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Ensoniq

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The American brand Ensoniq was founded in 1982 in Malvern. The former engineers of the company for the production of MOS Technology chips: Bob Yannes, Bruce Crockett and Al Charpentier became its driving force. Yannes, while working at the company, was also known as a SID chip designer for the Commodore 64 home computer. All the Ensoniq products including synthesizers and samplers were designed and built based on the sound chips. The history of the popular in the 80s and 90s company began with the release of a software drum machine for PCs, and a bit later Ensoniq got successful, thanks to a series of synthesizers SQ, ESQ, EPS and ASR samplers.

Brand instruments include built-in sequencers and offer outstanding features of their workstations. Much attention is also paid to the built-in effects modules.

The first released sampler keyboard Mirage (1985) became a real bestseller on the market of musical instruments due to its functionality and affordability ($1500). The instrument presented three versions of keyboards: a spongy-feeling velocity sensitive keyboard, a second weighted version and the third one with reduced dimensions. An 8-bit sampler with analog filters and sequencer for 333 segments. The instrument used a specially designed Ensoniq ES5503 DOC sound chip. The interface of the model included a small LED, which made it easy to work with the settings. The keyboard allowed you to split it into two zones with the ability of split zones selection. A 3.5-inch floppy drive was used for samples and sequences storing; a copy of the operating system was also stored on floppy disks. Mirage included the Multi-sampling function, which allowed it to become a polyphonic multitimbral MIDI instrument with a sensitive keyboard and its own sound engine.

A new EPS series (Ensoniq Performance Sampler), based on the Mirage sampler architecture, was developed and released with the introduction of some improvements and additions. The series allowed the brand to stand firm among its competitors, such as Akai and Casio. The 13-bit EPS sampler was manufactured from 1988 to 1991 within an affordable price range. The series included EPS-M and EPS 16 Plus models. Two processors housed by EPS unit allowed you to download and play up to eight instruments at the same time. EPS had 256 Kword RAM, offering expanders up to 512 Kword and 1 Mword with SCSI interface, soon allowing to get 2 Mword memory. The instrument was very convenient for live performances due to its small size and efficiency. MIDI keyboard instrument included 61 keys with aftertouch effect, it also allowed connecting several MIDI channels at the same time. Released in 1990, the version with a 16-bit sampling rate, EPS-16 Plus, only strengthened the company's leading position on the market.

Possibilities of EPS samplers were brought into ASR (Advanced Sampling Recorder) series in 1992, which included ASR-10 models, its rackmount version ASR-10R, ASR X and ASR X Pro in 1998.

The keyboard ASR-10 was produced by the brand from 1992 to 1998 and was one of the most powerful and productive samplers at that time. The workstation didn’t need additional instruments to provide the musician with everything: a full-scale complex of 62 programmable effects, a professional keyboard, a 16-track MIDI sequencer, functioning in the style of Ableton, the possibility of loading during playback and powerful multi-layer synthesis. As for the synthesis architecture, its complexity related ASR-10 rather to a synthesizer than a sampler: 3 envelopes corrected the sample, 2 filters, LFO, 15 modulation sources. The instrument voices could be created and formed out of 8 layers of different samples. Memory could be increased up to 16 MB. ASR-X models and its improved version ASR X Pro are a sampler, synthesizer, sequencer and effects module with two processors. This series has established a standard on the music market for instruments of this type. In 1993, the synthesizer model Ensoniq TS 10 successfully inherited the functions of its predecessor ASR-10, including versions with a different number of keys: a 61-key, a weighted 76-key and a version that has the aftertouch effect inherent in TS-12 model.

In 1985, the multitimbral synthesizer ESQ-1 was released with an 8-note polyphony and a dynamic 61-note keyboard. Despite the fact that the instrument offered a subtractive synthesis intrinsic to many analog synthesizers, its oscillators couldn’t be called VCOs or DCOs, since the signal was generated by the wavetable synthesis chip designed by Ensoniq (the more advanced descendant of the SID chip made by Robert Yannes). In general, the signal was analog, including low pass resonant filters (CEM 3379, however, with digital control). ESQ-1 had an 8-track MIDI sequencer and memory for 40 presets with the option of storing additional ones. ROM numbered 32 waveforms, the oscillators were controlled by digitally-controlled amplifiers (DCA), the ESQ-1 had 3 independent LFOs and 3 envelopes that could modulate any number of parameters. The modular version of ESQ-M synthesizer in 1987 was distinguished by the lack of a sequencer.

However, the success came to the brand with SQ series (1987-1989), based on the architecture of ESQ. It included the models: SQ-80, SQ-1, SQ-2, SQ-R and its improved version SQ-R plus. SQ-80 synthesizer offered 43 additional waveforms, an enhanced sequencer and a patch storage drive. A unique sound synthesis of the instrument allowed it to simulate the reverberation effect quite convincingly. SQ-80 keyboard features a patented Keyboard Polypressure technology with aftertouch and programmable velocity sensitivity, but the lack of mechanical sensors caused contact problems and could lead to wearing out. SQ-80 was notable for its convenient menu and accessible controls, while many other brands plunged into the wilds of confusing navigation systems.

Fizmo synthesizer was developed in 1998. Fizmo used the Transwave digital acoustic simulation with 4 MB ROM, 4 voices per preset, 2 voice oscillators, independent LFO and FX (3 separate FX units with 24-bit VLSI effects with 41 algorithms).

Due to financial difficulties, Ensoniq was taken into custody by another company in 1998 - Creative Technology and was merged with E-Mu Systems. A new product appeared on the market in 2002 - the Ensoniq Halo keyboard, the 2500-series Proteus module by E-Mu brand.

Ensoniq has always been known as a sound card manufacturer, so the company didn’t depend on cooperation with other audio chip manufacturers, supplying only its own original products to the market. It also received many commercial orders for other brands, including Apple.