As you know, the Synthesizer world is split in East- and West Coast designs. East Coast oriented instruments are almost always classic subtractive Synthesizers with multiple oscillators and minimum one filter. In contrast, West Coast synth designs offers different structures. Often there are no filters at work but wave-shapers and other features that gives musicians & sound designers a lot of playroom to form new sounds.
One of these very unique hardware Synthesizers is the MMO-3 by Nozoïd from France. This has no filters onboard but its core is based on simple sine waves which can be further deformed with various shaper functions.
A Unique Sound Architecture
The heart of the MMO-3 monophonic Synthesizer consists of three sine waves oscillators which have all the same sound character. These three oscillators can than be further processed using various shaper functions: frequency modulation (FM), amplitude modulation (AM), phase modulation (PM) and wave-shaping modulation (WSM). These individual functions are not located here in one place like classical Synthesizers but are freely mappable. Each oscillator has three modulation parameters for this purpose, which you can freely assign with functions. For example, FM only on the first oscillator and on the second only PW and AM. This allows a very modular operation without using patch cables. Musicians can design their own FM Synthesizer with the desired modulation parameters.
If you work a few hours with the MMO-3, you will not miss a classic filter anymore. Thanks to the various shaper functions, you can quickly achieve sounds that are not possible with an east-coast oriented instrument. Here is mainly in the foreground to add harmonics and less to remove them. It’s really fun to transform the individual sine waves and thus to design very specific and unique timbres. A big advantage of this method is that one can almost always achieve new sounds and repeats less.
Beside the 9 custom mappable modulation parameters, the MMO-3 features also three powerful LFO’s. Each LFO is here very unique and operates in a unique way. LFO 1 applies here a shape morphing function that morph nicely between triangle, saw, sinus, square and pulse. With LFO 2, the whole modulation thing gets more exciting. LFO 2 features an amplitude modulation of 2 sinusoid that produce very interesting shapes. It gets even more exciting with the LFO 3, which offers five different options for users to use it.
With the help of the matrix on the bottom of the device, you can switch between 5 different types and quickly develop exciting and unusual shapes. These types are available: shape morphing (LFO 1 and LFO 3), amplitude modulation (LFO 2 and LFO 3), frequency modulation (LFO 3), triangles (LFO3) and steps (LFO3).
LFO 3 In Action
Often classic Synthesizers are limited to classic waveforms (saw, triangle,…) in the LFO spectrum. The MMO-3 breaks through this limitation very beautiful and thus allows very specific unique modulations. Small movements up to very rhythmic LFO’s are possible here. Since it’s very easy to achieve audio-rate modulations, experimental digital sounds are possible without problems. Especially the steps function of LFO 3 can be used in a very creative way because it allows users to design rhythmic step modulations. With this unique LFO feature, you can compensate a bit the missing sequencer inside the MMO-3 Synthesizer.
Beside oscillator and LFO section, it features also a classic ADSR (attack, decay, sustain, release) envelope that mainly controls the sound amplitude, but is also freely assignable to any sound aspect (shaper,…) as a modulation signal. At first glance, the envelope looks relatively simple but this is wrong because you can use it in different ways. So you can use it differently in the Gate or LFO3 mode. It’s also relatively fast and allows musicians to quickly build short percussive sounds or even long drones.
All three oscillators can be mixed then together on the right side in a relatively simple audio mixer. The final result of the oscillators is than amplified and enriched in the dual VCA and distortion section. The dual VCA is here controlled by the ADSR envelope. The routing can be changed so you can put it before (PRE) or after (POST) the distortion. Unfortunately there is no direct access to the distortion effect here. If that were be possible, the sound architecture would be even more versatile in the timbres.
One of the things that distinguishes the MMO-3 from regular FM Synthesizers is the wireless modular sound engine. This already starts with the freely assignable shaper functions for each oscillator up to the flexible routing of the ADSR envelope. This routing freedom allows also to route one oscillator signal back to the first one. This gives users the possibility to create crazy wired sounds with auto-modulation or a feedback loop.
Although it’s exciting to have a flexible engine, programming these processes is a bit difficult. Since the synth has no display, one has little feedback whether it is activated or not.
An Interface That Is Very Different
The interface of the MMO-3 is different and refreshing. It’s blue and the board with the knobs is held by a wooden frame. The instrument doesn’t look like a mass product off the assembly line but has a very own design. The board is not held by a plastic or aluminum case but serves directly as interface.
On the interface there are 30 knobs for the individual features, small buttons that can be used on the one hand for the digital connection matrix but also as a 2 octave keyboard. Beside this, you can find a joystick that allows you to mix 4 modulation signals. Here you can select for every direction (up, down, left, right) a modulation source. This gives musicians an opportunity to play sounds more vividly. Even if an integrated two-octave keyboard is a very good idea here, it’s unfortunately very difficult to play with it. One notices clearly when playing that these are buttons and not a normal keyboard. It’s a good addition to the synth but don’t recommend to use for longer plays.
How to perform features on the synth is also very own and not comparable to other instruments. Although this is an interesting approach, the implementation is somewhat problematic. Since you get no real feedback from the Synthesizer if a function is activated, you have to rely on your hearing. A small display or an interface with changing colours would certainly help here.
The audio as well as MIDI connections are not placed on the back-side of this Synthesizer but directly on the blue interface. Here you will find a stereo in & out, MIDI input (note, velocity, pitch wheel, control change), analog CV in and Gate in. All parameters of the synth are also controllable over MIDI CC what is an handy feature for music producers and sound designers. On the backside, there is also a power supply input.
In addition to the audio output, there is also an audio input with which you can route external signals in the engine. This feature can be used in 2 different ways. An envelop follower connected to the left input can generate gate signals in order to easily synchronize the MMO-3 to an other sound machine. Beside this it’s possible to use the audio signal as a modulation source for the oscillator or the joystick. A video is attached that shows one way to work with this feature.
How Does It Sound?
Analog or digital? What sounds better? Musicians will discuss this topic also in the coming years. Nonetheless, the Nozoïd MMO-3 Synthesizer showed clearly in the test phase that he has a very versatile digital sound. Yes, it sounds very digital but that has a lot of charm and character here. However, the synthesis is not comparable with the classic Yamaha DX7. Here, FM synthesis is combined with west-coast sound approaches. Because of this, it’s a Synthesizer with a very unique character.
Beautiful percussive FM sounds, fat soundscapes as well as unusual harsh and dirty timbres are here possible. Above all, the MMO-3 Synthesizer fits perfectly into the experimental music world. Due to its many modulation options, you can create very quick complex and crazy sounds. If you want to produce classic synth sounds, you should not take the MMO-3 in the shortlist because the sounds are very special. I personally like the sound very well as I’m always looking for new unusual sounds. Cold, glitchy and noisy, the MMO-3 is not the king for warm sounds but perfect for such digital sounds that you don’t want to find in classic analog synths.
The fact that you can not use a filter makes the instrument very exciting. His sound is very unpredictable and different in my opinion.
During the last months of 2017, I was able to test the MMO-3 Synthesizer more closely. He was able to convince in the test of the sound possibilities. This is mainly because of the very own and unusual sounds. Above all, I had a lot of fun with making drones and soundscapes that sounded very beautiful cold and dirty. The features (FM, AM, PM, …) of the MMO-3 could satisfy me because this instrument shows a nice different side of Synthesizers.
The interface of the synth could not convince me completely. It’s certainly refreshing to see a different approach to an interface. The idea to have everything under his finger is great but unfortunately, the whole thing was not developed to the end. Here is missing in my opinion a small display that gives you feedback about all parameters, modulations… If you program complex sounds, you can quickly lose track of what you modulate. So it’s helpful to take notes on a sheet what you did with the interface. Also, one could improve the material / quality of the knobs. In my test device, these ware made of foam which in my opinion does not have the perfect grip and feels a bit cheap.
The overall processing of the MMO-3 is to be seen as positive because the device is very light and therefore very easy to transport. The wooden side parts are a good contrast to the blue panel and give the device a nice design.
Positive – Improvements – Negative
+ west-coast oriented FM engine
+ cold, digital & noisy timbres
+ wireless modular modulation matrix
+ versatile application: drones, percussive, experimental…
+ refreshing design
+/- interface (limited visual feedback…)
+/- assignment of the joystick
+/- direct access to the distortion effect
– knob quality
Often, the search for a new Synthesizer begins at the well-known companies such as KORG, Roland, Moog Music, Yamaha, etc. The test of the MMO-3 shows clearly in my opinion that you should also spread your search beyond the big known companies. Here you can find electronic music instruments with unique concepts or designs such as the MMO-3 from Nozoïd. He can score with a very own sound character that is very digital and cold. With its wide selection of sound shaping possibilities, a lot of different sound timbres (clear, distorted, noisy, glitchy…) are here possible to achieve. The MMO-3 is not only a perfect drone Synthesizer but makes also a good figure in combination with notes (arpeggiators, sequences…).
The MMO-3 is an exciting Synthesizer that is refreshingly different and difficult to place in one specific area. It’s an instrument for sound designers and less for big players, because of it’s monophonic engine. It’s a great way to discover new sound worlds you might not have known before. For a price of 499€, buyers get a digital monophonic Synthesizer that is difficult to compare with another device. If I had to name a device that comes close to the MMO-3, then it’s the Make Noise 0-Coast but just because of the concept.
In conclusion, one can say that even if the big companies increasingly uses known structures (subtractive, classic FM synthesis…), there are still unique Synthesizers that can score with complete different concepts. The Punk scene of electronic instruments!
More information here: Nozoïd