Australian Musician

Synthesizer Technology

Where it's at Worldwide, June 1998

Andrián Pertout presents an up to the minute report on the latest in synthesizer technology from around the globe.


Ian Bush (Product Manager, Australis Music Group)

Akai’s Electronic Music Instrument division has come a long way since its 1984 inception, and their introduction of the S-series samplers in the mid 80s.  ”The S3200 has been developed from Akai’s S1000, S1100 samplers, and took place in the UK,” says Bush, “And it represents the current range of Akai samplers.  The XL-series is a further refinement of the S3200, using SIMMs memory and an improved effects sections.  And the CD3000XL combines all the functions of the XLs with a built-in quad-speed CD-ROM drive.”

"The S3200 is a 32-voice, 32-megabyte stereo sampler,” he explains.  “It features in-built oscillators and effects, and can be used as a sampler and as a great synth.  It has stereo hard disk recording and SMPTE in/out, and also features resonant filters which can be controlled by virtually any control source.  Akai call this APM and is similar to using patch cords in the old analogue synths like Moogs."

Bush points out that Akai have no official advocators, although its popular range of products has many users throughout the world.  “Akai has no endorsers as such, but I can tell you of people who I know use Akai,” he says.  “Some of the bands include Prodigy, Regurgitator, Midnight Oil, INXS and Vertigo.  And there are probably hundreds more, because the S-series range of samplers is an industry standard.  For example, the S2000 is probably the best selling sampler world-wide.  In Australia we have sold over 500 units of this one model alone."

Ian Bush, Product Manager, Australis Music Group (Akai Distributor).  PO Box 601, Alexandria, NSW 2015, Australia.  Tel: (61 2) 9698 4444, Fax: (61 2) 9698 4545.  Email: The Australis Music Group Home Page and the Akai Electronic Musical Instruments Web Site.

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Dug Browne (High Tech Products Manager, The Electric Factory)

”The QS7 is one of the second generation of synths from Alesis following on from the Quadrasynth and S4,” says Browne, “And the synthesis design team has made some real strides in the last couple of years with the creation of a new generation of ASIC chips.  Marcus Ryle (the head of the software development, and creator of the code for the legendary Oberheim Xpander) has been able to add a huge range of new functions into the QS-series.”

Browne then outlines some of its design features.  "The QS7’s new synthesis engine allows multi-timbral splits and layers of up 16 parts across its 76-note keyboard, and this feature in conjunction with its 64-note polyphony gives the user great sonic flexibility,” he says.  “The QS7 has a huge built-in sound library of 640 programs and 500 multi-timbral mixes created from non-compressed 16-bit linear samples.  Within the QS7's 16 megabytes of sound ROM you'll find stereo grand pianos, organs, vintage synth sounds, strings, brass, winds, guitars, drums, and much more.  And to complement the extensive sound library of the QS7, the keyboard also incorporates a tour-bus multi-effects processor, which has many effects including reverb, chorus, distortion, delay and rotary speaker simulator.”

Both the QS6 and QS7 have a 61-key, semi weighted keyboard, whereas the QS8 features an 88-key, fully weighted and hammer-action design.  “The QS8 is aimed at the professional touring kind of artist and the trained classical musician, and especially because of its 88-weighted-key action,” Browne points out, “Whereas the QS7 probably falls somewhere in between, a good all round workhorse.”

Dug Browne, High Tech Products Manager, The Electric Factory (Alesis Distributor).  188 Plenty Road, Preston, Victoria 3072, Australia.  Tel: (61 3) 9480 5988, Fax: (61 3) 9484 6708. Email: Studio Electronics Online.

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Kirrily Hoscher (Marketing Assistant, Mobex)

After only seven years in the ‘home keyboards’ market, Casio celebrated their ten millionth-sale world-wide in 1987.  The company did venture into the professional market in the mid 80s with the CZ-series, but in spite of its considerable degree of successes, Casio went on to abandon this merchandising strategy.  “The Casio CTK811EX has been developed in the R&D factory of Casio Computer Co. in Hamura, Japan,” says Hoscher.  “Casio engineers along with input from some American rhythm writers developed the EX.  And its appearance is a change for Casio, for it is a return to the traditional black cabinet with gold detailing, giving a very sleek and professional look.  The CTK811EX will be released in Australia in June ‘98.”

“The features include a floppy disk drive with a quick playback feature that allows playback without loading (compatible with SMF song arrangements), and data load/save for song and pattern sequencer,” she says of the CTK811EX.  “General MIDI level one, 16-channel onboard MIDI controller, 61 full size keys, bass reflex speakers, large information screen, 2 song/6 track memory, 128 gm tones, 98 synth tones (including 32 user tones), 10 digital effects, 100 rhythm patterns, 100 free sessions and 1 touch preset are its other design features.”

It is always difficult to predict the market response of a product prior to its release, although Hoscher believes that it will be a generally popular musical instrument.  “There is currently only one sample in Australia,” she says, “But as soon as production of the CTK811EX commences, we will have it in the hands of as many Australian artists as possible.”

Kirrily Hoscher, Marketing Assistant, Mobex (Casio Distributor).  72-74 Gibbes Street, Chatswood, NSW 2067, Australia.  Tel: (61 2) 9370 9100, Fax: (61 2) 9417 8957.  Email: The Casio USA Online Store.

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Chris Anthony (Product Manager, Generalmusic USA)

“The design of the Equinox has really been an international effort, with parts of the development and market research being done simultaneously in the USA, England, Germany and Italy,” says Anthony, “And as product manager, I have brought in people such as world renowned programmer Jason Miles (who has worked with Miles Davis, David Sanborn, Michael Jackson among others) and Andrew Schlesinger (who created sounds for the JV-2080, Trinity, K2500, JP-8000, AN1X and many more), plus some great new programmers in England, Germany and Italy to create the ROM sound library.  Since the product also features a highly powerful DJ ‘groovestation’ engine, we have also been working with the makers of the gold award winning ‘Twiddly Bits’ grooves in the UK, and some really hot techno and electronic grooves from a leading software house in Germany.”

"The Equinox has over 1200 sounds, and single sounds can use up to 6 waveforms, 21 independent envelopes and 24-dB, 4-pole filters, with the ability to stack up to 16 sounds together or create 16 splits on the keyboard,” explains Anthony.  “The instrument will also read floppy disks and CD-ROMs (via SCSI) from Ensoniq, Emu, Roland, Akai, Kurzweil, WAV and AIFF formats.  There are also 8 sliders on the front panel which can be used for synth editing, automated mixdown of MIDI sequences, completely programmable MIDI sliders, and most importantly as organ drawbars."

The scheduled release date for the Equinox is July ’98.  "We already have a very strong base of Generalmusic users and endorsers,” says Anthony, “And this includes artists such as Keith Emerson, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, George Duke, Don Grusin, Rick Wakeman, Russ Ferrante and a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ guys in New York, LA and London."

Chris Anthony, Product Manager, Generalmusic USA.  Email: Michael Chin, Intune (Generalmusic Distributor).  PO Box 601, Alexandria, NSW 2015, Australia.  Tel: (61 2) 9699 5600, Fax: (61 2) 9699 5601.  Email: The Generalmusic Home Page.

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Peter Gunn (Sales Manager, Electronic Musical Instruments, Kawai Australia)

“The electronic musical instrument R&D division of Kawai in Hamamatsu, Japan led development of the K5000 series,” says Gunn, “And teams of sound engineers and product specialists from both the United States and Germany were also intimately involved in the development of the K5000S.  The K5000 series was officially unveiled at the Summer NAMM Show in Nashville, Tennessee, USA in July ’96.”

“At the heart of the K5000 is an additive synthesis engine,” says Gunn of the essence of this series, “But instead of using samples, it actually creates sounds by building up individual harmonics.  A K5000 additive wave set is a combination of up to 6 harmonics, each with its own 5-stage envelope.  Up to 6 additive wave sets can be combined to create a single sound.  It’s an incredibly powerful system.”  He continues, “Another unique feature of the K5000 is the 128-band format filter.  Think of it as a 128-band graphic EQ that can be swept across the sound spectrum.  The results are truly awesome, producing some of the juiciest filter sweeps in the world.”

Gunn points out that the K5000 series is already a favourite within many music circles.  “We are receiving lots of raves from the techno/dance crowd because of the awesome real-time control over sound,” he says.  “In LA, it has become a favourite of the film scoring community, including Jerry Goldsmith and David Newman.  Berklee College of Music recently installed 16-unit labs and has begun additive synthesis courses, and Jese Harms (Eddie Money and Sammy Hagar) recently hit the road with a K5000 due mainly to the great rock organ sounds produced with additive synthesis.”

Peter Gunn, Sales Manager, Electronic Musical Instruments, Kawai Australia.  Unit 1, 29-35 Gibbes Street, Chatswood, NSW 2067, Australia.  Tel: (61 2) 9882 2000, Fax: (61 2) 9882 2022. Email: The Kawai America Web Site.

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John Grant (Korg Product Specialist, Music Link Australia)

“The Z1 multi-oscillator synth was released in late ‘97, after about five years of intensive R&D by Korg engineers in Japan and the US,” says Grant, “And the research started with tentative plans to build a mind-boggling instrument called OAsys.  Physical Modelling (PM) was the major new technology, and the first baby born was the Wavedrum.  Next came the Prophecy, and now it’s the Z1’s turn.”

With regards to his favourite design features Grant replies, “Like all great instruments, everyone will use it differently, but for me the coolest thing is the pad, that and all the knobs.  You can just touch something, and immediately put your imprint on the sound, and some knobs let you control four things at a time.”  He continues, “And PM lets you stretch and pull sounds in ways that just aren’t possible with samples.  It’s also more than just plain old analogue synthesis, which is all that the other PM keyboards on the market offer.  The Z1 is multi-oscillator, and there’s two fat filters per voice, so the sounds are huge.  The comb and resonant oscillators for example, makes noises that haven’t been possible since the modular synths of Moog, Serge, et cetera.”

According to Grant the Z1 is the musical tool of the 90s.  “Anyone who’s into new sounds, and in particular, anyone who wants to create music with their individual stamp on it,” he says of the typical user.  “Some of the best music today is being made by relatively faceless people with little studios, putting their heads down and cooking up some cool grooves.  It’s this sort of place that you’ll typically find the Z1.”

John Grant, Korg Product Specialist, Music Link Australia (Korg Distributor).  PO Box 1307, North Richmond, Victoria 3121, Australia.  Tel: (61 3) 9429 9299, Fax: (61 3) 9427 0740.  Email: The Music Link Australia Web Site and Korg USA Online.

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Alastair Haughton (Sales Consultant, Music Technology)

“Kurzweil Music Systems was founded in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA by Ray Kurzweil in the early 80s,” says Haughton, “And his background was in pioneering state of the art artificial intelligence software and hardware in non-musical fields, ultimately developing a system that could read conventional books to the visionary impaired.”  He continues, “And this came to the attention of Stevie Wonder, who recognized Ray Kurzweil’s incredible abilities in the AI area, and wondered if they could be applied to electronic music.  Within just a few years Kurzweil Music Systems released their K250 music synthesizer, and perhaps the most significant feature was its unbelievably realistic acoustic piano sound, still requested and recorded in studios today.”

Kurzweil’s current model is the K2500, available as a rack unit, 76-note or 88-note weighted keyboard.  “Now, over a decade later, Kurzweil’s flagship is the K2500, and is every bit as powerful today as its ancestor was in the 80s,” states Haughton.  “The K2500 has 8 megabytes of onboard acoustic ROM and synth waveforms, expandable to 28 megabytes via a range optional orchestral, contemporary and piano ROM upgrades.  It also has stereo digital effects, 48-note polyphony, a 32-track MIDI sequencer, and Kurzweil’s VAST (Variable Architecture Synthesis Technology).  The K2500 can read many Akai, Roland and Ensoniq samples or programs in addition to its own via its standard SCSI interface, and like its predecessors the K2500 has a software-based upgradable operating system available via a floppy disk.”

"The K2500 is used by artists including Kenny Rodgers, Manhattan Transfer, Pink Floyd, and of course Stevie Wonder,” he says of its devoted following.  “The K2500 is the ideal workstation for the studio professional and the demanding live performer.”

Alastair Haughton, Sales Consultant, Music Technology (Kurzweil Distributor).  Tel: (61 2) 9369 4990.  Email: The European Kurzweil User's Site.

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Ray Jones (Managing Director, Ibis Manufacturing)

“The development of the Nord Lead is the realization of a long-term dream of Hasse Nordelius and Bengt Lilja, the owners of Clavia Digital Musical Instruments AB, in Stockholm, Sweden,” says Jones, “And the Nord Lead 1 keyboard was first presented in early ‘95 at the Frankfurt Messe.  Since then it has earned a name as ‘The’ virtual analogue synthesizer.  Now, in 1998, there are several copies of the Nord Lead on the market.”  He continues, “Clavia recently introduced the Nord Lead 2 which has rapidly gained favour with musicians the world over and re-established Clavia as the world leader in VAS (Virtual Analogue Synthesis).  In 1997, Clavia also took the whole concept of VAS several steps further with the introduction of the Nord Modular synthesizer.  This synthesizer has already spawned a book by Peter Gorges, and there are also several third party web sites devoted to the Nord Modular.”

Jones describes the Nord Lead 2 as actually being four synthesizers in one.  “It has 4 multi-timbral channels, each with its own fully assignable output,” he says, “And 16 notes are very useful in an instrument containing 4 independent MIDI channels.  The keyboard can be split into two sections.  And since it has the ability to use up to 4 patches simultaneously, each side of a split can contain 1 or 2 patches, creating ‘split/layers’ for complex sonic sounds.”

With regards to its current users he says, "Peter Gabriel, Jean-Michel Jarre are two well known ones.  There are around 15,000 users of the Nord Lead world-wide, and in Australia Def-ex among others.”

Ray Jones, Managing Director, Ibis Manufacturing (Nord Distributor).  PO Box 175, South West Rocks, NSW 2431, Australia.  Tel: (61 2) 6566 6829, Fax: (61 2) 6566 6288.  Email: The Clavia Digital Music Instruments Home Page.

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Ian Jannaway (Managing Director, Novation Electronic Music Systems UK)

"The SuperNova polyphonic synthesizer was a natural progression from the successful range of the Bass Station monophonic keyboard and rack machines,” says Jannaway, “And the design goal was to produce an instrument that really did sound as good as the very best analogue greats, such as the Roland Jupiter, Oberheim OBs and Sequential Prophets.”  He continues, “During the last eighteen months a total of six people have been involved in the design of the machine, covering all aspects from software, hardware to mechanics, ergonomics and styling.  A key member of the design team was Chris Huggett (designer of the Wasp and Oscar synthesizers, and a range of industry standard 16-bit upward samplers).  The machine was shown in Beta form at the Frankfurt Fair in March, and production models were being shipped at the end of April.”

The synthesis engine of the SuperNova features 3 completely independent oscillators, a variable noise source and 2 ring modulators per voice.  "It uses a vast amount of processing power to achieve its outstanding performance,” Jannaway explains, “And this power enables it to achieve its accurate analogue sound modelling.  The operating system is flash memory upgradable, and this will give users new functions such as special filters, complex oscillator waveforms, along with new sounds and operating features.”

Novation concepts have previously been embraced with open arms by the industry, so Jannaway expects yet another favourable response.  “We currently only have Beta models with selected customers,” he says, “But we expect the unit to be well received by name artists as soon as we release the production models.”

Ian Jannaway, Managing Director, Novation Electronic Music Systems UK.  John Elsdon, Innovative Music Australia (Novation Distributor).  PO Box 212, South Melbourne, Victoria 3205, Australia.  Tel: (61 3) 9696 6999, Fax: (61 3) 9696 6669.  Email: The Innovative Music Australia Home Page and the Novation USA Home Page.

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Marc Allen (Roland Product Manager/Specialist, Roland Corporation Australia)

"All Roland instruments are developed using a world-wide team of product specialists and engineers, including two Australians,” says Allen, “And the JX-305 is a natural progression from the incredibly successful MC-303 and 505 grooveboxes.  After the record sales of these models, there was a very strong demand for instruments that catered specifically to dance music genres, but also in a way that allowed non-musicians to be creative. The keyboard was previewed at the January ‘98 NAMM show in LA, and was released world-wide in May ‘98.”

Allen then presents a summary of some of its performance capabilities.  “The JX-305 is a 61-note, velocity-sensitive performance synthesizer with 64-voice polyphony,” he says, “And incorporates the fat, dance-oriented sound set of the MC-505 groovebox, plus an additional 4 megabytes of wave memory for traditional instrument sounds (640 patches total, 28 rhythm sets), 8-track pattern-oriented sequencer, 768 dance and groove-oriented preset patterns and 256 user patterns, 9 real-time control knobs for intuitive sound creation and real-time tweaking, powerful onboard arpeggiator and real-time phrase sequencer functions, full MIDI implementation with all control knobs transmitting, and a SmartMedia memory card slot for unlimited external storage of patches, patterns and songs on affordable 2 megabyte and 4 megabyte SmartMedia cards.”

Allen believes that the JX-305 is perfectly suitable for the dance music enthusiast.  "Naturally since the keyboard is not yet released we cannot identify current devoted users, other than myself,’ he says, “However given the price of the JX-305, I am certain that anyone who has a passion for dance music and a desire to produce their own unique sound will have a use for this instrument.”

Marc Allen, Roland Product Manager/Specialist, Roland Corporation Australia. 38 Campbell Avenue, Dee Why West, NSW 2099, Australia.  Tel: (61 2) 9982 8266, Fax: (61 2) 9981 1875.  Email: The Roland Corporation International Web Site.

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Warrick Gould (General Manager, Panasonic Australia)

”If you look at the Technics background, the company has come from the ‘home market’ of keyboards and electronic organs,” says Gould.  “Now, early in the 90s, Technics released the KN2000, which was a launch into the semi-professional market, and as keyboards developed the factory recognized the need for a purely professional model.  And of course this brought about the birth of the WSA1 acoustic modelling synth, after many millions of dollars of research and development.”

Technics believes that the development of the KN5000 is a perfect blend of the WSA dedicated pro synth and their previous range of deluxe keyboards.  “It is a combination unit with a very powerful 16-track onboard sequencer, and a very powerful rhythm and composer section as well,” he explains, “And with a whole host of other features found on the WSA, but with traditional ease of operation.”  He continues, “One very important feature of the K5000 is that it has a full onboard synth with sound modelling capabilities.  It even has a 3-page onboard mixer which comes up on the screen, and that is very sophisticated!  It is 64-note polyphonic with aftertouch, and has onboard speakers, facilities for disk to hard drive, outboard expansion boards for digital audio out, and the ability to have 7 foot switches hooked into the instrument to control functions.”

Gould calls attention to the programming potential of the K5000.  “It is an instrument which is aimed at a market which will want to modify and create their own sounds, create their own songs and then apply that in a professional or domestic situation,” he says, “And this type of instrument has been strongly crossing over into the dedicated pro market, particularly in Europe, and now it’s happening in America.”

Warrick Gould, General Manager, Panasonic Australia (Technics Distributor).  PO Box 505, Frenchs Forest, NSW 2086, Australia.  Tel: (61 2) 9986 7400, Fax: (61 2) 9986 7550.  The Technics Music Canada Home Page.

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Christopher Steller (Product Support Co-ordinator, Yamaha Music Australia)

“The development of the EX synthesis system has been ongoing for years,” says Steller.  “With Yamaha's people working with Stanford University in America to develop the VL synthesis (Sondius-XG), and the other synthesis types being developed in Japan with ideas and design input from all branches of Yamaha around the world.  The EX-series was officially launched at Winter NAMM '98.”

“The EX5 is quite unique in that it offers five different types of synthesis,” notes Steller, “And this includes a new synthesis processor called FDSP (Formulated Digital Sound Processing), Yamaha's traditional AWM sound ROM, VL (Virtual Acoustic modelling) synthesis, AN (Analogue modelling) synthesis and sampling.” He continues, “With FDSP you can take the sounds in ROM and feed them through one of the algorithms, simulating a guitar or electric piano pickup, with control over pickup position, drive, picking, et cetera.  FDSP can also simulate pulse width modulation and flange/phase effects, but with a twist.  Each note is processed separately, so a four-note chord has a separate modulation for each note.  The EX5 can have 64 megabytes of RAM in its sampler, plus 8 megabytes of flash memory as well.  It has a sequencer and pattern generator, a four-track arpeggiator with 50 presets and 50 user memories, 3 wheels, a ribbon controller, breath control input and 6 assignable knobs that give plenty of performance control.  Synth-heads will love it!”

“Internationally, the first prominent artist to feature the EX5 is composer, performer and producer Ryuichi Sakamoto,” Steller says of its current users.  “Locally, Jamie Rigg (keyboard player and musical director for ‘Roy and H.G.’), and John Foreman (Bert Newton's ‘Good Morning Australia’) are both using the EX5 workstation.”

Christopher Steller, Product Support Co-ordinator, Music Products Division, Yamaha Music Australia.  17-33 Market Street, South Melbourne, Victoria  3205, Australia.  Tel: (61 3) 9693 5150, Fax: (61 3) 9699 2332.  Email: The Yamaha Corporation Home Page and the Yamaha European Home Page.


'Australian Musician' ~ Issue 14, Winter, June 12, 1998


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