Monday, April 21, 2014

Crumar "The Protagonists" family ad, International Musician and Recording World (US edition), 1978

Crumar "The Protagonists" full page colour advertisement including the Organizer-T2, Organizer-T1, Multiman-s, DS1 DIgital Synthesizer and DS2 Digital Synthesizer from page 29 in the February 1978 issue of International Musician and Recording World (US edition).

pro·tag·o·nist - noun
  • the leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text.
  • the main figure or one of the most prominent figures in a real situation.
  • an advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea.
 Well, there ya go - for all you cerebral types.  Good on Crumar not to dumb it down for a musician's magazine. :)

Over the last five and a half years that I've been blogging, I've spent exactly zero seconds talking about Crumar or their keyboards. Ziltch. Zip. Nada.  One hundred per cent of the reason has been because I've known absolutely NOTHING about them. And that's because Crumar synthesizers are very rare around these parts. Before last weekend, I had seen two in my entire life. Both DS2s. Both for only brief moments. And that was back in the early 2000s. Nothing since.

So it is with happy surprise that a DS2 just happened to come home with me last weekend. And, since they are notoriously flaky (according to Vintage Synth Explorer where they call it "a risky proposition") I'm happy to report that everything works perfectly on it. That's a photo of it right over there---->

Once I had one in my possession, I decided that I needed to do a bit of research on this beast and maybe get a little bit of history.

According to all things Wikipedia, Crumar was an Italian company, which explains why I haven't come across many of their synths in my part of the world. All the keyboards in this advertisement were first introduced in 1977 or 1978 and the DS2 was actually their first synthesizer to market. One of its main selling features was that it was one of the first synths to use digitally controlled oscillators, allowing it to stay in tune quite well - and something I noticed right away when I first turned it on and started noodling.

One of the coolest things about the DS2, in my opinion, is the amount of front panel real estate that is given to LFO control. Together it must make up about 40% of the front panel. Having two LFOs, and being able to choose which LFO controls OSC1, OSC2, VCF, VCA and pulse width - or both at the same time! - really adds another dimension to the machine.

The other crazy thing is that the DS2 also contains a basic string machine. And when I say basic - I mean basic. But it can be played at the same time as the rest of the synth, and runs through the VCF and VCA. Plus it has high and low pass filters/eq of its own. And its own LFO settings. Not too shabby.

As far as I can tell, this was one of the earliest ads for the DS2 - not just in International Musician, but in any magazine that I have in my collection. Keyboard didn't have a DS2 ad out until four months later in June 1978.

One of the first things I noticed in the ad is that the detailing of the DS2, and indeed many of the other keyboards in the ad's photo, is green. But, if you take a close look at the photo of my DS2, the detailing is in red. According to the DS2 page on (underneath the photo of a green DS2), "Crumar DS-2 as green version, mornal it is red". So, apparently the red is "normal", what ever that means.

But when did the colour change?

According to Studio Dragon's user review for the DS2 on, the synth was manufactured between 1978 and 1980, and since the green version is the one in the 1978 advertisement, I'm guessing that green detailing came before red.

A Crumar DS2 auction post on MATRIXSYNTH indicates that only about 500 were made, and the serial number on my DS2 is in the 500s, so I'm guessing mine came out later on in the manufacturing run. But I can't find a date anywhere on the outside of my DS-2 - I may try and open it up later and take a look on the inside. A date may help narrow down exactly when the colour made the switch.

Well, I've only had the synth for a couple of days, but one thing I've noticed is that the beast has a nice filter, although there is a very narrow margin between not-self-oscillating and self-oscillating. But when you find that sweet spot, it has a really nice quality to it. With the help of the noise (white and pink), it makes some nice percussive sounds too.  I've already sampled it quite a few times into my Korg ESX and begun incorporating its sound into a few things I've been working on.

Not too shabby for just one long weekend of creativity.  :)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ensoniq Mirage "It makes $1695 sound like a lot more." ad, Keyboard, 1985

Ensoniq Mirage "It makes $1695 sound like a lot more." full page colour advertisement from page 53 in the July 1985 issue of Keyboard magazine.

Just a quick Monday blog post as a follow-up to last week's UK Mirage advertisement. After posting that ad, I thought it would be neat-o to do a comparison of sorts and see what Ensoniq was doing across the pond in North America. Sure enough there was an ad running in Keyboard the exact same month - July. what a difference can be found!

While Ensoniq was pushing a very minimalistic ad in Electronics and Music Maker (EMM), the company went in the complete opposite direction in Keyboard. In fact, they went full-on Chatty-Cathy.

Now, granted, this wasn't Ensoniq's first advertisement in Keyboard - this was actually their second ad in Keyboard that started appearing around May 1985.  There was the chance that the company introduced the Mirage to North America with equal minimalism in their earlier ad, but when I went back and checked, that was clearly not the case and that first ad was even more detailed than this one. Will post that one in the near future.

Let's face it, the Mirage's most unique, defining feature when it was introduced was price, and Ensoniq came out swinging against one of its biggest competitors without actually naming names. But the field was still so small at the time that everyone must have known exactly who they were talking about - the E-mu Emulator. Or at least that's who I think they were referring to. The ad compares the Mirage to a "$10,000" sampler, but the Emulator was actually around $8,000 for the regular model, and $10,000 for the "plus" with extra memory (according to Wikipedia).

What about the Fairlight, you ask? Well, it's probably not surprising that Ensoniq made no comparison to the Fairlight in this ad - they were biggest name in sampling with the biggest price tag. The Fairlight was *too* big and expensive and Ensoniq must have known their core market for the Mirage wasn't going to give the Fairlight a second thought (it was everyone's first thought  :). Point is, there was no need for Ensoniq to go there. At all.

On the other end of the cost spectrum was the Akai S-612. Coincidentally, the first Akai advertisement appeared during the spring/summer of 1985 in Keyboard as well - including the same issue as this Ensoniq ad. And it too included a price tag - $995.00. 

Side note: Also coincidentally, Kate Bush appeared on the cover of the July 1985 issue of Keyboard sitting next to a Fairlight in what can only be described as a Cosby sweater. To be clear - Kate is in the sweater... the Fairlight isn't. Back to the ad...

Anyways, after that initial swipe at the Emulator, the ad-copy then strategically breaks down the other features of the Mirage by playing to both the left and right half of readers' brains.

First it touches on the creative side of the instrument, listing off some key features - polyphonic, velocity-sensitive keyboard, and 77 parameters of sweet-ass editing goodness that includes filters, envelopes and modulation. And to top it off - a built in sequencer. Yum.

The the techie side takes over - because back in the 80s, if you were talking about samplers and sampling, it was hard NOT to bring technology into the conversation. In Ensoniq's case, floppy diskette storage, MIDI, and their customized "Q-Chip".

But, as I said near the beginning of this ad - it was the price that really differentiated the Mirage from other samplers at the time. In this case, the cost for a Mirage in the US in 1985 was $1695.

Now, compare that to the 1695 Pounds that the Mirage cost in the UK in 1985. According to one foreign exchange Web site, that US dollar was worth 1.3807 pounds in July 1985. So, if I've done my calculations correctly, UK buyers were paying approximately $2,340 US dollars for the Mirage in 1985.

Interesting stuff.

Time to go out and enjoy the nice weather! 


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ensoniq Mirage "This is a Mirage. This is not." ad, Electronics & Music Makers, 1985

Ensoniq Mirage "This is a Mirage. This is not." page and a half black and white advertisement from page 66 and 67 in the July 1985 issue of Electronics & Music Makers magazine.

No.  It's not an April Fools post. I'm just late. Was supposed to post yesterday and ended up having to work and the post never got finished.

Then, tonight when I got home (late... again...), I got on my stationary bike to blow off some stress from the day but found it had a flat tire. WTF?!?! How does that happen? But it was flat.

And then I remembered the post. So, I pulled up an Ultravox concert on YouTube, Chromecasted it to my TV, and decided to finish the post.

And so here it is...


While doing some background research on the Ensoniq Mirage for a different project, I was reading through the product review for this cute little sampler in the July 1985 issue of E&MM. But as I was flipping through the magazine to find the review, I was startled when this Mirage advertisement popped up further on in the magazine. I don't recall ever coming across it.

It's startling for a few reasons.

First - it's black and white. At a time when most of the ads appearing in E&MM were taking advantage of the magazine's glossy pages through the use of saturated bright colours and classic 80's designs, Ensoniq darted in the other direction with a very stark, black and white advertisement.  Ballsy? Or did they just not have the cash for a colour ad? Who cares... it stands out.

Second - Ensoniq took a page (knowingly or unknowingly) out of Moog's 1979 marketing playbook and kept the ad concept simple. Very very simple. If you don't recall those particular Moog advertisements, here's a refresher (click to view blog posts and larger versions of the ads):

Both of those Moog ads, and this Mirage advertisement that came six years later, don't even sport a logo.

But, what the Moog keyboard itself has that the Mirage doesn't is a distinctive design. Most readers of this magazine would immediately recognize a Minimoog. But, remove the logo from an Mirage keyboard and it looks a lot like the other digital keyboards that were around at the time.

Another company that got away with this type of advertisement is E-mu with its Emulator. It too, became a classic in my books (again... click on the link to view the blog post and a larger version of the ad):

The only reference to the name of the instrument in this E-mu advertisement is glued to the keyboard itself. But the Emulator was distinctive like the Minimoog, so they can get away with it. As quickly as the Ensoniq Mirage gained fame, it was too generic not to point out what the instrument actually was.

Aside: Ultravox concert from YouTube. The Thin Wall just started. Amazing. I had to stop writing and dance a little - no joke. Look it up - Ultravox Concert 2010 - Return to Eden Full Show. Okay - back to the blog post...

Third - although not really "startling", is the theme. Ensoniq used a nice little play on words to get across the best thing the "Mirage" had going for it - the price. But the "optical phenomenon" theme didn't end after the price tag in the bottom half of the ad. If you read the fine print, you get to "Rush to your nearest oasis before it's gone!" and then the ad directs the reader to the previous facing page.

There on that facing page, the reader will find another 1/2-page long list of dealers for the sampling keyboard. E&MM managed to sell the 1-1/2 page advertisement spot a fair bit, and it was very effective.

And that brings up to the forth thing - and definitely back into the range of "startling". Even on this page, the company logo is only in small print at the bottom of the column. This ad is all about the synth, not the company. Not sure why this is, but my best guess is that the distributor or dealers were paying for this ad. And it was the Mirage that was the darling of the show. Not Ensoniq. But that's just me thinking out load.

Anyways, if you ever get a chance to read that Mirage review from the same mag, don't pass it up. The review gives an amazing account not just of the instrument itself, but the history of sampling up to this point as well as Mirage's debut at the February 1984 Frankfurt music fair.
"One factor contributing to this chaos [of the music fair] was the presence of two stunning German girls giving out glossy brochures, but the main reason was superficially rather more mundane. Three extremely dull-looking electronic keyboards, similar in size to a DX-7 and obviously in a just-finished production state, wouldn't ordinarily command such universal attention.

But these instruments were different. Even withe the help(?) of an unflattering speaker system struggling to make its presence felt in the face of strong competition from some triffid-like potted plants, the keyboards sounded good. Lots of strings, brass and piano sounds being reproduced with uncanny accuracy by electronics were not, of course, a novelty. But when the girls told us the keyboard would be selling for under 2000 pounds, our mood changed from one of mild pleasure to one of uninhibited astonishment."
The review also explains how six months later, the orders were coming in so fast to America, that Ensoniq set up production in Italy where Mirages were made under license.

That's enough blogging for now. Time to get back to that Ultravox concert.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Roland Jupiter-6 "We Design The Future" brochure, April 1983

Roland Jupiter-6 "We Design The Future" four page colour brochure from April, 1983.

Yeaaah... I got a bit of a buzz going for Roland at the moment. As much as I'm a diehard analog gearhead, I really am digging their new AIRA products. Normally I would knee-jerk to anything new that is supposed to resemble the old, but after my knee-jerk to the Korg MS-20mini, I decided to take a wait-and-see approach. And I'm glad I did.

I've even proclaimed on Twitter that I'm going to retire my TB-303 and TR-808. Not sell... just retire. I'll still pull them out every now and then to play with, but for recording and live shows I'm going to be using the TB-3 and TR-8 from now on. I've done a few simple YouTube tests (more on that a bit later in the blog post) and I figure if they can get the TR and TB done correctly, why stop there. I'd love to retire my lovely Jupiter-6 too  :)

And thus the reason for posting this Jupiter-6 brochure. I love that thing.

I've blogged about a number of Roland's other "We Design The Future" series of brochures including:

None of those brochures disappoint, and neither does this Jupiter-6 brochure. Except for the hole punches, but that's not Roland's (or my own!) fault. People have to stop hole punching these things.

Those inside pages are especially nice - a great big photo of the Jupiter 6 and a nice diagram of the back panel too. But really intrigues me is that purplish call out box on the left side that has the rectangles and cones sitting on something that resembles the slat wall that holds up all my keyboards in my studio. Why isn't THAT the image on the front cover? That would be more aligned with the other more creative front covers of the other brochures.

That back page is also great. The specs are always nice to see clearly laid out, but its the images of the other synths currently available from Roland that I find useful as a way of knowing exactly what gear Roland was still officially selling as of April 1983 when the brochure was printed. Helps with those reference timelines.

Anyways, enough about the brochure. It's awesome. We all know it.

And as you might have guessed, I find Roland's new AIRA gear just as awesome. I mentioned near the beginning of this blog post that the first thing I did when I got my Roland AIRA TB-3 and TR-8 was turn them on and set them up side-by-side with the originals for a little simple testing. Nothing as detailed as you'll find elsewhere online. Just something to give me an idea.

Now, if you recall from my last blog post on the Big Briar Touch Ribbon Controller, I had been side-tracked from creating my first Retro Synth Ads video. But I'd done all the leg work to figure out how exactly I was going to set up the camera, get audio from the mixer into the mic jack of the camera, etc... . So, I decided to finally get my first video up and running last Thursday evening with that test.

For my first YouTube video, I think it turned out okay!

Next up was a little test of the TB-303 against a few of the different clones I have - the XOXBOX, the TB-3 and the TT-303. I programmed the same pattern into all of them and turned on the video camera.

In my opinion, all of them do an okay impression. The TB-3 is a little more bassy, and the TT-303 tends to loose the growl during long slides. But both of those may be user-error. Remember, there were just simple tests after very little time with the machines. Overall, with effects added in, very few people would know the difference.

The thing I love about the TB-3 is that it goes above and beyond the classic "303" sound. So, I took out both of them (yes, I bought two - don't judge me) and decided to try and push them outside there normal 303 comfort zone.  I uploaded that final video on Friday night.

Accompanied by the TR-8 as well as my MC-202 for a bit of vintage flavour, I just created a few small riffs and started the recorder. Not too shabby for 10 minutes of work.

All in all - I'm digging the AIRA line and the technology behind them. And for the record, Roland isn't paying me to say that.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Big Briar Inc. Model 231 Touch Ribbon "Play Expressive Leads With A Touch Of Your Finger" ad, Keyboard 1984

Big Briar Inc. Model 231 Touch Ribbon "Play Expressive Leads With A Touch Of Your Finger" black and white 1/4-page advertisement from the bottom-right corner of page 24 in the April 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Here, for your enjoyment (and mine!), is another Big Briar (Bob Moog, President and owner) advertisement.  Back in January I had post two other hip and happenin' Big Briar alternative controller 1/4-pagers - the Model 331 Touch Controller and Model 500 Theremin Controller.

 [click the images above to view the blog posts and higher-res images]

This time around we got your classic touch ribbon controller - with two independent control voltages. One by sliding your finger along the ribbon (usually pitch) and another by varying finger pressure. Nice.

The actual touch ribbon device is hard to make out in the ad photo, but a few attempts at Google searches didn't bring up any other images of the 231. Boooo!

One of the main reasons I was really excited to post this ad was that I was going to make my first real Retro Synth Ads' video using my Moog 956 ribbon controller and my Moog Modular that just got serviced by a tech that I recently found in the city that does great analog synth work (techs are getting harder and harder to find in my neck of the woods). But, believe it or not, as I was carrying the ribbon controller between rooms, I accidentally caught the ribbon on something and snapped it right at the end connection point. Gah.

Dumb - and probably expensive - move.

Good thing I just found a great tech. I know what's next on my list to bring over there. :)

So, instead of a lovely video, I thought I would explain why I finally had to take my Moog Modular into the shop in the first place.

First, I gotta say, I've had very very very good luck with my Moog Modular over the years. The thing is older than me and has been to the doctor much much less. But, last time I set it up for some super-fun-Electribe-sampler-time, I noticed that the keyboard wasn't triggering the gate within the modular. CV was getting through. Just not the gate. 

Now, before I get into the problem-solving aspects of the modular, I should probably explain a bit about how controllers are connected to this beast of a beast.

This modular can connect up to three controllers (keyboard, ribbon, etc) through the back of the main cabinet. The three connectors are rather large 8-pin "military" Amphenol connectors that look right out of a Terminator movie. My tech guy was actually a little surprised when he saw them. He is a calm dude, but I noticed his eyes get slightly wider when he saw them.

Below is a photo of the back of the cabinet with the connectors labelled 1-3. The other two 10-pin connectors push power to other cabinets (I have one extra cabinet, and you can read more information about my particular modular including its modules in this blog post.

When you connect a keyboard or ribbon controller through the back of the machine to one of the first two connectors, you can then use the 911-902 coupling switch panel on the front of the modular to direct the particular controller's cv and gate to either the "left" or "right" VCA and "left" or "right"envelope without the need of patch or trigger cables. In the photo below, you can see the switches on the left side of the modular.

So, for example, if you have the keyboard connected into controller #2 on the back of the cabinet, you can then use the white switches to route the trigger of #2 to either the "left" or "right" envelope and use the green switches to connect the selected envelope generator to the "left" or "right" voltage controlled amplifier.  Like I said, a few less patch cords and trigger cables getting in the way.

In the photo above, on the right side of the front panel, you can also see the "pitch-trig" panel. The three sets are direct outs for the "pitch" (CV) and "trigger" outputs of the connectors at the back - so that you can have full modular control of the signals to any module using patch and trigger cables.

Okay, now that we know the background, back to the problem: gate wasn't getting from the keyboard into the triggers for 1, 2 or 3. CV was working fine.

I'd tested all the actual modules before taking it in and they were working fine on their own, so we figured the most likely culprit was the keyboard. Familiarizing ourselves with the schematic diagrams for the 950 Keyboard Controller, he opened the keyboard up first.

After a bit of testing, and a few missteps, we realized that the keyboard was actually functioning fine. A few electrical components that looked a little iffy were replaced and we closed 'er right back up.

Logically, we figured that there must be a problem with the cabinet itself, so we opened 'er up next. First from the back, and then the front-bottom. Again, familiarizing ourselves with the various schematics, he began testing all the connections to ensure that correct signals and voltages were getting through the system.

back - notice the empty upper row
that would have housed the
optional sequencer
front bottom
front bottom - totally open. Hinges on
the bottom row of panels makes
for easy access.
In the end, he couldn't find anything wrong in the cabinet either. All signals and electrical currents were traveling exactly where they were supposed to within the cabinet. And all the signals and electrical currents were traveling where they were supposed on in the keyboard.

We were scratching our heads.

And then we both kinda turned our heads towards the connector cable itself. I think we both mentally slapped ourselves in the forehead.

Sure enough, when he opened up the connector he found the wires stripped and tightly twisted around each other from my obvious continued mishandling during set up and take down over the years. Below is a photo of the connector after he cut the end of the wires off. After a quick stripping and re-soldering of the wires, everything worked like a charm.

It's always the little things eh? But at least we got to test a lot of the system and determined everything was still running smoothly.

Well, if you are still reading, I'd like to point out those two empty power connectors in of photo of the open back of the modular. That can only mean one thing...

Time to go on the hunt for more Moog modules.