An Observation: Synths With Revised Filters.

Some of the world’s most respected, coveted synthesizers went through production revisions that audibly impacted the instruments’ sonic character. Here are four such synths that come to mind:

  • Korg MS-20
    Korg MS-20 (from quote Korg’s MS-20 Kit press release: The original MS-20 used different VCF circuits depending on the date of production. Units produced in the earlier period used a filter noted for its distinctive distortion and self-oscillation, while the filter used in later units was a low-noise design with a more mellow character.) The earlier filter is known as the “Korg 35″, while the later revision is a more conventional OTA-based filter.
  • ARP Odyssey
    ARP Odyssey (from Matrixsynth)(The Odyssey is notorious for bearing three different filters in its lifetime. The first Odysseys shipped with a Moog-style ladder filter. ARP was threatened with legal action so they quickly replaced it with a buzzy 2-pole filter, which was quickly replaced by a unique, aggressive sounding 4-pole filter.
  • Sequential Prophet-5 (rev. 2)Sequential Prophet-5
    Rev. 1 and Rev. 2 Prophet 5s used SSM ICs for their VCOs and VCFs, while the Rev. 3 Prophet 5 used CEM ICs. Some say the Rev. 3 Prophet 5 sounds weaker as a result.
  • Roland MKS-80 Super Jupiter
    The infamous Supe Jupe rack’s filter had an agressive, high-resonance character (IR3109, same filter as the Jupiter-6).MKS-80 Super Jupiter with MPG-80 Programmer But Rev. 5 units (serial number 511800 and up) used Roland’s new IR3R05, the same silky smooth filter that would find its way into the JX-8P, Super JX, and MKS-70.

Roland AIRA Products Accidentally Leaked … Here’s What They Will Look Like!

Spoiler Alert!

Don’t read this if you want to wait for Roland’s big announcement next week. I’m pretty sure this will ruin the surprise.

A few weeks ago I became aware of Roland’s forthcoming “Aira” series when I got linked to their first teaser video about their drum machine, the TR-08 (or is it the TR-8?). Every few days they have been releasing new teasers, and finally sometime within the past 24 hours they added another couple of videos, and interestingly, two images of the Aira series, darkened to the point where all you can really see is black silhouettes of the sleek new boxes, and all the pretty light-up buttons.

Well … it occurred to me that if I make some adjustments to those images, it could be possible to reveal some details. This is exactly what I did, and the results are very telling, indeed! These two images were orginally posted on Roland’s site, and I have enhanced them to reveal sufficient detail to discern almost everything on their front panels!
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Gear News

SYNTHS RECENTLY ACQUIRED: Ensoniq ESQ-1 and Ensoniq SQ-80.

GEAR RECENTLY REPAIRED: Korg Zero 8 (touchscreen issue) Info here

YOU GOTTA CHECK OUT: the Novation Launchpad Mini. My original legacy Launchpad started acting crazy (“drawing too much power”) and I have a gig tomorrow night. A Novation guy stated on Gearslutz that this is typically due to a hardware fault, but since I have a gig tomorrow night, I just went to Long&McQuade and picked up the new Launchpad Mini for just $99 – after all, I need something schnell! After configuring its bootload option to “Full Power” it looks simply gorgeous. The LEDs look far brighter than the original Launchpad. Better still, unlike its full-sized predecessor it is small enough to perch on the panel of many synths, and thanks to its rubber underlay it won’t slide around. I’m pretty sure I’ll be keeping the Launchpad Mini. Once I repair my original Launchpad I’ll sell it – cheap. The two pics below show how nicely the new Launchpad Mini nestles itself atop the panel of a synth. Click for full size.

Launchpad Mini atop Ensoniq SQ-80

Launchpad Mini atop Ensoniq SQ-80

Launchpad Mini atop Korg DW-6000

Launchpad Mini atop Korg DW-6000

FINALLY! I just finished setting up my new, temporary workspace. I took a couple pictures just before I started doing some urgent work on some new material. I still have some oddball boxes and gear to deal with, but at least it’s a workable space. I was able to leave my large-format 24-channel mixer in storage, opting instead for the inputs of the MOTU 828mk2 expanded out to the Behringer ADA8000 via ADAT optical. I can control the mix of all 16 inputs using MOTU’s CueMix FX software from the iPad via TouchOSC. Check these pics out, and click on them to see in HD!

Studio Nebula

From here you can see most of the keyboards. Leftmost stand, top to bottom: Roland VK-09 organ, Yamaha CS40M synth. Three-tier stand, top to bottom: Roland JX-3P, Roland Juno-106, Roland Jupiter-6 (this is the Killer Roland Rack!) Z-frame station, top to bottom: rack including Yamaha R100 reverb, Alesis Micro Enhancer, Behringer ADA-8000 Ultragain A/D converter, DigiTech DSP128+ processor, Bellari RP-282 compressor; keyboards including Korg DW-6000, Ensoniq SQ-80 (beside Boss RE-20 Space Echo twin pedal), Ensoniq ESQ-1. The desktop rack to its right contains: Emagic Unitor 8, Novation Supernova II, MOTU 828mk2, power bars, Emagic AMT8. Also visible on far right of desk surface (closest to front of photo): Korg Poly-800-II.

Studio Nebula Chair

Other visible gear: Yamaha NS-10M studio speakers, spring reverb tank, Presonus Central Station, Yorkville SR300 amp, Mackie Control Universal + Extender + C4, 30" Dell monitor, Mac Pro under desk.

Leslie! Respect my Organ!

Roland VK-09 OrganA couple months ago I found a 1981 Roland VK-09 organ on Craigslist for a decent price so I figured I’d scoop it up. It has a unique sound, to be sure.  You’ll be hearing more of it in the months to come!

Boss RT-20 Rotary EnsembleNow, of course, I really want to try working with a Leslie simulator. The VK-09′s built-in ensemble effect is nice, but not as pronounced (deep) as I would like.  I was considering the Boss RT-20 Rotary Ensemble Dual Pedal, which seems, as I have now learned, to have fallen out of fashion. It is considered by many to be more of a guitar-oriented processor. Organists instead seem to prefer the uber-expensive Neo Ventilator, supposedly designed by the guy who created the Access Virus, who apparently also hasn’t updated his company’s web site in two years. Supposedly this little box is the holy grail of Leslie speaker sims. Neo has two products: the Neo VentilatorVentilator (at roughly $500), and the Mini Vent For Organ (at roughly $400). Contrast this to $200 for the Boss. Ugh. I only paid $200 for the organ!

My buddy Tomasz just told me he actually has a vintage Leslie speaker. Maybe I’ll see if we can get that working instead.

Meanwhile I came across this most excellent Leslie resource:

Roland VK-09 Organ, and Museum Photos

Roland VK-09 Organ

In my never-ending quest to add further vintage mojo to my keyboard rig I was happy to acquire a Roland VK-09 electronic drawbar organ over the weekend.

There’s not much info about it to be found on the internet – maybe 3 or 4 opinions, a couple of YouTube vids, and a few pics. It’s not even on Roland’s venerable manuals page. I did however find a very good scan of the Service Notes (dated May 1981).

So far I’ve only had a chance to play it a little bit, so my list of fun facts to share here is short.

The first thing you notice is the ridiculously large “Roland” logo on the back. At least the kids in the back row will be able to read it at my next stadium concert. The second thing is that the whole thing is surprisingly small and light for a five-octave keyboard. This is a 33-year old instrument that I could actually imagine gigging with!

The organ has two identical groups of six drawbars: 16′, 5-1/3′, 8′, 4′, 2-2/3′, 2′. The first group (“Sine Wave”) produces normal organ-tones, while the second group (“Bright Wave”) produces extremely bright square waves. Each group can be individually toggled on and off using an 808-style pushbutton. I suspect the Vox/Farfisa/Hammond purists out there would hate the square wave drawbars, but in my initial putterings with the instrument I found that the judicious addition of these unusually bright stops makes for an organ tone that slices through a mix like a Ginsu. Think: The Monks, or Squeeze.

The VK-09 also features a slow/fast vibrato section which is a little more tame than I’d like, but is nonetheless very pleasant. It’s not a terribly realistic Leslie simulation, but it does feature the “momentum” effect when you change speeds. The front panel has separate “slow” and “fast” buttons, and the speed can also be toggled using an optional footswitch (as demonstrated in this video).

Like many organs there is an adjustable sustain (“release” in synthesizer parlance). There is also a variety of percussion settings.

While Googling for info about my new acquisition I stumbled upon a lovely article at Absolute Music, in which they toured the Roland museum in Japan and took lots of pretty pictures of vintage Roland instruments (including a mint-condition example of my new organ).

Meanwhile, here’s an old ad for the VK-09 that’s not too hard to find (click on it for a bit more miscellaneous info about this strange organ):
Roland VK-09 Ad

Updated 2017-12-05 to include a link to the service manual