January 27, 2012

Secret Weapons...

by Chris Randall

Okay, I figure this subject is interesting enough to warrant its own post. In the previous topic, we discover that we generally agree that the following synths, which can be had for a song for the most part (or at least they could before this post, sorry...), are all worth space in your studio:

1. Ensoniq ESQ-1 / ESQ-M / SQ-80 I lump these together because they're all essentially the same thing; the SQ-80 has moar of everything the ESQ has. I just bought an ESQ-M for $100 last week, and this is right in line with what I've paid for the four I've owned. This one is kind of a no-brainer. I am personally baffled as to why these are not more desirable. DCOs with CEM filters and VCAs.

2. Yamaha TG-33 / SY-22 I've never used one of these, so I can't speak to them, but apparently people feel strongly about them. Enough to where I'm considering hunting one down. It is a vector synth like the Wavestation, Prophet VS, Microwave, et al, but unlike those, it combines that with a full FM synthesis engine. The reason, I think, that they don't command higher prices today is that there are no filters. At all. My research shows they go for about $150 to $200, with occasional $75 - $100 bargains.

EDIT: 3. Kawai XD-5 This is a drum synthesizer that creates sounds with DCO oscs similar to those found in the ESQ, DW8000, etc. It is a sophisticated drum synth that is capable of both normal (albeit somewhat dated) and rather strange percussion sounds. They go for $125 to $175. (Or did today, anyhow.)

EDIT: 4. Pearl Drum-X This is an all-analog drum synth with kick, snare, and three tom voices. It has patch memory for 8 kits, and five trigger inputs. (No MIDI.) It is easily modded. Not terribly common, but they go for $75 to $150.

EDIT: 5. Lexicon Vortex Typical Lexicon semi-preset effects box of the era; however, it has one interesting feature. You can attach an expression pedal (and thus a modular synth) and "morph" between two states of a given preset. There is also an internal envelope morphing function. This unit requires some patience, and is really shitty as a send effect because the mix parameter is soft, and part-and-parcel of many of the presets. However, used inline on a synth or guitar, very strange and wonderful things are possible. I've seen these anywhere from $50 to $200.

Since we've already discussed the first two (or five, depending on how you count) ad nauseam, and all seem to agree they're desirable, let's start the list with them, and I'll add to it as others come up that we all seem to agree on. The Ensoniq Fizmo can't really be on the list, as it is borderline rare, and commands a minimum of $350 to $450 when it comes up (and works.) The Yamaha FS1R is also quite expensive; I rarely see them going for under $750. We're looking for instruments and effects that can be had in the $50 to $200 range without looking too hard, that are innovative and unique enough to fit in the Secret Weapon category.

A side note: since I last mentioned it, we've updated Vapor and Rough Rider (free) to 32/64-bit. Adam is working on Dr. Device right now. We're about 2/3 of the way done, and most of the remainder are pretty simple. So we should be done with this 64-bit update and back to making new shit Real Soon Now.


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Jan.27.2012 @ 12:23 PM
Not all that unique, but I've got a Roland Alpha-Juno 2 that was given to me, and gets a lot of mileage. Seven-stage envelope is the strong suit I suppose. Maybe after touch too, if it works (press hard!). And even though mine was free, they can be had for under $200, usually.

Jan.27.2012 @ 12:27 PM
I had an SY-22 a long time ago. I used it to make noisy/"industrially"/metallic kinds of sounds. The lack of filters was a turn-off but it was capable of some interesting things. I think the Ensoniq stuff was far cooler (had a Mirage and EPS-M for many years and made killer sounds with those). Never owned one of the ESQ/SQ models but played with them a bunch and always thought they were excellent sounding synths.

I got lots of milage out of a Kawai K-1 programming the crap out of it; it was cool because many of the waves were single-cycle additive-based sounds from the K5. The K4 was also kind of interesting as they added filters and it could make some really noisy/farty/digital-meets-analog sounds.

Jan.27.2012 @ 12:28 PM
Alesis Wedge. $50 bucks, and surprisingly good sounding. It's not an eventide, but it will do in some cases.

My first synth was the TG33. To access the full FM is a pain, as you have to use a software editor. It's not bad, but I guess having owned it for a long time, I don't see it as all that desirable.

Jan.27.2012 @ 12:30 PM
Also add to that list the Kawai XD-5 drum module. A bit of a pain to use, but you could get some really weird and interesting sounds out of it if you were willing to put in the time. I kinda miss mine.

Jan.27.2012 @ 12:31 PM
Chris Randall
Ooh, that reminds me. I think everyone that has used one can agree we can add the Kawai XD-5 to the list, pending price research. What do these go for nowadays?

Edit: completed eBay auctions show $150-$179, so perfect for our list. Any disagreement on this one? Other than William, who will disagree because he thinks it is his secret weapon alone.

Edit 2: Heh. Noisetheorem simul-posted.


Jan.27.2012 @ 1:08 PM
DeltaLab Effectron II ADM1024s. Can be easily had for under $100. Awesome old school digital delay with chorus and flange if you want it. Also has a modulator which fucks up your sound even more. And when you push the input, it distorts in the best of ways. Has a control input on the back into which you can send CV, though I haven't patched my modular that way yet. I've got two.

Jan.27.2012 @ 1:10 PM
TX81Z, DX27/DX100 -- these are dirt cheap and have a unique sound. The TX81Z adds waveforms beyond the Sine, which means you can get it into the Usefully Ugly range very quickly. Last TX81Z I had was $50. I still have a DX27 that was $60, which means that it's a cheapish MIDI controller for less than an new Oxygen8. And it's old enough to be my Oxygen8's daddy, and the Oxygen8 stopped working over USB about a month after I bought it, even though all I ever did to it was put it on an A-Frame stand and diddled its knobs a few times.

I had an XD5 for quite a while, and it's the full on K4 architecture with a special drum sample ROM. Nasty-in-a-good-way digital lowpass filter, and you could get it to do some crazy sounds. Unfortunately front panel editing is pretty annoying and I've yet to meet a computer MIDI editor that was worth a fuck. Taylor Dupree was a big fan back in the day and some of the Taylor808 stuff was 90% XD5, but he had way more patience for the front panel than I did.

Of course everything the XD5 and Yamaha FM Synths can do can be duplicated in a computer these days, with a better UI, but I think some people like the sound of 20-year-old DtoA converters. If they want the ultimate in 90s-era audio, they should pick up a Mackie 1604 to run it through.

And by the way, a lot of the real classics of House and Techno was mixed on a 1604; in some cases, mixed down to cassette!

Jan.27.2012 @ 1:11 PM
If I could help William a bit here - I gotta disagree on the TG-33. I owned the SY-35 when it first came out, for about 5-6 years. Since it was my first programmable keyboard, I learned how to use the thing inside and out.

A Wavestation or VS it is not. 2OP FM is what you find in the likes of your old PC soundcard, or the Yamaha PSR/PSS series from that era. Combining it all together - yeah, kinda fun, but a lot of menu diving. Be prepared to dig out that old computer with SoundDiver if you want to get the most out of the 33.

If the FM+samples has anyone intrigued, I'd push more in the direction of an SY-77/TG-77 (too expensive to make the secret weapon list). Note that the LCD's on those typically need replacement, but you get the full DX 6-op synth engine, plus AWM2 samples. There was a converter long ago to make DX patches compatible with it - not sure if it's still around.

For more on the TG33: link [ow.ly] (not my site)

Jan.27.2012 @ 1:35 PM
The Yamaha RY-30 drum machine is a weird one. Basic sample based machine but with a world of synthesis options built in. I used to make whole alt-techno tracks on it before I even knew what the genre was. This was around 1992-93 I guess. You see them from time to time for about $100-200.

I still have an old Control Synthesis Deep Bass Nine. Originall devised as a 303 clone, it does one sound but it does it well. A really chunky bass sound like the beginning of St.Etienne's 'Like a Motorway' if anyone's familiar.

It's analog and can be found for about $50-$150. It's a 1U rack.

Jan.27.2012 @ 1:38 PM
The Kawai K1 with a patch randomizer can do pretty wild noises. Pure fun.

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