Thursday, September 20, 2012

Synton Syntovox "High performance vocoders" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1984

Synton Syntovox "High performance vocoders" 1/4-page black and white advertisement from page 86 in the March 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

I got to say, trying to write a last minute blog post while watching Survivor is a lesson in futility. But "Survivor" is kind of a good theme for this post. On a few different levels.

On one level, these Synton vocoders have survived for over four years with just a trickle of advertising. The first half-pager appeared back in March 1980, and its little condensed brother appeared a month later and only ran two or three times. Both of those ads were probably paid for by Parasound, their American distributor in the early days. 

Then, what appears to be a very long break, this third ad made its first showing in mid-1983, popping up again once or twice into 1984. But this time, Synton's distributor had changed to Bob Moog's company Big Briar, Inc.

And there we see that theme of "survivor" again.  I'm talking about Bob Moog.

Walking away from Moog Music must have been tough. But he was definitely a survivor. Starting Big Briar near the end of the 70s until he finally acquired the rights to use the Moog  name again in 2002. All the while taking on consulting gigs with companies like Kurzweil. Dang good. That's a lot longer than I would survive in the woods. For shizzle. 

The ad itself is alright. I miss those luscious lips that used to appear in the name "Syntovox". But what should I expect - this ad did show up three years later. And not sure about the background image of four 222's stacked on top of each other in the top half of the ad. In fact, no model names are mentioned at all. Until I read the line about a choice of models, I wasn't sure if both were still offered.

I figured the best way was to find out when exactly Big Briar took over Synton distribution (and which models were on offer) was to look through old Big Briar catalogs online. Well... that was easier said than done. The easiest one to find was this 2000 catalog hosted on (where else!) Moog Music (that also features Retro Synth Ads' ads!). But, unfortunately, 2000 is long after Synton stopped producing vocoders I think.

But, after a bit more digging, I finally found this 1983 Big Briar catalog (17 MB PDF) on Be warned - if you click on the link it takes a while to load. It includes a Synton modular and vocoder price list near the end (yum) - including both the cadillac model 221 20-channel vocoder ($6018.00) and more moderately priced 222 10-channel vocoder ($815.00).

The first section of that PDF also includes some great history and insight into the direction Bob Moog was taking Big Briar. Remember, this is 1983, and Bob Moog is not just taking about electronic music, but COMPUTER music.  And I believe that last paragraph on the last page of the catalog pretty much sums up the support and respect Bob Moog had for artists (and scientists) from all walks:
"Big Briar custom-designs and produced a wide range of one, -two,- and three-output touch surfaces, multiply-touch-sensitive keyboards, and position-sensitive controllers. Applications include music composition and performance, interactive sculpture, dance, computer graphics control, and psychological testing. Inquiries are answered with written proposals and quotations. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with artists who wish to incorporate touch- and position-sensors in their work."
Interactive sculpture! Psychological testing! Awesome.

While looking for those catalogs, I managed to come across a comparison of the two models (and other models) written by Synton's own Marc Papin on
"221 - Big, 20-channel unit. Matrix-panel on the front allows analiser-synthesizer channel patching. Internal VCO, noise generator, Voiced/Unvoiced detection, 40+ LEDs for spectrum monitoring, etcetera. Also, it has a 50-pin connector on the back which provides CV in and out for each channel. I've got one, and I  think it is superior to Sennheiser, Bode (Moog) and EMS. Original RRP: HFL 12000,- (US$ 7500.00)

222 12-channels. Not very flexible, but they have a very musical sound. Original RRP: HFL 1000,- (US$ 625.00)"
The 222 was 12-channel? Not ten as described int he Big Briar catalog? Bah. 10. 12. It was a lot cheaper. That's what mattered most.  :)

I also found some good comparison info on, which seems to be a Web site for most Synton products, and some excellent photos on

Well, Survivor is almost done - first episode of the new season.

And I'm done too. Dinner time. Then bed. 

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