Edge Tech

November 17th, 2003

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What was the most cutting edge synthesizer or keyboard in 1986?

I was just listening to a smooth jazz/fusion album from 1986 and I was amazed at the sounds and modern styling they were achieving back then. Sounded like some serious MIDI going on as well excellent production value. Wondering what the cutting edge tech would have been that year? Thanks.

At that time the Yamaha DX-7 digital FM synthesizer still reigned supreme as the Roland D-50 was still a year off. Just about everything else Yamaha made at this time was some sort of spinoff of the DX's FM synth engine. FM and sampling were still the big new things in 86'.

Oberheim was still selling analog with the Xpander, Matrix 6, 6R and 12.

Sequential was barely surviving with its Prophet VS digital/analog vector synthesis hybrid and Prophet 2000 sampler.

Korg was making the DW-8000, a digital synth with analog filters and the DSS-1 a strange hybrid of additive synth and sampler.

Ensoniq had cut a nice little market niche for itself particularly among amatuer and semi-pro musicians with the affordable ESQ-1 digital/analog hybrid - probably the first true workstation synth, and of course the groundbreaking Mirage sampler.

E-Mu was doing its thing with the high end Emulator II and mid-range Emax samplers and SP12 drum machine.

PPG had the PPG Wave System, particularly popular among British and other European acts with the Wave 2.3 synthesizer, EVU expander and Waveterm sampling module. Like Oberheim and Sequential though they would stop trading within a year.

That leaves Roland which was humming along quietly with a couple of very nice DCO-based analog synthesizers, the JX-8P and JX-10 Super JX but whose real bread-and-butter was the RD series of electronic piano's and MKS-20 piano module. These would replace the Yamaha CP-70/80 as the piano sound of pop and rock in the second half of the 80's. The only real rival at the time was the Korg SG-1 which used digital samples instead of a synthesizer engine.

Then you had the really high end stuff. The Fairlight Series III with 16-bit sampling came out in 86' and the NED Synclavier had finally matured into a full-fledged sampling and synthesis workstation. Kurzweil launched its K250 which sold quite well and was featured heavily on a number of albums shortly to follow - Enya for example. Paul Schaffer, David Letterman's band leader still uses his K250 on the Letterman show 25 years on.

But in 86 you could still hear a lot of older gear - Jupiter 8, Oberheim OB-Xa and OB-8, Yamaha CS-80, even the odd Minimoog.

87' would be a big year for change though with Roland and Akai making big moves in the electronic music market with the D-50 and S900 affordable 12-bit sampler respectively.

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