Hardware Synthesizers.This section is about synths I’ve bought, owned and repaired or just can’t afford to own. These are all hardware synths mainly made in Japan.
Currently and previously owned Synths and Samplers.
- Korg DSS1. 1980’s sampling synthesizer hybrid. It uses samples and drawing and harmonics as oscillator sources and the processiong and synth section is mainly analog. Its a massive polysynth from the 1980’s. Although not as well known as say the Roland Jupiter 8, in its own way it may be more powerful. It doesn’t have all the front panel switches and sliders of the Jupiter, instead its a menu driven beast which makes realtime adjustments difficult. I actually have two of these. A standard one and one that has had a recent modification kit designed by Tom Virostek which allows it to import wave files via USB, a faster CPU, much more memory than the original giving it in effect a brand new lease of life. See also Glen Stegner’s Korg DSS1 page
- Korg Trinity. The silver production workstation that took over from the Korg M1 and 01/W series. The sounds are great even now. Its a floppy disk based machine which has the option to add internal boards for virtual analog and sampling. I don’t use the on-board sequencer as all of my sequencing is done in software mainly Cubase.
- Korg Wavestation. This is probably my favourite digital synthesizer. It uses vector synthesis to blend sounds on the fly and it can add pieces of wave samples to make a chain or sequence. Perfect for dark ambient music or cutting techno. I have the original keyboard version and also a rack mount AD version which adds audio inputs and vocoder emulation. I also have the software VST version.
- Yamaha SY22. This is also a vector synth however the approach is much different. It uses FM and AWM sound sources. I find it very good for string sounds.
- Yamah V50. This was Yamaha’s next generation FM workstation. Following in the footsteps of the DX7 and its brothers and sisters in the DX range the V50 boasted multibral capability in an elegant smaller lighter but tough casing. It is capable of most of the FM sounds. It has onboard drum sounds using AWM and also boasts a sequencer. Since the FM sound source is only 4 operator rather than 6 in the DX7 it is not a total replacement for the DX7. However the operators in the V50 are capable of producing different types of sound waves rather than just the sine wave of the DX range. This makes it a more powerful beast in my mind. It has on board effects which are usable, although the reverb has to be tamed a little at times. I consider it more of an evolution of FM.
- Akai CD3000XL. I went through the whole range of Akai samplers from the S1000, S1100 S3000xl and CD3000XL. I sold all the others but the CD3000XL. The reason I kept this is because it can read wave files if you burn them to a CD first. This makes it a much more usuable machine in my mind. However maxed out with 32Mb ram and using MESA the PC control software it still has its uses. The LCD display is prone to fading over time. There is not much choice to replace it for something modern, so the EL foil backlight has to be replaced. Its not an expensive part to find and replacement is n ot that tricky but does require a little care and soldering skills.
- Akai S5000. The Akai S5000 and S6000 natively read wave files making transfer from a PC very easy. My personal workflow is to build up sounds and instruments one the PC using Kontakt and transfer them to the Akai S5000 when a live performance is required. Its possible but rare and costly to replace the floppy disk drive with a SCSI SD card reader meaning that all sounds can be transferred using an SD memory card. Since I live in Japan the old MO (Magneto Optical) drives and media are plentiful, cheap and reliable I use a usb MO drive to write the disk on my PC. I have fitted a SCSI MO drive to the S5000 so all I need to do is insert the MO disk into the drive on the S5000 and I am all set. The operating system on the S5000 is a complete rewrite and the large and bright display makes it easy to work on directly. A great piece of kit!
- EMU Proteus 1. This is a small lightweight 1u rack rompler. Its sound revolutionized sound modules. It was used in many tracks popular at the time. The sounds were onboard samples selected from the EMU Emulator library. Even today sounds pretty decent.
- Emu Proteus 2000. This is a natural progression from the series 1 modules. I started to use the free UMU proteus VX software which includes a software version of the composer ROM which was used in the Proteus 2000. More sounds more memory better filters. I like to have hardware for my sounds if they are to ever be played live in rehearsal of stage. Hardware sounds better. PC’s are still way to fragile and unreliable for stage work. Onboard soundchips or even plug in sound interfaces are very noisy. Wherever possible I wont have a sound on my PC that I cannot recreate in hardware. Thats why I have the samplers.
- EMU Vintage Keys. I bought this module because it has a good collection of 70’s keyboard sounds including the Mellotron. Its sound samples are too short as it was created at a time when memory was expensive. Engineers who prepared the samples for the ROM often could only use a few cycles of the sound and loop them. Therefore loop points that were not perfect would sometimes “click”. However a great collection to have. Moogs, Oberheim, ARP, Mellotron Clavinet, Wurli, Hammond, they are all there.
- Yamaha QY70. A little all in one pocket sized workstation using Yamaha’s AWM Rompler system. It sounds surprisongly good.
- Roland Sound Canvas SC-55. One of the earliest desktop sound modules. I think it was more aimed at gamers who wanted better sound in their games than the PC soundcards of the day could offer. However in the right hands it can be made to sound pretty good. It also suffered from small memory and therefore the samples dont sound great by today’s standards but some sounds are still very usable.
- Korg M3r module. A 1u rack unit in the M1 family. Severely chopped down but still capable of some of the famous M1 sounds. Organs, electric piano. all nice. Unfortunately the 3rd party sound developers didn’t go for this one.