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The A-Z of Analogue (Part 6)

This month, Elka Eminent to Everitt Orgatron.


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

E


Elka continued



EMINENT

Organ
Users include: J-M Jarre (even up to 1993's Chronologie)

STRING ENSEMBLE

Users include: J-M Jarre



EMS



British firm with its origins in Peter Zinovieff's '60s London electronic music studio. Produced the VCS3, the first portable voltage controlled synthesiser, pre-dating the Minimoog. In a mirror image of Moog's move from large modular to small portable, they then designed the Synthi 100 - a very large machine indeed. Other products followed at regular intervals, but apart from the (similar) Synthi A/AKS didn't repeat the success of the VCS3.

Despite financial crises and various takeovers (most recently by Life On Earth composer Edward Williams), the company is still going, manufacturing Soundbeam MIDI controllers, Vocoders, renovating and repairing EMS synthesisers - and even occasionally making VCS3s and Synthi As to special order. Contact: Robin Wood, (Contact Details)

COMPUTER SYNTHI

Massive computer-based modular synthesiser system. Developed 1976 - 77.
Projected price: £25,000

  • Designed to provide highly complex digital control of Synthi 100 modules.
  • Never available commercially.
  • Promoted at Frankfurt Music Fair in 1977 as the "ultimate gargantuan synthesising system" - "un sintetizzatore digrandi dimension".


DATASYNTH

Updated version of AKS with 49-note 'real' keyboard and microprocessor patching system. Developed 1980 - '81. Still advertised in February 1982.
Projected price: £3500 - £4000.

  • Only one prototype made, shown at Frankfurt Show 1981 (and possibly 1982 - though Robin Wood says not!).
  • Front panel looked as much like a board game as a synthesiser: the matrix board on the AKS was replaced with a matrix of push-switches - each with its own LED.
  • Two envelopes plus analogue delay line.
  • Actually worked (at least twice), but had a number of definite quirks.


POLYSYNTHI

Polyphonic 49-note pressure-sensitive synthesiser. 1979 - c.'81.
Original price: £800 then £990 then £1491.
Target price: £100 - £300

  • Only 50 or so ever made.
  • Colour-coded front panel - extremely bright primary colours. Lots of pretty red, yellow or green LEDs.
  • Whole keyboard tends to lurch when you press down for pressure-sensitivity.
  • Full polyphony, but only one filter.
  • VCOs, two VCLFOs, two ADSR envelopes, filter switchable to 12dB or 24dB.
  • White noise; external input; envelope follower.
  • Analogue chorus/danger/delay line - with time parameter under voltage control.
  • Optional polyphonic sequencer was claimed to provided ten minutes' worth of music, with transposition, editing, storage of VCF voltages, etc. Never appeared commercially, but it was up and running at the launch of the Polysynthi, and at the Frankfurt Show 1979. Possibly the first polyphonic sequencer ever.
Interface:
VFM:
Sounds:
Character:
Controls:
Collectability: ★★
Memories:
Ease of use:


PORTABELLA

See Synthi A

PUTNEY

See VCS3.

SYNTHI 100

Massive 2-keyboard, velocity sensitive, 64-note, 9-VCO, semi-modular synthesiser. January 1971 - 78 (updated in 1981).
Original price: £5500 - c.£12000.
Target price: £1500 - £3000
Users include: Radio Belgrade, Wolfgang Dauner, Daniel Miller, Melodia (Moscow record label), Bruno Spoerri, Karl-Heinz Stockhausen on Zodiac (CD 24) and Sirius (CD 26), University Of East Anglia electronic music studio.

  • Only around 30 were ever produced.
  • Too big to be portable - 2000mm x 950mm x 837mm - and correspondingly heavy.
  • Three LFOs, eight VCFs plus two stereo outs.
  • Horizontal control surface houses two massive patch matrices (3600 pin positions each), joysticks, and VCA sliders, pan, filters and mutes - plus a 'producer desk' section where you can put your score/notes/coffee.
  • Vertical surface houses the VCFs - four HPF, four LPF.
  • Three envelopes (not enough, actually, but as with other modular equipment, you can patch in more); three ring modulators; two voltage-controlled spring reverbs; 8-octave fixed filter bank; fully-fledged oscilloscope; digital frequency readout; eight input amps, four send and return amps, six sine/ramp VCOs, three square/triangle VCOs, three VCLFOs, eight VU meters, three slew limiters, two envelope followers, sample-and-hold, two noise generators, a pitch-to-voltage converter and the sequencer output controls.
  • Uses 0.5 volt/octave control (just to be awkward) - but you can set the gain pot on the inputs to half gain in order to interface with one volt/octave equipment.
  • Incredible versatility: rather like three or four totally interconnected VCS3s linked into a mixer and simple sequencer.
  • Revolutionary 6-channel 3-track digital sequencer with a maximum storage capacity of 256 events - nothing by today's standard, but at the time (well before the birth of the personal computer) it was unrivalled.
  • Originally bought only by large college music studios and a few high-profile composers.
  • Stockhausen's model cost 120,000DM c.1977 - a custom design with a big vocoder at its heart.
  • Updated in 1981, with Curtis VCOs, filters and EGs, and much more sequencer memory, but only one was sold - to a music college in Spain.
Interface: ★★★
VFM:
Sounds: ★★★★
Character: ★★★★★★
Controls: ★★★★★
Collectability: ★★★★★★
Memories:
Ease of use:


SYNTHI A

Re-packaged VCS3 in a suitcase. May 1971 - present.
Original price: £198
Target price: £300 - £600
Users include: Aphex Twin, Richard Burgess, Cabaret Voltaire, Steve Hillage/System 7, Richard Pinhas, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze.

  • A very neat and well-conceived re-design of the VCS3 housed in a black ABS briefcase.
  • Controls rather more cramped than VCS3, but otherwise identical.
  • Original prototype called Portabella - unique and collectable.
  • See VCS3 for more details.
Interface: ★★
VFM:
Sounds: ★★★
Character: ★★★★★
Controls: ★★★
Collectability: ★★★★★
Memories:
Ease of use:


Pack up your troubles with the EMS Synthi AKS

SYNTHI AKS

Synthi A with keyboard and sequencer built-in. March 1972 - present.
Original price: £420
Target price: £380 - £700
Users include: Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA, Depeche Mode, Brian Eno, Simon House/Hawkwind, Dave Hewson, J-M Jarre, Alan Parsons, Pink Floyd (Dark Side Of The Moon).
  • 30-note non-moving mini keyboard (blue keys rather than white).
  • 256-event digital sequencer fitted into other half of Synthi A briefcase.
  • If anything, more sought-after than the VCS3, mainly because of the sequencer.
  • Still on sale in late '80s, and available to special order today.
  • See VCS3 for more details.
Interface:
VFM:
Sounds: ★★★
Character: ★★★★★
Controls: ★★★★
Collectability: ★★★★★★
Memories:
Ease of use:


SYNTHI E

Battery-powered patchable synthesiser for educational use. February 1975 - 1980.
Original price: £250 - £486
Target price: £100 - £150

  • Housed in similar briefcase to Synthi A but not as neatly.
  • Mini-jack patch cords and sockets replaced the Synthi A's matrix board - mainly for cost reasons.
  • One VCO, one LFO, one VCF, one envelope generator, a VCA/ring modulator, audio input and envelope follower, 50 mini-jack sockets, 12 sliders, good range of in and out connectors including microphone in, noise, inverter, simple 2-channel output mixer and tone control.
  • Very basic design, but semi-modular construction still offers more control than conventional synthesisers. For example, low, band and high-pass outputs are available simultaneously from the VCF, whilst resonance can be voltage controlled.
  • Included small internal speaker.
  • Optional 18V mains adaptor.
  • Curious (cheap and nasty) non-moving keyboard with one section like a ribbon controller and (underneath it) another split up into stepped segments, but not in piano key arrangement - just 24 small rectangles. The advantage of this is that you're no longer encouraged to think in conventional octaves (no bad thing when it comes to EMS synthesisers).
  • Eventually (Feb 1977 onwards) an optional DKE keyboard became available for £180.
Interface: ★★
VFM:
Sounds:
Character:
Controls: ★★
Collectability:
Memories:
Ease of use:


SYNTHI P

Mark III version of the Synthi A c.1974.
Target price: c.£1000

  • Three EMS prototypes were made, and a fourth 'unofficial' machine is known to exist.
  • Original VCS3/Synthi A designer David Cockerell revamped the design with chip-heaters to improve oscillator stability, and replacement filters/envelopes, etc - plus extra control possibilities.
  • Different shaped case - more square at the top.
  • Very temperamental - eg, strange filter responses. Basically, the design wasn't followed through; problems were left unresolved - probably because it was too similar to the AKS to justify the expense of setting up a new production line.
  • One of the most collectable of EMS products.


SYNTHI QUEG

Quadraphonic effects generator, c.1975.

  • Four joysticks.
  • Designed by Tim Orr.


Pin tweaks: the legendary VCS3

VCS3

The world's first portable synthesiser. A classic patchable design. November 1969 - present.
Original price: £330 - £1900.
Target price: £400 - £700
E&MM retrospective: Aug '86.
Users include: BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Biting Tongues, Tim Blake, Ian Boddy, Dave Brock/Hawkwind, Arthur Brown, Richard Burgess, Cabaret Voltaire, Vince Clarke, Vic Emerson, Brian Eno, Chris Franke, Pascal Gabriel, The Grid, J-M Jarre (six of them), Eddie Jobson/UK, King Crimson, Francis Monkman, Patrick Moraz, Michael Nyman, The Orb, Poli Palmer/Family, Todd Rundgren ('Something, Anything'), Pete Townshend/The Who (organ processing on "Won't Get Fooled Again"), David Vorhaus (the first VSC3 ever made?) (An Electric Storm In Hell), Rick Wright/Pink Floyd (Dark Side Of The Moon)
  • Remarkably good value when it first appeared: as well as being the first portable synth, it was also the first 'affordable' machine.
  • Its most distinctive feature is the pin-matrix patchboard: a matrix of 16 x 16 sockets which serve the same function as patch leads on most modular synths. At first this can be mind-boggling, but does become intuitive in time. Nevertheless, you need to exercise care and have reasonable eyesight.
  • If, for example, you want to patch VCO1 and VCO2 into the ring modulator, you simply insert small pins into the matrix where the rows and columns intersect. Putting together a simple voice requires quite a number of pins, but the basic idea is the same and there's no problem with patch cords getting in the way.
  • As with the Minimoog, there are two purely audio VCOs, and one (frequency range .05Hz - 500Hz) which will work as an audio VCO in the mid and bass range, but is more usually used as an LFO.
  • VCO pitch controlled by highly accurate vernier pots, but the oscillators are so unstable that any attempt to keep them in tune is pretty much doomed to failure.
  • Awful as a melodic instrument but (almost) unsurpassed as a sound-effects generator.
  • Curious envelope generator terminology, but, thanks to voltage control, highly versatile.
  • Noise generator, ring modulator, in-built stereo speakers, and a spring reverb with wet/dry ratio voltage-controlled.
  • Distinctive L-shaped hardwood case.
  • First flowering of the joystick controller, nearly 20 years before the advent of vector synthesis.
  • VU meter switchable to read either a control voltage or signal level.
  • Mic and line inputs, stereo outputs with the advantage of voltage controlled panning.
  • 37-note DK1 keyboard came as optional extra. Priced at £150, it was velocity-sensitive with an internal sawtooth oscillator. Later followed (c.1972) by the DK0 (a cheaper version without the oscillator), and then (c.1973) by the DK2, which was similar to the DK1 but duophonic.
  • Early versions had slightly different pin-matrix configuration - meter output was in first column, and there were no white lines separating sections. These machines were unable to power the KS sequencer. Mark II versions (and the Synthi A) were designed (from March 1972) to overcome this problem, and also had slightly improved oscillator stability.
  • Prestopatch socket (32-way edge connector) could provide instant patching set-ups - by inserting various configurations of a multi-pin plug - but you still had to set the knobs by hand.
  • Originally, EMS planned to make up Prestopatches to customers' specification, but this proved very labour-intensive (and there was little demand), so they just produced three standard settings - 'Keyboard', 'Guitar', and (of course) 'Battle'.
  • Some batches of VCS3s (and Synthi A/AKS) didn't have the Prestopatch facility and EMS eventually stopped providing them altogether. The socket was then referred to as a 'computer interface' - which one or two people actually got working.
  • The matrix and the pins are susceptible to dirt, wear and damage, and are now very expensive for EMS to buy. Consequently, they may ultimately come to be seen as the machines' Achilles heel.
  • Not easily interfaceable with other manufacturers' equipment The (approx) 0.3 volts/octave spec is no big problem, but there are no readily-available gate input sockets. Modifications (by EMS) are necessary before using a MIDI/CV box.
  • A range of other modifications are also available from EMS, such as oscillator sync and stabilisation, voltage control of waveforms, extended attack times - and so on.
  • The VCS3 was originally called the Putney (still is in USA, where they and the Synthi A/AKS are highly sought after) and the DK1 keyboard was known as the Cricklewood. The initials VCS3, incidentally, stood for Voltage Controlled Studio Mark Three.
Interface: ★★
VFM:
Sounds: ★★★★★
Character: ★★★★★★
Controls: ★★★★★
Collectability: ★★★★★★
Memories:
Ease of use:


VCS4

Two prototypes were made:
Version A: 1971 design built by guitar-maker Kif Wood (Robin Wood's brother). A mustard-coloured box containing a VCS3 with a moving keyboard attached. Built as a prototype when EMS were looking for a compact, portable version of the VCS3. The competing design (Synthi A) not surprisingly won.

Version B: c.1971 design by David Cockerell for Peter Zinovieff - two VCS3s side-by-side above an organ-style 5-octave keyboard with knobs and sliders.



E-mu



Still one of the most successful synthesiser manufacturers in the world, with their high-quality samplers and well-regarded Proteus, Morpheus and Vintage Keys modules, E-mu's history goes back through the first relatively affordable sampler, the Emulator, and their digitally-scanned polyphonic keyboard, to one of the most sophisticated and well-made modular systems ever manufactured.

Original founders and designers were Dave Rossum and Scott Wedge. E-mu also had a part in the design of the SSM chips used in early Prophet 5s.

25

Monophonic synthesiser, c.1971. Only two machines ever made.

  • Basic Minimoog-style synthesiser.
  • Scott Wedge joined in time to make the second machine.


The E-mu Modular: banks for the memory

MODULAR

Fully-fledged modular synthesiser, assembled to order. 1972 - '81.
Original price: $1500 (for basic system).
Target price: £2000 - £8000.
Users include: Vince Clarke, Darryl Dragon/John Kay band, Patrick Gleeson (Beyond The Sun featuring a 96-oscillator set-up), Herbie Hancock, Roger Linn, Hideki Matsutahe, John McLaughlin, Lenny Pickett/Tower Of Power, Leon Russell, Frank Zappa, Hans Zimmer.
  • All the usual complement of modules, including lag processors, transient generators, analogue sequencers, reverb units and envelope followers.
  • Excellent construction - solid aluminium panels, high quality knobs and switches.
  • Buyer could make own choice of modules, so each one had to be hand-assembled to order.
  • About 100 systems were made in all.
  • Keyboard started out as a digitally-scanned monophonic unit - the first ever. This was then made polyphonic (and licensed to Oberheim for the 4-voice and 8-voice). Next came the 4060 polyphonic microprocessor-controlled keyboard, with a 16-channel sequencer. This was the catalyst for the development of the Prophet 5 and all subsequent polyphonic synths.
  • From 1973 onwards, E-mu designed and worked on a guitar synth for John McLaughlin. He used it on tour from 1975, but it proved unwieldy and unreliable. Tuning (on six separate voice boards) took ten minutes, and patching longer still.
Interface: ★★
VFM:
Sounds: ★★★★
Character: ★★★★★
Controls: ★★★★★
Collectability: ★★★★★★
Memories:
Ease of use:


AUDITY

5-octave, 61-note synthesiser. The ultimate analogue synth? 1978 - '79.
Projected price: $70,000

  • Peter Baumann commissioned a massive 16-voice computer-controlled synth from E-mu, with each voice having two analogue oscillators, several filters, VCAs, LFOs and transient generators - all digitally controllable. E-mu then decided to take the idea and develop the Audity.
  • A fully functioning prototype was built with funds provided by royalties from SCI (for the Prophet 5 keyboard); but just as the Audity was about to be shown at the 1980 AES show, SCI pulled the plug on the royalties and the project was shelved. (E-mu saw the Fairlight for the first time at that show, and set about designing the Emulator - undoubtedly a far better move commercially!)
  • Sharply sloping rear panel, with computer control systems on left, and synthesiser controls on right - 45 knobs plus numerous push-buttons and sliders.




ETI



Electronics Today International, an electronic constructors' magazine, published several projects, including the predecessors of the Transcendent 2000 and Polysynth, 1024 Composer, and Vocoder.

4600

4-VCO, 48-note (F-E) monosynth with pin-matrix patching. c.1970s.
Original price: Unknown
Target price: £100 - £300

  • Circuitry later used by Maplin 3800 and 5600 synthesisers.
  • Temperamental, but with its oscillator power and EMS-style pin matrix, full of possibilities.
  • Two full ADSRs with extra delay control, and a transient generator - start level, delay 1, slope 1, hold level, hold delay, slope 2, and final level controls.
  • Sine, triangle, sawtooth, inverted sawtooth and square waves available on all oscillators, with pulse width modulation.
  • Good mixing facilities.
Interface: ★★
VFM:
Sounds: ★★
Character: ★★★
Controls: ★★★★★
Collectability: ★★★
Memories:
Ease of use:


ORGATRON

Electric version of reed organ.

  • Produced in late '30s, then further developed by Wurlitzer.


to be continued...


Series

Read the next part in this series:
The A-Z of Analogue (Part 7)



Previous Article in this issue

Competition

Next article in this issue

Games Without Frontiers


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

 

Music Technology - Jan 1994

Donated by: Ian Sanderson

Topic:

Vintage Instruments


Series:

The A-Z of Analogue

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


Feature by Peter Forrest

Previous article in this issue:

> Competition

Next article in this issue:

> Games Without Frontiers


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