Wednesday, August 26, 2020

E-mu Systems Inc. Vintage Keys "Classic Analog Keys" synthesizer brochure, 1993

E-mu Systems Inc. Vintage Keys "Classic Analog Keys" two page colour synthesizer brochure from 1993.

Hey... its been a while. Almost two months. Haven't been in the mood for much writing. But when the topic of the E-mu Vintage Keys came up with a group of friends recently, I remembered all those E-mu brochure scans that have been sitting in draft mode for an unusually long time - even for me. So, here's a short and sweet post to share with my friends. 

While the previous E-mu Morpheus sheet I posted last December is one of my favs in this marketing series from E-mu, I gotta say the Vintage Keys also brings a twinkle to my eye. And yes, the dude with the keytar on the front of the brochure is *definitely* part of that twinkle. 

As mentioned - the sheets for the Morpheus and Vintage Keys (along with the other four or five I have in the series) are from the same series, so it makes sense they all follow the same format. Large title and image up top. Propaganda below. And then on the back - more details. In the case of the Vintage Keys brochure, a good amount of that back page real estate is made up of the list of preset names. Because this machine is all about those presets. 

Let's face it, E-mu was ahead of its time with this module. Or maybe right on time, because most of my friends owned one (even those with original Moogs, Arps and Oberheims) and soon after the vintage synth craze really started to take off. Although I'm sure others will argue with me over that arguably arguable statement of the timing of the actual start of the vintage craze. 

The point being that this rack mount was in-arguably the cheapest way to cram the classic sounds of a Moog Modular, Minimoog and Taurus Pedals,  Fairlight, ARP 2600, Oberheim Matrix-12, Sequential Prophet 5 and many other amazing classic synths into 1 U of rack space.

Sure, 8 megs of sounds (expandable to 16!) doesn't sound like a lot by today's standards, but considering I was probably using less memory running Photoshop on Windows in 1993 in grad school, it packed a rompler of a wallop for it's time.  And did I mention 32 voices, 16 bit sound AND multi-timbral? Sweet.

There is a great review of the Vintage Keys in the May 1993 issue of Music Technology written by Peter Forrest - the always amazing Mu:zines has it online - and he admits that a lot of compromises had to be made to get that many great sounds into 8 MB, but states near the end that...
"Overall, one would have to say that Vintage Keys is an absolute must for any studio - possibly the most essential piece of equipment and the best value for money since... well, something like the SPX90, or the first DAT machines - and equally useful for any professional keyboard player, even if only as a high quality back-up for the real thing."

A great value for sure. 

During the write up, Peter also made a few other comments that I actually had never thought about until re-reading that review.

The first is that he notes that "perhaps the strangest omission is that of any Emulator sounds - or, come to think of it, of anything from the early E-mu modular systems, especially given the slight American bias to the selection."  


Although I'm not surprised they didn't include E-mu modular samples (can you think of a famous E-mu modular sound?), its a good point about not including Emulator sounds. Of course, that may be because they knew that in a year or so they would be coming out with an expansion kit / Plus version that would, in fact, include some of those Emulator samples. But still, one or two wouldn't have hurt. 

The other more interesting comment - and one I should try to do a deep-dive on in the future, was this:

"The other rather puzzling thing is the question of copyright and trademarks, etc. For years, no manufacturer dared to call the clavinet imitation on their synth or sampler 'Clavinet' - presumably for fear of litigation. And yet here are E-mu apparently quite happy to name all the products exactly, and even have adverts with photos of the original keyboards plastered all over them. Maybe they agreed a royalty system with the trademark holders, or maybe there's no problem after all - I haven't been able to find out. The only concession to this possibly thorny question comes in the manual, which says "The names of the above-mentioned instruments may be trademarks of third parties"."

Dang. As soon as I read that, I immediately started to try to go through old synth and sampler presets in my head to see if/when companies started to include competitor brand names in their patch or sample names. Sure, I could buy patch sets from third party sound designers that would include names like "Moog Bass" to describe their carefully crafted Casio CZ patch.   But did Yamaha or Roland ever use "Moog" as a descriptor in any of their bass synth preset patch names? Or even more of a thorny question - if/when did one sampler's sounds make it into the factory presets of another sampler, or in a synth that used sampled waveforms? 

And if so, when did that start? That Kawai K1 Fairlight-sounding Aaaaah patch does come pretty close. Okay, not that close. But it could have if Kawai had the balls.  :) 

A deep dive for another time indeed.

Anways, back to the machine itself. For me, it's the Vintage Keys strings and choir samples that are especially nice - the actual samples that make up the patches. Like sample sound 57 - ARP Strings sampled from an ARP String Ensemble or sample sound 58 - AHHs from the Fairlight. Slap on some chorus or reverb and enjoy the ride.  

You can head on over to the E-mu Vintage Keys page on the Emu Mania website to hear the four factory demos.

Stay safe. And, in an unrelated note, if you have a few extra bucks, buy some electronic music from someone deserving. They will appreciate it.