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Synth report

I am admittedly a synth (as in synthesizer workstation) geek. When other musicians are drooling over Les Pauls (which are way overrated by the way), tube amps, signal processors and the like, I'm looking at synths.

Very few musicians I've ever known have any knowledge about them. After all, it's a tech toy; A computer with playable keys.

The synth market today isn't what it used to be. Years ago - and I'm really dating myself here - the big battle of the ages was between the Korg M1 and the Ensoniq SQ-1+. Even though the SQ-1+ did not have a floppy disk drive in it, I went with that one anyway. The reason: The strings and piano sounded ten times better and believe it or not they still hold up to this day. The floppy drive issue was fixed with the purchase of an Alesis Datadisk SQ (yeah I know, oddly enough the Ensoniq had "SQ" in its model name as did the Alesis unit).

Currently I use an Ensoniq MR-61 with the SQ-1+ as the MIDI controller. I have to do this because the keys on the MR decided to stop working. The buttons above still work, but the keyboard is dead. Some would say "Couldn't you just get a schematic and have an electrician fix it?" Yeah, sure. I tried that. No success. I have a quirky setup but it works.

The two big names in synths today are, as they always have been, Kurzweil and Korg. I don't count Roland or Yamaha into the fray. Those two companies seem to be forever confused with the features of whatever they release, as in "Is it more synth or more workstation?" Neither, any model does either equally crappy.

I've played many Korgs. I owned an N364 model once. Two months after I bought it the lowest "C" key failed. Yeah. For real. I hated that thing and I've hated every Korg I've ever played. The programming of sequences/songs is so unbelievably difficult compared to the Ensoniq straightforward method. I mean, I even found it difficult to assign a specific sound an effects bus on a Korg - sometimes that should be one of the easiest things in the world to do, right? Not on the Korg. I continuously ran into constant frustration with Korg sequencers. I've never found one I liked (and I've tried many).

I've also played a few Kurzweils. Wow. Unbelievably great interface. Sounds to make your heart melt. I had never seen a large LCD display on a synth workstation until I saw it first on a Kurzweil. Other manufacturers followed Kurzweil's coattails, but they were first as far as I know. (Although, I really liked the Ensoniq TS-10's LED display, nice and bright!) I really dig the fact Kurz's to this day have sliders on the K series. I also dig that they stick with traditional unweighted keys that play lightning fast, reminiscent of the old Roland Juno series boards.

Something Kurz can do (and has done) is that they can keep a line of synths going more or less forever. The K series was done right the first time. There was very little need for upgrades, the interface was done proper and it's just a joy to use. Heck, even the overall size of the unit is "just right". It's not flashy, it's not the flavor of the week, it's just a serious music making machine.

The 'board I want from Kurz right now is the K2661. Although I haven't been able to play one in person yet, I'm 100% sure it's just as good as their previous models.

...and it's the cheapest it's been in years. The list price is under $3000. I remember back in the day when Kurz's easily broke the $6000 mark - and they were worth it back then because they were light years ahead of anyone else.

If, God willing, I get my finances in check over the course of the next year or two I'm going to spring for the K2661. I'll give credit to my Ensoniq's: they've lasted years and years and they're still pluggin' away. If Ensoniq was still in business (the old Ensoniq, not the Creative Labs / E-MU thing) I'd buy from them today in a heartbeat, but alas, they're gone. Korgs suck, so Kurzweil is my choice. I'll just have to wait a lil' while before I can get one. 🙂

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