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The A-Z of Analogue (Part 1)

Introducing MT's unique encyclopedia of analogue synthesisers: part 1, Akai to ARP


The aim of this series is simple: to provide a comprehensive directory of every analogue synthesiser ever made. Not quite so simple were the decisions that had to be made over just what constitutes an 'analogue' synthesiser - or, indeed, what it is we mean when we use the term 'synthesiser'. Consequently, some selections may seem a little arbitrary. Included will be instruments like the better-known electric pianos and organs; left out will be drum machines, stand-alone sequencers, effects units, vocoders and those guitar/wind synths which aren't regularly used as expanders in their own right. (All these may one day get their turn in separate A-Z's!)

If, or perhaps I should say when, omissions or mistakes occur, you are invited to let me know, c/o MT, forwarding all the details (and preferably evidence) that you can muster. A complete list of these - along with any other updates and additions - will be published at the end of the series, and those who have contributed will be fully credited. I am personally compiling a more detailed database which will one day be used to complete a comprehensive analogue synthesiser encyclopaedia, so any extra information will be useful for that as well.

My thanks go to: Bob Williams for his invaluable help in checking entries, providing additional facts, and giving me access to the vast number of modular synthesisers which lay outside my price range; to Andy Horrell, EMIS, Bristol; Mushroom from Massive Attack; Toni Rutherford (Akai UK); David Whittle (Akai USA), and Martin Straw for his information on the near-mythical ARP Centaur.

Peter Forrest August 1993

Key Facts

Dates:

These refer to the approximate year of manufacture. New instruments were often on sale for quite some time after production ceased and precise chronological information is difficult to come by (all help gratefully received!). Where any doubt occurs you will see a question mark.

Prices:

The original price quoted is that which you would have paid in the shops; the target price is what you could expect to pay now for a fully-working example in reasonable condition.

Users:

If the exact model of synthesiser used is unclear, users are included under the maker's name.

Stars:

A maximum of five stars (except for truly remarkable instruments) is given in these categories:
  • Interface - how easy it is to connect up to other synths or sequencers. MIDI, obviously, scores highly, so to does the ability to MIDI up using an external unit or internal interface. CV/gate at 1 volt/octave scores higher than a volt/Hertz implementation - which in turn scores higher than having no interface at all!
  • Sounds - simply how good the thing sounds. Obviously subjective, this is an area open to potential disagreement. Who's to decide whether a Moog 3C sounds better than a Prophet 5..?
  • Controls - how comprehensive, versatile and useable the controls are. A good set of dedicated knobs and switches obviously counts high, and so do touch-sensitivity, foot-pedal options and the feel of the keyboard.
  • Memories - 100 or more memories (and MIDI) will tend to get five stars. Anything less will get proportionately fewer.
  • VFM - Value for money. Again, an area of subjective opinion. Many feel that programmable MIDI polyphonies with VCOs represent the best value, but you might not!
  • Character - that indefinable 'something' that makes a synth desirable. Wood panels, knobs and uniqueness score highly.
  • Collectability - people collect strange things, but this category takes into consideration rarity and general interest/desirability rather than bizarre obsession.
  • Ease of use - intuitive, unfussy and easy-to-adjust controls count high. So too does the lack of complicated hidden menus, button-pushing and parameter access.

Where no stars are awarded, it means that either certain features are not included at all (eg, no interface connections) or the category is not applicable (eg, value for money in respect of a synth only released as a prototype).


A


AKAI



Although Akai made their name by producing the world's first affordable sampler - the S612 - and the industry standard S1000, their earliest high-tech music products included the MG1212 multitracker and the AX80 synthesiser.


AX60

MIDI, 6-voice, 6-VCO, 64-memory, 61-note, split/unison keyboard. Appeared - and worked - at BMF August 1985 (see E&MM Sept '85).
Original price: Not sold in the UK, but was available in the US (at least).

  • One of the last synthesisers until the JD800 to have knobs and (principally) sliders.
  • Not touch-sensitive, from keyboard or over MIDI.
  • Good arpeggiator.
  • Chorus.
  • Eight keyboard split points storable.
  • MIDI thru.
  • Unison mode.
  • Edit recall button.
  • High pass and low pass filters.
  • White noise generator.
  • External sync socket for arpeggiator.
  • Sample input: you can load Akai samples (esp. S612/700, X7000) straight in via a 13-pin plug for editing/treatment with VCF, VCA, chorus, unison, etc.
Interface: ★★★★★
VFM: ★★★★
Sounds: ★★★★
Character: ★★★★
Controls: ★★★★
Collectability: ★★★★
Memories: ★★★★
Ease of use: ★★★★


AX73

MIDI, 6-voice, 6-VCO, 100-memory, 73-note, split keyboard. 1986-1988. Rather like an MX73 with an 6-VCO analogue synthesiser thrown in free.
Original price: £599.
Target price: £180

  • Velocity sensitive
  • Same sample input as the AX60.
  • Quite reasonable to use as 6-octave mother keyboard - except for it's rather light and 'dicky' feel.
  • No knobs and sliders to speak of.
  • Digital parameter access.
  • Programmable chorus.
  • Pulse Width Modulation on all waveforms.
  • MIDI splits and MIDI Thru socket.
  • Light grey in colour (which looks good on samplers but not on keyboards).
Interface: ★★★★★
VFM: ★★★★
Sounds: ★★★★
Character: ★★★
Controls: ★★★
Collectability: ★★
Memories: ★★★★
Ease of use: ★★★


AX80

MIDI, 8-Voice, 16-VCO, 96-memory, 61-note keyboard. 1984-1987.
Original price: £999
Target price: £220

E&MM review: Dec '84
  • Velocity sensitive
  • Excellent blue and orange fluorescent graphic displays - possibly the best on any mass-produced synth.
  • No knobs or switches, but good layout and displays make up for this in some ways.
  • Angled rear panel for easy connections.
  • 32 memories are preset - only 64 are writeable.
  • Sounds good, though not always quite as powerful as the 16 VCOs (and eight sub-oscillators) would lead you to expect.
  • No indication, during editing process, of which patch you are editing.
  • Better keyboard action than the AX73.
  • Thick, lacquered wood ends.
  • Like the AX60, a black as opposed to light grey body.
Interface: ★★★★★
Memories: ★★★★★
Sounds: ★★★★
VFM: ★★★★
Controls: ★★★★
Character: ★★★★
Collectability: ★★★


AX90

MIDI, 8-voice, 16-VCO, 96-memory, 61-note keyboard, c.1986 may have only existed as a prototype. Akai UK say: "No details are available on this as it was only put forward for evaluation purposes."
Projected price: c. £2199
  • Outwardly similar to the AX80
  • Velocity sensitive
  • Same excellent graphic displays.
  • Different sounds included.
  • All sounds in RAM (as opposed to the AX80's mixed bunch including 32 in ROM).
  • Different chips to the AX80.
Interface: ★★★★★
VFM:
Sounds:
Character: ★★★
Controls: ★★★★
Collectability: ★★★★★★
Memories: ★★★★★
Ease of use: ★★★


VX600

MIDI, 6-voice, 6-part, 12-VCO, 37-note keyboard. Probably another prototype-only model.

  • Multitimbral
  • 5 knobs, 1 slider - parameter access.
  • 50 patches, 40 programs, 20 code memories (?) - 13-pin DIN socket for editing samplers.


VX90

MIDI, 6-voice, 6-VCO, 100-memory module. 1986-1988. Ended up as a 2U rackmount AX73, rather than a 4U rackmount AX80/90 which was a shame. Six VCOs can't be all bad, though. One to watch out for at the right price.
Original price: £399.
Target price: £120-£150.

Users: Bizarre Inc.
  • Input for Akai samplers on 13-pin DIN plug (same as AX73 and AX60).
  • Unison mode included.
Interface: ★★★★★
Sounds: ★★★★
Controls: ★★
Memories: ★★★★
VFM: ★★★
Character: ★★★




ANS



ANS produced a one-off optico-electrical synthesiser in the former Soviet Union. Users: Alfred Schnittke, Sofia Gubaidulina. Compilation album released on Melodiya record label.



Aries



Aries produced a modular synthesiser kit - similar in concept to Digisound in UK. Made by Rivera Music Services, Boston, Mass.



ARP



Major American synthesiser manufacturer founded in 1969 by Alan R. Pearlman after working on Gemini and Apollo space projects, designing amplifiers. First product was the massive, modular 2500, followed by the 2600 and Odyssey. The company had financial troubles in the early '80s and went into liquidation during development of what became the Chroma.

16-VOICE

Electronic Piano, 16-voice, 73-note, weighted wooden keyboard. 1980-C.83. The 16 voices referred to are 16 tones, accessed by 16 push-buttons. Lesser versions were available - 4-voice (and 8-voice?).
Original price: £109
Target price: £100

Users: Vic Emerson, Stan Shaw.

  • Velocity sensitive
  • Piano sounds not very realistic (by current standards); some voices usable, though.
  • Vibrato and stereo phasing.
  • Detune of one of two master oscillators possible.
  • Stereo out and in and headphone socket.
  • Soft and sustain pedals.
  • Very good keyboard feel for the time - better than most synths today.
Interface:
Sounds: ★★
Controls: ★★
Memories:
VFM:
Character: ★★
Collectability:
Ease of use: ★★★


2500

Duophonic, 5-VCO, modular synth with slider patching, c. 1970. Originally called 'Tonus'. "Much better oscillators than the Moog" - W Carlos, 1971.
Original price: $2300 - $8500.
Target price: £6000 (£8000 with 'wings').

Users include: W Carlos, Vince Clarke, David Hentschel (Genesis producer), JM Jarre, Hugo Montenegro, Guido Mylemans, Roger Powell, Gerald Shapiro, Pete Townshend. Also used in the climactic mothership scene in Close Encounters. One is apparently in storage at the Science Museum.
  • Infinitely flexible modulation possibilities.
  • Slider system does away almost entirely with patch-leads.
  • Large - even larger with optional wings with more modules.
  • Simple onboard sequencer.
  • Split keyboard with reverse-colour keys.
  • Strong sounds.
  • Amazing pose potential - a staggering artefact.
Interface: ★★★
Sounds: ★★★★★
Controls: ★★★★
Memories:
VFM:
Character: ★★★★★
Collectability: ★★★★★★★
Ease of use: ★★


2600

Duophonic, 3-VCO semi-modular synth. 1970-c.78 Probably the first synth to use sliders for all its controls.
Original price: £2600 down to £1575.
Target price: £1300.

Users include: 808 State, Tony Banks, The Beloved (Mk I version), Michael Boddicker, Arthur Brown, Richard Burgess, Vince Clarke, Steve Cunningham, Depeche Mode, John Entwistle, Brian Gascoigne, Miquette Giraudy/Gong, John Hollis, Steve Howell, Bob James, JM Jarre (Zoo Look), Joy Division (Closer), Dave Macrae, Daniel Miller, Steve Porcaro, Roger Powell, Steve Roach, The Shamen, Pete Townshend ('Who Are You?'), Ultravox, Ian Underwood, Edgar Winter, Stevie Wonder (sometimes with voice-box), Joe Zawinul (two on Sweetnighter, Mysterious Traveller and Black Market albums).
Sampled for E-mu's Vintage Keys.
(MT retrospective: Apr '88)
  • Easy to see where controls are set.
  • Early models had nasty optional keyboard; later models had decent optional 4-octave duophonic keyboard with extra LFO.
  • Strong sounds at both ends of the audio spectrum.
  • Lots of fiddly bits.
  • A delight to play.
  • Audio input/envelope follower for processing other instruments.
  • Spring reverb, headphone socket, internal speakers all contribute to feeling of self-sufficiency.
  • First (preferable) version was dark grey with white legend; later versions black with orange legend.
  • White, pink and low frequency noise available.
  • All standard connections normalled, but able to be modified by patch-cords.
  • Another classic artefact that reflects its era.
Interface: ★★★
Sounds: ★★★★★
Controls: ★★★★
Memories:
VFM: ★★
Character: ★★★★★
Collectability: ★★★★★★
Ease of use: ★★★


AVATAR

Monophonic expander with guitar interface, 1977. A powerful and versatile expander (with a free enamel badge!). Typical 1978 advert read: "Stolen from the Gods of the Keyboard - bestowed on the disciples of the Guitar. Send 50p P&P to receive a free demo record."
Original price: £1500.
Target price: £160 - £240.

Users include: Steve Howell, Jimmy Page, Par Example, Red Sun, Mike Rutherford, Big Jim Sullivan, Pete Townshend.
  • Good synthesiser (CV/gate) interface connections.
  • Two VCOs.
  • Noise.
  • Ring mod, cross-mod, sample/hold, etc.
  • Balanced (XLR) audio out. Very similar (apart from pitchbend) to Odyssey MkII.
  • Fiddly and difficult tuning.
  • Small black and colour-coded knobs very liable to break.
  • Guitar synth interface impossible to use if guitar is played in the normal way!
  • 'Hex-fuzz' can be effective.
  • Separate fuzz processor for each string, so lead lines and chords can be equally clean or dirty.
VFM: ★★
Memories:
Interface: ★★★
Character: ★★★★★
Sounds: ★★★★
Collectability: ★★★★
Controls: ★★★★
Ease of use: ★★★


AXXE

Monophonic, 1-VCO, 37-Note, keyboard developed from Odyssey. 1975-C.81. For style changes between Mark I and II, see Odyssey entry.
Original price: £380.
Target price: £120 - £200

Users include: 808 State, Jude Allen, Adrian Chase, Rick Davis aka 3070 (Cybotron), Baby Ford, Pascal Gabriel, Herbie Hancock.

  • Same good CV/gate interface as Odyssey (orange Mk IIs).
  • Thinner' sounds than Odyssey - less going on - but still angular and powerful.
  • Supplied with with 155-page manual (Lessons in Electronic Music), overlay sheets, interface charts (eg. for hook-up to Solina String Ensemble) and book of 50 patches.
VFM: ★★
Memories:
Interface: ★★★
Character: ★★★
Sounds: ★★★
Collectability: ★★★★
Controls: ★★★
Ease of use: ★★★★


CENTAUR

Quasi-orchestral 61-note polyphonic synth 1977- c.78. When technical complexities of polyphonic pitch/voltage conversion became too great, R&D was channelled into Avatar and (eventually) Quadra projects.
Projected price: $15,000 - $20,000.
Users include: Tony Banks (briefly)

  • An enormous synth - far deeper front-to-back than the largest Oberheims.
  • Similar design to the later Quadra; many more controls, but no memories.
  • Overheating problems doomed it to failure - too much going on inside (115 separate printed circuit boards!).
  • Average time between breakdowns on prototypes: 2 hours.
  • Two polyphonic sections, independently variable VCOs with selectable waveforms and a VCF each;
  • Pulse width modulation with own LFO.
  • Monophonic lead synth, 2 VCOs, VCF, ADSR, PWM, LFO - all variable.
  • Monophonic bass synth (1VCO), but very powerful, with pitches mixable.
  • Vast array of interface sockets.
  • Originally also designed to be a polyphonic guitar synth.
Interface: ★★★
VFM:
Sounds:
Character: ★★★
Controls: ★★★
Collectability: ★★★★★★
Memories:
Ease of use:


EXPLORER 1

Preset 37-note keyboard synth with variable section. C.1976-C.78.
Original price: £450
Target price: £150

Users include: Canned Rock, John Entwistle

  • Preset voices like Trumpet, Tuba, Flute, Clarinet, Pulsar and Lunar Lander.
  • Variable ADSR and VCF.
  • Sliders for volume, repeat, delayed vibrato, portamento, etc.
  • Also re-structured and included in Solina C112 organ (triggered from highest note of upper keyboard).
Interface:
VFM:
Sounds: ★★
Character: ★★★
Controls: ★★★
Collectability: ★★★★
Memories:
Ease of use: ★★★


To be continued...


Series

Read the next part in this series:
The A-Z of Analogue (Part 2)



Previous Article in this issue

Opening Windows

Next article in this issue

The Hard Edge


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

 

Music Technology - Aug 1993

Topic:

Vintage Instruments


Series:

The A-Z of Analogue

Part 1 (Viewing) | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10


Feature by Peter Forrest

Previous article in this issue:

> Opening Windows

Next article in this issue:

> The Hard Edge


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