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Ensoniq Mirage


Article from International Musician & Recording World, April 1985

The big sampling surprise from Frankfurt gets the Curtis Schwartz seal of approval

The Mirage — seeing is believing

There are always a few surprise products that appear almost out of the blue every year; and this year the surprise award goes to a hitherto unknown company called Ensoniq. Based in the United States, Ensoniq have designed a product which they call the Mirage. This is essentially a digital sampling keyboard, featuring, amongst other things, a touch sensitive, split keyboard, with built in disk drive, and a price tag of under £2000.

For the curious amongst you, Mirage's design team are not as elusive as one might assume. It might surprise a lot of people to learn that the people behind the world's most popular micro computer, the Commodore 64, are the brains behind the Mirage. Bruce Crockett, ex-production manager of Commodore, Bob Yannis, the chip designer of the 64 and VIC20, and Al Sharpentor, the 64's SID chip designer, are all major factors in the Ensoniq enterprise.

The Mirage is a smart, yet unobtrusive looking sampling keyboard. The keyboard itself is of a conventional five octave, touch sensitive design, to the left of which one has equally conventional pitch and modulation wheels. Above the keyboard, one finds very little to indicate the hidden powers within this machine, as all that the panel consists of is a two-digit, yellow LED display, surrounded below and to its right by various keypads.

Bits and Bobs

The primary function of the Mirage is as a sampling device. Its maximum sampling rate is 33kHz and uses eight bit processing. This can be broken down into multi samples, progressively reducing the sampling rate down to 8kHz allowing an optimum sample time vs frequency response for different sounds, with a maximum of 16 multi-samples over the keyboard!

To briefly re-cap over the basics of sampling (for those of you who may have been in a coma for the past 18 months) it is basically the digital recording of a sound, recorded in such a way that it can then be played and modified from a keyboard. The sound to be sampled might be a violin, or it might equally be the sound of breaking glass (always a favourite). Then there are various ways in which the virgin sample can be warped and turned into something entirely different, and in the case of the Mirage, there are plenty of facilities with which to warp your samples.

Called 'Programs', there are up to four user-presets specifying Filter, Envelope, Modulation and Sample parameters per keyboard half. The Mirage's filter section consists of eight independent voltage controlled low pass filters (one for each voice), with programmable resonance, keyboard tracking, and automatic filter tuning. Each voice has two programmable envelopes (one for filter and one for amplitude), each of which has five parameters (attack, peak, decay, sustain and release).

Minimal controls hide its enormous potential

As I mentioned before, the keyboard is velocity sensing, and this function can not only be routed to a sound's amplitude and attack time, but also to a sound's release time, as it is also key release velocity sensing. There is keyboard scaling of the decay rate over the keyboard, and the sum of all these parameters is called a programme which, as I mentioned before, can be individually set up to four times per keyboard half (the split point is programmable too)!

The samples and programmes are then stored on the Mirage's built-in 3.5 inch Microfloppy disk drive (same as that used by Hewlett Packard, Data General and Apple), with each disk having 400Kbyte storage capacity. This is sufficient to store up to three full-keyboard sounds composed of 16 wavesamples per sound, four programmes per keyboard half per sound, up to 48 sampled sounds, 24 programmes (depending on sample size), and eight sequences of up to 333 notes each.

You are quite correct in noticing the inclusion of the word 'sequence', and the Mirage does just that. It can record in realtime a sequence of up to 333 notes in length. This is fully polyphonic; recording key, velocity, pitch bend, modulation and sustain pedal information, as well as any external MIDI data, with multitimbral overdubbing being possible (within the Mirage's eight voice capacity); and, furthermore, pitch bend and modulation during live accompaniment do not affect the sequence playback.

Although the capacity of only 333 notes is very small, this is adequate for repetitive lines and 'experiments', and for more note capacity, the Mirage has an expansion/cartridge connector for sequencer expansion up to 1333 notes or for future software updates.

A Digital Synth As Well...

Another majorfunction of the Mirage is that it can also function as a digital synthesizer, as it contains 16 independent digital oscillators (two per voice) and in combination with its analogue filters, the Mirage is quite capable of both the standard digital sounds as well as some analogue-ish sweeps etc. The digitally synthesized sounds can be used in conjunction with the sampled sounds, adding even more power to this instrument.

A quick look round the back of the Mirage will reveal various important connections, not least of which is its RS232 port. This is primarily designed as an interface for the Apple II, and with this little micro 'hook-up', hey presto, we've got wavetable displays, 256-sample page-by-page scrolling of displayed data, random access to any page in memory, display of value of sample and looping, showing splice point data values automatically.

Without the Apple, looping of the sampled voices can either be done automatically or manually. However, in the manual mode, the splice points can be much more accurately pin-pointed via the Apple's display and movement of the cursor. Further facilities that are available when interfaced with the Apple are both modification and creation of waveforms, inversions, reversal, graphics-based creation, access to wavetable data on Apple disks, and algorithmic merging of waveform sections! Furthermore, it will give you programming assistance, but I think that's enough technical outline for one review.

The End Result

Quite often with impressive spec, the end result is a disappointment. With the Mirage, the end result does justify the means — although the actual feel of the keys are rather too light and spongy for my liking. The sound quality, however, is quite superb for a machine of this price (maximum bandwidth is 14.5kHz), and would not shame an Emulator 1, or even a Waveterm (occasionally). The data storage system is convenient and relatively fast (taking a maximum of 10 seconds to load a new set of samples). Having the facility for such extensive multi-sampling and analogue control over the samples does provide the user with a very versatile, yet accessible means of sampling and I, for one, cannot wait until this product becomes available in the UK.

The actual date for its release to the public has yet to be announced, though a small trickle will appear on our shores at the end of April, and by June I wouldn't be surprised if everywhere you looked, you saw a Mirage.


For further information on the Ensoniq Mirage, contact Syco Systems, (Contact Details).

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Browse category: Sampler > Ensoniq

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Previous Article in this issue

The Boss Connection

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Steinberger GP-2 Six String

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Apr 1985

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Gear in this article:

Sampler > Ensoniq > Mirage

Gear Tags:

8-Bit Sampler

Review by Curtis Schwartz

Previous article in this issue:

> The Boss Connection

Next article in this issue:

> Steinberger GP-2 Six String

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