Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sequential Circuits Inc. Pro-One ad #3, Keyboard 1982

Sequential Circuits Pro-One synthesizer advertisement from page 79 of Keyboard magazine October 1982.

I actually posted this advertisement back in early 2009 when I was a shy young lad and didn't really blog too much. But, since I'm on a roll with Pro-One blogging lately, I thought I would resurrect this ad since I still have some Pro-One history I'd like to get down in writing before the excitement wears out (could it?).

Hopefully you have already come across this clear plexiglass Pro-One advertisement. It's been seen in the wild, among other places, in CK magazine as well as SCI's customer magazine 'The Patch'.

Was it real? According to a comment on a post that featured the ad back in September 2009 - No.
"Sadly, the clear plexi Pro-One was only a marketing gimmick. Dave Smith has confirmed to me that it was a non-working one off that was only for display at the NAMM show back in 81 or 82. I asked him if there would be clear mophos or tetras, and he confirmed in the negative. Which is sad, cause this one would drive trainspotters crazy on stage."
Too bad. Woulda looked real pretty.

I never really got around to talking about the specs of the Pro-One, and though there is quite a lot of technical information out there today on the InterWebz, there really was quite a bit of information bubbling to the surface back in the early 80s - some great references and historical commentary.

Around the time the Pro-One was launched in early 1981, and the first 'why another monosyth' advertisement started to appear in magazines, the Pro-One also made it into the Spec Sheet section of the March '81 issue of Contemporary Keyboard. It was pretty much your standard tech-sheet announcement:
"The Pro-One is a monophonic synthesizer featuring two VCOs that produce sawtooth and pulse waveshapes (the second oscillator also produces triangle waves), a 24dB/octave lowpass filter, two ADSRs, a C-to-C 3-octave keyboard, an arpeggiator, pitch and modulation wheels, single and multiple triggering modes, repeat and drone switches, 1-volt-per-octave control voltage in/out jacks and gate in/out jacks, and an internal interface for hooking the instrument up to most home computers. Also included with the unit are a built-in 40-note two-channel digital sequencer and extensive modulation facilities. Price is $645.00. Sequential Circuits, 3051 N. First St., San Jose, CA 95134."
Poor analogue thing was surrounded by announcements for sparkly new 'digital' devices - the Con Brio digital synthesizer, the Multivox digital sequencer and the Sony digital editor.

It wasn't until almost a year later, after the second Ear-Force ad ran in the second half of '81, and this third ad started its long, sporadic appearance throughout '82 that Keyboard magazine finally came out with an extensive report on the beast in the January '82 issue. A fantastically written piece by Dominic Milano - a well-known writer and editor for Keyboard.

In the report, Dominic does a great comparison between the Pro-One and another mono-synth of the time, the Moog Rogue.

You just have to read the first paragraph of the report to really get an idea of what the monophonic landscape was like at that time in history. And, interestingly, I think there is a parallel to be drawn in today's market for mono-synths.
"THE INFAMOUS MONO synth. It's not a disease. It's a tool for playing music, and in the last five years there have been a number of them brought out by various manufacturers, designed for the neophyte synthesist who perhaps doesn't want to spend a fortune on an instrument that they know little or nothing about."
So, back then, it looks like mono-synths were marketed towards new users that didn't know much about synthesis. Fast-forward almost 30 years, and what I see is mono-synths being marketing largely to software-based users that know little or nothing about hardware.

I realize I'm over-simplifying it a bit... but there is a comparison to be made... yes? no?

Keep reading that first paragraph of the report and historically significant references will just keep on smacking us in the face. It really gives us an idea of just how dominant the Pro-One became in the marketplace.
"A number of companies came out with low-cost monophonics in the mid- and late '70s, including Korg, Yamaha, and Roland. Moog's Prodigy did surprisingly well in the field of low-cost monophonics. In fact, it more or less dominated the field until the Sequential Pro-One became available in March of last year. Yet Moog dropped production of the Prodigy recently, replacing it with the Rogue, a synthesizer that was designed to fill an uninhabited spot in the market - that of the inexpensive inexpensive synth.
So, around 1982, we can begin to see the mono-synth market starting to segment. And Keyboard magazine recognizes this fully in the report. Dominic first comments on the Rogue:
"The Rogue would seem to be a bare-bones instrument, one that's designed to be as inexpensive as Moog could make it, with all the limitations that the words "low-cost" connote. It appears to be an instrument for the person looking for a simple and inexpensive synthesizer. Maybe it's just the right instrument for the player who's put off by electronics and lots of knobs and switches, but who wants to buy an instrument just to see if a synth is a useful addition to their setup."
And then the Pro-One:
"The Pro-One, on the other hand, packs a lot of function into a low-cost package. Corners are cut in places where ideally they wouldn't be, but the trade-off is that you get a lot of function in an inexpensive package. ... The Pro-One would seem to be an ideal instrument for someone who is into high-tech but doesn't have the pocketbook to support the habit."
The report then goes through the basic features of each - first the Rogue, and then the Pro-One. A great technical read. And at the end of each mini-report, is a conclusion. Dominic's conclusion about the Rogue is simple - it's cheap, and "it's pretty good at lead lines". He gets a little more in-depth with the Pro-One conclusion - and provides us with a little bit more technical history about the Pro-One in the process.
"The Pro-One does a more than reasonable job at being a low-budget monophonic synthesizer. Its sound strikes some people as being a bit thin, while other seem to like it."

"The most negative thing about the Pro-One are all the stories of the infamous transformer death that seems to be plaguing the instrument in its early days. What reportedly happened was that in shipment (especially when handled roughly), the transformers came off of the circuit board mountings and did a wonderful job of trashing the guts of the instrument... This problem was fixed by SCI after they started hearing about the complaints. They started bolting the transformer to the circuit board. This change was made beginning with serial number 1811. In any case, this instrument does a lot of things that monophonics costing twice as much don't. It's definitely worth checking out if you're in the market for a first synthesizer. Price is $745.00."
Remember the original spec sheet description nine months previous. The cost of the Pro-One was listed at $645. Less than a year later the price was bumped up a hundred bucks.

In the final, final comparison, Dominic reiterates earlier comments about cost vs functionality, but then writes something rather interesting.
"Actually, we're a little bored by the industry's insistence on the now-'standard' two oscillators, one filter, two envelope generator approach to monophonic synthesizers... It's a fair guess that there will be other low-cost monophonics coming out in the future. The question is, will they offer any new design features, or will they be just new versions of the Minimoog? We'll have to wait and see."
Wow. New version of the Minimoog, eh? I can't say I'm bored yet. :o)

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