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Showing posts from November, 2017

The Mysterious Case Of The Pink Japanese Casio SK-1

It’s often said that the Casio SK-1 was the first mass-market affordable sampler. Not long after the introduction of such behemoths as the Fairlight and Synclavier, whose price tags were more in line with high-end cars than musical instruments, Casio managed to get sampling into the hands of the unwashed masses. Including the unwashed hands of a certain junior high school boy, who saw it as a way to finally realize his dream of making a perfect copy of Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record).” I had the synthesizer, a Korg Poly-800 recently received for Christmas. I had the studio, in the form of a keyboard amp, Numark mixer, and belt-drive turntable. All I needed was the drums. It was this, more than the sampling function, that really had me excited about the SK-1. I could just hear it: the rapid-fire hand claps, the machine gun cowbell. All of that Hi-NRG rhythm would soon be mine. Of course, anyone who’s heard the SK-1 (or any other Casio home keyboard for that mat

Korg Minilogue

I bought the Korg Minilogue as a present to myself. I quit drinking in 2015. It’s not like I was falling down drunk everyday, but I had reached a point where even a few beers were giving me hangovers and interfering with things like meditation and general life satisfaction. To give myself something to aim for, I promised myself a six-month present and a one-year present. After six months I was the proud owner of a Volca FM (which I later sold) and for being booze-free for a year I rewarded myself with the Minilogue. OK, so actually I bought it at around the nine month mark when I knew I was in the clear. But it continued to function as an incentive since I knew that if I succumbed and had a beer I’d have to sell it and take a loss, and I didn’t want that. It’s been almost two years now. I still have the Minilogue but oddly enough I’m only just now finding a niche for it in my studio. People complain that the Minilogue is tinny and metallic sounding. They hate the clicky envelopes

Roland RS-101 Strings (R.I.P.)

I got it in my head that I needed a string machine. You know, one of those divide-down polyphonic synths from the ‘70s that have basically only one sound: strings that don’t sound like strings but sound like a string machine which is entirely the reason you want one. After spending a few weeks scouring Yahoo Auctions I found a Roland RS-101 for less than $100. That seems to be the magic amount for me. I’ll buy pretty much anything if it’s less than $100. I didn’t have the space for it but I bought it anyway, and when it arrived and I opened its built-in case, I regretted it immediately. I knew it was going to have problems. I mean, it was less than $100 for a synthesizer from 1975. I was expecting the rust spots, the dead keys, the missing sheet music stand. I was expecting it to be well-used. But I didn’t expect it to stink. In the mid-1970s, synthesizer polyphony was highly sought after. There were monophonic (and even duophonic) synths but not much with the kind of polyphony

Korg Poly-800

Ah, my first synth. So 80s, so plastic, so disposable. The Korg Poly-800 is certainly a polarizing synth. Some people love it; others loathe it. Polyester-800, they call it. I have a hard time being objective because it was my first synth love but I think it sounds just fine. Is it better than a CS-80? No, of course not. Few are. Does it find its way into my songs alongside my other synths? Yes, it certainly does. Would I sell it if I had to? Have done and will do again. Say what you will about Korg’s 1983 affordable poly but it has a unique sound. This is apparently due to it using a video game sound chip for its oscillators. Use it in single DCO mode and you get a surprisingly generous 8 voices. With two DCOs you have to make due with 4 voices, but for around $800 in 1983 this was ground-breaking. However, whether you actually like the sound of those 8 voices is another matter. The Poly-800 does square waves and sawtooth waves that sound like square waves. So basically if you

Yamaha CS01

Sometimes a synth surpasses all expectations and blows you away. Sometimes a synth that you didn’t expect much from fulfills a need in surprising ways. And sometimes, no matter how hard you both try, a synth just won’t live up to your expectations, even if they’re modest ones. The Yamaha CS01 falls into the latter category for me, mainly because of its lack of MIDI. But more on that later. The CS01 is part of Yamaha’s illustrious CS series, which stretches from the humble CS01 all the way up to the godlike CS-80. I have never even seen a CS-80 in person, let alone played one, so I can’t comment on it, but I do have a CS-10 and like it very much indeed. It’s hard to see the family resemblance in the diminutive CS01, with its Casio-like slim plastic housing and mini keys, although the filter does sound similar to the CS-10’s. Released in 1982, the CS01 is a single oscillator mono synth with the usual filter, LFO, and ADSR configuration. Where it distinguishes itself from other mo