Game Changing Gear

November 20, 2012

“Where does a kid get six or seven thousand dollars a pop? Or even $2,500?” pondered Oscar Peterson in our October 1983 interview. The jazz piano demigod was reflecting on the cost of electronic instruments and on how lucky he was to have access to state-of-the-art gear for his foray into synthesis. Luckily, the early ’80s were when keyboard makers started responding in earnest to the demand for synths that a weekend warrior or committed student could hope to save up for. As an adjunct to our first annual (2012) Keyboard Hall of Fame, we salute these classics for bringing real synthesis power to the rest of us.

Roland Juno-6
Roland Juno-60
• Released Jan. 1982 and Oct. 1982, respectively.
• Juno-6: $1,295 list | Juno-60: $1,795 list
• Intended to fatten up the single-oscillator engine, the sub-oscillator and chorus effect created a signature sound that makes Junos highly sought after today.
• Juno-60 added patch memory.
• Neither had MIDI, but analog buffs
insist the MIDI-equipped Juno-106 (1984) doesn’t sound as fat.



Casio CT-201
• Released 1980.
• $649 list.
• Eight-note polyphony.
• Not editable, but 29 presets featured remarkably percussive and acoustic sounds for the time.
• Used two square-wave oscillators with variable (but preset) pulse-widths to create these sounds.

Korg Poly-800KORG POLY-800
• Released 1983.
• Eight voices with one oscillator or four voices with two oscillators.
• Sawtooth/square oscillators with up to four organ-like “pipe lengths” you could toggle—baby additive synthesis!
• Smashed the $1,000 barrier for programmable synths with a list price of $795.
• Separate envelopes for each oscillator and filter, previously unheard of at this price.

Sequential Circuits Prophet-600SEQUENTIAL CIRCUITS PROPHET-600
• Released Dec. 1982.
• $1,995 list.
• First MIDI product ever!
• With six voices and two oscillators per voice, it outspec’d its big brother the Prophet-5 in many ways, signaling a sharp decline in the price of robust analog synthesis.

• Released 1981.
• $1,999 list price was a dramatic new low for a poly with patch memory.
• Had a sub-oscillator and arpeggiator.
• To save cost, had no sustain pedal input. Korg argued that since it was programmable, you could switch to a version of your patch with a long envelope release.



• Released 1983.
• $1,995 list.
• Based on FM research by Stanford’s John Chowning.
• Brought digital synthesis to mainstream musicians.
• Excellent at struck, plucked, and bell sounds that analog synths couldn’t do with the same clarity.
• Second best selling synth ever, outdone only by the Korg M1 workstation.

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