With an arsenal of warm, thick tones and an accessible interface, Moog’s new Little Phatty (LP) Stage Edition is an expensive but user-friendly throwback synthesizer.
The Stage Edition is a slightly cheaper, sleeker version of the Moog Tribute Edition Little Phatty. Its list of roughly 100 analog presets covers all the bases: smooth, classic Moog tones, crackling arpeggios and meaty bass settings. The instrument is on the heavy side, but not unmanageably so, and compact enough to carry easily. With a sleek, curved backside and simple array of lighted knobs and buttons, the Phatty begs for a stage, not a studio.
Like traditional Moogs, the Phatty is monophonic, which means you can only play one note at a time. For most of the settings, that works just fine. But there are a handful of electric clavinet-like tones that sound best when played as part of a chord, not by themselves. In this respect, the Phatty is a bit of a tease-sort of like picking up a Paul Reed Smith guitar and realizing it only has one string. Overall, though, the Phatty’s presets do not disappoint, and programming your own sounds is a piece of cake.
Instead of cluttering the Phatty with a dozen knobs, the designers smartly split the tone-adjustment options into four groups on the slanted instrument panel: modulation, oscillators, filter and envelope generators. Each group has several effect buttons such as release, sustain and decay assigned to one knob. You press the button to pick which effect you want, then twist the knob. It’s a simple way to quickly get the sound you’re looking for. The Little Phatty’s instruction manual is thin; truth be told, you probably won’t need it.
You pick presets by turning a knob rather than pushing buttons, which saves time. The Phatty also remembers the preset you were working with last, so you don’t have to scroll through a few dozen trying to find it again. It’s fun to switch between presets and watch the knob lights jump to their predetermined places.
As far as presets go, the Phatty delivers a pretty complete package. Most of the factory-programmed tones are analog, and more suitable for ’70s prog and jazz/funk fusion than ’80s and ’90s smooth-jazz. Within minutes, you can conjure up Keith Emerson’s laser-beam synth riffs or Bernie Worrell’s P-Funk-era sawtooth tones. If the sound you’re looking for isn’t already there, you can easily tweak the presets and customize it yourself. I just wish the presets were grouped better. It would make more sense to have, say, all of the ambient noises in one place, as opposed to scattered throughout the presets.
With the Phatty, you can also find the proper settings between songs onstage without much hassle. Each button has a light in the middle of it, the display screen is backlit and each of the four main knobs also has a small light to mark the level. It’s clear the designers had practicality in mind when they put the instrument together. And both the buttons and the knobs are big, which will please meaty-fingered Moogists.
One minor frustration: The range of the pitch wheel varies between settings. For most presets, it only takes you up or down a whole step. But there are a few presets where it goes a full octave up or down.
The Phatty’s keys are nice and wide and the action is a little tight, but that will probably loosen up some with time and use. One plus: The headphone jack is on the front panel, instead of in back. It’s a small convenience that keeps you from having to bend over the instrument looking for the right jack. And the main audio jacks are on the left of the instrument, which is also accommodating.
By far, the Phatty’s biggest downside (besides the cheesy name) is its $1,375 price tag. You can buy two or three of the vintage synths the Phatty emulates on eBay for less than the Phatty itself. But at least the Phatty comes with a warranty and easily locatable and replaceable parts. For struggling musicians, one of the newer compact synthesizers such as the microKORG might be a more feasible option.
The Phatty might not be the most practical addition to a keyboard collection. But synth lovers with money to burn should have a ball playing it.