Moog Liberation monophonic analog synthesizer



Last Update 01/29/2012

Try as I could, this one was not a favorite.  It saw action on stage for playing the Frankenstein solo in my club band (see above pic).  It never saw much use in my studio for many reasons:
This was one of those acquitisions when Moogs were cheap during the "great analog dump" of the 1980s when everybody was going to digital keyboards.  As is the case with most used vintage keyboards, this one needed work as the pressure sensor had a bad CA3080 and a couple of the rocker switches went bad (if yours has red switches on the neck, it's my old unit.  No I don't want it back).  I also quickly removed the dreaded "rotted foam" around the slidepots before that crap got inside and ruined the slidepot assemblies.

The Liberation was introduced in 1980 and was available in black or white.  The pitch ribbon could be replaced with a pitch wheel on special order.  It was a "keytar" synthesizer that was designed to be used in standard position or strung over your shoulder like a guitar so you can strut to the front of the stage and hog the spotlight.  A 40 foot multiple conductor cable attached it to the external power supply which also had synthesizer interfaces on the front panel.

The best feature about the Liberation is the expression controls on the neck. 

It had monophonic aftertouch (AT) which was a mechanical shutter on a pivot that activated an optical sensor.  Moog labeled it "force".  It was a decent controller and could be routed to some interesting stuff.  You could use AT to open the filter, double as a mod wheel or pitch wheel, and when the hard sync was on AT worked only on the sync'd VCO, which was great for sweeping NASTY sounding hard sync sounds (very effective for emulating guitar "feedback").  The amount of AT was variable.  It was a little stiff but not too bad.

There are miniature "wheels" for mod wheel, filter sweep, and volume.  Also included is switch for glide and a pitch bend ribbon which is essential for a keytar.  Moog wisely labeled the neck controls on the side where they could be easily seen from the performer's perspective.

Moving to the main control panel, you get the standard monophonic VCO->VCF->VCA architecture with LFO and glide.  All the controls are slidepots with the exception of tuning and VCO detune (any tuning control is MUCH easier with a rotary pot).  The LFO generates square/triangle/S&H waveforms and can auto-trigger the EGs (nice feature).  An LED gives a visual indication of the LFO rate.  The LFO was routable to the VCOs and/or the filter and either routing could be controlled by the wheel or the AT.  The LFO does not go into audio range so you can't get clangorous FX with the filter or VCOs..

You get two hard-syncable VCOs with triangle/ramp/pulse waveforms with some limitations - the octave switches don't go low enough for bass synth voicing, there is no variable pulse width, and VCO#1 pulse wave is fixed at 35% pulse & VCO2 at square wave.  Octave range only went from 32' to 8' for VCO1, and 16' to 4' for VCOs - limited in my book.  Waveform selection and octave is independent per VCO, not shared like the Rogue.  A five input mixer varies the level of the two VCOs, noise source, ring mod, and "poly".  "Poly" is a cheesy divide-down organ system that puts out square wave only, you only have one VCF for the entire system, it is a key-on/key-off therefore there is no release tail, and expression controls do not affect it - pretty useless.  The ring mod uses each VCO for carrier and modulator and is the meatiest sound source in the Liberation.  The noise source wasn't very useful because the filter wasn't very good.

The filter is standard 24dB/oct ladder filter although the EMPHASIS control doesn't add much color to the resonance.  It will self-oscillate at maximum resonance.  Keyboard tracking was off, half, or full - that was the convention for a monophonic back in 1980.  Sadly there is no facility for VCO FM which would had added some variety to its very limited palette of sounds.  I've played almost every monophonic Moog from this era and the Liberation easily has the wimpiest ladder filter. 

The VCA and filter has their own dedicated EGs with ADS controls, with switchable release shared with the decay control.  A nice feature is a LED that indicates the EGs are being triggered.

How does it sound?  Despite its excellent expression controls, this was the wimpiest monophonic in my arsenal.  The filter takes most of the blame here - its resonance has very little color, and it doesn't get "fat" like my other monophonics like my Minimoog and Source.  It can do a basic lead synth sound but not much else.  Doesn't do bass, doesn't do FX, and forget about polyphonic.  This was designed years before MIDI and it was a shame that there wasn't a MIDI retrofit available because it would had made an excellent MIDI controller with its expression controls.  And that cable wasn't always noise-free as the system used the connector shell for ground and this didn't always make a reliable contact.  And despite similarities in appearance, the Rogue and Prodigy sound much better because their circuits were different.

The external power supply houses the interfacing - CV output and S-trig outputs.  The CV output is well thought out as it incorporated keyboard CV, pitch bend, and LFO CV (including AT) all in one CV.  SCALE and RANGE controls are provided for interfacing to non-Moog synthesizers.  A rocker switch controlled whether these outputs were active.

When I bought my unit it was missing the case.  Moog Music was still around back then and they had one left in stock but it was damaged.  I acquired the last Liberation case from the factory.  The damage was superficial and the case was still useable, but they weren't durable.

Not many artists used the Liberation.  Moog Cookbook used them.  Jan Hammer, the ultimate keytar artist, never used one.  Devo was featured in ads but they didn't use them for long.  Tom Coster formerly of Santana routed one through a guitar rig to emulate a guitar.  Tom Schuman of Spiro Gyra was shown in ads, but his onstage unit was a prototype controller only with no onboard synthesizer system.  In fact I can't think of a song that became popular that featured the Liberation.  When our club band covered Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein", I used the Liberation to cover the solo.  Band members used to introduce the song by proclaiming that they brought "the monster".

When I got my Voyager it had much better expressive devices and could be synced to MIDI, so I sold the Liberation in 2005.  Today there are MIDI retrofits available that could be used to MIDIfy the Liberation but I already gave it up for other reasons.

And what is the heck is that red thing in the pic with the Liberation?  It's the back of a train locomotive - choo-choos are another hobby of mine.  For the trainspotters it's an EMD SW-1 from the Owego & Harford short line railroad.

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