Originally available exclusively as part of a synth-building workshop at Moogfest 2014, Moog's Werkstatt-Ø1 is a compact synth with a decidedly DIY ethos.
It is, in effect, part budget-friendly analogue synthesizer, part educational tool; offering both affordable access to the basic components of the classic Moog sound, and an easy entry point into the world of audio electronics and synth hacking.
Whilst attendees of Moogfest's Engineering VIP workshop got to solder the pieces of their Werkstatt together under the watchful eyes of team Moog, the general release version ships as a simplified kit, designed to be assembled without such supervision.
The DIY aspect of the instrument goes far beyond this initial encounter, however. Moog have created an official, interactive website that acts as a hub for modification projects, and offers a wealth of educational materials, all designed to allow even complete novices to get creative with their Werkstatt.
What you're werking with
Assembling the Werkstatt is actually exceptionally easy. There's no soldering involved, and the process entails little more than screwing the printed circuit board into the metal chassis and attaching a few washers and buttons.
You'd be hard pressed to say that there was any real sense of achievement to be had from putting the kit together. What the assembly process does do, however, is make it so that the user's first encounter with the Werkstatt involves getting a good, close-up look at the synth's well-labelled innards.
Component wise, the Werkstatt essentially offers the core basics of a Moog synthesizer. There's a single oscillator with a frequency control allowing it to be tuned from 8Hz up to 16kHz. The oscillator is switchable between saw and square waveshapes, with a pulse width control for the square setting.
Beyond that the synth features a single 4-pole ladder filter with cutoff and resonance control, ranging between 20Hz and 20kHz.
For modulation there's an LFO with rate control, which can be switched between square and triangle waves, and a basic envelope shaper with Attack and Decay knobs and a Sustain on/off switch. Both of these can be routed to modulate the filter cutoff, oscillator frequency or square pulse width.
There's also a VCA section which can be switched between On mode (resulting in a continuous drone) or following the Envelope. Along the bottom edge of the synth is a single octave button 'keyboard' - which is actually more responsive than it first looks - with a Glide control.
Finally, along its right-hand edge, the Werkstatt features a micro patch bay with VCA, VCF, VCO Linear FM, VCO Exponential FM, LFO CV and VCF Audio inputs. There are also two outputs a piece for each of the Keyboard CV, Trigger, Gate, EG, LFO, VCF, and VCO.
Included in the box with the Werkstatt is a handful of basic single pin patch cable of varying length, which allows Werkstatt users to create more complex modulation set-ups straight out of the box, and also comes in handy once you begin to enter the realm of modifications.
Aside from the patchbay, the only other in or out ports on the Werkstatt are a power in for connecting the supplied wall transformer, and the main 1⁄4-inch jack out.
Living up to the legacy
Basic it may be but, as one would expect from Moog, the Werkstatt-Ø1 is still a quality bit of kit.
While it may sit at the budget end of the company's product line, there's nothing cheap about it. The hand assembled parts appear to be of the same quality as higher-end Moog instruments, the metal chassis feels sturdy as hell and, once assembled, with its striking white-on- black design, the Werkstatt looks fantastic.
It sounds the business too. Turn it on and start tweaking the ladder filter and it is immediately obvious that￼this is a proper Moog synth - those classic metallic rasps and squelchy resonant basses that we associate with the 'Moog sound' are all available here via a little creative tweaking.
In its basic un-modded state, the Werkstatt excels at creating experimental bleeps and evolving drones, largely due to that handy patchbay, but also because the lack of MIDI or a proper keyboard makes anything that involves a lot of 'playing' a little trickier to achieve.
That's not to say it lacks flexibility - the wide frequency range of the oscillator, filter and LFO means it's capable of creating everything from deep, rumbling bass noises to rapidly modulated, high-pitch squeals.
Getting under the hood
Is such an essentially basic synth worth this sort of price tag? Yes, although it depends somewhat on what you plan to do with it.
If you're after a quality, flexible analogue synth at a reasonable price point, but aren't particularly interested in the modification side of things, your money might still be better spent on something along the lines of Arturia's MicroBrute, which offers much more 'out of the box' flexibility for the price.
If, however, you're into the idea of, at some point down the line, getting hands-on and taking a guided first step into the realm of basic synth modification, then the Werkstatt-Ø1 is something of a dream come true.
Don't be put off from trying the Werkstatt if you're a little daunted by this though. This writer is generally the lazy sort who likes synths to come fully formed, and gets quickly out of his depth the moment someone breaks out a schematic.
Within minutes of browsing Moog's excellent Werkstatt Workshop site, however, we were genuinely excited by the idea of getting under the hood and trying out some of the projects.
So the Werkstatt isn't just for hardcore synth hackers and, bearing in mind it offers the basic building blocks of a proper Moog synth for under £300, we'd say it counts as a bit of a bargain really.