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80sgear 15/11/2001 2:16 PM Page 80


> The 80s had it all: dodgy fashions, dodgy haircuts and dodgy tunes. But it also had the technological
breakthroughs that shape what we play and hear today. Jonathan Miller turns back the clock…
S FAR AS history is con- floodgates for the wave of early 80s wannabes took their first tentative steps

A cerned, the 80s are for-

ever destined to remain
a time of style over con-
tent; dodgy fashions,
dodgy haircuts and dodgy tunes were
synth-based acts to follow. As Numan
himself observed: “Synths provided an
opportunity for people without any
great musical training or ability to make
pop music. You could rent them cheaply,
out of the bedroom, getting hits in the
charts and on global dancefloors.
The technology moved on in leaps
and bounds throughout the 80s, making
it arguably the most important decade
the order of the decade. record them in little studios and they in our musical history. MIDI, sampling,
But it was also a time when music would sound incredibly powerful.” multitimbrality, polyphony… all this
technology gear became affordable and Manufacturers soon sat up and took technology evolved and became acces-
the masses started making music. A note, producing relatively low-cost sible and affordable to everyone. Heck, it
whole new ream of talent that might products that self-confessed non-musi- got so popular that people even started
otherwise not have seen the light of cians could create music with. It seemed magazines about the stuff!
day, started taking over the charts… By that German electronic trailblazers And even in 2001 the synths and
chalking up two Number 1 singles (Are Kraftwerk’s vision had been realised, (all sounds from the 80s live on as software

Friends Electric and Cars) and two Num- the more so when, seemingly out of the reproduction or analogue-modelling
ber 1 albums (Replicas and The Pleasure blue, The Model, taken from 1978’s The synths and used by bands such as Meta-
Principal) in a three-month period of Man Machine, topped the UK singles matics and Ladytron (interviewed on
1979, synth pop pioneer Gary Numan chart in December 1981). Numan. Kickstarter. p102 to p107). So sit back as we pay

unwittingly became the UK’s fastest ris- Music technology became the great homage to a decade that shaped what
ing star since The Beatles, opening the liberator as scores of Kraftwerk we play and listen to today…

TIMELINE >> 1980: Linn Electronics LM-1 released >> 1981: E-mu Emulator released >> 1981: Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer

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As the 70s – in which punk had slain the
pompous prog rock dinosaur – drew to a
close and new wave quietly ushered in
what was to become the high-flying
80s, all was initially quiet on the gear

front. Sequential Circuits Inc. (SCI) had
cleaned up at the high-end synth game
with the Prophet, which was the first 80s TOP 10 SYNTHS
genuinely programmable analogue poly- 1 Korg M1 (1988): the
synth, back in 1978. archetypal workstation
Then in 1980, synth pioneers Moog The Human League dared to use synths whose 250,000 sales say

it all: it’s still the biggest-

wisely opted to launch their first low-
selling synth of all-time.
cost (£295) analogue monosynth, the drummers reputedly developed physical 2 Roland D-50 (1987): a
Prodigy. It would soon become their problems in their hands and elbows, close second to the M1 due
best-selling product after the infamous though this was alleviated on later, digi- to its 200,000 sales, this set
the S+S standard. Roland’s Jupiter 8 is just superb!
(but considerably more expensive) Mini- tal models prior to the company going

3 Yamaha DX7 (1983): this
Moog that had served Gary Numan so belly up in 1989. (Soft Cell ‘synthesist’ 160,000-unit-shifting FM
well. Fledgling Depeche Mode (known Dave Ball smacked a couple with his wonder changed the music blues debut Only You and its 1982 long-
then as Composition Of Sound) bassist hand while performing Tainted Love on world, stopping subtractive playing follow-up Upstairs At Erics. While
(analogue) synthesis dead
Andy Fletcher happily shelled out for TOTP back in 1981.) perhaps not as well known as the Mini-
in its tracks.
one, and within a year his Prodigy had Elsewhere, NED updated their mon- 4 Korg Poly 800 (1984): a Moog, it has seen a resurge in recent
led him and his Essex cohorts straight to strous – in size, facilities and price – budget digital/analogue interest in the shape of the Mac and PC
the stage of Top Of The Pops. Synclavier music computer system to hybrid, this eight-voice pro- software Wine Country Sequential Pro-
grammable MIDI polysynth
In Japan, Roland Corporation coun- Synclavier II status. The new update One Survival Kit, a sure sign of its
shifted 100,000 units!
tered with the £299 single-VCO (plus included digital recording, external disk- 5 Roland MT-32 (1987): enduring popularity.
sub-oscillator) SH-09, together with a based sound storage and FM (Frequency 100,000 people rushed out Moog meanwhile, opted for a more
matching pair of compatible CV/Gate Modulation) synthesis, later utilised and and bought this early multi- radical and pricy (£899) route, replacing
timbral MIDI module, a sure
sequencers, the CSQ-100 and CSQ-600; marketed to better effect by Yamaha, as their ageing MiniMoog with The Source,
sign that computer-based
the former being a basic two-channel we shall see. Way ahead of its time, the music-making had arrived a programmable analogue monosynth
affair with a capacity of just 84 notes continually evolving Synclavier would with a vengeance. with digital parameter access control.
per channel! eventually find a very expensive home 6 Casio CZ-101 (1985): (The now flush Andy Fletcher bought
70,000 amateurs and pros
Back in the States, guitarist Roger in the studios of rock and pop’s elite one, with Mute Records founder and
dined on the digital delights
Linn was about to start a musical riot of including Sting and George Michael. of this cost-effective com- Depeche mentor Daniel Miller reputedly
his own with Linn Electronics’ LM1, the pact and bijou baby. once restoring lost tour patches while
first drum machine with sampled 7 E-mu Proteus: 50,000 on the loo!)
sounds. Unsurprisingly, this came at a
price ($5,000 originally), but the 500
takers attracted to its unprecedented
This was the year those UK synth pop
musos bought into E-mu’s
tweakable sample-based
synth module concept.
8 Ensoniq ESQ1 (1986):
In 1981, our cousins across the pond
– that’s America – were again in ground-
breaking mood as small-town, garage-
eight-bit, 28kHz sounds (all 18 of them) floodgates finally burst open. Out this forerunner of the based synth manufacturers E-mu
modern-day workstation
read like a Who’s Who of popular music poured Ultravox, Duran Duran, Human unleashed their legendary eight-voice,
also had 50,000 takers.
of the time. Producer Martin Rushent League, Depeche Mode and Soft Cell. 9 Kawai K1 (1988): a eight-bit, 21kHz Emulator sampler for a
used one on Human League’s multi-mil- Revolutionary releases on the gear front 50,000-selling full-size key- ‘mere’ $7,995. E-mu’s engineers first
lion-selling synth-driven Dare in 1981 were equally competitive with German board-endowed digital tested the instrument’s looping function
alternative to the diminu-
and Prince remained a big fan, giving the synth specialists Palm Productions by sampling the sound of someone pee-
tive CZ-101.
LM1 a funky workout on 1999 in 1982. GmbH (PPG) upping the ante with their 10 Roland SH-101 (1982): ing in a nearby toilet! Again, many of
1980 was also the year that Brit eight-voice, wavetable-based Wave 2 this striking ‘strap-on’, sin- the day’s stars were eager to jump onto
Dave Simmons launched those bizarre – digital/analogue hybrid. The catchy bell- gle-VCO (plus sub-oscilla- this novel sampling bandwagon: Stevie
tor), sequencer-endowed
some might say ‘cool’ – hexagonal- like motif and unusual middle-eight Wonder, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream,
posing machine remains the
shaped electronic drum pads as part of tones of Depeche Mode’s catchy See best-selling monosynth Kraftwerk, OMD and Depeche Mode, to
Simmons’ SDS5 analogue electronic You (1982) represented this polysynth’s ever (45,000+ sales). name a few.
drumkit. Due to their harsh nature, some initiation to the UK singles chart. Back in Japan, Roland had their eye
Roland led Japan into the polysynth on seriously addressing matters of a dif-
fray (albeit expensively) with their awe- ferent electronic nature: sequencing.
some 16-VCO, eight-voice, programma- Basic eight-step analogue sequencers
ble analogue, flagship, the Jupiter 8 from Moog and ARP had already been
which cost a hefty £3,999. The Jupiter around for some time, but by 1981,
was replete with nifty arpeggiator, as more bands were writing songs based
used by Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes on on multiple, short sequenced phrases.
1982’s Save A Prayer. Their machine of choice was Roland’s
By comparison, SCI appeared to 1981 MC-4 MicroComposer, an 11,500-
backtrack with their £470 Pro-One, note, four-channel step sequencer capa-
arguably the last ‘classic’ American ana- ble of simultaneously triggering four
The Moog Prodigy formed band names logue monosynth, used extensively by CV/Gate-endowed synths. Tiresome

Vince Clarke on Yazoo’s seminal synth program data was saved to cassette

released >> 1982: Fairlight CMI Series II launched >> 1982: SCI Prophet 600 released >> 1983: Yamaha DX7 released >>

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> tape! This was a revelation at the 808’). When partnered with its similarly
Depeche Mode. Christ,

time, especially to the likes of Human styled, similarly priced (£290) TB-303 they’re still going too!
League, John Foxx and Vince Clarke. BassLine sibling, the TR-606 represented
What’s more, the MC-4’s proprietary many a budding bedroom-based
Sync 24 interface (a five-pin DIN affair musician’s introduction to the joys of
looking remarkably like a MIDI socket) synchronised sequencing. The latter, of
was also included on Roland’s TR-808 course, went on to become the defini-
Rhythm Composer, which was released tive acid ‘silver dream machine’ and
in the same year. This was a popular induced a wave of TB-emulators like
microprocessor-controlled, analogue Novation’s BassStation as part of the
drum machine with accents and individ- early 90s analogue revival.
ual outputs, and it appeared on Marvin SCI began raining on Linn’s digital
Gaye’s 1982 Grammy award-winning drum machine parade with their Drum-
classic, Sexual Healing. The TR-808 later Traks featuring 13 sounds burned on to
became the techno beatbox of choice, 8K EPROM (Erasable Programmable
later resurfacing in software as part of Read Only Memory) chips. These
Steinberg/Propellerhead’s groundbreak- included cymbals which had been
ing ReBirth, ironically something of a missing on Linn’s LM1 due to the high
classic itself now. cost of incorporating longer sampled
sounds. Linn responded with the $2,995
LinnDrum, also EPROM-based, which

1982 was used by anyone who was anyone in

the early 80s and beyond, from Stevie
Wonder’s I Just Called To Say I Loved You

to Wham’s equally smoochy Last
Christmas. Classics!
In 1982, Roland continued their 80s TO P 10
quest to bring electronic musical ACTS WH O NE VE R
instruments to the masses with their WE NT AWAY
six-voice Juno 6, the first sub-£1,000 The universal Musical Instrument
1 Depeche Mode
analogue polysynth. This had digitally- 2 ABC
Digital Interface, better known as MIDI,
controlled oscillators (DCOs) making 3 Soft Cell soon put a stop to such proprietary
for a more stable performance, tuning- 4 Duran Duran interfacing shenanigans in 1982,
wise. Alas, it had no memories; a short- 5 Human League although back then, little did we know
6 Pet Shop Boys
coming that Korg exploited with their 7 Kylie
how much MIDI would come to rule
similarly specified, 32-patch PolySix 8 Sting our lives. SCI’s ‘budget’ ($1,195), pro-
(£899) that same year. Moog had one 9 Erasure grammable, analogue polysynth, the
last crack of the programmable poly- 10 George Michael Prophet 600, was the first instrument

synth whip with the monstrous 18- to sport those now familiar five-pin
VCO, six-voice MemoryMoog (£3,676), DINs at the tail end of 1982.
Soft Cell in 1981. Little did they

know they’d be back in 2001 which proved to be their swansong

(they went bust in 1984).
1982 was another year of technological
extremes, from Australia’s six-figure
Fairlight CMI Series II, a multitimbral,
In light of synth pop’s ongoing domi-
nation of the charts, manufacturers
turned their attention to ways of
Next to MIDI up was Roland’s £1,075,
16kHz ‘super sampler’ (put to cutting- sync’ing gear together. Roland came up six-voice JX-3P, a radical polysynth
edge use by established, forward- with the Digital Communications Bus for the time by virtue of its knobless
thinking artists like Kate Bush, Thomas (DCB) protocol, a cumbersome multi- control panel that proved to be the
Dolby and Peter Gabriel, who used the pin affair implemented on their new template for Roland’s JX-8P (1985) and
Fairlight ‘shakuhachi’ sample on 1986’s JSQ-60 and MSQ-700 digital Super JX-10 (1986) polysynths,
Sledgehammer) to Roland’s TR-606 sequencers. This was designed to drive although the optional PG-200 program-
‘Computer Controlled’ analogue drum the simultaneously launched, DCB- mer showed they weren’t quite ready to
machine (also known as ‘the poor man’s endowed Juno 60 and Jupiter 8A pro- ditch the usual knobs and sliders… yet.
grammable polysynths. Not all Roland’s latest toys featured
Meanwhile PPG came up with the MIDI though. 1983’s MC-202 Micro-
The TB-303 is still

used a bit today

Computer Music System based around Composer, a £250 two-channel
the updated Wave 2.2 polysynth and 8U sequencer owing much to the earlier
rackmountable Waveterm offering
eight-bit sampling, DIY wavetable cre-
ation and more extensive sequencing
capabilities. And Oberheim had The
Oberheim System, comprising the DMX
digital drum machine, DSX digital
sequencer and the upmarket OBXa
programmable analogue polysynth, “the
best analogue synth of them all,” Only Eno could use the DX7

according to Gary Numan.

TIMELINE >> 1984: SCI Six-Trak released >> 1984: Apple Macintosh launched >> 1984: Linn Electronics Linn 9000 released

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MC-4, had the added bonus of a built-in (a kind of mod-

monosynth styled on 1982’s sling-on ern modular
SH-101. However, it stuck with the reworking of their
CV/Gate and Sync 24 socketry for hook- Jupiter 8 flagship). After all, why the
ing up a TR-808, TR-606, TB-303 and need for numerous keyboards when one
SH-101. To cover all bases, Roland also MIDI keyboard controller could play sev-
developed the OP-8M CV-to-DCB/MIDI eral modules? Here too, Roland were

interface for their MC-4 sequencer. Talk quick off the mark with their £1,665
about not letting dead dogs lie! ‘piano-action’ MKB-1000.
It seemed E-mu initially weren’t Linn likewise continued to innovate

convinced either. While their 12-sound, with their high-end ($5,000) Linn 9000,
The TX816
TX816 effectively
effectively contained
eight-voice Drumulator’s magical sub- the 1 Ensoniq Mirage (1985): fusing a velocity-sensitive sampling
the guts
guts of
of eight
eight DX7s
$1,000 price widened the digital drum with 30,000 sales, the drum machine to a 32-track MIDI
marketplace (Howard Jones used one biggest-selling sampler of sequencer. In the face of a notoriously
the 80s (and possibly of
throughout his debut album Human’s in high-end studios and on plenty of fickle operating system, Tears For Fears’
all time).
Lib), MIDI was nowhere to be seen. hit records. 2 Akai S1000 (1988): Roland Orzabal was quick on the uptake.
Instead, in an unsuspecting nod to the Yamaha also addressed the low-end 22,000 stereo units sold Oberheim’s contribution was the
future, E-mu’s ‘cheapie’ could be hooked market, as evidenced by their £549 between ’88 and ’93… need Prommer, a limited eight-bit MIDI sam-
we say more?
up to an Apple II computer for more CX5M Music Computer, comprising FM pling device capable of burning EPROM
3 Akai S900 (1986): the
visual programming. sounds, multitimbral sequencing and S1000’s mono forefather chips for use in the company’s now
On the other hand, Japanese giants sound editing add-ons. Unfortunately still managed to shift a MIDI-compatible DMX drum machine.
Yamaha, turned the synth market on its for Yamaha, the CSX computer platform respectable 15,000 units. They were also compatible with the rival
4 Akai S950 (1988): a
head with the unprecedented DX7 (a on which it was based failed. Any chance Linn 9000, LinnDrum and DrumTraks.
cheaper (£1,349) S900
16-voice digital polysynth with MIDI). the CX5M might have had at bringing replacement of sorts, By the mid 80s, electronic trailblazers
Clearly the sparkling sounds of FM syn- computer-based music to the masses although the stereo S1000 Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk’s
thesis – particularly its realistic electric was consequently sunk. was still a more attractive prophetic prediction of the synth’s
option for many.
piano, string and bass (by 1983 standards) Speaking of computers, honorary future dominance had clearly come to
5 E-mu Emulator II (1984):
– were a hit with the masses (it sold mention must go to the Apple Mac, although the mid-price pass as popular music itself rapidly
160,000 units!) despite being a bugger which single-handedly revolutionised mono Emax should be in became synth-driven. Frankie Goes To
to program. Those 32 patches killed off the home computer market by virtue of here, its sales figures were Hollywood’s Two Tribes was created
neve made public, so the
the analogue synth market overnight its simple, icon-driven operating system almost entirely on a 1984-vintage PPG
Emulator II slips in here. It
[not permanently though – Ed], the slap following the infamous Orwellian was the first sample to Wave 2.3 polysynth and Waveterm B
bass patch alone making it on to legions advert. The ad, directed by Ridley Scott, break the four-figure sales 16-bit sampler/sequencer combination.
of hit records such as A-ha’s Take On Me. was shown only once, during the half- barrier with 3,000 sold. Anyone craving a taste of this distinc-
To say the £1,549 DX7 proved a time break of the SuperBowl final with tive PPG sound today could grab a copy
headache for rival manufacturers is the the unforgettable byline: “On January of Steinberg/Waldorf’s PPG 2.V VST
understatement of the decade! Most 24, Apple Computer will introduce instrument plug-in, capable of running
were stumped, some would even fall by Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 up to eight 64-voice instruments.
the wayside. Times were changing… fast. won’t be like 1984.”). Though not imme-
diate, the Mac’s impact on the music
market would be immense.

SCI had good intentions with their six-
E-mu joined the MIDI masses with
their 24-sound, 12-bit SP12 digital drum
machine (a hip hop classic in the mak-
voice Six-Trak, the first multitimbral ing) and 14-/15-bit Emulator II multi-
MIDI synth. Like E-mu, they even timbral sampler (£5,175), which was used
acknowledged the burgeoning home on Depeche Mode’s People Are People.
computer market by creating MIDI soft- Yet another percussive classic in the
ware and accessories for the Com- making arrived in the distinctive form
modore 64. Perhaps they were a little and sound of Roland’s TR-909, a
too early off the starting blocks, and the digital/analogue MIDI hybrid with
fact that the £850 Six-Trak was still sampled crash cymbals. In the all-

analogue – and basic at that – didn’t digital instrument arena this £1,000
help matters. unit was already a touch dated, and
Yamaha were likewise quick to spot was replaced by the all-digital, Pulse
80s TO P 10 ACTS
WH O SH OU LD HAVE Frankie used a PPG Wave

the merits of multitimbrality (at a Code Modulation (PCM) TR-707 2.3 on Two Tribes
price). 1984’s hefty, rackmountable within a year. Paradoxically, the STO PP ED YEARS AG O
TX816 effectively contained the guts of vagaries of 90s dance-orientated 1 Big Country
eight DX7s, each capable of storing 32 fashion resulted in the 909 spawning 2 Art Of Noise
patches and independently playing one
of those patches 16-voice polyphoni-
cally on its own MIDI channel. The cost?
a host of hardware imitators like
JoMox’s XBase 09 in 1997 and its
incorporation into ReBirth V2.0 (in
3 China Crisis
4 A-Ha
5 Sam Fox
1985 began with the surprise entry of
6 Lotus Eaters
£4,199! Also a DX7 was needed to pro- 1998) by popular demand. 7 Kim Wilde Japanese calculator specialists Casio
gram new patches and dump them to a In spite of this setback, Roland 8 T'Pau into the hi-tech music arena. For many,
TX816 module. Still, eight DX7s repre- was seminal in instigating an influx 9 Chris De Burgh their tiny, bargain basement CZ-101

10 Jean Michel Jarre
sented an awful lot of FM firepower and of rack synth modules, starting with digital polysynth seemed heaven
a surprising number of TX816s ended up 1984’s MKS-80 analogue polysynth sent, despite its dinky reduced-size

>> 1985: Casio CZ101 released >> 1985: Atari ST launched >> 1985: Ensoniq Mirage released >> 1986: Akai S900 released >>

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MC-500 and QX1 MIDI sequencers

offered independent polyphonic tracks
with unparalleled 100,000-note storage
synths (bar the
PPG Wave), the
VS’s waveforms were
capacity on floppy disk (3.5-inch on the not static. Its vectoring
former, 5.25- for the latter). To give an joystick allowed an unprece-
idea of the power of these monsters, dented degree of real-time control of
Tangerine Dream performed a 90- their harmonic content when program-
minute piece on their 1986 UK tour ming or performing. Electronics & Music
using three QX1s without once having 80s TOP 5 Maker magazine at the time concluded:
to change disks. In coming years, both DRUM MACHINES “Vector synthesis is a winner.” Too bad
Roland and Yamaha would release a 1 Roland TR-909 (1984): only 3,000 were sold.
gamut of MC- and QX sequencers… initially a commercial flop Meanwhile, flush from the success of
The Atari ST is still loved today

with disappointing sales,

when you’ve got a good thing going, the Mirage, with its onboard, 2,400-note
the 909 has since become
why change the winning formula? capacity, eight-track sequencer and res-

the most desirable drum
keyboard. At £395, this four-part Sensing a market shift, Korg launched machine ever, commanding onant analogue filters (sorely missed on
multitimbral ‘toy’ was a bargain. That an eight-voice digital/analogue hybrid silly money on the second- rival’s later efforts), Ensoniq’s ESQ1 fol-
hand market.
it employed PD (phase distortion) syn- polysynth, the £1,100 DW8000, featur- low-up almost constituted the first true
2 Linn Electronics LM1
thesis with sounds to almost rival the ing their new Digital Waveform Genera- (1980): the first digital workstation. Its sampled waveform-
DX7 guaranteed its success and over tor synthesis (DWGS) system to drum machine opened up endowed, eight-voice, multitimbral
70,000 units were sold. Even synth mae- ‘synthesize’ real-world waveforms like the world of sampled per- power proved big hit with the buying
cussion, though a $5,000
stro Vince Clarke used several in his piano, sax, violin, acoustic and electric public, but strangely the ESQ1 didn’t
price tag limited its appeal
early Erasure MIDI set-up. guitars, and organ alongside traditional to 500 of the world’s most seem to trouble any charts. However,
Other big news was the timely arrival subtractive (analogue) synthesis fare. rich and famous. Adamski created his 1990 smash Killer
of Atari’s ST computer, soon to become While MIDI-compatible, it wasn’t multi- 3 Roland TR-808 (1981): it using only its SQ80 successor and a
put step-time programming
central to most MIDI sequencing set- timbral; however, its onboard digital TR-909. But was it the way of the
on the musical map and its
ups. German software houses Steinberg effects were a world-first, albeit limited distinctive analogue tones future? Soon it would be…
and C-Lab (later Emagic) cottoned on to to simple digital delays. are still sought after today.
its built-in MIDI sockets with their 4 Linn Drum (1982): was
groundbreaking Pro-24 and Creator
packages. En masse computer-based 1986
responsible for thousands of
seminal digital drum-based
hits and it managed to sell
music making would soon arrive in 10 times the amount of its 1987 should have been christened
earnest, and with it, the modern-day LM1 predecessor. ‘Roland’s year’. Their 16-voice digital
The Oberheim DXP1 was

5 E-mu SP1200 (1987):

composition process was changed for- the first sample player wonder, the D-50, was the biggest-sell-
was groundbreaking and its
ever. And the Atari is still great today… unique sampling features ing synth (so far) to feature what
We also have the computing industry later endeared it to the hip became known as sample-plus-synthesis
to thank for plunging sampling into the hop community. (S+S) technology (Linear Arithmetic or
hands of everyday mortals, courtesy of LA synthesis in Roland-speak) to pro-
Ensoniq’s $1,695 eight-bit, eight-voice duce more realistic sounds. While inex-
Mirage, replete with handy five-octave, plicably ignoring multitimbrality, Roland
velocity-sensitive keyboard, onboard had an ace up their sleeve. By including
polyphonic sequencer and standard onboard digital reverb, chorus and EQ

3.5-inch disk drive. Ensoniq, originally effects, the D-50 sounded amazing,
founded in 1982 by three ex- without any expensive external treat-
Commodore executives, was later ments. Instantly recognisable, multi-
bought out by E-mu. 1986 was also dominated by sampling textured sounds like ‘fantasia’ and ‘digi-
For Japanese big guns Roland and breakthroughs. SCI’s belated attempt to tal native dance’ (almost a sequence in
Yamaha, hardware was still where it was get in on the action with their eight- itself) quickly entered into pop’s com-
at. Their identically priced (£1,999) voice, 12-bit, 44.1kHz Prophet 2000 mon currency. Longstanding top dog
keyboard (£1,999) was doomed for fail- Yamaha was finally knocked off its dom-
ure as Akai released the eight-voice, inating FM perch.
12-bit S900 sampler (£1,899), a winning In the first of many D-50 spin-offs,
combination of British design ingenuity
and Japanese manufacturing know-how,
which kickstarted an industry standard
in Europe that was to last years.
Roland implemented multitimbral-
ity on their bargain (£450) MT-32
The Roland D-50 sold gazillions

Not to be outdone, Oberheim’s

£1,579 DXP1 represented the first
‘sample player’, capable of reading
sounds originally recorded on the Emu-
lator II, Mirage, Prophet 2000 and S900,
but it didn’t really come close.
SCI actively pursued another sonic
avenue with the Prophet VS polysynth,
a revolutionary, £1,899, eight-voice,
digital design based on a new technique
known as vector synthesis, hence the
Vince Clarke took to the DX7

instrument’s name. Unlike all previous

TIMELINE >> 1986: SCI Prophet VS released >> 1986: Ensoniq ESQ1 launched >> 1987: Roland D-50 released >>

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Korg M1 was almost the

of Akai and

first workstation Roger Linn’s
alliance following the
1986 demise of Linn Electronics. While
popular with professionals, Akai’s hith-
erto unimaginable 16-voice, 16-bit,
32Mb S1000 easily stole the sampling
show. Not only was this exciting 3U
rackmount something to behold, the
beast was stereo too!
Hardly a company for resting on its
laurels, E-mu hit back with their stereo,
16-bit, 8Mb Emax II, a keyboard that did
reasonably well Stateside, despite lack-

two independently routable multi- ing in the memory department. No

effects processors, this was the next matter. E-mu had other plans…
generation DX7 and D-50 rolled into
Prince is a fan of drum machines

one; the winning design against which

all future workstations would be judged
> module. A blueprint for future Gen-
eral MIDI modules, despite only
being programmable via an Atari-based
editor, it was capable of spreading its 32
well into the next decade. Its factory-
produced, sample-based sounds graced
innumerable hits worldwide. London-
Beat’s I’ve Been Thinking About You got
At the time of Akai’s S1000 launch,
E-mu’s sample library was second to
none. A cunning plan was needed to get
D-50-esque voices over five parts while much mileage out of the M1’s distinc- that library out to the MIDI’d up masses
supplying a rhythm track of TR-626- tive chunky piano in 1991. at a price to die for. That plan swiftly
derived digital drum sounds and dows- Those unable to stretch to the 80s TO P 10: WH ER E materialised in 1989 in the slender form
ing all in a wash of reverb. Another hit? £1,499 M1 could always opt for AR E TH EY NO W? of the Proteus, a 32-voice digital synth
You bet! It sold over 100,000 units! Kawai’s 16-voice K1. Not quite a work- module, packed to the hilt with 4Mb of
1 Shakin’ Stevens
E-mu continued its sampling innova- station, it was more a half-price (£599) 2 Classix Nouveaux quality easily tweakable E-mu presets,
tions, releasing the competitively priced multitimbral D-50 of sorts, with 256 3 Kid Creole & The Coconu courtesy of the company’s flagship
SP1200 sampling drum machine, which digital waveforms. It had no onboard 4 Icicle Works Emulator III sampler and all for the
was essentially an SP12 with an integral effects, drums or sequencer, but you 5 Blancmange tidy sum of £629. Roland predictably
6 Tik & Tok
3.5-inch floppy disk and 10 seconds of couldn’t complain at that price! That 7 Jan Hammer followed suit with their comparable
sample memory. They also launched the said, Kawai brought effects and drums 8 Living In A Box U-110 Pulse Code Modulation (PCM)
mid-price (£2,100) Emax keyboard; this into the equation on 1989’s K1 II. 9 Europe sample-based module.
was a 12-bit sampler that was later The MPC60 MIDI Production Center, 10 Modern Romance And so, in this consistent blurring of
updated to incorporate additional, non- a full-featured sampling drum machine sampling and synthesis technologies,
real-time, additive synthesis facilities; a and MIDI sequencer, was the first fruit ended what is arguably the most excit-
mind-boggling technique already ing decade in music technology and
debuted (unsuccessfully) by Kawai with The Pet Shop Boys, of course
perhaps even pop music itself.

1987’s K5 polysynth. Tiring of these, bright shiny, similar

Unable to compete against this sounds, the 90s saw an analogue renais-
incoming tide of cheaper, mass-pro- sance with the four-on-the-floor-
duced Japanese and American instru- obsessed dancing youth actively seeking
ments, PPG’s brave epitaph was The out and abusing vintage synths that had
Realizer, which looked like a blue, table- originally enjoyed their heyday at the
top-sized games console. Had this out- turn of the previous decade. And when
rageously featured instrument made it their second-hand pricing became
into production (with an equally outra- inflated beyond belief, music technology
geous projected $65,000 price tag), the again stepped in to save the day with
music world could have marvelled at its virtual analogue synths, first in hard-
software-based emulation of other ware, then software. But that’s another
synths (including the MiniMoog and
DX7) in what would have been another
world-first. Alas it was not to be, and
PPG bit the dust (as did SCI in 1988).
story… and decade. Now, anyone fancy
a 90s special?! FM
If 1987 belonged to Roland, they
weren’t able to bask in their glory for

long, thanks to Korg, whose almost per-

fectly executed M1 workstation remains
the biggest-selling synth of all time.
With its 16 voices, eight-part multitim-
The D110 was a D-50 like multitimbral module

brality, onboard sequencer, drums and

TIMELINE >> 1987: Roland MT-32 >> 1988: Korg M1 launched >> 1988: Akai S1000 released >> 1989: E-mu Proteus released

86 FutureMusic