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The A-Z of Analogue (Part 5)

This month, Electronic Dream Plant to Elka.


MT's exclusive guide to every analogue synth made. Included are keyboards, expanders/sound modules and the better known electronic pianos and organs. Not included are drum machines, standalone sequencers and effects units, vocoders and those guitar/wind synths which aren't regularly used as expanders in their own right.

Readers are invited to submit details of little-known instruments which may be of use in compiling the series and also to point out any mistakes and/or omissions if these occur. All contributions will be fully credited. Compiled by Peter Forrest.

Thanks to Robin Wood for the fruits of his amazingly detailed insider knowledge of EMS, and to Richard Ballinger.

E


Electronic Dream Plant



Synthesiser company established in Oxfordshire by Adrian Wagner (descendant of Richard) with design input from Chris Huggett (later of OSCar and other fame).

GNAT

Single DCO monophonic synthesiser, 25-note non-moving (touch operated) keyboard. 1980 - 1981. See Wasp for other details.
Original price: £99
Target price: £20 - £60

  • Spin-off from Wasp - half the knobs.
  • Single oscillator, but strong timbre - especially PWM and bass sounds.
  • Deluxe version produced in 1981 - very rare.
Interface:
VFM:
Sounds: ★★
Character: ★★
Controls: ★★
Collectability: ★★
Memories:
Ease of use:


HORNET

Combined Wasp Deluxe and Spider sequencer with 37-note keyboard, c.1980. Possibly never went into production, but at least one prototype was made.

WASP

2-DCO monophonic synthesiser with 25-note non-moving (touch operated) keyboard. 1978 - 1981.
Deluxe version was produced in small numbers in 1980 and 1981 (price between £285 and £345).
Original price: £199. Deluxe version £285 - £345.
Target price: £40 - £100 (higher for Deluxe version).
Users include: 808 State, Bass-O-Matic, Blancmange ('Sad Day'), Thomas Dolby (his first synth?), Genesis, Rupert Greenall, Dave Greenfield (Stranglers), J-M Jarre, Michael Karoli, Keith Laws, Pink Floyd, Nick Rhodes (first synth), Sheep on Drugs, Tim Simenon (Bomb The Bass), Startled Insects, Larry Steinbachek, Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), Bart Tragen.
  • Revolutionary digital control of most things except filter.
  • Keyboard delineated by a plastic sticker and horrible to play.
  • Playing eventually wears away the keyboard markings.
  • Low-pass, high-pass, and band-pass 24dB filtering.
  • Distinctive yellow and black colour scheme.
  • Battery or mains power.
  • Good sounds, though not impressive through tiny built-in speaker.
  • Connections for external amp, and 7-pin DIN sockets for interfacing with other EDP products like Spider sequencer and Caterpillar - a keyboard which could control four Wasps.
  • Digital signals rather than analogue CV and gate.
  • Did not comply to one volt per octave standard, so difficult to interface with other equipment. It could, however, interface directly with a Commodore 64 computer, for example.
  • Deluxe version came in wooden case and featured a 37-note moving keyboard plus a few extras like independent oscillator level controls.
  • In response to general feeling that sounds were great but keyboard terrible, a German firm DMS produced their Wasp Keyboard Controller in 1980 for £95. It featured 35 moving keys and a hold facility on bottom C.
Interface:
VFM: ★★
Sounds: ★★★
Character: ★★
Controls: ★★★
Collectability: ★★
Memories:
Ease of use: ★★




EKO



EKOSYNTH P15

15-preset, 44-note monosynth with VCF/VCA/LFO controls. 1979 - c.1980
Original price: £299
Target price: £40 - £70

  • Two presets stackable.
  • Some interesting selections: Vihuela, Panpipes, Marimba.
  • Equipped with expression pedal and glide control.
  • Preset switchable delay on LFO.
Interface:
VFM:
Sounds:
Character:
Controls:
Collectability:
Memories:
Ease of use:




Electro-Harmonix



Prolific American effects manufacturers who made low-budget, high-excitement pedals.

MICRO SYNTHESIZER & BASS MICRO SYNTHESIZER

Foot pedal-style synthesisers. c.1979.
Original price: £70
Target price: £20

  • Though essentially foot pedals, they included ten hand-operated slider controls.


MINI-SYNTHESIZER

1-VCO, monosynth with non-moving (touch operated), 25-note keyboard. 1980 - c. 1984
Original price: $179
Target price: £40 - £100
Users include: Eddie Van Halen
  • Battery operated or 9v adaptor.
Interface:
VFM:
Sounds:
Character:
Controls:
Collectability: ★★
Memories:
Ease of use: ★★




Electronic Music Laboratories (EML)



Based in Connecticut USA, EML started out making educational synthesisers, then branched out into modular synths, performance synths and peripherals - including the Electrocomp 400 sequencer which used quantising before ARP did. Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo was a keen user.

BLACK MONSTER

Modular synthesiser for educational market, c.1968.

  • Only about ten were ever made.
  • Deliberately designed to weigh over 200 pounds to avoid being stolen by students.


ELECTROCOMP 100

Duophonic semi-modular synthesiser, c.1969 - 1972.
Original price: Unknown
Target price: c.£300

  • Not very powerful musically.
  • Poor choice of waveforms, and probably the lowest powered filter in synth history (6dB per octave).
Interface: ★★
VFM:
Sounds:
Character:
Controls: ★★
Collectability: ★★
Memories:
Ease of use:


ELECTROCOMP 101

Duophonic, semi-modular 44-note synthesiser. 1972 - 1982. The most popular EML product - about a thousand were produced.
Original price: $1395
Target price: c.£450

  • Much improved from the 100.
  • Four oscillators.
  • Waveforms on continuously variable rotary knob.
  • No modulation or pitch wheels but an optional pitchbend control was available.
  • Normalled connections (as on ARP 2600), so that you have standard routings which can be modified by patch leads if required.
  • Flexible and easy to use.
Interface: ★★
VFM:
Sounds: ★★★
Character: ★★
Controls: ★★★
Collectability: ★★★
Memories:
Ease of use: ★★


ELECTROCOMP 200

2-VCO, monophonic expander. 1969 - 1980. One of the first expanders ever built
Original price: $950
Target price: c.£400.

  • Two ring modulators and sample-and-hold included.
  • Stereo outputs.
  • On-board spring reverb.
Interface: ★★
VFM:
Sounds: ★★
Character: ★★
Controls: ★★
Collectability:
Memories:
Ease of use:


ELECTROCOMP 300

Controller for Electrocomp 200 with one extra VCO. c.1970 - 1979.
Original price: $325
Target price: c.£230
Users include: Bob Casale (Devo).

  • Interesting design: 16-button calculator-style keyboard (no piano-style keys) and pitch controls.
Interface: ★★
VFM:
Sounds:
Character: ★★★
Controls:
Collectability: ★★
Memories:
Ease of use:


ELECTROCOMP 401

2-VCO, monophonic expander for 400 sequencer.

  • Voltage-controlled attack and release time on envelope generators.
Interface: ★★
VFM:
Sounds:
Character: ★★
Controls: ★★
Collectability: ★★★
Memories:
Ease of use:


ELECTROCOMP 500

2-VCO performance synthesiser. 1973 - 1984.
Original price: $895
Target price: c.£300

  • Cheaper version of 101, aimed at Minimoog/Odyssey market.
  • Used sliders instead of rotary controls.
Interface: ★★
VFM:
Sounds:
Character: ★★
Controls: ★★★
Collectability: ★★
Memories:
Ease of use: ★★


POLYBOX

13-note keyboard harmoniser for mono/duophonic synths. 1977 - 1984. A rare/curious product, only 130 were ever made.
Original price: $475
Target price: c.£400

  • Designed to turn monosynths into pseudo-polyphonics.
  • 26 note memories.
  • A monosynth audio output is connected to the Polybox input. A note is played on the monosynth, and a chord held on the Polybox. The Polybox then 'fills out' a chord from the original root note which may then be routed back to the synth's filter and envelope stages (if it has an audio input).
  • Polybox's own sound limited to pulse-wave.
Interface:
VFM:
Sounds:
Character: ★★★
Controls:
Collectability: ★★
Memories:
Ease of use:


SYNKEY 1500

Polyphonic 44-note synthesiser. 1978 - 1984.
Original price: $925
Target price: c.£275
Users include: Frank Zappa

  • Divide-down circuitry instead of individual oscillators and filters.
Interface:
VFM:
Sounds:
Character:
Controls:
Collectability: ★★
Memories:
Ease of use:


SYNKEY 2001

Semi-programmable 44-note, polyphonic synthesiser. 1979 - 1984.
Original price: $1350
Target price: c.£350

  • Virtually unique programming system using punched cards. To store a patch, the relevant holes had to be punched out in a card. Card reader then duplicates the patch - up to a point. The range of any knob is quantised into eight settings - little use for subtle filter changes etc.
  • Advent of cheaper RAM chips made 2001 seem outmoded very quickly.
Interface:
VFM:
Sounds:
Character:
Controls:
Collectability: ★★
Memories:
Ease of use:




Electronic Sackbut



Monophonic 49-note string synthesiser. Invented and built 1946 by Canadian inventor, Hugh Le Caine. Second prototype in early 70s.

  • Recording dating from 1952 shows instrument's expressive potential.
  • Left-hand controllers for three different modulations, joystick for early form of vector synthesis, and formant/oscillator mixing.
Interface:
VFM:
Sounds: ★★★
Character: ★★★★★
Controls: ★★★
Collectability: ★★★★★
Memories:
Ease of use:




Elka



Elka EK22


EK22

6-voice, 12-DCO, 61-note MIDI synthesiser. Velocity and aftertouch-sensitive; 64 presets, 32 user patches, 16 performance memories, c.1986
Original price: £999
Target price: £150 - £250
MT review (with EM22): Oct '86.

  • 6-stage envelope generators (ADSR plus break and second decay).
  • Stereo output.
  • Unusual and effective split mode: five/one - where the one can be positioned anywhere on the keyboard (as a bass or lead line, for example), and can be split or layered. No other options, though.
  • Each oscillator's mix of square/pulse wave, triangle/pulse wave and triangle/sawtooth wave is fully variable.
  • Oscillator sync available.
  • In split mode, each section may be controlled by different MIDI channel.
  • Cartridge storage available: 64 memories in each - ROM or RAM.
  • Aftertouch needs considerable physical pressure.
  • Roland-style pitchbend/modulation.
Interface: ★★★★★
VFM:
Sounds: ★★★
Character:
Controls: ★★
Collectability:
Memories: ★★★
Ease of use: ★★


EM22

Module version of EK22 synthesiser. c.1986.
Original price: £799
Target price: £120 - £200

  • Identical spec to EK22.
  • Not standard 19" rack fitting.
Interface: ★★★★
VFM:
Sounds: ★★★
Character:
Controls:
Collectability:
Memories: ★★★
Ease of use: ★★


RHAPSODY 490

49-note string synthesiser. c.1976 - 1980.
Original price: £392
Target price: £50 - £80

  • Slimmed-down version of 610.
  • Very few controls - just a basic string synth sound with two level sliders and two knobs for volume and sustain length.
Interface:
VFM:
Sounds:
Character:
Controls:
Collectability:
Memories:
Ease of use: ★★


RHAPSODY 610

61-note string synthesiser, c.1975 - 1980.
Original price: £647
Target price: £60 - £100
Users include: Rick Davies (Supertramp), Geoff Downes, Dave Hewson, Hot Chocolate, J-M Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Phil Thornton, Ultravox

  • Splittable, 2-octave and 3-octave.
  • Separate controls for each side, with sliders for violoncello, strings, piano and clavichord.
  • Regarded as the string synth of of its day.
Interface:
VFM:
Sounds:
Character: ★★
Controls:
Collectability: ★★
Memories:
Ease of use: ★★


SOLOIST 505

49-note monophonic preset synthesiser. 1978 - c. 1982.
Original price: £384
Target price: £30 - £50

  • Designed for organ-top use - all controls on front, below the keyboard.
  • Decent clarinet voice, plus typical 70s 'Cosmic' and Telstar' presets.
  • Seven sliders for creating original sounds - volume, slow attack, decay, wow, VCF cut-off, vibrato depth and bend.
Interface:
VFM:
Sounds:
Character:
Controls:
Collectability:
Memories:
Ease of use:



SYNTHEX

61-note, 16-DCO, 8-voice MIDI synth with built-in sequencer. 1982 - 1985.
Original price: £3199 (going down to £999)
Target price: £400 - £600
Users include: Keith Emerson, Geoff Downes, BBC, Neil Carter (Gary Moore Band), J-M Jarre, Trans X, Stevie Wonder (Characters album)
MT review: Dec '82

  • Mario Maggi design with some big plusses - and some minuses.
  • 40-ROM and 40-RAM memories
  • One of the last synths with proper controls - 30 knobs, three sliders, 80 switches, and a joystick.
  • Powerful sounds, including some of the presets.
  • Good filter options: 24 dB/octave low pass, 6 and 12 dB band-pass, and 12 dB high-pass.
  • Keyboard tracking completely variable.
  • Separate LFO for modulation from joystick.
  • Split point totally variable. Layering also available.
  • Digital ring modulator and polyphonic glide.
  • Stereo outputs.
  • Originally came out without MIDI, but then retro-fits were made available, and later models included MIDI.
  • Sequencer one of the best on any synth before 1985 - four monophonic lines which can be of varying lengths. Facilities included step time or real time recording with looping, quantising, editing, tape sync, transposition.
  • Cross-modulation between oscillators.
  • Joystick in rather odd position - top left above keyboard.
  • No touch sensitivity (but then neither had the Prophet 5 nor the OBXa/OB8).
  • Had it been built by a more prestigious manufacturer (and released at a more sensible price), it could have been a rival for the DX7 - and prevented analogue from being so swept away by digital.
  • Elka made one last Synthex for Stevie Wonder after the production run ended.
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 6)



Previous Article in this issue

Warped Vision

Next article in this issue

Touching Bass


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

 

Music Technology - Dec 1993

Donated by: Chris Moore

Topic:

Vintage Instruments


Series:

The A-Z of Analogue

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


Feature by Peter Forrest

Previous article in this issue:

> Warped Vision

Next article in this issue:

> Touching Bass


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