Ok, I have to start by saying that my favourite synthesizer of all time is Moog’s Minimoog. Yes, synthesis has come a long way since the old multi-oscilator analog days but the Minimoog really showed us what could be done. Even today its sound is a sought after thing.
The sheer power of the sound produced by the Minimoog is a marvel. I used to take the subway down to Long & McQuade in Toronto when I was a kid to meet up with my band. Inevitably I’d arrive first and the staff would give me a set of cans and let me play with the synths on the floor while I waited. No matter what they had in stock I’d always spend the most time on the Minimoog.
Now that I’m playing with electronic music I wanted to add a Minimoog to my software arsenal. Frankly I’d rather add a real Minimoog but I can’t do that right this moment. Two software contenders caught my eye; Mini V by Arturia and Monark by Native Instruments.
Both of these products are VSTi plug-ins for your DAW but can also operate as stand-alone applications. Both take different approaches to features and design but in the end, it all comes down to sound.
I’d like to start off by saying I’m not a technical writer who’s delved into every realm of the software. I’m a guy looking for the best Minimoog VSTi. There are a number of videos on YouTube displaying each synth in its glory but I thought I’d go over the basic, more “which one should I get” features that lead me first to purchase both, then to settle on one.
The Look & Feel
As you can see each vendor has taken a different approach to main interface design of their products. Both reflect the design of the original Minimoog but where Mini V goes for the more classic Minimoog look, Monark uses modern graphics in a Minimoog – consistent design.
This gives Mini V a bit of an edge when it comes to the Faithfully Reproduce The Original factor but when it comes to usability I like Monark’s clean design. I wear bifocals and reading the text on Mini V’s panel can be a bit tricky. Having said that, Mini V displays the controls status as you turn the control. Having said that, the status doesn’t match the control itself. For example, fine tuning Oscillator 3 to the -3 setting displays a status of -1.6712%. I’m sure that’s a handy value somewhere but not helpful when making fine adjustments.
On the other hand, Monark doesn’t give you any fine adjustment display as you turn the knobs. Point ’em where you want ’em and be happy. I also find Monark’s knobs rotate more smoothly with my mouse than Mini V but that’s a bit objective.
Still, both interfaces are way-cool and I have no problem using either one
Without getting too nitty-gritty (mostly because I haven’t read the docs yet and have only played with these for a short time) I’ll go over some of the differences I’ve discovered between these two products.
First and foremost, Monark is a mostly faithful reproduction of the Minimoog’s feature set while Mini V is more of a Minimoog on steroids.
Switching over the the “B” view of Monark you will find a number of controls which allow you to customize the analog parameters of your synth. You can change parameters right down to the amount of voltage drift in the oscillators. Talk about control!
The “B” screen in Mini V is arguably more cool and displays itself with an animated graphic that looks awesome. Unfortunately like the main display fonts, I personally find these controls difficult to read. But what an array of controls! First, Chorus and Delay effects are available. An arpeggiator is there too as well as a LFO and Vocal Filter (this toy is really fun). A Modulation Matrix is available for patching various sources and destinations . For example I can have the Mod Wheel control the Cutoff or even have the LFO do it! You can make up to 8 patches in the matrix. Finally there’s a Motion Recorder which honestly, I haven’t even played with yet. I’m having too much fun with all these other goodies! Mini V even has a polyphony option with up to 32 voices.
Bells, whistles and fancy do-dads aside when purchasing a product for recording or performance purposes it all comes down to sound. Those of you who remember PAiA products way back in the ’70s know that a product can look like a black box with wires just as long as it kicks-ass sonically.
Monark is built on Native Instruments Reaktor synthesizer product. Reaktor comes in two flavours; Free (which is all you need to run Monark) and Paid (which if you’re reading this by June 20, 2013 is on sale for $99 down from $399). The Paid version allows for some incredible synthesis and is a fully modular sound studio but for now we’ll focus on the sound engine.
I’ve used Reaktor synthesizers before and they have impressed me with their deep, thick tones. Monark makes this engine shine. When I first used the product I though I was actually hearing the real thing. It is jaw-dropping how good Monark sounds.
Mini V utilizes Arturia’s TAE sound engine which is used in several of their other products. The sound produced by the engine is thick and rich. But my jaw stayed closed.
To compare the products I set each one up to play the same synth sound. Straight up Minimoog stuff with no fancy features from either side. I then applied each one to a MIDI track I’m working on.
In my opinion there was no comparison. When I switched the track from Monark to Mini V the difference was startling. I had to attenuate the track as the Monark sound was so much fatter and louder despite the output level being lower than on Mini V.
Some Last Notes
Arturia’s Mini V is an excellent product with an amazing array of features. Even better is there is an iPad app called iMini which is like a portable version of Mini V. Sound banks can even be transferred between them and the sounds produced from either app are as near identical as I could tell. It’s a very handy feature.
One less than handy feature though is Mini V’s requirement of a “Steinberg Key“, a licensing dongle needed if you use the app on multiple machines. How’d you like to get to the show and realize you couldn’t play because your dongle was missing?
[EDITORS NOTE] Since this article was originally written Arturia has moved to an Activation licensing system permitting you to activate Mini V on up to 5 computers without the use of a dongle. Very handy!!
So the bottom line for me is that for features, Mini V is the way to go but if you are interested in the highest quality Minimoog sound reproduction – go with Monark.
Finally I should point out that neither Arturia nor Native Instruments advertise their products as Minimoog reproductions as that would be some copyright violation or other.
The following examples are of a 3 track MIDI file played through Monark and Mini V. The settings are the same for each synthesizer although I turned the volume on Mini V up to 10 while Monark’s remained at 8.