Moog’s New Synth Is So Much Fun, You’ll Forget You’re Learning Stuff

It’s the perfect building block for the synth-curious

  • Moog's new Mavis is like an Ikea+Lego of synthesizers.
  • It's tiny, but it sounds huge, just like every other Moog.
  • Beginners can learn synth basics, but it goes way beyond that.
A musician using a Moog synthesizer.


Moog’s new Mavis is a build-it-yourself semi-modular synthesizer with all the basics. It might just be the perfect beginners’ synth, and it’s totally analog.

Synthesizers are all pretty much the same, in principle anyway, so a basic, well-designed unit like the Mavis is a great way to learn. The twist here is that, just by plugging cables from one section to another, you can radically alter how it sounds and behaves, allowing even the most advanced player to go wild.

“I produce synth-based music quite extensively, and I have been mentioning the Moog Mavis to a bunch of friends who produce music in the past few days. You can just plug speakers or headphones in. With the little keyboard, you could be playing around making music anywhere with access to a power outlet,” music producer and artist Luc Theriault told Lifewire via email.

Synth Basics

All synthesizers consist of three main sections. One is the oscillator, which generates the sound. This is the electric version of a vibrating violin string. That sound then goes through a filter, which is what it sounds like. You turn a knob, and it cuts off ever-more of the high frequencies of the sound.

You know when you walk into the bathrooms at a club, and when the door closes behind you, the sound gets less defined and more thumpy? That's the door acting as a filter.

Finally, there's an envelope. This dictates the shape of the sound. It could be a long, slow ramp-up to full volume, like that violin. Or it could be a pluck, like a guitar, or kick drum.

And that's it. Anything else is just variations on these basics. You can add more oscillators (sound sources), mix them, and add other effects, but once you understand the basics, you can load up any software synth, or play with any hardware synth, and start sculpting sounds.

"Synthesizers can be scary at first. I remember so many years ago, I was just playing around with buttons randomly. And it sort of worked. But over time, I realized that at the base, synths are the same," says Theriault. "Each synth will sound a bit different, approach things with their own workflow, and have some different or extra features and adjustability. But at the base, they all start from the same place. So, as you learn, your skills are useful on other synths as well."

Moog Mavis’ Modular Magic

Enter the Mavis, Moog's take on the growing mini, inexpensive synth market. In this case, the price seems to be kept low by making it a self-assembly unit, although video reviews show that this is easier and quicker than most Ikea products.

Once built, you can tweak the controls and play on the little button-keyboard. The Mavis can manage anything from crying cellos to fat, room-shaking bass to delicate electronic pings. It's not battery-powered, but getting a USB adapter to power it from your phone's backup battery pack is pretty simple.

The Moog Mavis.


But things really get interesting when you start plugging cables into those holes on the left side.

The Mavis is described as "semi-modular." That means that you can connect its internal modules using that patch bay on the left. You could, for example, patch a slow sine wave into the filter, which would give you a slow wah-wah sound as it cycles.

"I'm way past the point of wanting something this simple, but it might be a good entry point without breaking the bank. However, it's only going to eventually lead you to want something more substantial," says electronic musician Oat Phipps on the Audiobus forum.

The 'semi' part of the semi-modular name means that it is already pre-patched on the inside, so you can use it without ever picking up one of the (included) patch cables. But that would be missing the point. The Mavis comes with an Exploration Patchbook, which has sound recipes in the form of diagrams. This is an excellent way to learn how synthesis works and make some wild sounds. Moog also has a bunch of great tutorial videos on its site.

And that's what makes this such a great box for beginners or anyone who doesn't already own modular instruments. It's an exploration, kind of the musical equivalent of Lego, and everything you learn can be used elsewhere in the future. It also looks super fun.

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