with the mixer section this means you can blend these to create 6 note chords, consisting of the two main VCOs and two different harmonic additions. Pretty cool. You get the lovely squishy Moog filter and two Attack/Decay envelope generators, one each for filter and amp.
Between the VCOs and mixer are a bunch of other buttons, all related to sequencing. There are shared buttons for sequencer octave range and quantising the notes played (it has 4 settings and an ‘off’ position).
This is a part of the Mother family and as such has a 32 point patch bay to the right hand side and the SubH ships with a handful of patch cables, as well as a 3.5 jack to midi DIN adapter, as midi connection is via the patch bay.
Also, similar to the others are the wooden end cheeks, chassis and paint job, so it will sit nicely in a tower with a DFAM and a mother 32, making a powerful and versatile trio.
So what’s this polyrhythm thing then?
This is where the fun begins and take s a little explaining. Once you get your head round it it’s pretty simple and is an absolute joy to use.
Basically you can tune your VCOs to whatever you want and then hit play (you can trigger them manually and also make the sequencer restart the envelope generators with each step too) which will give you a pretty standard short sequence. The big tempo knob sets the speed but you can do this via control voltage in various ways too.
Where this becomes fun, is when you start messing with the poly controls. These let you alter the tempo of the sequence. You have four knobs for speed, each with a button to select which sequencer it is effecting.
Use the buttons under the VCO controls to designate which voice goes to which sequencer and you can very quickly start to get to a place where there are intricate and complex interactions happening, that feel very much like some of the ambient generative pieces you hear from huge eurorack systems. This is a good thing and don’t forget this is eurorack compatible, so if you are looking to expand your sonic palette into new territory this is a great way to do it. You get the familiarity of Moog, easy to understand workflow but totally new results, in a pretty minimal package. It’s also $699/£699 on the street, so far cheaper than jumping directly into eurorack.
How does it sound?
This thing sounds immense, where you want it too but can also sound delicate and other worldly. Using the sequencer to create polyrhythmic sequences, where the mixer adds some movement as different voices overlap is a joy. Get the sequencer triggering the envelope and you are in new territory already and that’s before you start any patching. Imagine it patched into a stack with a DFAM and a Mother 32!
As always Moog deliver a number of patch presets by way of the card overlays. Below I’ve set these up and recorded them so you can hear some of the options. These are recorded straight into logic and for each I have added a little reverb, from space designer, fading it in, so you can see how it plays with effects. No compression, limiting or anything else added.
Is it worth it?
Most reviews or gear articles will at this point say something like, ‘well, that depends‘ but that often feels like a cop out. I’m going on record here to say it is definitely worth it. The capabilities of the SubH are pretty astounding, specially when you consider what it would cost to get similar results, with the classic Moog tones, from a eurorack system. I think this will open up new sonic ground for many and it may be a bit of a gateway synth. It might also be a simple addition to an existing collection which will be fun to add some texture and novelty. Either is fine and good. For some it might just not suit and that iis ok too but I would highly recommend trying one at your local store (when you can) or borrow one from a friend. Just spend a couple of hours with it, to get yourself over the learning curve and I think you will be very surprised at what it can do.
There will be many demos and reviews where all you hear is plinks and plonks, or oddly timed beeps and burps. That’s ok. The more musical stuff will come as people start to add this to to their workflow, integrating into their studios and pushing it for what it does. I know I”m excited about adding it into proper production work but hopefully the small glimpse of what it is and what it can do will help you decide it if it’s for you.
So, that’s it for now. I’m off to plug it into my rack, as I think it will be a fantastic complement for some of my mutable instruments modules. I just need to decide what makes way for it…
Thanks for reading and please watch the video tour above. Like and subscribe if you found it useful and leave me a comment if you can.