Welcome to the third in a series of quick historical primers on this history of synthesizers – these posts will guide you through the evolution of the instruments that make our music what it is today, with an eye on why things behave the way they do.
We also have a full, free e-book on the subject available for download below:
3 – Downsizing everything (including sound)
The 1980s saw a few really good synths, and many many bad ones.
Gems like the Roland SH-101, the Jupiter Series and the Juno106, as well as the Korg Mono/Poly are still revered, and probably typify the height of the analog synths evolution. Like the Minimoog, these all used a hard wired architecture to facilitate easy reprogramming.
On the other hand, the 80s also ushered in the era of the cpu, or the processor chip, and the result of this was mixed at best.
The unstable gritty analog VCO’s of the past were tamed with digital controls, and the dozens of knobs and sliders that allowed for control were all culled to a select few (sometimes none), and sound editing became a process of adjusting numbers within banks and pages of menus. Rather than making things easier, this move towards “futuristic” instruments in fact made life a lot harder for people who were interested in playing around with the sounds, as instead of simply dialing a few changes on a knob or flicking some switches, you now had to navigate through obsequious 2 digit LCD displays for ages to do the same thing.
More streamlined but also totally neutered of their grit, synths like the Korg Poly-800, Moog Source and Roland Alpha Junos etc were a disappointment and are largely forgettable instruments.
More next week, or feel free to grab the whole Synth Primer Ebook below!