Moog Intros Sub Phatty Synth For Visually Impaired Players


Moog has introduced a new synthesizer, designed for visually impaired players.

The Moog Sub Phatty with Braille Overlay is a standard Sub Phatty, but with a Braille overlay. This is the first synth that we’re aware of that’s designed to meet the needs of the visually impaired, so we followed up to Moog to find out more.

“The Braille overlay was inspired by Stevie Wonder,” explains Moog Brand Director Emmy Parker. “After we saw him at NAMM in 2013, we went home talking about the possibilities.”

“We are always considering how to make our interfaces more accessible to musicians and this seemed like an obvious solution for visually impaired keyboard players,” adds Parker. “We have no idea if this is the first of it’s kind, but hopefully it won’t be the last.”

The Sub Phatty with Braille Overlay is currenty available exclusively at Sweetwater, and is priced the same as a standard Sub Phatty. Details are available at the Sweetwater site.

Do you know of any other examples of synths customized for accessibility? If so, leave a comment and let us know!

via John Grabowski

37 thoughts on “Moog Intros Sub Phatty Synth For Visually Impaired Players

    1. Why change the synth itself? They are just making it more accessible.
      What if a non-blind person was helping a blind person?

    2. Because it might still need to be used by keyboard players with no visual impairment.
      Stevie Wonder has keyboard techs that can see, and they probably need to reset things for him from time to time during a live set. Couldn’t do that too well with an analog synthesizer if there was no visual frame of reference.
      Also, I wonder if Stevie put braille on any of his old keyboards, or if he just memorized the crap out of the ARP 2600 setup by feel.

      1. Back in the late 1970’s ARP made a big deal out of putting Braille on Stevie Wonder’s ARP 2600 for him.

    3. Visually impaired covers more than just ‘totally blind’. A lot of people who would find the panel lettering almost impossible to read would still be able to detect the glow in response to a button push and make use of it for visual feedback.

    4. Jeez! The lights are for the hearing impaired…

      They need to make the knobs bigger for flippered people though.

  1. I heartily applaud such an offering! Perhaps it may even help attract visually impaired latent musicians, many of whom probably have untapped musical talents. Great work, Moog!

      1. I know! If you are right- handed, reaching to tap thumbs up, it is easy to accidentally hit thumbs down. Done it about 10 times. Also, i seem to always spell “you” as “uou” on the cell phone.

  2. It’s just a simple overlay, I wonder why more synth companies don’t make products like this… They could expand their market. Hopefully this will be the first (?) of many.

  3. This is very commendable! I wish more companies in the music industry started paying attention to accessibility and the needs of visually impaired people who aspire to be sound engineers, producers and musicians.
    Our biggest need right now is in the hardware that can be controlled with software designed using accessibility standards, like those established by Apple and Microsoft for their respective operating systems. Few music industry leaders take the time to ensure that their iOS/Android/MacOS/Windows software is accessible.

    Thanks Moog for taking the stand!

  4. And it still lights up because, believe it or not, there are some “visually impaired” people who can still see things like lights on a keyboard, but not be able to read the small print on the keyboard. Not all visually impaired people are totally blind. Even some people who are “legally blind” still have some vision.

  5. Pretty sure kurzweil had a keyboard for the visually impaired back in the mid or late 80’s.
    Can’t remember what it was called though.

    1. Just looked it up- it was a kurzweil k250. Just the first few had braille on them though. The k250 was apparently stevie wonder’s idea too.

  6. Simple, but good idea. Another thing they could do which might help would be to change the knobs. On the standard moog knobs, the pointer is just a small white pip. If they used the more chicken-head-y type knobs, like those on the source controls in the pic, then it’d be easier to tell the position of the knobs by feel. Also, possibly adding a greater variety of knob styles (So there aren’t 2 identical-feeling knobs next to each other) might help, as it’d be easier to tell which knob by feel. Other things, such as perhaps replacing the 8ve selector buttons with a guitar-pickup-selector-style switch, or the assorted mometary push buttons with 2-position push switches, or maybe adding haptic feedback on stuff like the LFO etc. might also help, but would require substantially greater modification to the design, so would be less plausible for them to do.
    I’ve never really used a synth like this, or worked much with the blind, so this is only guesswork, but changing the knobs would probably be a worthwhile thing for moog to do on something like this.

  7. In the 1992 movie “Sneakers” one can see a Sequential Circuits Prophet 2002 with Braille instead of the regular white text on gray background.

  8. Couldn’t you just use a Braille labeller?

    The lights are good for accessibility too, many people who are visually impaired still have some vision and just need high contrast to see what’s going on. In which case making bigger higher contrast labels for each button would be their solution.

    I’d like to see more controls other than keyboard for those who don’t have that fine/gross motor skill. The Wii is good for that apparently. And sound beams.

  9. On the one hand, it’s always great to when things are made more available to people with limitations. Can’t see anything negative about that.

    However, you have to wonder how many blind people (who very are often on limited budgets) can afford a $1000 analogue bass synth. You also have to wonder how many blind people will even ever become aware of this one-off product (they ain’t readin’ Synthtopia).

    I would give Moog more kudos had they come up with an original and more effective idea, with the honest intention of creating gear for the visually impaired. As a poster already mentioned above, Moog could/should also have used a variety of knob sizes and shapes, or at least used knobs that have a tactile position indicator. But they didn’t do that very obvious mod. Did they even consult any blind musicians (besides being star-struck by Stevie Wonder at the trade show)?

    This just smacks of a half-assed attempt at looking altruistic. Sorry.

    1. That’s some sad, jaded, pathetic commentary.

      Ever work with a blind person?
      They very quickly learn their way around gear, just like a sighted person does. Offering a Braile option, at no extra cost, is badass. Moog isn’t making a ‘handicapped’ synth, they’re making it easy for visually impaired users to learn a synth as fast as you or me. Your comment reflects poorly on you, not Moog.

      On Facebook, some keyboardists who are visually impaired and who actually know what the hell they are talking about gave this the big thumbs up.

      Let’s hope other companies will consider going the extra mile, and try to accommodate people with visual problems.

      1. Several people here have made nice, supportive comments of the blind, but this message was especially thoughtful. This is the mindset that helps people with differences be successful in life.

        At a recent graduation from grade school, everyone seemed surprised that a blind student, my daughter, got called up to the stage, along with 5 sighted students, as they honored the highest scoring students on standardized testing and having the highest GPA’s in the school.

        I sat in amazement, not at my daughter’s accomplishment (of which I was indeed incredibly proud) but I was amazed that people seemed to be amazed that some blind kid could have POSSIBLY been one of the highest academic achievers in the whole school. (“Maybe she got a special award for being a good special education student.”) Well, actually that wasn’t the case for this straight-A student in the gifted program. No exceptions. No “special” award. The same standards as the rest of the students, period.

        She’s not “smart for a blind person,” she’s just smart, and she has no exclusive on being a smart blind kid either. I know plenty of extremely bright blind children and adults. Some of them like being musicians.

        Can’t we all just be happy and supportive of all the musicians who love to to what we all love to do– make music?

        Peace to all.

    2. Wow, I’m wondering how you deduced that blind people don’t read synthtopia? Do you think they don’t have computer access through both screen readers (which read the screen contents to them with a voice synthesizer) as well as refreshable braille displays and braille keyboards on their computers (where they read just like you do, only they use their fingers, and they type quite possibly as fast or faster than you do on both conventional keyboards as well as special ones that have a completely different design and you’d probably be completely stumped to try and type a single letter on.) That’s how it works by the way. Pretty cool technology actually, but I’m, one of the fortunate people who has decent eyesight (with my glasses on, at least), so thankfully, I don’t have to be challenged to learn how to use all of that technology for myself. I’m thankful for that, and feel it is no reason to make light of others challenges in life. This sort of adaptive equipment is great stuff to have, but lots of extra work to learn. And of corse there are others who use large print— magnified on a computer, but who cannot possibly read small print next a knob on a keyboard. Anyone on the enter net can land on any site and access it, given the proper equipment— Blindness covers a wide range visual limitations from large print readers, so people like my daughter, with no light perception. Google will point a blind guy to this site just as quickly as a sighted person. Did you think that blind people couldn’t use the internet, or they had to have a nurse, specially trained to read them web pages?

      For that matter, every current Mac offers voiceover, just like all current iPhones, iPods, and iPads, which also can allow a fair amount of accessibility to most sites on the web. I could list you a good half dozen independent ways that bind people could easily end up on this site, and I’m sure that many have already done so… Welcome to the 21st century. I wonder if you might like to take a moment and ponder how if would make you feel to you were blind, and reading a web site, and hearing how others believe you are incapable of a simple task like reading some text on a web page. That’s really pretty insulting, isn’t it?

      Meanwhile someone else here thinks blind people cannot afford a $1000 musical instrument. Do you think every blind person out there is poor and helpless, just sitting at home waiting for a welfare check? Sure that happens sometimes, and it happens to plenty of sighted people too. Does that mean you are a helpless drain on society by association with other sighted people because some of them are on welfare? Blind people have jobs too. Unless you’re Bill Gates or the like, there are probably plenty of blind folks who make a better salary than you do… They go to colleges, and earn degrees… even graduate degrees. They marry and have children and raise them just like sighted folks as well. I know a number of blind doctors (yes, even MD’s) and lawyers personally. Just imagine… you could even end up with a blind boss one day. Can you image the horror?

      And braille stickers? Really? Sure, that’s a possible option to adapt a particular needed keyboard, but it is a giant hassle, and the stickers can come off and slide around. And which of you would like to have to be shown every single control on a keyboard by someone else at your local Guitar Center just to explore the thing without total guesswork? Besides, many keyboards don’t have a design where braille stickers would work for most of the controls. If you want to get an idea of how this works, put on some sleep shades, then sit down at say… 4 or 5 different keyboards in a row— preferably ones you have never played, touched, or seen the controls on, and see how well you can figure out the controls by touch. The worst problem is generally programmable buttons and context sensitive controls which change functions while you use a machine. These are just a disaster for people who cannot read the (variable) control function in a display, etc.

      So what to do? Maybe read the manual? So where is the braille copy? Some electronic manuals actually can be accessed with adaptive solutions, but a print manual offers yet another layer of challenge to a braille reading user.

      Then we have the guy who thinks it makes sense to modify keyboards for the blind by making them non-accessable for all sighted people. Hey, now there’s a quality plan and a great way to add expense to an adaptation, because all the sighted folks in the world try to make sure that they too are the only person who can operate any keyboard they play, right? What about working with a sighted friend or relative, or music teacher or professor? What if you’re blind and you ARE the teacher? How would your sighted student access the blind-exclusive controls? What about selling a used keyboard to someone who doesn’t need it to be for a blind person to play? A lot of sighted folks switch keyboard pretty often. Do you think blind people want the same keyboard forever?

      I would’t be nearly so concerned about my blind daughter / aspiring musician’s future if I didn’t run across people all the time posting and saying things like what I’m reading on this site– disparaging nonsense suggesting she can’t take care of herself and interact with the sighted world. It seems we can adapt the equipment, but some of the people themselves have some distance to go still.

      I’m on here looking for a nice new keyboard to buy my daughter which she can comfortably access out-of-the-box without having me standing next to her to show her how everything works on it because she likes to be independent. Does that seem a reasonable expectation for me to have as the parent of a blind musician with Christmas on the horizon? We all have a need, and indeed a right to feel independent.

      Thanks to the others here who posted supportive comments and suggestions, understanding the needs of blind musicians, and how important it is for us all, especially the big companies who make our gear, to be supportive by offering equipment we can properly and fully access, and thanks to the companies themselves who make these efforts.

  10. Have to agree that Moog seems to be really desperate . They shot themselves in the foot with the gold plated one.

    1. I don’t see a problem (no pun intended) with Moog doing this, but every blind musician I’ve ever worked with was pretty good finding their way around without braille. For all we know, Moog got some federal tax perk for making devices for disabled people or whatever.
      Either way, you don’t have to buy it.
      Perhaps that blind girl that shreds playing ELP suggested it.
      Never know and no harm done.

  11. Pfff, that’s cool. It makes me wanna buy one even more than I already did. And, I can see pretty well.

  12. This isn’t exactly an original idea. Stevie Wonder had an integral part in the design of the Kurzweil K250, and the first ones were made with Braille as well.

  13. Accessibility for the totaly blind is not about needing braille to know where things are. It’s quite simple to memorize a keyboard’s layout. take the Rolland JD800 for example. Nobody could work that keyboard like me, and I miss it terribly. The real problem isn’t knowing which knob or button does what, it’s knowing what’s on the screen, and the more complex the synth, the more elaborate the display. Software synths are totally inaccessible, and this leaves me pounding my head against a wall in sheer frustration.

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