Monday, October 3, 2011

Talk Studio/Zypher Electronics Digi-Atom 4800 Analog-to-MIDI interface "Control the MIDI World" ad, Keyboard 1984


Talk Studio/Zypher Electronics Digi-Atom 4800 analog-to-MIDI interface 1-page advertisement from page 49 in Keyboard Magazine April 1984.

Since starting to build my Doepfer modular, I've really started getting back into MIDI-to-CV converters. If I don't feel like turning on everything in the studio, I'll hook my Tenori-On or iPad up to my Kenton PRO Solo to run the modular, or my Roland MPU-101 if I want to get a few other older synths into the party.

But, its *always* been my MIDI gear as master, controlling the analog gear. I've never really had the urge to drive my MIDI gear from an analog master - just too much trouble, or I'm lazy or something. I'm guessing it has something to do with entering the synth scene so soon before MIDI was launched. It has just made me wired that way (pun TOTALLY intended).

But just recently, I ran across this 2007 thread on the Abelton forum, and my jaw just dropped when I scrolled down a little. For a couple of reasons.

1. That BIG ASS Doepfer modular
2. The Digi-Atom in the top right of the photo, according to the owner, allows the Doepfer "to control any plugin parameter or Nuendo knob with the Doepfer LFOs or other mod generators"

Now that's awesome. And reading about the Digi-Atom 4800 made me recall this advertisement in Keyboard. And hence this blog post (and probably the next one....  :)

At the time the Digi-Atom came out in 1984, I'm sure it seemed like a good idea. Everyone had analog sequencers and keyboards and MIDI was still a baby. Articles in Keyboard and other magazines were positive about the new technology, but always seemed to slip in a "we'll have to wait and see if this MIDI thing catches on".

But there they were in music shops - fancy new MIDI keyboards that needed to be hooked up, controlled and sync'd into all of those analog set-ups musicians had paid dearly in time and cost to build into their studios. There was a definite need for some type of Swiss Army Knife interface to control all those pesky new MIDI keyboards with tried and true analog sequencer technology.

Talk Studio/Zypher Electronics, along with a few others, were ahead of the curve in this respect, but who could have predicted that the curve was about to take a 180 and drive off in the opposite direction. MIDI technology progressed so rapidly that hardware and software MIDI sequencers soon appeared on the scene and eventually took over the market. Within a year it wasn't analog controlling MIDI - but MIDI controlling analog. Now interfaces were needed to convert those MIDI signals into CV/gate and the DIGI-ATOM 4800 would quickly become obsolete to most of those youngin's coming on to the scene, and a very rare musical tool for others.

But you have to give Talk Studio creds for taking the risk, and this advertisement definitely would have been intriguing to many. Plus, I'm a sucker for spacey/futuristic imagery. Interestingly, in really small print running along the left side of the photo are a few design and photo credits.
"Design by A. Harada. Photo by T. Yokoyama"
I've seen this lots with illustrations, but very rarely for photos used in older ads.

Also, the diagram of all the ins and outs was a really good addition to the ad and would have gone a long way to illustrate to musicians exactly how and why one might need the 4800. That diagram also benefits from the fantastic ad-copy. For such a technical device, the writer does a really good job keeping it simple. The only issue is that the bottom half of the page gets a little crowded - the empty space could have been used a bit more productively.

Not surprisingly, there isn't a lot of good photos of this beast online. But, I can point you to go-to site MATRIXSYNTH, which posted a January 2009 e-bay auction with a few good close-up photos.

And could they make that "Zypher Electronics" text on the top of the unit any bigger? Kidding!

I've got a bit more info on the Digi-Atom 4800 I'd like to share in my next post. Stay tuned!

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