Buying an analog synth (or, my new toy!)

I was recently in the market for a new synth, primarily for live use. At first I was considering the Roland GAIA SH-01 because of it’s price point, tweakability and features (decent on-board FX, tap tempo delay, 3 filters, etc.). But then I got to thinking… I already own a decent digital synth (Novation X-Station), I use a laptop as part of my live setup and have access to all sorts of digital VSTs, etc.

I decided it was time to go in a completely different direction. Time to go back to the basics. ANALOG.


I knew roughly what I wanted:

  • 2 oscillators
  • Glide (must-have for leads) 
  • Real-time tweakability
  • Budget: ~$1000


At first I considered vintage analog synths, but obviously there are several caveats with this:

  • Often overpriced. For example, the Roland SH-101, a basic monophonic synth can sell for $1000+
  • Stability/reliability: older synths aren’t necessarily reliable, may not have automatic stabilization of the oscillators, etc.

Here are a few I did consider though:

  • Yamaha CS-10
    • Pros: relatively cheap
    • Cons: only 1 oscillator, no patch memory
  • Roland SH-101:
    • Pros: can be converted to a key-tar (!), classic synth with a great sound
    • Cons: overpriced, no patch memory
  • Juno 6:
    • Pros: polyphonic
    • Cons: huge, no patch memory, voice chips are known to fail


I then switched my focus to new gear. One of the obvious benefits of new analog synths is that they have modern conveniences like MIDI, patch memory, etc. Not absolute must-haves for me but definitely nice-to-haves.

  • DSI MoPho keyboard:
    • Pros: patch memory, keyboard
    • Cons: “paging” of the controls
  • Moog Little Phatty:
    • Pros: patch memory, keyboard, Moog sound!
    • Cons: only 4 knobs, no noise generator
  • Future Retro XS
    • Pros: tons of synthesis options, semi-modular
    • Cons: no keyboard, no patch memory
  • Doepfer Dark Energy
    • Pros: good price, small size, semi-modular
    • Cons: no patch memory, no keyboard, only 1 oscillator, glide option extra, no noise
  • MFB Kraftzwerg
    • Pros: good price, semi-modular, 3 osc
    • Cons: no glide, no patch memory, no keyboard

The decision:

After careful deliberation I finally arrived at a winner:

The Moog Little Phatty

Although it has its limitations (no noise generator, only four knobs), they can easily be overcome:

  • I can use an external noise source (Moogerfooger CP-251, my X-Station, etc.) and route it through the external input.
  • The 4 knobs can be remapped to anything, internal or external. So between these, the mod wheel, and the filter CV input (i.e. for expression pedal), that should be plenty of real-time control. Further, all of the parameters on the synth respond to MIDI so they can easily be tweaked from a controller.
  • Although the Moog does page the controls, like the MoPho, it has LEDs around the knobs which is great for recalling presets. And with the “latch” mode there are no concerns about parameters suddenly jumping to a new value. Very cool.

The last time I owned an analog synth was when I as a teenager. It was my first synth actually, an Akai AX-60. Lots of fun, although not quite as punchy or warm as other vintage analogs. I’m stoked to own a new one, and a Moog no less!

Choosing a delay pedal

I like delay, a lot, and when a like something a lot I generally get all obsessed with it and need to know everything about it – how it works, what the options are, how much they cost, etc. And so here we are!

Analog vs. digital:
In the audio world many seem to think that analog is better than digital. In some cases it may very well be, but in many it’s just “different”. I think delay is one of those cases. Some of the key differences between digital and analog delays:

  • Delay time: analog delays cannot achieve the same delay times as digital. Typical delay time for an analog pedal is around 500-600ms
  • Looping: to my knowledge there’s no such thing in analog pedals (tape delay is whole other world though)
  • Reverse delay: ditto
  • Tap tempo: a very useful feature, but rarely one you’ll find in an analog delay (and when you do, expect to pay a premium, i.e. Diamond Memory Lane 2 @ about $550)
  • Tone: with digital what you hear is what you get. With analog the delay is much more “coloured” – each repeat comes back a little “warmer” (less highs/more lows) and with less definition.
  • Cost: expect to pay more for an analog delay, and expect the price to increase alongside the delay time.

Other considerations:

  • Tone/filter control: very useful for making your delay warmer or brighter (boosting highs and/or cutting lows). In a digital pedal this will allow you to achieve a more analog-sounding delay.
  • Reverb: I’ve only seen this in one (digital) pedal (EHX Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai). It’s pretty handy for making the delays spacier and transparent. It also allows you to achieve some basic reverbs by rolling back the repeats and delay time.
  • Modulation: that is, modulating the pitch of the delays to get a haunting chorus-like effect.
  • Multi-tap: this can have different meanings. In some cases it means multiple delay times (i.e. one delay at 300ms, and one at 600ms), in others it means “repeat exactly X times”.
  • Expression pedal: some pedals will allow you to control certain parameters via an expression pedal. This can be handy if you like to play with feedback but don’t want to break your back in the process.
  • Stereo: usually stereo outs equates to ping-pong delays (repeats alternating back and forth between left and right), but in some cases you may have more control over it. Unless you have two amps or plug directly into a PA, this is really only useful for recording.
  • Self-oscillation: this is when the feedbacks build up and start to resonate, resulting in a wacky “spaceship” sound. You’ll hear this in some digital pedals, but it’s inherent in analog.

If you’re wondering, I personally own the EHX Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai. It’s a great pedal that can get some fairly warm and transparent delays via the filter and reverb knobs. My second pick would be the Diamond Memory Lane 2, but I don’t have $550 to drop on a delay. In a perfect world I would own both 🙂

If you’re on a budget and want a decent analog delay check out the MXR Carbon Copy. No tap tempo, but it does offer modulation (you’ll need to open it up to change the speed and depth though). For a good basic digital delay you can’t go wrong with the Boss DD pedals (they’re up to the DD-7 now).

I hope these points give you something to think about next time you’re in the market for a new delay pedal. Happy shopping!

Shopping etiquette

You know what really grinds my gears? People with bad shopping etiquette.


1. People who stop their cart in the middle of an aisle and stand right beside it. What are you thinking? You don’t park your car in the middle of the road. How is this any different? This hardly leaves enough room for one cart to get by, let alone two-way cart traffic. Observe:

I would like to propose that stores that provide carts also provide parking spaces along the sides of aisles. Anyone not using a parking space should be kicked the hell out.

2. Don’t stand so close to me. Everyone needs their personal space and if you’re standing one foot away from somebody in line chances are they’re going to be uncomfortable.

Diagram of Edward T. Hall’s personal reaction bubbles (1966)

Note that 1.5 feet or less is intimate space. Unless you’re trying to get intimate with me, give me my space (and if you are trying to get intimate with me, I’m already taken)