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Polysynth Checklist

The quick-reference equipment guide to end all equipment guides. In this, the Checklist's inaugural month, polysynths, expanders and controlling keyboards come under the E&MM microscope.


CHECKLIST is a new, monthly price guide designed to help you as you wend your way cautiously through today's hi-tech music market. Each issue, we'll be concentrating on a different section of that market, and the first instalment sees a comprehensive listing of all the polysynths, voice expanders and remote controlling keyboards currently on sale or soon to be introduced.

But CHECKLIST is a price guide with a difference. Because instead of merely listing each available product together with its RRP and contact address, we'll be printing a shortform specification for each item, and, if the machine has been through our hands for testing, a few subjective comments on its performance, too.

We'll be detailing approximate selling prices rather than the manufacturers' often useless suggested values, and it goes without saying that the data of each new listing will be intensively researched and thoroughly updated-right up until the day each issue of E&MM goes to press.

If you're in the market for some gear but need a breakdown of precisely what's available, CHECKLIST will give you just that - and a great deal more besides.



POLYSYNTH CHECKLIST



AKAI


AX80 - £999 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...

AX90 - £TBA Eight-voice polysynth, splittable keyboard. To be reviewed - further details unavailable at press-time.

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.

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. Preset poly, digital sequencer, MIDI guitar synth and sound sampler still to come from Casio before 1985 is out...

CZ5000 - £TBA Eight/16-voice, two/one oscillator per voice Phase Distortion polysynth; 32 preset and 32 programmable voice memories, five-octave keyboard. To be reviewed.

CHASE


Bit One - £799 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, suspect MIDI implementation;
= all in all probably the best budget analogue poly, now available through wider range of retail outlets.

CHROMA


Polaris - £1699 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, doubtful availability;
= a synth with a lot of potential for those with enough patience to exploit it, but the competition is already too tough, and getting tougher all the time.

ELKA


Synthex- £1399 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 sequencer, digital ring mod;
- some may find sound dated, possible servicing difficulties now that synth is out of production in Italy;
= good facilities for its (recently reduced) asking price: if this is your sound, go for it.

KORG


Poly 800 - £549 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, portability;
- only one filter for all six voices, short keyboard,
= the world's best-selling polysynth, in spite of its limitations: but there's competition looming.

Poly 61M - £699 Six-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 64 programmable voice memories, five-octave keyboard.
+ tidy if undistinguished sound output, more sturdily constructed than either of Korg's latest polys
- only one EG, not the easiest digital access synth to program
= basically a Poly 61 with MIDI fitted, though that's not necessarily a bad thing: likely to disappear as the DW6000 becomes more widespread.

DW6000 - £999 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 after-touch sensitivity, poor feel of performance control joystick
= the polysynth world's biggest technological compromise - but it works.

OBERHEIM


Matrix 12 - £TBA Spec similar to that of two Xpanders controlled by XK keyboard - see relevant sections for details. To be reviewed.

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;
= competent, professional synth system - at a price.

ROLAND


JX3P - £699 Six-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 32 preset and 32 programmable voice memories, five-octave keyboard.
+ still quite sonically versatile, built-in sequencer;
- requires PC200 programmer (optional) before sound editing becomes a realistic proposition, dodgy MIDI implementation;
= justifiably popular synth section has formed basis for MKS30 module and GR700 guitar synth, but basic model now out of production - so you might pick one up cheap.

Juno 106 - £799 Six-voice, one-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 128 programmable voice memories, five-octave keyboard.
+ ease of use, built-in chorus;
- retains last remnants of Juno thin-sound disease, lacks arpeggiator;
= monosynth parentage means 106 is still a great beginner's poly, even if it doesn't sound as impressive as the Juno 6 did three years ago...

Synth Plus 60 - £899 Similar spec to Juno 106, but with the addition of built-in amplification and twin speakers.

JX8P - £1250 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 after-touch and performance data, requires optional PG800 programmer for sound editing to become really straightforward;
= lacks character, but ultimately a rewarding and versatile analogue poly that proves Roland aren't going to be left behind without a fight.

Jupiter 6 - £1299 Six-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 48 programmable voice memories or 32 patch presets (for split programs), five-octave keyboard.
+ inherently flexible and versatile programming system, excellent sonic potential, split-keyboard facilities, sophisticated - and syncable - arpeggiator;
- no velocity- or pressure-sensitivity, might just have too many facilities for its own good
= excellent analogue synth that continues Jupiter tradition admirably, but complex control layout has meant shortage of takers, hence newly attractive price level.

SEQUENTIAL


SixTrak - £595 Six-voice, one-oscillator per voice multi-timbral analogue polysynth; 100 programmable sound memories, four-octave keyboard.
+ unique (in this price range) multitimbrality extends to built-in six-channel sequencer, 'stack' mode and MIDI implementation;
- 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.

MAX - £625 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.

MultiTrak - £1499 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;
= conspicuously overpriced, but the only choice if you value sequencing and MIDI facilities above sheer sonic potential.

T8 - £4700 Eight-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 128 programmable voice memories, six-and-a-half octave keyboard sensitive to pressure and velocity.
+ excellent analogue sound capability, weighted-key action and individual after-touch for each key, fine split and layering facilities, built-in sequencer;
- heavy on the hand and even heavier on the wallet;
= professional instrument at a professional price.

SIEL


DK80 - £699 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;
= really astonishing value for money, though first impressions might not be all that favourable.

DK600 - £999 Six-voice, two-oscillator per voice analogue polysynth; 100 programmable voice memories, five-octave velocity-sensitive keyboard.
+ fine sound quality (especially brass and percussion presets), programmable dynamics, plenty of good software available;
- the odd operational idiosyncracy;
= competent but underrated analogue poly, neatly styled and well constructed.

WERSI


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

YAMAHA


DX9 - £799 16-voice, programmable FM digital polysynth; 20 programmable voice memories, five-octave keyboard.
+ despite its humbler electronic origins, it still sounds extremely good;
- undynamic keyboard, no cartridge storage facility, lacks DX7's charisma;
= underrated cheap DX, now out of production due to lack of sales, so pick one up while you can. 'Baby' DX21 due in the shops mid-August.

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 clichéd, still niggling doubts about 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- £2999 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. (To be reviewed.)

DX1 - £8999 16-voice polyphonic, FM digital polysynth; 64 programmable voice memories, six-octave velocity- and touch-sensitive keyboard.
+ easier editing than cheaper DXs thanks to comprehensive control and display layout, marvellous weighted-action keyboard has individual after-touch for each key;
- bulky, weighty and outrageously expensive;
= thoroughly desirable - the ultimate dedicated FM poly, but logic says it's outclassed by cheaper hardware from the same stable.



EXPANDER CHECKLIST



AKAI


VX90 - £TBA Similar facilities to AX90 poly, but in 19" rack-mounting format. To be reviewed.

CHASE


Bit 01 - £699 Identical in spec to Bit One poly, in rack-mounting unit and with improved MIDI implementation. To be reviewed.

KORG


EX800 - £449 Identical in spec to Poly 800: 64 programmable voice memories, built-in sequencer.

OBERHEIM


Xpander - £3945 12-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.

ROLAND


MKS30 - £875 Same overall spec as JX3P poly, but 64 programmable voice memories, and fully responsive to velocity and pressure information.
+ it doesn't sound bad;
- requires optional PG200 programmer for conventional 'pot' control;
= module costs more than a JX3P!

MKS10 - £990 Eight-voice polyphonic piano-family voice module, fully velocity- and pressure-responsive, 16 preset voice memories.
+ Neatly styled, built-in chorus/flanger helps strengthen sound output;
- eight voices only accessible through mother keyboard, expensive for what it is;
= only really of value if you've got a keyboard - and a playing technique - that'll do it justice.

MKS80 - £1800 Similar spec to now-discontinued Jupiter 8: eight-voice polyphony, two oscillators per voice, 64 voice memories and 64 patch preset memories onboard, fully responsive to velocity and after-touch 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 that's notably good value next to the other Roland modules, but price still puts it firmly in the professional league.

SIEL


Expander 80 - £399 Similar in spec to DK80 poly, but only monotimbral. To be reviewed.

YAMAHA


TX7 - £649 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;
= Yamaha's most economical route to FM duplication.

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

TX816 - £4299 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;
= the ultimate FM music synthesiser, no self-respecting studio should be without one.



CONTROLLER CHECKLIST



AKAI


MX76 - £TBA Six-and-a-half octave, velocity-and pressure-sensitive, weighted-action split-table keyboard; 96 voice selectors. To be reviewed.

KORG


RK100 - £475 Three-and-a-half octave portable keyboard with volume, pitch-bend, modulation controllers, 64 voice selectors.
+ price, spec includes thoughtful touches like lockable MIDI connectors;
- octave range sacrificed in the cause of portability, no dynamics;
= all things considered, the best-value 'poser's keyboard' currently available.

ROLAND


Axis 1 - £999 Three-and-a-half octave portable keyboard with volume, pitch-bend, modulation controllers, velocity- and pressure-sensitivity, 120 voice selectors. To be reviewed.

MKB300 - £999 76-note mother keyboard, split and layering facilities, 128 voice selectors, volume, pitch-bend, modulation controls.
+ sturdy construction, looks;
- not sensitive to either pressure or velocity, price;
= overshadowed, in most respects, by MKB1000.

MKB1000 - £1499 Velocity- and pressure-sensitive 88-note keyboard, overall volume, pitch-bend, 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 - £399 Identical in spec to KX1, but miniature keys. To be reviewed.

KX1 - £799 Three-and-a-half octave, velocity-and pressure-sensitive keyboard, volume, pitch-bend, modulation controllers, 32 voice selectors. To be reviewed.

KX88 - £1399 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, though is a piano-type keyboard the best medium for applying after-touch?



Previous Article in this issue

Sequential MultiTrak

Next article in this issue

On the Level


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

 

Electronics & Music Maker - May 1985

Topic:

Buyer's Guide


Feature

Previous article in this issue:

> Sequential MultiTrak

Next article in this issue:

> On the Level


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