I have had the Behringer Poly D analog synthesizer for a couple of months now and have done a major project, so I want to do a quick review of it. First, as always, I need to give a quick history lesson. Why? The Poly D is a Minimoog clone (sort of, in a way…).
(Skip to the review if you don’t want to read all of this, or the videos at the bottom)
The Minimoog was released in 1970 and was the first synthesizer that you could pick up in a normal retail music store. It was one of the earliest synthesizers aimed at stage musicians and was extremely popular. Even though Moog soon had a lot of competition in the portable synth market, such as the EMS Synthi (used by Pink Floyd*) and the different Arps (used by many, including Genesis), the Mini was so huge that most people used the terms “Moog” and “Synthesizer” synonymous. And it did find its way into pop, rock, r&b, dance, jazz and beyond through the 70s. Even in the 80s, it was the main synth on the Thriller album and was used by most of the early Technopop bands. In the 90s it helped create the emerging electronica and electronic dance music.
In other words, the Minimoog is one of the most iconic synthesizers of all times.
Quick aside – some engineers at Moog had been building prototypes and letting musicians play with them. The fourth prototype, the Model D, was so popular that Robert Moog made the decision to put that prototype into Production even though there were many flaws and bugs. Musicians actually liked those bugs, and they quickly became “features”. Thus the name “Model D” was occasionally used for the Mini.
Production stopped in 1980.
In 2002, Robert Moog was able to make a new company named “Moog” and released a new version of the Mini named “Voyager”. It had a very similar architecture but was much more flexible. Some of those “bugs” were fixed and the modern components made it much more stable. It became an instant classic.
Yet people still longed for the sounds of that original Mini, the old Model D.
In 2016 Moog put out the “Reissue”, which was a very close approximation of the original but with a few new added features. The synth engine itself was very close, so the feel (important in a musical instrument!) and the sound were almost identical.
At around the same time, Behringer came out with a Minimoog “clone” named the Model D. The control surface was about a quarter the size of the original and there was no keyboard. Like the reissue, there were added features, such as patch-points for use with modular equipment.
This caused a firestorm. Some people posted videos “proving” that the sound was identical. Others posted videos “proving” it wasn’t (usually going to extreme settings). Other just hated all things Behringer, and so hated this instrument. It was very controversial in some circles. But being one tenth the price as the reissue, it sold like hotcakes.
This started Behringer’s latest thing of cloning classic instruments. Some are hits, some misses. Despite the original controversy, most think the Model D was a hit.
I have a Moog Voyager that I picked up almost 20 years ago. I hate to say, when I first played the Model D, I was blown away by the sound and rarely touched the Voyager since. And then I bought the Poly D to replace the Voyager, and.. wait, Poly D?
After putting out a lot of other clones, Behringer decided to revisit the Minimoog. This time they made it larger (still smaller than the original) and gave it a keyboard (a short 3 octave, but the original was only 3 ½). The also put in a distortion circuit and a chorus (thickens the sound). And they added a sequencer (records what notes are played).
The big news was that they added a fourth oscillator (what makes the sound) which allowed them to make it “polyphonic”, that is, you can play more than one note at a time, in this case four. Most people would call this “paraphonic” instead of “polyphonic”, but others have used these terms, and calling a clone a “Para D” is, well… (For a purist, a polyphonic synthesizer has a complete synthesizer for each note, while a paraphonic synthesizer has an oscillator per note (voice) but shares the filter, envelopes, amplifier, etc between them. I talked about this difference in my review of the VC340 and the first impressions of the Rev 2.
And so I picked one up.
First, it sounds great! Second, I love the sound! Third? You guessed it – it might not be 100% the original Minimoog sound, but it is so super close that I won’t complain about the sound. Just on sound alone, it is my desert isle synth.
To be clear, I am talking using it as a mono-synth (one note at a time).
Besides the sound, I do like the interface. It is a little smaller than the original, and so just a little crowded, but a huge improvement over the Behringer Model D. Having a keyboard is also great. The keyboard is OK and very usable for this type of synth, but not great. I would also love more keys! I often run out with only 3 octaves. Yeah, it is only slightly smaller than the original, but those few extra keys would help, and playing it using a 5-octave keyboard is great! It has an octave switch, so that also helps.
There are not as many patch points as on the B. Model D. I haven’t decided if that is an issue or not…
I have no idea why the got rid of the 440 A tuner tone! I tune the instrument at least daily and before I record. I am actually using the Model D tuner. Getting rid of it makes no sense.
If you didn’t plug anything into the Model D’s input, it automatically used the output of the instrument, replicating an old trick from the 70s. You couldn’t get to the extremes in the way you can using the headphone out, but it was super convenient. I have no idea why B. decided to leave that off on the Poly D. It was a great feature.
In the original (both Moog’s and the B.) you can use OSC 3 to Frequency Modulate (FM) the other OSCs or the Filter. On the Poly D it is OSC 4. One issue that I discovered is that extreme values when FMing the filter there is a lot of “bleed-through”, that is, you can here the sound of the unfiltered OSC 4. For some sounds, this can be more than annoying and make using it at these values, which is where you normally want to go, unusable. I could not reproduce it with the B. Model D, but I only tried for a few minutes, and I also could not get those higher values of FM. In the video of Bach’s Fugue, I used FM on the bass (only a little). I wanted to use it on the tenor voice, but the bleed through was too annoying.
To me the distortion is a gimmick – this instrument has several great ways to get a very natural distortion without it, and distortion that I think is more organic and useable.
I haven’t used the sequencer, so I won’t comment there.
Why use chorus on what is one of the phattest synths ever made, that defined “phat”? Because that 1 osc sound when using it in “poly” (para) mode can be a little thin and the chorus and thicken it up. Makes sense. If you want to use this as a cheap poly… It does sound good, but gets old quick. There are no controls, so only one setting. Another effect might have been more useful. Also, the chorus pretty much only works when in stereo (see my video The Cliché for an example of using the chorus with a mono recording on the “slow” chords).
The Poly D can seem limiting, mostly because these clichéd sounds are so easy to get. If you play with it, you can get some other pretty cool sounds that haven’t been over used in the last 50 years. Still, I do like those clichés…
Overall, I do love this instrument. It does a fantastic job of emulating the original Minimoog, which is mostly what I use it for, but has a few bells and whistles, like the paraphonic modes. There are some weaknesses and issues. Some design decisions leave me baffled. But then, this is a very inexpensive instrument, so…
Here is a quick down and dirty demo of using the paraphonic mode.
(Click here if you don’t see the video below)
Here is a demo of the instrument using clichéd sounds. I did a blog post about this here.
(Here is a newer version of the Bach piece -click here if you don’t see the video below)
(*) Note – Pink Floyd did use the Minimoog, though most of synth sounds on Dark Side of the Moon are the EMS Synthi. There are examples of PF using the “Mini” on the song “Wish You Were Here”. Here is a short sample of me getting a similar sound on the Poly D (don’t take this too seriously!)
Hope you enjoyed!