A REVIEW OF THE NEW
MOOG™ ETHERWAVE® PRO THEREMIN

 
Today, Sunday, October 10, 2004, I had the very thrilling opportunity to inspect and test-drive the new MOOG ETHERWAVE PRO Theremin.

The instrument at hand, serial number 0014, belongs to Scott Paulson, a friend and theremin student of mine.

Here are my comments, observations, impressions and opinions about this FABULOUS new addition to the Moog theremin line.

(Note: Eleven photos follow the written commentary.)

 
TONE QUALITY - COLOR, RANGE, ETC.

First, did I say it's FABULOUS?!

The tone quality is AWESOME - richer and clearer, more "tube-sounding," than even the Ethervox. Its tone is extremely malleable -- ranging from the piquant "whistle-like" tones that performers such as Lydia Kavina favor, to a very authentic-sounding "classic RCA" sound, to the gloriously rich, multi-dimensional singing sound as that of Clara Rockmore's instrument.

There are six tone settings - five are discreet preset settings, then one is an adjustable setting with controls for Waveform, Brightness and Filter. This is a GREAT enhancement over BOTH the Ethervox and the Etherwave. The presets will come in very handy.

However, I would have taken this one step further and made it possible to set, and SAVE, tone colors on all five of the presets -- just as an organist can adjust the stop control pistons on a pipe organ console. Most thereminists develop their own custom sounds: It would be great to be able to store these choices rather than have to rely on factory settings -- or having to twiddle the three knobs each time the performer wants to change tone color ... and hope s/he gets the dials in exactly the desired position.

NOTE: Setting #6 is VERY "Clara-like" -- the best I have heard so far. Today, Scott and I played, over and over, Reid Welch's demonstrations of Clara's instrument on the "Gift Tape." Even with the Etherwave Pro playing through a small portable guitar amp, the sound was eerily close -- stunningly close -- to that "CLARA SOUND." Someone such as Peter Pringle, who is a genius with post-instrument filtering and EQ'ing, would easily be able to fully replicate THAT sound.

There's a very handy Standby switch, which was introduced on the Ethervox. Indispensable - much better than having to drape your cable over the volume loop!

There are three ranges, as on the Ethervox -- low-medium-high, with "LOW" corresponding very closely to the range of Clara's instrument as demonstrated by Reid Welch. The "LOW" setting also has a richer and fuller sound, overall, than the other two settings --- which is completely the reverse from the Ethervox where the "HIGH" setting has the best sound.

(Explanatory note -- the three ranges do not increase in SIZE, e.g., "High" does not have a wider-octave range than "Low" ---- what happens is that the OVERALL range, which CAN be customized with the "Pitch Tuning" knob, moves up or down by one octave each. Is this clear? As mud??!)

 
APPEARANCE

As to the dramatic new cabinetry? Well, it's kinda like the facade of the new pipe organ in Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles (which has raised the eyebrows and puckered the lips of quite a few organists ........ just as has the Concert Hall in general). Personally, I love the Hall AND its grand organ. That instrument has put the pipe organ back on the map and has reclaimed its throne as the "King of Instruments." But, as with all Kings, it is not popular with everyone, especially old-fashioned "sticks in the mud."

The same kind of thing applies to the Etherwave Pro. Yes, it is different. Yes, its appearance is completely new and "rule-breaking." Yes, will take some getting used to. Yes, some will love it and yes, some will hate it. Personally, I love it - especially after seeing and playing it for myself. As does Scott, methinks. (I notice he did not leave it here when he went home!!)

The performer's side of the instrument is faced with a SOLID piece of approximately 3/4-inch-thick curved wood. NOTE: This is NOT layers of laminated wood. It's SOLID WOOD. This in itself is a marvel of engineering and is visually beautiful -- STUNNING. The controls are luxuriously styled with large wooden pitch & volume control knobs and then "substantial-feeling" chrome-plated knobs for the other controls.

However, the audience side of the cabinet is rather plain and in fact quite boring-looking - just painted "backstage black" with the new Moog logo and an afterthought-looking "50th Anniversary" sticker stuck on. There's also an etched "To Avoid Electrocution Or Transportation to An Alternate Reality Do Not Open The Cabinet" warning on the lower end of the cabinet-back --- couldn't that have gone on the bottom of the cabinet where it would not be seen by the audience?

That's all quite a dramatic come-down from the gorgeous appearance of the performer's side of the cabinet. I wonder if Moog considered, or would consider, covering the back with a matching piece of wood as used for the curved panel as used on the performer's side .... even if it was just a flat piece, it would look better than the "naked" appearance it now has.

 
FUNCTIONALITY

The instrument is, overall, light-weight, portable, and much easier to transport than Ethervox or other cabinet-type instruments. However, the cabinet -is- "meatier" --- more "substantial," more professional & higher-end looking (and feeling) than the Etherwave.

The cabinet slips down onto the stand provided -- there's a long channel in the bottom end of the cabinet where the stand slips up into. Then the stand can be raised or lowered to the preferred height -- a TREMENDOUS feature given that "all thereminsts are not created equal."

However, the cabinet is a bit loose on the stand -- neither Scott nor I could figure out a way to "lock" the cabinet so it would stay in one position, which makes it a bit precarious when moving it around, and also means if the performer gets carried away and strikes or pushes one of the antennas, the cabinet is going to shift position. That does not feel secure. There should be a way to lock it into place.

The much-discussed (and, in some quarters, maligned) horizontal support arm looks more fragile and precarious than it actually is. It has a solid-steel inner core that would make it nearly impossible to snap off -- although someone lurching against it -could- topple the instrument. (Hmmm.... I wonder if the added mass of this steel core is how Moog compensated for the fewer & smaller coils -- see "Innards" discussion below.)

Attaching the horizontal arm to the cabinet is a bit tricky, even in broad daylight: You have to insert an approximately 2"-long steel stub inside the receptor hole on the cabinet, and then twist the arm around to lock two little protrusions into place. Scott and I both had a bit of trouble attaching this. I would not like to have to tangle with this in a pitch-black night club, having to set up in a huge hurry between acts. It should be a simple matter of stick it in, and you're good to go.

The pitch antenna then connects to the horizontal arm by screwing the end of the antenna into the arm. The screw-end has VERY fine threads that, seemingly, could very easily be bruised or stripped. Indeed, Scott told me there's a warning in the instruction manual to be careful with it.

Again, this seems not to have been really thoroughly thought out ---- taking into consideration that many thereminists, especially club giggers, are going to have to set up and strike their instrument in a big hurry, and often in the dark. Seems there could be a better way to attach the antenna to the arm without having to screw it in. Some kind of tension- or spring-loaded clip?? The threaded end does not seem at all "road hardy."

On the other hand, the volume loop is a breeze to connect: One end has a 1/4" phono plug type of connector that snaps securely into place.

Note: Built-in headphone / preview jacks, along with outputs for audio, AC, Pitch-CV, and Volume-CV, were included.)

 
INNARDS

With Scott holding his breath, not daring to even exhale, I CAREFULLY opened the cabinet (eight screws) to get a peek-in.

While I am a technical know-nothing, I have seen inside of Ethervox and Etherwave, and the innards of the Etherwave Pro look more like that latter than the former -- just more stuff in there. Kinda looks like an Etherwave on steroids! I am going to go out on a limb and guess it's not a digital instrument. So much for the speculation that it's merely an Ethervox minus the MIDI stuff.

One BIG surprise: There are only THREE tiny coils, and I mean TINY -- even smaller and, I believe, with fewer windings than the four coils in the Etherwave -- unless more coils are hidden somewhere in the woodwork - not likely - unless, as I speculated above, the steel core of the wooden arm acts in lieu of a large, hollow, wire-wound coil. I dunno --- just don't know how all that stuff works.

There are two tiny coils on the antenna circuit board, and then one mounted inside the cabinet just adjacent to the volume loop connector.

Smaller coils notwithstanding, the linearity is EXCELLENT --- completely comparable with the Ethervox. Now, how Moog pulled THAT off ........... well, only HE knows.

 
SUMMARY

The Etherwave Pro is above reproach in nearly every regard -- as I said ... it is FABULOUS.

But it does fall short in a couple of very significant areas, again, as I pointed out - in terms of some facets of the cabinet engineering, the disappointing appearance of the audience-side of the cabinet, and the lack of adjustibility of all six tonal presets.

The price: $1500. Steep? Well, yes and No. It is a high-quality instrument, created and manufactured by one of the great pioneers of electronic music. And it's definitely in a much higher realm than the Etherwave which I, and many others, consider an entry-level instrument in spite of its many charms. Try buying a decent violin for $1500 and you'll get a pretty good reality check as to the $1500 price tag.......

I'd sign up for one in a heartbeat ....... were I not in my usual (chronic and ongoing) "Economic Downturn." Especially since I am fortunate to have an Ethervox, which I would never give up since I am so familiar with it now. But it =would= be nice to have the Etherwave Pro as an alternate instrument --- especially for overseas gigs.

Finally, a big hearty THANK YOU to Scott for being so kind as to drive all the way up to L.A. from San Diego just to show me his new treasure. What a guy! :)


 


 

 

 

 

(Front-panel controls)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 
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