- The Minimoog Model D debuted in 1970, and now it’s back in full-time production.
- You have totally, definitely, 100 percent heard it on zillions of records.
- Hand-built in Asheville, North Carolina, it costs $4,999.
In 1970, Moog made its first "portable" synthesizer, the Minimoog Model D. And now, over 50 years later, it's back in production.
It’s hard to say how important the Model D has been to the history of electronic music. It has been copied, built upon, knocked off, and even recreated (by Moog itself) as an iPad app. The Minimoog Model D comes in the same wood and aluminum case as the original and looks more like a historic musical instrument than a technological marvel. But fire it up, and its fifty-year-old design remains as modern as ever.
“I believe the Model D has influenced synth design for so long because Bob [Moog] got it right. There was such intention in the design of the Minimoog. It was a groundbreaking creation by Bob and the amazing team around him that speaks to his commitment to building the best possible tools for artists to achieve their dreams. And over 50 years later, this instrument is still achieving that goal,” Logan Kelly, brand director at Moog Music, told Lifewire via email.
Prior to the Model D, Moog’s synthesizers were made up of separate modules that the musician patched together on-the-fly using plug-in cables, much like the telephone operators now only seen in old B&W movies. While this was (and still is) immensely powerful and flexible, it also meant you had to be part nerd to get started. The machines would make no sound until you patched them.
The experience of playing a Model D is almost undefinable.
The Model D pre-connected everything under the hood and added the world’s first pitch wheel to boot. This meant that anyone could switch it on and play it, twiddling knobs to find new sounds. And they did: you’ve heard the Model D on records from Bob Marley to Dr Dre, Chaka Khan, Nine Inch Nails, Portishead, and way more.
But the new version isn’t a 100 percent accurate recreation of the 1970 original. It adds several modern updates, including MIDI (so it can talk to computers and other instruments), a pitch wheel that returns to the center when you let go (like almost all modern pitch wheels), velocity and aftertouch sensitivity in the Fatar keybed, and more.
But the new Model D is still hand-built in Moog's Asheville factory and is still the perfect distillation of basic subtractive synthesizer design. It might not have all the bells and whistles of modern synths, but if you learn how to use it, you'll know how to use pretty much every synth made since. That, and it just sounds great.
“People value authenticity. Classic pieces of equipment still matter because people fall in love with ‘the sound’ used on hugely popular recordings. There’s always going to be a market for the real deal,” Emilio Guarino, an engineer and producer at GlitchMagic, told Lifewire via email.
Why not just use a software version on your computer? Without getting too technical, the gist is you wouldn’t play an expressive instrument like a guitar using a mouse, and the same applies to synths. Once you get into a groove with a hardware synth, you’re just playing and twiddling knobs with no other distractions.
"The experience of playing a Model D is almost undefinable," says Moog's Kelly. "To me, the Minimoog is special because it's a true musical instrument in every sense. It's not just a collection of features in a box, but a true work of art designed for musicians."
Moog’s trick is embracing its classic heritage and looking to the future. Its modern Grandmother and Matriarch synths are great examples. They’re both totally analog but also “semi-modular,” meaning they can be played out of the box, but you can also radically alter the sound by using those old aforementioned telephone-operator-style patch cables. You can go from an old-school synth bass to some wild, glitched-out screech in the same machine.
And that's why musicians love Moog. You get beautifully-made machines that feel like real instruments, not like computers with keyboards, and they somehow never seem to lose the balance between old and new.