Moog Subharmonicon Synthesizer Review

The latest loopop video is a Moog Subharmonicon review, along with audio examples and a behind-the-scenes interview about the origin of the new synth.

The Moog Subharmonicon is the latest all-in-one semi-modular synth from the company, in the format of the Mother-32 and the DFAM. Like its predecessors, it can be used standalone or as part of a Eurorack modular system.

Video Summary:

“The Subharmonicon is a lovely, interesting and different synth from Moog. Only around 100 were hand soldered and built at Moogfest’s 2018 Engineering Workshop, and there’s no information currently about whether it will be released commercially.

Even though availability is scarce, I decided to put together a review of this instrument, because the way it works is such a breath of fresh air when it comes to sound generation and sequencing. Also, one would hope that Moog will eventually mass produce the Subharmonicon, as they did for most, but not all past Engineer Workshop projects, like the DFAM and Werkstatt.

This review includes an interview with Steve Dunnington from Moog, who led the Subharmonicon project. Steve talks about the vintage synthesizers (Trautonium and Rhythmicon) and composition theory (Schillinger System) that inspired this synth.

So what makes the Subharmonicon special?

Two main things.

First, it has six (!) oscillators. These are sawtooth oscillators, a tribute to the original Trautonium. There are two main oscillators and each has two sawtooth sub oscillators, which can follow its main frequency at subharmonic intervals – divisions of anywhere between 1 and 15.

The second thing that makes it special is its sequencers. Each of the two oscillator groups has a sequencer dedicated to it. Initially, it may seem these sequencers are limited because they only have 4 steps each. However, the Subharmonicon sequencers aren’t designed to just be played in a regular step-by-step fashion. Rather, their cadence is powered by up to 4 tempo sub-dividers, also based on the principle of subharmonics. This rhythmic core produces sequences far longer than 4 steps, repeating and skipping notes in very interesting and surprising ways.

Each of the two sequencers can be configured to control either the pitch of its main VCO (and sub oscillators) or just modulate the subharmonic divisions – thus generating different chords on a per step basis.

In addition to new elements above the Subharmonicon contains controls we’re used to seeing in Mother-32 and DFAM: a resonant low pass filter, AD envelopes for the VCA and filter, and a 32-jack patch bay with access to many of the internal controls.”

22 thoughts on “Moog Subharmonicon Synthesizer Review

  1. Yes! Really great and refreshing.
    Hope they release it, or otherwise publish the schematics.
    Hope that in a released version they include two graphics screens, one for the waveform, one for the spectrum, like in the video. Maybe Korg is willing to provide some OEM on that?

  2. * correction: The Rhythmicon was a invented not only by Theremin as said in vid, it was created as a collaboration: Henry Cowell collaborated with Léon Theremin

  3. As someone privileged to build and have one of these, I really appreciate this video (and loopop’s videos generally). Steve Dunnington is indeed a master and knocked it out of the park with this clever design.

  4. I’d love to see more than just sawtooth waves available, but that doesn’t diminish the design direction. It almost feels more like an avant-gardist synth than one you’d add to a modular rig, but OTOH, it also feels a bit like what the Mother-32 “should” have been. You can clearly build a great Frankensynth with just Eurorack pieces, but these last few releases are shaping up like the Moog version. Zap!

  5. This “sub harmonic” thing is surely only of interest as a low-cost way of creating additional oscillators. From a sound synthesis perspective it’s not very interesting, just extra (saw) oscillators pitched down from the master oscillator. Ultimately it doesn’t really open up any unusual or different sound synthesis options (vs a poly synth for example).

    1. Yeah, they both have knobs and jacks.

      They’d be hard to tell apart, if you were colorblind and knew nothing about synths.

  6. What i wonder is, do these sub-oscs track any differently than common monosynth-oscs wich were detuned some notes down would? I mean regarding their harmonic relation to the main-osc.

  7. The suboscillators’ pitches are integer divisions of the main oscillator frequency (1-15). It’s the harmonic series, in reverse. It’s a “just” scale, and not equal temperament.

    1. Sooo… „no“?

      If lets say I tune the subosc on the subarmonicum a fifth apart from the mainosc (using that division knob), and then play a sequence of notes of different pitches, the subosc doesn‘t necessarly is always a fifth down from the mainosc?

      1. The ratios are consistent, meaning if the first sub is an octave down, it will always be an octave down (frequency / 2), but not all the notes are in the equal tempered scale.

        I just ran through them on mine, and it looks like this (with the main oscillator tuned to E): 1: E, 2: E, 3: A, 4: E, 5: C (+14c), 6: A, 7: F# (+32c), 8: E, 9: D, 10: C (+14c), 11: B (-50c), 12: A, 13: Ab (-40c), 14: F# (+32c), 15: F (+12c), 16: E.

        If I tune the oscillator to a different pitch, I get the same scale, relative to that note (i.e. at A): 1: A, 2: A, 3: D, 4: A, 5: F (+14c), etc.

        The pitch discrepancies are consistent with the “just” scale, or harmonic series in reverse.

        Interesting that there’s 16 positions, as the manual says 15. Perhaps they weren’t counting the first position (which is the same pitch as the main oscillator).

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