iPad editors for 80s and 90s MIDI synths

Developer Bill Mitsakos is making iPad editors for a lot of synths that were from that era where knobs were ditched in favor of data entry buttons. A lot of these synths sound great and are relatively affordable, and these editors bring back the hands-on control. Here, we look at his prototype editor for the Sequential Six-Trak.

I recently attended a modular synth pop-up meet at the Emeryville, California studio of Bay Area synth collector Lance Hill. (I’ll be telling you a lot more about Lance’s very cool collection in an upcoming story.) Amidst the Eurorack madness I spied an iPad hooked up to a Sequential Circuits Six-Trak. Introduced in 1984, it turned heads with its powerful six-track (as the name implies) sequencer and accompanying multitimbral capability, letting beginning synthesists compose complete songs on the one instrument.

Like many synths from that era, though, it saved on costs by not having many knobs or other real-time controls. Synthesis parameters were instead edited via an incremental data entry system with parameter numbers silk-screened on the panel; very popular synths like the Korg Poly-61 and Yamaha DX7 took a similar approach. 

Bill Mitsakos, more widely known for his work with the Serato DJ platform, aims to bring back the hands-on tweaking with iOS touchscreen editors for synths such as the Six-Trak. For vintage enthusiasts, this makes a good deal of sense, as many similarly sparsely-paneled synths from the ’80s and ’90s sound great but sell for far less on the used market than their more famous and knob-covered counterparts such as the Prophet-5 or Jupiter-8.

Get the full story in the video below, but I’d like to call attention to a couple of times I misspoke: I mention “Guy from Switched-On Music in Austin” and say that they’re “getting established out here” (meaning California). This is not correct. I’m referring to Guy Taylor, who is formerly of Switched-On, and now has his own Oakland-based modular web store called I/O Music Technology. They put on the pop-up at Lance’s space. Also, I refer to the Six-Trak as not having any on-board editing, by which I meant knobs and other real-time controls. Again, the editing is there, but is accessed via entering parameter numbers and values. Making that process more fun is where Bill Mitsakos’ app comes in ...