The Vintage Synth Explorer was established back in 1996 in order to provide a fast and easy way to learn about vintage synthesizers. This has grown to include modern digital and analog emulators, software synths, plug-ins, and other new types of synthesizers and samplers. Here you will find detailed descriptions and reviews, pictures, audio and video samples, technical specifications, lists of..
If you are looking for a MIDI synthesizer that can also provide you with the feel as well as the sound of a real piano, then the Ensoniq KT-88 fits the bill. This workstation was released in 1994 and features 64-voices polyphony, which gives you plenty of room to work with. Each of these voices features a maximum of 3PC samples, with one voice per sample. These voices are drawn out of a 211 PCM wavetable that is multi-sampled at 16 bits. With two sampled pianos in ROM along with a number of organs, vintage synths and electric pianos, it's easy to see why the KT-88 was so popular.
The KT-88 did not skimp on performance features as it has 30 tuning scales as well as two mono modes with glide and legato. In addition, it features 13 algorithm effects that include reverb, phaser, chorus and more. Along with its special general MIDI mode, the KT-88 also makes use of a 16 track internal sequencer. It has a digital resonant filter stage that is comprised of two multi-mode digital filters.
While the KT-88 works great as a stand-alone device, it is also a good, albeit slightly bulky, controller for your other MIDI gear. Ensoniq has also included some easy to use sequencing features with the KT-88, although at this stage it might be difficult to find the PCMCIA RAM cards needed to increase the sequencer memory. Of course, with 64-voice polyphony it means that you can fully orchestrate your sequences and play live over sequencer or general MIDI music playback.
The keyboard of the KT-88 is a highlight as the weighted-action allows for the same feel as well as dynamic response offered by a real acoustic piano. It also easier to match your playing style with the 14 velocity curves and four pressure settings of the KT-88. The pitch and mod wheels are within easy reach while playing and the KT-88 also has support for an optional control voltage pedal or dual foot switch.
The rear panel of the KT-88 features all the MIDI connections, Thru, Out, and In, as well as jacks for the optional foot switch or CV-pedal. It's also where you will find the right/mono output and left/mono output jacks. The KT-88 can be set a number of different modes, including Select Sound mode, Edit Track mode, Edit Sound mode, Replace Track Sound mode, System MIDI mode, General MIDI mode, Seleect Sequence/Preset mode, and Edit Sequence/Preset mode. It has a number of different buttons to make it easy to change parameters no matter what mode you are using and a 32-character LCD display to display information.
The KT-88 is still a great synth if you want that typical Ensoniq sound and it features Transwave technology, which is another bonus. However, it is rather bulky and keep in mind that maintenance might be an issue.
The Cheetah MS800 is a digital wave synthesizer that was designed for the company by Mike Lynch of Lynett Systems. It wasn't a big success when it was first released in 1989, despite being very affordable, which probably had a lot to do with the fact that it is extremely annoying to program. It is true that a lot of synthesizers have a steep learning curve if you really want to tap into their true potential, but the Cheetah MS800 took this to the extreme by making it frustrating to even make use of its most simple features.
The MS800 certainly trumped the competition in terms of price, but unfortunately this came at the cost of sound quality as well as ease of use. While it is great to see a company trying to incorporate as much programmability as possible into their gear, few users had the patience to really make use of this. One of the reasons why the MS800 is notorious for being very difficult to program is because you have to do so via a two-digit display along with its ten push buttons. The rear panel also keeps things simple with just the MIDI In, Out and Thru connections, socket for the power lead and left/right audio outputs.
The operating manual doesn't exactly make things easier either as it is filled with walls of text and a severe lack of graphics to make things clearer. Even after figuring things out you will want to take notes while programming as the MS800 interface won't offer any clues should you lose track. Interestingly, although the MS800 follows the usual process of allowing you to combine digital waveforms into sequences to create new sounds, it does not provide filtering. In addition, while the MS800 MIDI unit is multitimbral it does not have any computer editors to make things easier. Finally, the fact that it is prone to crashing adds to the frustration as well.
The Cheetah MS800 received some renewed attention in 2016 when Richard D. James of Aphex Twin fame released an EP called Cheetah and even referenced the synth in the titles of two tracks. This is definitely not a synth for beginners or those who are easily frustrated, but if you are patient, determined and love experimenting, then you might appreciate the Cheetah MS800. It has a certain grittiness to its sounds that sets it apart from other digital synths.
The XR10 is a budget drum machine that was released by Akai in the early nineties. While it is not exactly a contender for the top drum machine ever released, it was a big improvement on Akai's XE8, both in terms of sounds and operational convenience.
The Akai XR10 is packed into a rather hefty 1.7 kg case that has volume and tempo/data dials on the left and an LCD screen on the right while the top is dedicated to the list of rhythm presets. The LCD is capable of displaying 16 characters across two lines, but unfortunately it is not back-lit. Below the screen you will find arrow and yes/no buttons along with a numeric keypad. The bottom half of the XR10 is dedicated to a number of rubber pads that can be used for switching modes, accessing the editing features and triggering sounds. Unfortunately, none of the pads are dynamic, but you can easily cycle through the Pad Banks with the dedicated button.
This drum machine has four modes, pattern, song, sound, and utility, which can be selected using the Mode button. The MIDI connectors are on the rear of the case, but it only supports In/Out and not Thru. On the back you will also find the headphone jack, power switch, AC adapter jack, left and right output jacks, effect send out jack and effect send volume knob. In addition, the XR10 has jacks on the back where you can connect an optional foot switch, which can then be used to start/stop a rhythm pattern or a fill-in. The XR10 does not have any type of power amplifier or internal speakers. It is a pity that the XR10 only has stereo output as it could have really benefited from individual outputs.
This drum machine generates its sounds via internal PCM samples that are stored in its internal ROM wavetable. These samples were recorded at a resolution of 16 bits and there are 64 to choose from, including the usual bass drums, snares, claps, toms, and hihats. You have access to 13 sound parameters to edit the sounds and then store them internally.
In addition, the XR10 offers 450 preset rhythm patterns and you can use your original user patterns to compose and store up to 20 songs internally. Since the Akai XR10 is a sample playback machine, it is not capable of delivering the same analog goodness as what can be accomplished with the Roland drum machines. Nevertheless, it is a decent sounding piece of equipment, that had a lot to offer for its price back when it was released. The sounds are crisp and the XR10 is capable of cutting through any mix. It's not the most intuitive drum machine on the market, so you will need to carefully study the manual and be willing to put up with some of its quirks.