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Polysynth Checklist

The lowdown on current polysynths, voice expanders and controller keyboards in this month's instalment of our unique buyer's guide.


E&MM's buyer's guide to end all buyer's guides, with a rundown of all polysynths, voice modules and remote keyboards currently available and soon to be unveiled.

Polyphonic synths, voice expanders and controller keyboards are listed in this month's instalment of the only regularly published, regularly updated price guide in the modern musical instrument scene.

If this is your first flick through E&MM's pages, you'll soon see that Checklist is more than just a price guide in the conventional sense. Because as well as listing all available instruments and their typical selling prices, we also include brief specification details, and the comments - for, against, and summing-up - of E&MM's reviewing team where appropriate. That way, you get some idea not only of which machines are available, but also of their relative specifications and how they compare in performance terms.

Back in February, when we last published the synth version of Checklist, the world was bating its breath as the Frankfurt music fair loomed on the horizon, and the musical instrument manufacturers were preparing to unleash another barrel-load of new synthesisers.

But now that Frankfurt has been and gone, it's clear we're going to have to wait for some while before many of those new instruments start to appear in UK music stores. Sequential's Prophet VS, which we reviewed exclusively last month, has only just entered full production in the States as this issue of E&MM goes to press. And as yet, there's no sign of Akai's new AX73 synth, the Oberheim Matrix 6R module, Roland's upmarket JX10 poly (reviewed elsewhere this issue), the Ensoniq ESQ1, or the Kawai K3 - all of them interesting-looking devices.

Next month, we move from machines that create sound to machines that record it, with a round-up of sound-samplers. Stay tuned.

POLYSYNTHS



AKAI


AX73 - £699
Six-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; five-octave velocity-sensitive keyboard, stereo chorus; synth section and chorus can be used to edit samples from S612 and forthcoming S900. To be reviewed.

AX80 - £799
Eight-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 32 preset and 64 programmable onboard voice memories, five-octave velocity-sensitive keyboard.

+ Three LFOs, chord memory, good keyboard, excellent bar graph system makes digital parameter access more user-friendly;
- doesn't really possess any sonic character of its own;
= recent price reduction makes Akai's first synth more attractive than it previously was. Yer pays yer money.... Reviewed December '84.


CASIO


CZ101 - £345
Four/eight-voice, two/one DCO per voice, Phase Distortion polysynth; 16 preset and 16 programmable voice memories, four-octave miniature keyboard.

+ Excellent range of both 'analogue' and 'digital' synth sounds, five-octave MIDI-compatible octave range, voice layering, comparatively easy to program, built-in ring modulator, 16-voice RAM cartridge storage, eight-stage transient envelopes, fine MIDI implementation;
- small, short keyboard, awkward bend wheel;
= revolutionary Phase Distortion principle offers value for money without sonic compromise - if you can stand the mini-keyboard. Reviewed January '85.


CZ1000 - £495
Spec as for CZ101, but with full-size, four-octave keyboard,

= The professional's Casio: nothing around to beat it for versatility, ease of programming and MIDI features at this price level.

CZ3000 - £695
Spec as for CZ5000, but without sequencing facilities and memory dumping to tape.

= Not just a clever bit of Casio re-packaging, synth is genuine alternative to top-of-range 5000, for people who'd prefer not to have to pay for sequencer. Reviewed February '86.

CZ5000 - £975
Eight/16-voice, two/one oscillator per voice Phase Distortion polysynth; 32 preset and 32 programmable voice memories, five-octave keyboard, built-in eight-track step- and real-time sequencer.

+ Twice the 101/1000's synth facilities means correspondingly greater sound potential, excellent multitrack sequencer is far more than just last-minute afterthought, useful multitimbral MIDI implementation;
- undynamic keyboard, no separate outputs for multitimbral voices;
= the last word in Phase Distortion synthesis, and it works a treat - so don't let the name put you off. Reviewed June '85.


CZ1 - £TBA
16-voice Phase Distortion polysynth, similar spec to CZ3000, but with touch-sensitive keyboard. To be reviewed.

CHASE


Bit 99 - £649 Six-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 63 programmable voice memories, five-octave velocity-sensitive keyboard.

+ Superb range of analogue sounds, both acoustic and electronic, plenty of keyboard performance options;
- no sequencing or arpeggiation features;
= all in all, probably the best budget analogue poly, now has better MIDI implementation and programming facilities than Bit One predecessor, and at a lower price, too. Reviewed October '85.


DK70 - £349
Portable synth with spec similar to DK80. To be reviewed.

DK80 - £499
Six-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 10 programmable and 40 preset voice memories, velocity-sensitive five-octave keyboard.

+ More facilities for the money than just about anything;
- 40 fixed memories, basic sound could be better;
= astonishing value, especially now that distribution has changed hands from SIEL to Chase, even if first impressions might not be all that favourable. Reviewed April '85.


CHROMA


POLARIS - £999
Six-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 132 programmable voice memories, five-octave velocity-sensitive keyboard.

+ Good, rich analogue sound, neat onboard sequencer, extensive interfacing facilities include wide range of MIDI options;
- complicated to use, overpriced, some design priorities now outdated;
= a synth with a lot of potential for those with enough patience to exploit it, but the competition is already too tough, thus price now dropping like a stone. Reviewed November '84.


ELKA


Synthex - £999
Eight-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 40 preset and 40 programmable voice memories, five-octave keyboard.

+ Considerable (but largely ignored) sonic versatility, split and layering facilities using two MIDI channels, onboard four-track sequencer, digital ring mod;
- not much, though it won't sound like a DX7;
= good facilities for its (recently reduced) asking price: if this is your sound, go for it. Reviewed December '82.


LX600 - £TBA
New analogue polysynth. Available autumn. To be reviewed.

LX900 - £TBA
New digital polysynth. Available autumn. To be reviewed.

ENSONIQ


ESQ1 - £TBA
Eight-voice, three-oscillator per voice digital polysynth; 32 digitally sampled or synthesised preset waveshapes, 40 programmable voice memories, expandable to 120 via cartridge, five-octave keyboard, built-in eight-track polyphonic sequencer. Available summer. To be reviewed.

KAWAI


K3 - £TBA
Eight-voice, two-oscillator per voice digital polysynth; 32 preset digitally sampled waveforms, 1 user-programmable waveform, 50 preset voice memories, 100 programmable voice memories on RAM cartridge, five-octave touch- and velocity-sensitive keyboard. Available summer. To be reviewed.

KORG


Poly 800 MkII - £499
Six-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 64 programmable voice memories, four-octave keyboard.

+ Competitive price, three six-stage envelopes, onboard sequencer and chorus unit now supplemented by programmable digital delay;
- still only one filter for all six voices, short keyboard, no expander version on horizon;
= the world's best-selling polysynth gets a new lease of life thanks to better factory presets and a flexible DDL - very much the machine to beat in the budget analogue synth stakes. Reviewed April '86.


DW6000 - £699
Six-voice, two-oscillator per voice, digital waveform generation polysynth; 64 programmable onboard memories, five-octave keyboard.

+ First synth to combine clarity of digital voicing with easy access of analogue synth configuration, six-stage VCA & VCF envelopes, built-in chorus;
- keyboard has no velocity or aftertouch sensitivity, poor feel of performance control joystick;
= the polysynth world's biggest technological compromise - but it works, and you can pick it up very cheaply now. Reviewed March '85.


DW8000 - £1075
Similar in spec to DW6000, but with pressure- and velocity-sensitive keyboard, built-in DDL.

+ Factory presets are more impressive than 6000's, DDL is more than just a gimmick, dynamic keyboard makes a big difference;
- feel of keyboard and joystick could be better, digital access system little improved by new panel layout;
= corrects most of the DW-6000's faults, yet costs less than its predecessor did when it was launched - therefore a real contender. Reviewed November '85.


OBERHEIM


Matrix 6 - £1750
Six-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 100 single and 50 multipatch voice memories, velocity- and pressure-sensitive five-octave keyboard.

+ Unparalleled complexity and versatility of synth section means huge quantity of different available sounds, quality is good, too;
- of all the synths that shouldn't have digital parameter access, this one has the worst programming compromise;
= traditional analogue poly that makes brilliant use of modern technology, makes Oberheim quality affordable thanks to new Japanese manufacture, so demand is already outstripping supply. Reviewed January '86.


Matrix 12 - £4599
Spec similar to that of two Xpanders controlled by dynamic keyboard - see Xpander entry for details. Reviewed June '85.



OCTAVE PLATEAU


Voyetra 8 - £3999
Eight-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 100 programmable voice memories, velocity- and pressure-sensitive five-octave keyboard,

+ Excellent sonic potential in the American analogue tradition, built-in polyphonic sequencer and arpeggiator, comprehensive split and layering facilities;
- hideously involved system of parameter access makes editing a real chore, dollar-inflated price-tag, difficult to get hold of in UK;
= competent, professional synth system - at a price. Reviewed October '83.


ROLAND


Alpha Juno 1 - £575
Six-voice, one-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 64 preset and 64 programmable voice memories, four-octave keyboard.

+ Best-sounding Juno yet, light weight and compact size, backlit display;
- short, non-velocity sensing keyboard, sound lacks individual character, 'Alpha dial' doesn't make digital access system much easier;
= takes state of the Juno art appreciably further, but see Juno 106. Reviewed January '86.


Alpha Juno 2 - £799
Spec as for Alpha Juno 1 but with five-octave, velocity-sensitive keyboard.

= Better suited to role of main poly instrument than the Alpha Juno 1, but for correspondingly more money. Reviewed February '86.

Juno 106 - £699
Six-voice, one-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 128 programmable voice memories, five-octave keyboard.

+ Ease of use, built-in chorus;
- beginning to sound a little dated;
= a classic among budget polysynths, to some degree overshadowed by new Alpha Junos, but proper, non-digital controls mean it's still a contender. Reviewed May '84.


JX8P - £1199
Six-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 64 preset and 32 programmable onboard voice memories, five-octave pressure- and velocity-sensitive keyboard.

+ Another example of Roland squeezing new sounds out of old design techniques (the 8P competes with the best of the analogues), voltage controlled mixer section, RAM cartridge voice storage, good MIDI implementation;
- only eight memories hold aftertouch and performance data, requires optional PG800 programmer for sound editing to become straightforward;
= lacks character, but ultimately a rewarding and versatile analogue poly that proves Roland aren't going to be left behind without a fight. Reviewed February '85.


JX10 - £1899
12-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 64 preset voice memories, 64 internal programmable voice memories, expandable to 128 via cartridge, touch- and velocity-sensitive 76-note keyboard. Available summer. Reviewed this issue.

SEQUENTIAL


MAX - £399
Six-voice, one-oscillator per voice, multi-timbral analogue polysynth; 80 preset voice memories, four-octave keyboard.

+ As SixTrak;
- also as SixTrak, but not readily user-programmable without CBM64 and software;
= tries to be computer peripheral and voice expander in one, succeeds in being neither. Reviewed January '85.




SixTrak - £499
Six-voice, one-oscillator per voice multi-timbral analogue polysynth; 100 programmable sound memories, four-octave keyboard.

+ Unique (in this price range) multi-timbrality extends to built-in six-channel sequencer, 'stack' mode and MIDI;
- awkward parameter adjustment, short keyboard, synth doesn't actually sound too impressive;
= in the process of being displaced by newer MAX and MultiTrak, therefore very cheap. Reviewed March '84.


MultiTrak - £799
Six-voice, one-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 100 programmable voice memories, five-octave, velocity-sensitive keyboard.

+ Adds 'professional' facilities to SixTrak spec;
- doesn't add anything better in the sound department;
= new low price, and the only choice if you value sequencing and MIDI facilities above sheer sonic potential. Reviewed May '85.


Prophet VS - £1899
Eight-voice polysynth using new Vector Synthesis technology; 128 preset waveforms, four waveforms mixable in any combination at any one time, programmable 12-parameter envelope, five-octave, velocity-sensitive keyboard, arpeggiator, stereo chorus.

+ Vector Synthesis system uniquely versatile in this price sector, vast range of sounds available almost instantly, joystick makes parameter and performance control a doddle;
- VS system isn't very predictable, takes a lot of time to get to know properly;
= potentially as revolutionary as Yamaha's DX machines, offers huge potential for sound creation and manipulation, shows what can be done when contemporary microprocessor control is allied to musical commonsense. Reviewed May '86.


WERSI


MK1 II - £TBA
16-voice polyphonic Fourier Synthesis polysynth; five-octave velocity-and pressure-sensitive keyboard. To be reviewed.

YAMAHA


DX100 - £349
Eight-voice, programmable FM digital polysynth, 192 internal factory preset sounds, 24 programmable voice memories, 96 performance memories, four-octave mini keyboard.

+ Excellent sounds (many shared with DX21), portability, performance memories, mains and battery operation, velocity-sensitive via MIDI;
- small size makes programming fiddlier than ever, professionals won't like small keys;
= potentially, the synth that could bring FM to millions of non-musicians, makes an excellent MIDI voice expander for pro players. Reviewed February '86.


DX27 - £499
Spec as for DX100, but with full-sized, five-octave keyboard. To be reviewed.

DX21 - £699
Eight-voice, programmable FM digital polysynth; 128 internal factory preset sounds, 32 programmable voice memories, 32 performance memories, velocity-sensitive over MIDI, five-octave keyboard.

+ Broad selection of factory sounds that rival DX7's for quality, useful voice-specific performance memories, inclusion of split and dual modes, probably easier to program than first-generation DXs, cheap;
- undynamic keyboard, no cartridge storage facilities, could still do with a better display;
= only the first in Yamaha's three-pronged assault on the march of the budget polysynth, and mightily impressive, shows company haven't been resting on DX7 laurels. Reviewed August '85.


DX7 - £1250
16-voice, fully programmable FM digital polysynth; 32 voice memories, five-octave velocity- and pressure-sensitive keyboard.

+ Immense sonic and programming versatility still unmatched by any competing instrument, vast range of custom-designed hardware and software now available to accompany it from a variety of sources;
- a real pig to program, hence many preset sounds becoming cliched, still niggling doubts about its ability to recreate fat, traditional analogue synth sounds;
= an industry standard like no synth before it, and justifiably so - if only it was as easy to edit as it is to listen to...


DX5 - £1999
FM digital polysynth, spec similar to two DX7s with additional performance memories; 76-note touch- and velocity-sensitive keyboard.

+ Excellent sound and facilities;
- beaten on price by Yamaha's own DX7/TX7 combination;
= now you've a choice between convenience and cost, though sizeable back orders for the DX5 indicate some people are wealthier than is good for them. Reviewed October '85.


EXPANDERS



AKAI


VX90 - £TBA
Similar facilities to AX80 poly, but in 19" rack-mounting format. To be reviewed.

CHASE


Bit 01 - £499
Similar in spec to Bit 99 poly, in rack-mounted casing,

+ Puts excellent analogue sounds in a modular format well-suited to the needs of digital synth owners, factory presets are sonically matched to corresponding Bit 99 voices, rack-mounting convenience;
- a little pricey next to Bit 99, still the odd MIDI hiccup;
= stands out as being the most cost-effective analogue unit in its price bracket. Reviewed July '85.


EX80 - £299
Similar in spec to DK80 poly, but only monotimbral.

+ Incredibly cheap, so lots of features for your money, cartridge storage facility unexpected on a machine Of this price level;
- presets are identical to DK80's, hence more than a few sonic disappointments;
= currently one of the cheapest ways into analogue MIDI synthesis, and a godsend to the impoverished - it's not brilliant, though. Reviewed July '86.


KORG


EX800 - £249
Identical in spec to Poly 800: 64 programmable voice memories, built-in sequencer.

= All the plus and minus points of the original Poly 800, but now ridiculously cheap, thus a splendidly affordable analogue expander. Reviewed September '84.

EX8000 - £TBA
Identical in spec to DW8000: built-in digital delay. To be reviewed.

OBERHEIM


Xpander - £3945
Six-voice polyphonic analogue/FM digital hybrid synthesiser; 31 LFOs, 30 EGs, 12 oscillators, 90 VCAs, 100 programmable voice memories, recognises MIDI pressure and velocity information.

+ Vast range of sounds both analogue and digital, easier to program than most digital access designs, matchless programming versatility;
- only the cost;
= brilliantly conceived and superbly built - if you can afford it, don't hesitate.


Matrix 6R - £999
Modular version of Matrix 6 polysynth, see separate entry for details. Available summer. To be reviewed.

ROLAND


MKS10 - £895
Sixteen-voice polyphonic piano-family voice module, velocity- and pressure-responsive, 16 preset voice memories.

+ Neatly styled, built-in chorus/flanger helps strengthen sound output;
- eight voices accessible through mother keyboard only, expensive for what it is;
= only really of value if you've got a keyboard - and a playing technique - that'll do it justice. Reviewed October '84.


MKS20 - £1200
Piano module using new SAS resynthesis system of sound-generation. To be reviewed.

MKS30 - £775
Same overall spec as discontinued JX3P poly, but 64 programmable voice memories, responds to velocity and pressure information.

+ It doesn't sound bad;
- requires optional PG200 programmer for conventional analogue 'pot' control;
= as modules go, not particularly inspiring. Reviewed October '84.


MKS80 - £1800
Similar spec to discontinued flagship Jupiter 8, but improved: eight-voice polyphony, two oscillators per voice, 64 voice memories and 64 patch preset memories onboard, fully responsive to velocity and aftertouch information.

+ Wonderful range of analogue-type sounds, optional RAM packs can hold 128 voices or patch presets;
- again, requires optional programmer (this time the MPG80) for editing not to be a chore;
= an excellent package, notably good value next to other Roland modules, but price puts it firmly in the professional league. Reviewed October '84.




YAMAHA


TX7 - £599
Identical in spec to DX7, with addition of performance memories for each voice.

+ A logical upgrade for all DX7 owners;
- but not so much fun if your controlling synth is analogue, as you won't be able to program it without software;
= Yamaha's most economical route to FM duplication. Reviewed April '85.


TX216 - £1899
Two DX7s (or one DX5) in rack-mounted format, with facility for adding TF1 modules (one DX7's worth) at £449 each. For comments see TX816.

TX816 - £3999
Essentially eight DX7 voicing modules in one rack, each with its own MIDI connection.

+ Who could say no to eight DX7s?
- MIDI implementation could be better, difficult to get to know properly;
= the ultimate FM music synthesiser - no self-respecting studio should be without one. Reviewed May '86.


CONTROLLERS



AKAI


MX73 - £499
Six-octave, velocity- and pressure-sensitive, weighted-action splittable keyboard; 96 voice selectors. To be reviewed.

CHASE


Bit MasterKeyboard - £549
Six-octave keyboard sensitive to velocity and aftertouch, MIDI filtering facilities, built-in sequencer, three-way keyboard split. To be reviewed.

DK700 MasterSynth - £799
Five-octave touch-sensitive keyboard with four-way keyboard split, MIDI clock, built-in synth section. To be reviewed.

KORG


RK100 - £375
Three-and-a-half octave portable keyboard with volume, pitchbend, modulation controllers, 64 voice selectors.

+ Price, spec includes thoughtful touches like lockable MIDI connectors;
- octave range sacrificed in the cause of portability, no dynamics;
= one of the best-value 'poser's' keyboards currently available.


OBERHEIM


Xk - £998
Five-octave, touch- and velocity-sensitive keyboard, 100 user-programmable assignment memories, built-in arpeggiator, chord and hold facilities.

+ Well thought-out and durable, plenty of memory to store MIDI setups in;
- a bit pricey, especially when you add VAT;
= an impressive performer, but competition is stiff, and getting stiffer all the time. Reviewed May '86.


ROLAND


Axis 1 - £799
Three-and-a-half octave portable keyboard with volume, pitchbend, modulation controllers, velocity- and pressure-sensitivity, 120 voice selectors. To be reviewed.

MKB200 - £599
New 61-note controller keyboard, sensitive to velocity and after-touch. To be reviewed.

MKB300 - £699
76-note mother keyboard, velocity-sensitive, split and layering facilities, 128 voice selectors, volume, pitchbend, modulation controls.

+ Sturdy construction, looks;
- price;
= overshadowed, in most respects, by MKB1000.


MKB1000 - £999
Velocity- and pressure-sensitive 88-note keyboard, overall volume, pitchbend, modulation controllers, 128 voice selectors, MIDI split and layering facilities.

+ Excellent action from weighted wooden keys, superlative construction;
- no individual level controls, lack of remote programming facilities, price;
= another professional people's product, though even they might find its acquisition hard to justify.


YAMAHA


KX5 - £199
Identical in spec to KX1, but miniature keys. To be reviewed.

KX1 - £699
Three-and-a-half octave, velocity-and pressure-sensitive keyboard, volume, pitchbend, modulation controllers, 32 voice selectors. To be reviewed.

KX88 - £1299
88-note velocity- and pressure-sensitive weighted keyboard, 17 user-assignable performance controllers, split and layering facilities.

+ Vast range of performance options, onboard programming facilities coupled with user-assignable parameter control area, keyboard adds new dimension to many DX voices;
- keyboard has slightly spongey feel absent on DX1;
= more of what a master keyboard should be, but is a piano-type keyboard the best medium for applying aftertouch? Reviewed May '85.



Previous Article in this issue

Technology's Champion

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Multitracking On A Budget


Electronics & Music Maker - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

 

Electronics & Music Maker - Jun 1986

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