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Moog Mariana is a virtual synth all about plumbing the depths of bass

The dual layer synth is powerful and sounds great, but it's a resource hog.

Moog

The name Moog is basically synonymous with bass. The company has pumped out countless synths over the years from the iconic Minimoog Model D, to foot-operated Taurus, to the modern-classic Sub Phatty that deliver incredible low-end. Now its plumbing those depths even further, but in plug-in form, with the Mariana, which obviously gets its name from the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on Earth.

The architecture of Mariana is different from almost any other Moog out there, in physical or virtual form. It's a dual-layer synth, with both layers feature two oscillators and a sub oscillator for some seriously thick tones. Each layer also has two filters, a low-pass and a high-pass, plus a dedicate filter just for the sub. In addition to those core sound-sculpting tools, there's three LFOs, three envelops and two random generators per layer, plus a saturation circuit, a compressor, chorus and delay effects.

When combined with the powerful modulation system that lets you control almost any part of the synth with any other part you get an incredibly rich and complex instrument — especially considering the price. Mariana is $30 on iOS or $99 for Windows or macOS, though it's 50-percent off as part of an introductory offer ($15 and $49, respectively).

Mariana does live up to its name. I got to play with it for a couple of days and, boy howdy, is it bassy. It stacks up quite nicely against other bass-focused virtual synths and Moog emulations from other companies. It can delivery enough sub bass to literally rattle your skull, without getting super muddy. Obviously that can vary a bit from patch to patch, but for the most part the sound engine delivers on its promise.

While most of the roughly 200 presets are focused on bass, there are a handful that explore other sonic territory. There are some particularly solid plucky leads that hit with all the oomph of the bassier patches, they just shine in the higher registers. Some presets showoff the wilder side of Mariana that can take advantage of the robust modulation features to spit out some wild-sounding effects and decidedly un-Moog-like tones.

Mariana also has MPE support. While it's a nice feature, it's also of limited use here. While you can switch it to duophonic mode and play the two synth layers independently, it's primarily a monophonic instrument. And while being able to perform slides simply by running my finger over the Push or Seaboard is nice, it doesn't really take advantage of the polyphonic part of MIDI Polyphonic Expression.

Moog Mariana's modulation options.
Moog Mariana's modulation options. (Moog)

What Mariana does lack, is a sequencer, arpeggiator or a deep list of effects. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. Chances are, if you're using it in a DAW as a VST then you've got plenty of options for those things. So, while a lot of other plugin makers are loading up their virtual instruments with all sorts of features, Moog stayed focused on the synth itself.

It's not without its quirks, however. While the interface is easy to navigate once you've gotten used to it, I'm still not a huge fan of skeuomorphic designs in general. And while I'm willing to cut Moog some slack on that front since it's trying to maintain a consistent aesthetic that capitalizes on its long legacy of analog synths, there are some slightly questionable choices. For one, the two separate slide out panels on either side for modulation controls seem like they could easily be combined. And the buttons to expose them are separated from the rest of the synth's controls — a dedicated tab within the main UI alongside the synth and mixer sections would probably make more sense.

It's also nigh impossible to read a knob's position by default. The tiny dot that indicates what a parameter is set to all but disappears on smaller notebook screens (and I can't even imagine how hard it would be to make out on a phone). There is an option called "knob position highlight" in the settings that extends a line from the center of the knob that's much easier to see. But I encountered a bug where, every time I'd minimize the window for Mariana in my DAW the lines would disappear. I'd have to go back into the settings to disable, then reenable it to make them pop back up. Besides, that should probably be on by default.

Lastly, it's worth mentioning that Mariana is an absolute resource hog. Admittedly my studio laptop — a roughly five-year-old Dell XPS with an eighth gen Core i7 —isn't exactly top of the line anymore, but I never saw my CPU usage dip below 50 percent in Ableton while Mariana was loaded, and it routinely spiked to around 80 percent while actually playing, leading to a number of audio artifacts. For comparison I can generally load six or seven instances of Arturia's Pigments or Analog Lab V without even crossing the 25 percent threshhold. And it's only with all of those actually playing that I climb above 50 percent.

Still, Mariana sounds great. And there's a lot of power under the hood. If Moog can get its resource usage under control in a future update it would be well worth the price.