Variations on a Theme

When the model 203a Polymoog was released, for the first two years of production it was know as the "Polymoog Keyboard". In 1978, a new version of the Polymoog appeared. This was designated the Model 280a and was know as the "Polymoog Keyboard" and the 203a was now re-branded as the "Polymoog Synthesizer". As if Luce's naming policy wasn't already confusing enough, the prototype 280a had gone back to using the "Apollo" name initially and from its physical appearance, looked as though it may have been aimed at the domestic "home organ" market!










Where the new Polymoog Keyboard (280a) differed was that whilst very similar internally, the 8 presets were now expanded to 14, (Vox Humana, String 1, String 2, Elec Piano, Piano, Honky Tonk Piano, Clav, Harpsi, Brass, Brass Chorus, Pipe Organ, Rock Organ, Vibes, and Funk).

The first obvious difference however, was that many of the synthesizer controls had been stripped out, making it essentially a "preset machine" with more limited tweak-ability. With many of the synthesizer controls missing, (the right hand section of the control panel now being completely blank) what controllers remained were rudimentary main volume, pitch adjustment over both VCO's using the beat function, the pitch controller ribbon, volume for each of the three keyboard sections, a high pass filter with control over level and a range of 60 to 300Hz) adjustment, attack rate and controls for the modulation amount and rate.






The prototype of the Model 280a had temporarily reverted to using the Moog Apollo name










Where the 280a differed from the 203a sonically was in the new preset patches available. Each patch being hardwired with its own circuit meant that although there was very definitely a core sound common to both models, it was not possible to recreate the new Vox Humana sound on a 203a, (due to the unique filter configuration of each circuit). You might achieve something vaguely similar, but it would never be able to match the distinctive high pitched haunting wail of this very unique Vox Humana sound.

It has to be said that if it wasn't for the Vox Humana patch, (immortalised by Gary Numan) the 280a would have very little to offer. Rather like the original Mellotron or Roland VP330 Vocoder choir sounds or the TB-303 bassline, or CR-78 / TR-808 / TR-909 drum machines, this is one of those unique and distinctive sounds that is instantly identifiable and in the case of Vox Humana, practically un-sampleable due to the complexity and delicacy of the sound. It might be possible to create a passable imitation with a huge multi-sampled set of each of the 71 notes at various velocities, (you would probably need at least 250-500Mb) but then you would be unable to recreate the pitch ribbon controller or vary the modulation as you would with the real thing.




End of the Line

Manufacture of the 203a and 280a Polymoog and 285a Polypedal ceased in 1980 after a production run of nearly 4,000 units.



Shaun Brooks 2005