Dave’s got a new keyboard, and the headline gives it all away: it’s a Mopho, but adding keys and more control, all for $800.

There’s a myth out there that the computer music user and hardware synth lover are two different people. Au contraire, mon ami. Thanks, indeed, to Dave Smith himself, the computer and the synth get along just fine. But if you’ve got scant few dollars, which synth is really unique enough, elegant enough in use to justify those dollars?

Dave Smith Instruments is on the top of the list. They’ve got personality, accessibility, and terrific sound. And the DSI instruments are even starting to look like they themselves recognize the invention of the computer, with the addition of USB MIDI and software editors. Oh, yeah, and Dave Smith’s creations are also uncommonly good values: analog synths the everyman can afford. The new Mopho keyboard is in late prototype phase, and it already looks to fill that mold.

The Mopho keyboard has all the analog sonic goodness of the mopho synth module, an overwhelming CDM reader favorite in 2008. Like the Mopho module, you get a rich monophonic analog synth on a budget. That voice is roughly the equivalent of a single voice from the Prophet ’08, but with the addition of sub-octave generators and audio input and feedback options. Because you can input audio signal, that makes the Mopho a doubly-interesting possibility alongside a computer, as basically a big modulation source. (The Moog Little Phatty has earned some fans for the same reason.)

The one thing I didn’t much like on the Mopho module was its minimalist controller section. The keyboard is different, as you can see in our rough video walk-through. There’s a clever set of controls that let you manipulate either oscillator 1, oscillator 2, or both simultaneously. The knobs themselves feel lovely, too, and you have a lot more onboard programmability. There’s MIDI-controlled feedback. And there are pots everywhere, without any menu diving – nearly everything is accessible via shift keys.

What I also love about the Mopho is its compact size; it’s easy to carry and lift.

As always, some of the biggest competition to Dave Smith’s synths are other Dave Smith synths. So you do have to weight the Mopho keyboard against the Mono and Poly Evolver keyboards. Those have deeper sound architectures (even on the Mono Evolver), and while they don’t have 100% analog signal path, you don’t (cough) really need that, necessarily.

There aren’t any specs up on the Dave Smith site, and even the final appearance may differ slightly. (I liked the little bit of yellow peeking out from beneath the more refined wood and front panel; I hope that makes it onto the finished model.) But you can expect the Mopho keyboard very soon, some time this spring, at MAP US$799. Stay tuned.

Dave Smith Instruments

(PS, I’m blanking on the name of the gentleman in the video and I neglected to photo your name badge as I should, so since my memory is worse than a preset-less early analog synth, please drop me a line.)

  • Nail

    Hmmm. This maybe the first hardware synth I own

  • http://www.retrothing.com/ James Grahame

    Nail, you make me feel old. ;)

    I'm more excited by the expanded front panel than the keyboard, although the whole unit is small enough that it's not an issue.

  • http://plenum.bandcamp.com Kyle Klipowicz

    As a proud MoPho owner, this is a wonderful step in the right direction. I may have to put up my my favorite little yellow box on Craig's List just to fund the acquisition…assuming there isn't backorder hell.

    Drooooooooooooooooooooool.

  • Janda

    I hope it's a better build quality than my Prophet 08 :(

  • http://signaltonoize.com Eric

    Love the Key ver.

    Janda…

    What issue have you have with the P 08?

    I find mine to be solid.

    I use the Prophet 08 as my master midi controller/front end. Maps perfectly to my mopho & voyager RME.

  • Brendan

    So if I have a korg KAOSS pad (KP3) I can input that into this MopHo and then modulate those sounds?

    And have an analog hardware synth that sounds sweet, with USB MIDI?

  • Brendan

    oh but can you only play one note at a time?

  • http://www.pro-modular.com qu.one

    imo – this might be one of the more boring things to come out of NAMM for me personally. I'd rather spend $800 (or less) on a classic monophonic analog synth anyday – or put that towards starting a modular synth which is the real place for analog lovers right now.

  • PooPoo the Korruptah

    Im gonna wait for the Tetra version.

  • http://www.isle-of-avalon.co.uk gwenhwyfaer

    I wonder whether anyone who complained about the OP-1 being too expensive will raise the same complaint about this…?

  • lawlawl

    To me, and that's really subjective, very few, if none, hardware synths today are worth the bucks they cost. And I'm strictly talking on an electronic music making perspective here (I'm not talking about live situations, people who need a reliable keyboard when playing in bands, etc.).

    Sound design wise, soft synths today are blowing away the possibilities of any hardware VA or analog (with maybe the only exception of the nord modular).

    Sound quality wise, I'm not buying the "analog warm" bs anymore since I could compare both. And you could have the best sounding Square wave ever, when you'll record it on your cheap audio interface converters because you spent all your money on that shiny synth, no one will ear the difference, really. I know a couple of well known artists who have been prized for their "analog" sound, although they're now on 100% soft settings.

    800 USD for a single voice synth with the same substractive architecture we've been fed for 50 years, in 2009 this is just ridiculous. But it's not only ridiculous, it's also smart marketing because I'm sure David Smith will sell a lot of these just because it has the "analog" word on it.

    I hope people won't see my post as trolling, but that's really what I think. I think that hardware controllers is where the money should be spent, monomes, lemur, etc. All those new smart controllers that are giving us new way to manipulate sounds rather than pieces of hardware pretending they have better sounding raw waves or better quality low pass filters.

  • awla

    The living, 3-D punch of warm analog circuits will always sound different from digital equivalents. Not better: different. This difference cannot be erased, even by a/d converters. You will always hear it, if you know what you're looking for.

    Today, softsynths are so ubiquitous that the throwback design of a Mopho seems like an opportunity to be away from a computer and feel sound without having to look at it.

    The iPhone has only multiplied my lust for screenless music-making devices.

    Screen fatigue? Rx: 1 Mopho at least 2 times/day.

  • http://www.magneticpitch.com john k

    @gwen: yes, this is also too expensive (for me)!!

    but seriously, it's a big solid-looking durable instrument from a guy with a solid track record of creating high-quality synths so i suppose there's the appearance of good value… (and a specific $800 price tag is more palatable than a "below $1000" estimate for a tiny plastic-looking thing that, IMO, looks pretty cheap & fragile)

    … but i really have no interest in this one trick pony— and it looks like far more people have far more interest in the unique (sampling + synth) capabilities of the OP-1 than they do in "another analog synthesizer" — really, can you create sounds you've never heard before with this? or just subjectively phatter/warmer sounds than other analog synths that produce the same sounds?

    if someone were playing/performing with this, would i ever hear a sound that was surprising/unexpected? if not, then it's not a very inspiring instrument for me personally

    (if the OP-1 looked like this, i'm pretty sure there'd be a lot less bitching about price)

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, we have two arguments at work here, whether talking the OP-1 or the Mopho keyboard or anything else:

    1. "That synthesizer is too expensive!" It's overpriced. They're just jacking up the price for no reason, to steal our money and go buy a yacht.

    2. "That synthesizer is too expensive!" I'm happier just working with software, which is more flexible and less costly than hardware.

    One of these arguments is reasonable. One is not.

    Dave Smith's instruments are exceptionally well-priced for their class. And people who make argument #1 about a number of instruments really have little idea of what components cost or what it costs to operate a business (inventory, support, staff, etc.). It's their perception, and one the industry has to deal with, because they're the customer, and it's their money, and it's therefore their prerogative to believe whatever they want to believe — even if it's mathematically wrong. But I don't think anyone else has to believe them. Every little part on this Mopho keyboard costs money, and it's frankly an accomplishment to keep the price down to $800. Part-for-part, in terms of component and assembly quality, I think very little of the bigger-name brands really compete as well on value. They're "cheaper" some of the time, but often for a reason.

    You certainly hear argument (#1) all the time.

    Now, someone making the decision that software is a better value *for them* — that is absolutely valid. And I had just this conversation with a previous Dave Smith owner and fan who's getting rid of his gear, because it just doesn't fit his working method. Also valid: "That synthesizer is too expensive! I don't have $800!" Totally, absolutely valid. Been there. There… erm, right now, as it happens.

    My only concern there is that then people assume that people who love software can't also love hardware, and these are somehow two different groups. I don't think that's true. There are some software users who won't ever buy an analog synth, and that's fine. But these days, there's more crossover between those groups than not. And the fact that people are even willing to have the discussion says that people are in the market for both hardware and software.

    As for the OP-1 versus the Mopho keyboard in terms of value proposition, I'd add a third category:

    3. "That synthesizer is too expensive!" It doesn't look manly and masculine, so it should be cheap.

    …which is silly. :)

    Oh, and as for analog circuits: all I can say is, some of Dave Smith's digital circuits sound pretty darned fantastic. So I think it's not just about analog; it's about the whole design. I won't compare it to the OP-1, because it'd be hard for them to be any less comparable.

  • lawlawl

    @Peter:

    I don't know if your message was aimed at me too but I don't think that was the point I was trying to make. I'm also currently broke and I own a synth I like but that I really never use anymore, and when you asked "if you had a few bucks to spare which synth is really unique enough for you to buy it", well I just realized that I couldn't think of a single synth unique enough for me to buy, but had tons of idea of controllers I'd like to buy.

    Because, yes, DSI is a great manufacturer, and what you'll buy from them will be worth the price. But what I'm pointing at is: in the end it's still the same rehashed formula and architecture, where is the innovation from a sound design or interface point of view? I'd rather spend 3000 bucks if I had them on a lemur than 800 on a synth today, that's what I wanted to point out, because I had the feeling lately when reading your blog (which I've been reading for quiet a time now) that I was not the only one coming to that conclusion .

    I'm wondering if other people are increasingly favoring innovative hardware controls over hardware synths when they're buying new pieces of gear, because as you said, very few of us can afford to buy whatever we'd like, and we have to set priorities.

    So to me, this is really not a matter of liking hardware or soft based settings only, neither it's a matter of "this is too expensive", but a matter of thinking what is the most efficient and interesting way to make music. And for me today the answer is clearly not using hardware synths.

    But again, as I said earlier, I'm talking purely from my making music in my bedroom studio point of view.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @lawlawl: absolutely. That really is an issue of prioritizing what is musically productive. And no, there's not anything particularly innovative here in terms of sound design. This is an absolutely traditional synth. If that's appealing to you, you may like it, and honestly there's quite a lot you can do with one voice. But it's very much not for everyone.

  • s ford

    $800 list price right which will probably lead to a street price which will be a considerable price less.

    Right now the Mopho without a keyboard is on sale in the UK at £233, which is a truly awesome price for a analog synth. TBH, I don't think there is much chance that the Mopho keyboard will retail in the UK for more than double the price, and if anything it will be less than double the cost of the Mopho desktop. Also, it will have to be a big chunk less than the Moog Little Phatty, as that is probably it's closest competitor.

    I actually think all things considered, the Mopho is likely to be priced very competively as DSI's excellent track record for pricing. Mopho keyboard looks like a truly wonderful product, and DSI should be applauded for their track record.

    Apart from one thing….

    LINN DRUM 2!!!

  • Paul Norheim

    Another interesting aspect of the Mopho keyboard is that I would guess that you can connect another Mopho (module) or Tetra module to it, and control them with the keyboard (with more hands-on control than the modules). You may start with buying the keyboard, then a Tetra when you can afford it – ending up with a very compact 5 voice polyphonic analog synth.

    I'm just assuming here, but I hope I'm correct.

  • http://www.isle-of-avalon.co.uk gwenhwyfaer

    Awesome price or not, it's still £233 I don't have – thanks in part to my cat nearly dying over Christmas…

  • http://www.magneticpitch.com john k

    for the sake of argument….

    a huge part of good design is influencing the subjective opinion of potential consumers. the more money we spend on something, the more we need to trust it. the more durable and rugged something is (or appears to be), the more we're likely to trust it, and this has very much to do with materials.

    i think it's fair to say that to many people, the OP-1 (excepting the cool display) looks "cheap" (ie, not durable or rugged or robust). the mopho doesn't. i don't think it has anything to do with "masculinity"

    example::: those little bitty cheap nano-controls, that are usable and useful and convenient as long as they stay in one piece, but they (at least the keyboard version) don't appear to be robust, rugged, or especially durable judging from previous comments about them on this blog. but, the price seems commensurate with the quality.

    ps– there are talented "everyday joe" type designers, and more flamboyant designers that love to spout arcane theory, and everything in between– none are superior, people have different brains and react to the form vs function proposition differently. if you're into "design" and you haven't seen it, watch the doc "Helvetica" – it's actually pretty relevant to this discussion concerning design, and euro-aesthetic

  • mr ecklie

    Sure, it's a monosynth, but it can do a helluva lot more than "play one sound at a time". With the 4 sequencers and LFO's and the generous mod matrix, you can make some pretty complex stuff with it. So it's not just about "analog warmth blabla", and I disagree, this is not an "absolutely traditional synth".

  • mr ecklie

    and hey, you Evolver and Mopho owners out there should check out the new (open source)VST and standalone editors:
    http://code.google.com/p/ctrlr/

  • Michael Hewel

    the guy in the video is Chris Hector, as seen in this pic: http://www.davesmithinstruments.com/images/xmas_0

    and yes, $800 is reasonable, I'm tempted

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @john k: Okay, perhaps that was flippant on my part. But it is frustrating to me that, on one hand, people complain they don’t see anything different, while on the other, folks in the market themselves want everything to be cheap and have an extremely narrow view of what’s aesthetically viable. It means that we’re partly responsible, as customers, for the blandness we see throughout the industry, because we all but demand it. And that, in turn, limits the appeal of this technology to other people.

    The OP-1′s hardware felt rugged enough to me. But I’m reserving judgment, because those were prototype parts on the top of the unit; only the aluminum base is absolutely final. I will say, though, just because something *looks* more rugged doesn’t make it so, not remotely.

    But yes, DSI’s stuff tends to be quite solid; that’s another story.

  • kj

    @lawlawl

    it is really no surprise that you are a "bedroom" musician because your comment about analog synths and sound shows you to really be a person who doesn't know what they're talking about.

    i have a studio with great equipment (converters included though even those make less of a sonic difference than you seem to think as long as your front-end sounds are great, like high-class mics, pre's etc.)and no one who has ever used my studio has has failed to go crazy over the sounds of my arps, moogs and roland analog synths. no.one.

    now, there are some damn good sounding soft synths but the gap i still significant between analog and software. sorry…

  • Neil

    Well, i have a Mopho and i get much more pleasure out of playing it than any of my soft synths. Also, get this, i don't have to turn my computer on to do it ;)

    The only problem i have with the Mopho keyboard is that i'm currently saving my pennies for a Tetra and it seems the Mopho KB may be out around the same time as i have the money for around the same price. Hmmm.

  • Neil

    Hey, mr ecklie, thanks for the link :)

  • http://ideletemyselfbitbyebit.blogspot.com/ ideletemyself

    Seeing as this has turned into a "Real synth vs. Soft Synth/Harware Controller" debate I thought as a recent FIRST time synth buyer I'd toss in ye ole 2 cents…

    I just recently bought my 1st REAL synth, that being a KORG MicroKORG XL. While this may not be a "true" synth because it's not purely analog it still isn't just a midi controller and can make it's own sounds and presets thereby obviously making it still a true synth, just not analog. Anyways…

    Up until now I had relied completely on VST software synths. I still love them and use them ALL the time still. However, I have come to the realization there will always be a place for a real synth sitting right in front of someone saying, "Make sounds with/on me!" If it's got good enough capabilities then you should have much fun doing just that.

    After buying my MicroKORG XL I was very much excited about the fact it's the ONLY other instrument I've ever played that gave me the feeling/joy/inspiration that I got and still get when I play my guitar(that being a thinline Telecaster).

    When I play the MicroKORG XL and fiddle about with the effects and presets and just jam I get the same feeling when I just fiddle about and jam on my tele messing it's sound with effects and the like. BOTH to me are so much fun AND inspiring in a way that so far NO software synth has been able to duplicate for me.

    I have the whole NI Komplete, the KORG Legacy, Arturia soft synths and countless countless others. Again, I love ever one of them and don't regret purchasing any of them because I still DO use the soft synths when I'm recording and layering sounds and what have you. That's where to me the soft synths will be able to do things "real" synths just can't unless they have deep DEEP software packages that come with them and I'm talking as deep as the options you get in say Absynth or FM8… Until "real" synths offer a software side to them as deep as the aforementioned then at least for ME, they will always have a place but will never be able to really compete in the studio with the quality soft synths.

    Now, to sum up. I think "real" synth will and SHOULD always have a place because they can inspire musicians ON THE SPOT with no latency issues and you don't need a $3000+ computer. It's like an electric guitar in the sense you can plug in and just go, get inspired and come up with great stuff right off the bat. Again, I'm not saying you can't do this with soft synths but after purchasing and using my MicroKORG XL, to me, again it's like just picking up a guitar and just jamming. No set up in Ableton or Logic, no tweaking before you even make a sound. Just plug in and start jamming! :)

    I don't think there will EVER be a replacement for that feeling in a real synth, truly. I do love soft synths though I just feel that "real" synths DO have their place I just wish there was SOME way to bring down costs of some of the really cooler ones like MOOGs and Modular synths so you wouldn't have to spend a small fortune but as Peter pointed out making this stuff AIN'T cheap. It's not like the guitar market where rich Japanese "collector/investors" pay THOUSANDS of $$$ for a guitar that only cost at most a couple hundred to make thereby artificially driving up the prices of quality gear.

    Now THAT'S criminal… Just my thoughts

  • collapsi

    amen idelete

    @ lawlawl for some of us the "same substractive architecture we’ve been fed for 50 years" is aok, just as with other musical instruments they usually stick to the tried and true. I do agree with your ideas regarding the pursuit of better interfaces though. up till this point iv made music only with digital synths (99% plugs) so don't disagree that you can create great things with them, but there is still a sonic diferance. how important that diferance is, is up to you, if important at all. personaly I'd like to add somthing like this to add some analog flavor in the mix and of course as idelete stated, the instant playability of a physical instrument.

  • zenzen

    Gosh, is the hard vs. soft debate still raging after all these years?

    Use whatever inspires you. Only a tiny fraction of your audience cares what you use. And that tiny fraction is here or on em411 or the other gear forums.

    p.s. same goes for DAWs, PC/Mac/Linux, bearded or clean-shaven

  • esol esek

    I've got a Juno 106, and while it's supposed to be a hackneyed old worn out POS, it sounds better than any softsynth I've got my hands on. I must not be using the right thing. Then again, when I say that I mean that it does brown, warm, wtf, better than a soft synth.

    The soft synth does noiseless sheisse better. They're different. I didnt hear it until I fired up the juno again, and its got that Roland honk you got to run away from, but it can be done. I've got a yamaha cs-10 on the way, so we'll see what's up there.

    Listening to Gary Numan has me convinced I ain't heard that on any synth I've had access too. People can say a sound is used, but if it's good, then its a standard, like a Steinway.

    I tried finding demos of DSI that I liked, but I liked it less than Korg. I'm still wondering what any of this sounds like through various tube amps. One of the new consumer casios sounds pretty good, but I have to agree that if you're gonna buy analog, you should go retro if you can. The Yam is gonna cost me half of this. A moog would be nice next.

    For new stuff, the Korg radias sounds good.