Monday, January 14, 2013

Strider Systems Inc. DCS1 "Digitally Controlled Synthesizer" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1976


Strider Systems Inc. DCS1 "Digitally Controlled Synthesizer" 1/4-page black and white advertisement from page 36 in the November/December 1976 issue of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine.

I'm not convinced that the design of this advertisement couldn't be up for debate, but not today.   :)

There is one thing in particular about the ad that really bugs me... and I'll get to that in a second...

More importantly though, I gotta tell you that Strider did a pretty good job at getting the DCS1 out there considering their ad-budget for CK seemed to include this one single advertisement in this one single issue of CK. But it was a stark year for unique synthesizers like the EML Synkey with its punchcard system of patch storage so the Strider, with its unique features was sure to get noticed.

And to help the DCS1 along, Strider obviously did their promotional leg work early on. A few months before this lone advertisement appeared, readers of Contemporary Keyboard probably got their first glimpse at Strider and the DCS1 in the Spec Sheet section in the July/August 1976 issue, which included all the basic specs of the machine along with one of my favorite tidbits of info - the coveted retail price!
"Strider Digital Synthesizer. The DCS-1 is a digitally controlled synthesizer featuring twelve audio oscillators (20hz to 20khz), four low-frequency oscillators (.08 to 21 hz), and a 49-note keyboard that is fully polyphonic with a programmable split. Also included are contour generators with 64 high-resolution control outputs, three low-pass resonant filters (12 db./octave rolloff)_ with fc and Q contours, and a 10-patch digital memory. A 256-note sequencer with up to four independent sequences is standard, as is tape cassette for bulk storage of patches, sequences, and computer programs. The unit measures 9" high, 48" wide, and 12" deep. It weights 55lbs. Price is $4,500.00. Strider Systems. Box 2934, Norman, OK 7369."
Unfortunately, it wasn't run with a accompanying photo, which would have helped it stand out against some of the other big-gun promos that had got their photos slapped beside/on-top/underneath their promos. The list is impressive - Emu's modular synthesizer, Moog's Polymoog synthesizer and the Synthi Vocoder, who's photo looks to include the whole Synthi system. Impressive.

Luckily, eight or nine months later Strider got another freebie promo. The March/April 1977 issue of Synapse magazine included a blurb about the DCS1 in their "What's Happening" section:
"From Strider Systems, Inc. comes the DCS-1, a computer controlled portable polyphonic synthesizer. Included in the system are 12 audio frequency oscillators, a 48 channel envelope generator, 3 state-variable filters, a 49 key polyphonic keyboard with programmable split, a 16-key digital keyboard with l.e.d. display, a 16-key programmable effects keyboard, 10-patch digital memory, 4 independent 256 note sequences, and a tape cassette for bulk storage of patches, sequences and computer programs."
Not sure if Strider consciously decided to promote other aspects of the machine later in its run - in this case Synapse mentions its portability. Or it could be Synapse picked up on this on their own and decided to include it. Either way, its not in the CK Spec Sheet. Although I guess the weight of the unit is. Still, from a marketing perspective, "portable" sounds better that "55 lbs". A lot better.

There isn't a lot of information sources about the Strider DCS1 out there. Offline, there is Mark Vail's Vintage Synthesizers book. It includes two long paragraphs on Strider's two synthesizers under the heading "Digital Egg Snatchers", describing the section as instruments that stole "digital eggs from the larger instruments and incorporating them into more limited, more specialized, and hopefully more marketable designs" and were the ancestors to the more modern Casio CZs, Yamaha DXs and Korg DWs. I'm not sure "stole" is the right word... but being described as the precursor to CZs and DXs is just down right cool. 

Fortunately, the best resource is online for everyone to see, and is probably *the* best source one could have - scans of the Strider DCS1 brochure from Chris Kann's Flickr photo stream. The five pages of scans include:
  • Page 1: Cover with large logo
  • Page 2: Technical specifications on the oscillators, envelope generators, filters, manual controls, external inputs and memory
  • Page 3: Technical specs continued, including cabinet info and price, including two much better photos that seem to be the same ones from the ad
  • Page: 4: "A brief discussion" - now more commonly referred to a FAQ - What is digitally controlled synthesis? How does this differ from "computer music"? Etc...
  • Page 5: DCS-1 features including a hand-written note from someone at the company named Ray or Roy!
Excellent resource!

Now about that advertisement, and in particular that one little issue I have with it.

The first thing I notice is the name of the instrument - DCS1. Now I'm a big fan of consistency, and this advertisement clearly doesn't include a dash in the name: DCS1.  No dash. So, I wrote this blog post without the dash. But then I noticed that both the Spec Sheet and What's Happening write-ups do include a dash 0 DCS-1. And although the cover of the Chris Kann's brochure doesn't include a dash in the name, text within the brochure consistently does. Gah.

But, that's probably a personal issue I should deal with. Not everyone else.

But you know what else bothers me. When people write MiniMoog with a double-capital "M".

Double Gah.

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