Eko Pony Synth
Eko's Pony Synth is a portable keyboard similar in concept to several of those reviewed in the November 1982 issue. Although it doesn't have the facility of battery power, it is compact and portable, and includes its own amplifier and speaker in addition to outputs for external amps; therefore it's suitable for use in many applications from the front room to the small stage.
Although the ergonomics are good, its basic presentation doesn't make an immediate impact. It's finished in a matt brownish-black with yellow and orange tablet controls, and yellow sliders and lettering. The keyboard is a full-size four octave C-C design with an action which is pretty standard while not being unpleasant — suitable both for learners and for the more experienced musician. The single speaker is situated to the left of the modern-looking sloping control panel.
Roughly, the controls are divided into four sections, which will be dealt with from left to right. First, the sliding Master Volume control and below that a set of five Orchestra tabs, giving Flute 16 foot, Flute 8 foot, Flute 4 foot, and Strings. These are fully polyphonic sounds typical of an inexpensive home organ.
The next section is marked Synth, with two sliders for Glide and Synth Volume above and five tabs below. The tabs are Brass 1, Brass 2 and Piccolo, together with Poly and Vibrato.
In the Poly mode the three sounds available are fully polyphonic, with the brasses having a pronounced filter 'wah' and the piccolo a more subtle envelope effect. These sounds are quite useful, certainly not what would be expected on an inexpensive organ, and surprisingly powerful in combination. The envelopes don't re-trigger if any note is held down, but that's only to be expected.
Switching the Poly mode off gives the same sounds but in a monophonic high-note priority mode. On this setting the glide control comes into operation, giving a quite spectacular effect over the whole four octaves of the keyboard and making some interesting Moog-like effects possible (primarily by holding down a low note and quickly repeating a higher one). Unfortunately the Synth section does not cancel out the Orchestra section and so both sounds will appear on any note played, giving some problems in balancing lead and chordal lines.
The final tab is vibrato, which gives a delayed vibrato to both Synth and Orchestra sections, the delay re-setting whenever no keys are held down.
The next section is Automatic, with a Synchro Start facility labelled Key, a Memory to sustain the selected chord after the key is released, and tablets for Bass Accompaniment and Auto Magic Chord (AMC). The AMC section gives single finger chords and the Bass Accompaniment gives a bass pedal sound; alternatively when the rhythm section is started, rhythmic chord accompaniment and a walking bass are produced.
Like the Accompaniment section the Rhythm section has an individual volume slider. There are eight rhythms, Waltz, Tango, March, Rock 'n' Roll, Slow Rock, Disco, Bossanova and Samba. Although no variations or fills are available, these are well composed and the voicings are clear and sharp, the high-hat's simulated opening and closing being particularly good. Rhythms can be mixed, although this also produces mixing of the bass accompaniment patterns which is usually fairly unharmonious.
The Accompaniment section works on the lower octave and a quarter of the keyboard, and two small buttons on the front of the machine change any chord played by it to the Minor or 7th form. The notes are numbered all along the keyboard, and the single finger chords lettered for learning purposes.
Internally the Pony Synth is well constructed, with most of the electronics on a single board running beneath the control Voice generation and microprocessor control are by 28-pin Texas chips TMS3630 and TMS 1000, with most of the rest of the electronics being standard CMOS and clocks such as 555's. Wiring harnesses are neat and connected with multi-way plugs, but since all the wires to the keyboard are white, problems may arise if a single note needs servicing.
The concept of the Pony Synth — adding synthesiser functions to an inexpensive instrument and introducing microprocessor control — is potentially a fruitful one, and while it provides some useful effects on the Pony Synth which raise it above the level of a beginner's machine, it will be interesting to see what else can be done along the same lines in the future.
The Pony Synth comes complete with music stand and with expression pedal and legs as optional extras. Retail price including VAT is £259 and distribution in the UK is by John Hornby Skewes & Co. Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Mark Jenkins
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