Monday, December 20, 2021

Kawai R-50 "The Right Stuff" advertisement, Keyboard 1987


Kawai R-50 drum machine "The Right Stuff" full page colour advertisement from page 81 in the December 1987 issue of Keyboard Magazine. 

Although it was in June 1987 that the R-50 started appearing in ads alongside the R-100 (see my last blog post), in November of that same year the R-50 finally got the spotlight to itself. This ad above appeared on and off until early 1988, getting bumped periodically by an ad for Kawai's additive synthesizer the K-5. 

This ad was a big departure from the R-100/R-50 80s themed extravaganza that came before it - with a much more standard title/content/photo layout - and the content efficiently spelling out the features of the R-50, including its polyphony, pitch and pan abilities, on-board effects, pad programmability, Midi out the wazoo, and... my favourite... the alternate sound chips. More on that in a second. 

Although Keyboard never devoted a full review to the R-50, it did make the Updates & Short Takes section of the Magazine in the January 1988 issue. Yes, you heard that right. Although the R-50 began appearing in ads waaaaaay back in June 1987, it would be seven months before any kind of review showed up. 

Wowza is right. 

I do give Jim Aikins credit though - its a nice, small compact review - just like the R-50 itself. We end up with about two columns of content devoted to the machine. 

Jim starts by pointing out that the $495 R-100 is about $300 cheaper than the R-100. I like this, because it lets me know that the R-100 was still on the market at this time. Also, I dig historical retail prices in general.  

Much like my relatives would do when over for Christmas dinner, we first get a lot of chatter about what's missing in the younger sibling compared to its bigger brother (okay, maybe I'm projecting a bit). 

  • Buttons not velocity sensitive
  • Half the memory
  • 50 of the 100 patterns are non-programmable factory rhythms
  • Song construction simplified (no repeat loops or tempo changes)
  • No punch-in recording and song overdub features
  • No DIN sync jacks
  • In individual outputs

Geeez... sounding even more like me being compared to my older brother. :) 

But, the R-50 did have a few improvements like those assignable pads I went on about in the last post, some new effects, and some amazing midi tricks including midi triggers. 

And, because I can't, and won't, stop talking about them, Jim also mentions those alternate sound chips. Read what he had to say...

"Two additional plug-in voice chips ($129.00) suggested retail) are compatible between the R-100 and R-50. You have to open up the unit to install the new chips, but we're told that Kawai is planning to market a built-in switcher that will hold all three chips and let you choose whichever one you prefer for the current song.". 

This is the first I've heard that Kawai had planned to market their own switcher for all three chips. I'm my head, I'm thinking this would have been a kit that gets installed at the shop.   

But correct me if I'm wrong - I don't recall this ever on the marketing. And I'm wondering if maybe Kawai decided that rather than market a switcher, they decided to market a new R-50 entirely - the elusive R-50iii - that contained all three chips. 

I just happen to have one of those R-50iii. Time to open 'er up and see how those chips are installed.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Kawai R-100 and R-50 drum machine "Overnight Sensation" ad, Keyboard 1987

Kawai R-100 and R-50 drum machine "Overnight Sensation" full page colour advertisement featuring Jan Hammer and Steve Smith from page 73 in the June 1987 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Wowza. There is so much 80s goodness to unpack in this little rare advertisement. It only ran twice in Keyboard - the June and August issues... but should have had a much longer run, dammit.

First - lets look at those 80s design elements. Have you ever seen anything more 80s? Those pink, blue, yellow and purple colours? That "torn page" design element traveling through the middle of the ad? Even the logo for Kawai's "Electronic Musical Instruments Division" with its lines, Keyboard keys knock-out, and other various chunkiness.  Reminds me of Roland ads running around the same time period (see right). 

11/10 for design. 

Next - 80s endorsements! Steve Smith and Jan Hammer - pure 80s peeps endorsing pure 80s drum machines. Jan Hammer, of course known for Miami Vice (did I mention the 80s!?!?!?) and Steve Smith, known for his work with Vital Information and Journey (80s!!!!!).

The ad copy only solidifies the whole 80s vibe with references to Miami Vice, a keyboard review quote, and the trifecta of 80s brand marketing jargon - the "combination of sound, features and price". 

My head is gonna explode!!!!

Here's the thing though - there is just so much going on in this ad, that the whole reason for its existence almost gets lost - and that's the introduction of the R-50 itself. This little guy came out at under $500, and although it lost a few of its bigger brother's great features like velocity-sensitive pads, less memory and, arguably, the fact that half the patterns are uneditable, it did keep all 24 sounds. 

But more importantly, in my head, the R-50 represents what in my mind was a huge leap forward for drum machines:

The sounds are mappable to any button. 

Look at older drum machines, and you see each button has an instrument label under it. Bass Drum. Snare Drum, Hi Hat, etc. Great when memory cost a lot and there was only a limited number of sounds you could fit in a machine. But memory costs were coming down, and programming was improving. 

Some manufactures would get around this button/sound dilemma by stacking sounds on the limited number of buttons. Like the R-100 - only 8 buttons, but three sounds were assigned to each one. But, hard-coded non-the-less.

The R-50 represents that new era of drum machines that were just labeled Pad 1, Pad 2, etc. Like the Roland R-8 or Korg S3. Suddenly, you could have a wack of sounds onboard, and just assign to different pads as needed. Primitive menu diving.

And this brings up to the other really exciting thing announced in this ad almost as an afterthought:

"Both machines have the same great sound and easy operation. And both accept Kawai's new interchangeable sound chips.". 

Say what now?!?!? 

Yup. And those new sounds rawk even more than the standard ones.

There's a lot more to say about those chips... coming up soonly!

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Kawai R-100 drum machine "What good is playing loud if you can't play soft?" advertisement, Keyboard 1986

Kawai R-100 drum machine "What good is playing loud if you can't play soft?" full page colour advertisement from page 11 in the November 1986 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

This gorgeous advertisement appeared in Keyboard Magazine from around November 1986 to February 1987. Somehow Kawai found a little hole in time between promo'ing their K3 ad they had been running, and a K3/K3m/computer ad that kicked the K100 to the curb in March 1987. 

It deserved more. More real estate. More promo. More time. 

This thing is still a beast. A living, breathing animal. Seriously.

You see, I'm not just a fan of the R-100, but also a trained biologist. Botanist/zoologist to be exact. Sure, my last 25+ years in Marketing may have dulled some of this here scientific noggin (*points at head*), but if there is one thing I can still do, it's identify the life cycle of living, breathing organism. And included in that category is gear that would follow the classic Keyboard Magazine life-cycle. NAMM article. Spec sheet. Ad. Review.

Take the R-100 for example. 

I first tagged a wild R-100 specimen while hunting in the forests of the September 1986 issue of Keyboard Magazine. Even though I had just entered university as a science undergrad, I'd like to think my catch-and-release game was already in top form way back then as I flipped through a Summer NAMM article and found this write-up under the "Drum Machines" subheading.
"Kawai continued to expand their line of professional products with their R-100 drum machine ($795). The R-100 has 24 32kHz, 12-bit companded sounds on board, including agogos, timbales, and china bell. It also has a selectable clock rate, tap tempo, individual outs, stereo outs, MIDI key assignments, and real-time tuning.
To put the time period in perspective, also roaming the forests of theis September 1986 issue was Korg's new DDD-1 drum machine ($999.95).

Needless to say, I tagged both for future observation and data collection before pushing forward in my quest to find more info on this new Kawai drum machine.

It would be a few months after that initial interaction that I would see the elusive R-100 again while staked out in my little observation hut. I remember I was sipping some hot chocolate I'd made by the fire pit when I saw fleeting images darting across a deer path. 

Two shadows leaping through the underbrush toward a stream. 

I squinted... remained motionless... and there, in the Spec Sheet section of the December 1986 issue of Keyboard (a month after it's first sighting in an advertisement - okay, no life cycle is perfect), crouched down along-side a K3m, quietly drinking from the stream, was another sighting of the R-100...
"The R-100 digital drum machine features touch-sensitive pads which trigger 24 12-bit/23kHz sampled sounds. Real-time control is provided for tuning, panning level, and sensitivity of each sound. Memory capacity is 100 patterns, 100 songs, and 10 chains. The unit records velocity, tuning and stereo pan for each note. Song position pointer and MIDI data dump are included in the MIDI implementation. The clock rates are variable and a sync-to-tape function is included. Other features include song overdubbing, programmable tempo and volume changes, and ten separate programmable outputs (two stereo, eight direct). The R-100 drum machine :$795.00."
But as I moved in for a closer look, the R-100 caught my scent and they both took off into the night brush. I returned home, telling the tale of this second sighting of the R-100 to all that would listen. 

Then, FINALLY, while walking through the dense woodlands of the February 1987 issue of Keyboard, I found what I was looking for. A review of this magnificent beast by Dave Fredrick!

The article starts, as most reviews do, with a brief intro that includes this rather scientific, fact-based observation on the rather short history of the digital drum machine:
"In as little as six years, we've seen the digital drum machine evolved from a $5,000, 15c rhythm device to today's fully dynamic, keyboard-controllable, tunable, user-sampling MIDI drum machine. And most of these instruments are priced under $1,000. Ain't life grand!"

Grand indeedy!

After a nice thorough review of the instrument, the reviewer concludes with what would become general consensus pretty much everywhere - Kawai had a winner on their hands with the R-100. 

Yes indeedy!

Dave especially liked some of the new features not yet found on other drum machines, like being able to individually assign instrument, tuning and pan placement for each key on a MIDI keyboard, and the "repeat and jump structure" of the pattern sequencer. 

I would have to agree. To this day, the R-100 is one of those pieces of gear that will always have a place in my heart. And, on my specimen table, where it sits waiting the next chance to be turned on.

More Kawai to come in the near future.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Roland JX-3P and PG-200 "Programmable/Preset/Polyphonic Synthesizer" brochure, 1983


Roland JX-3P synthesizer and PG-200 programmer "Programmable/Preset/Polyphonic Synthesizer" four page colour brochure from August 1983.

Well, well... another "We design the future" brochure. I got a million of them. Okay - maybe a few are duplicates. 

Can you blame me? Look at this beauty. All the signs of a Roland brochure from this era - like this JX-8P brochure I published back in 2020 - and the blog post that holds the record by far for hate mail regarding my position on the statement "Too much gear reduces your creativity". But that's another story. 

Where was I... oh yeah - the multitude of other We Design the Future brochures (and those that came after the tagline was dropped, but kept the same design format). At least 11 tagged on the blog to date, and as I find others - like that JX-8P brochure I've scanned, I add the tag to those posts too. 

The centrefolds in these things never disappoint. Flip the cover page open and you get that big gorgeous photo. I don't care if you love or hate the sound or the programming of this thing... it looks awesome. This is what an 80s synthesizer front panel should look like. Yeah yeah... knobs are great - but I equate those with 70s synths. A real 80's synth has one big data knob. Or at most, one or two sets of up/down button. Think Yamaha DX7. Or Oberheim Matrix 6.  :)

But the real history here is Roland's introduction of MIDI to their brochures. The tech was so new, companies were still fiddling about with their buzz words.


"... can be hooked up with..."

"MIDI BUS connector". 

All oddly awkward and satisfying at the same time.

Roland gives up a bit of real estate on the back page (not enough in my opinion) to discuss MIDI even more. 

"Today's modern digital technology has made it possible to automatically control and synchronize a remarkable variety of electronic instruments. A personal computer can even be incorporated in such systems which usual require no special knowledge or operational techniques. The only problem is that individual makers have in many cases employed mutually incompatible connections and this greatly reduces the performer's potential. A new universal BUS system called MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital interface) solves this problem. It accepts all connections from instruments and devices of a standard signal. Now any standard musical instrument or computer can be connected using DIN cords for both input and output. Thus, MIDI expands the potential of performers and brings unprecedented convenience to the realm of electronic music. The Roland's JX-3P and Jupiter-6 are equipped with the MIDI Bus terminal. "

Probably a few more months before the words "MIDI" and "cable" are finally strung together in a sentence. 

And I love it.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Moog Retail Price List, 1977

Moog Retail Price List from January 1, 1977.

Good lord. I haven't posted since August. Time is just flying since I took a new work gig in the spring. Told myself I was "retired" back in 2016, but after some consulting work during the height of COVID, I found an opportunity I just couldn't pass up. 

Anyways, I found this write-up sitting half-finished in my drafts, and thought it was a gooder since it includes some comparisons to other Moog pricing brochures I've already published. In particular, a 1974 brochure I posted in 2012 and a 1980 brochure I posted back in 2018. 

This 1977 brochure sits right in between, so I'd expect prices to fall somewhere in between as well. Let's take a look at a few....

1974 - $1,595.00
1977 - $1,795.00
1980 - $1,995.00

1974: $595.00
1977: $695.00
1980: not on the list

Sonic Six: 
1974:$ 1395.00
1977:  $1495.00
1980 - not on the list

1974: not in the list
1977:  $795.00
1980: $895

1974: not on the list
1977: $795
1980: $1,195

Wowza! In fact... two wowzas. 

First wowza - we can see how the Minimoog seemed to transcend all those other Moog products. The Satellite, Sonic Six, and Taurus came and went, never appearing in more than two of the brochures, but the Minimoog just kept on truckin'! 

The second wowza was that price jump for the Taurus Pedals. All other price jumps were exactly one hundred bucks on the nose. But that Taurus Pedals jumped an astonishing $400 within three years. I wonder what caused that kind of drastic change in pricing?!?!

From a purely design perspective, there's a few interesting elements I'd like to touch on. First, is that signed photo of Keith Emerson. Not surprising since he had been a long-time spokesperson for Moog. And awesome that he shows up in a pricing brochure of all things. It's a big step up from the 1974 brochure that featured that little conductor dude that was their kind-of mascot back in those mid-70s days. 

Don't get me wrong, I still think Moog could make a killing slapping that little dude on a t-shirt. Just look at him over there ---->

 He even looks better on that Minimoog brochure that came out around two years previously. Look at him with the Moog logo behind him. 

Now put THAT image on a hoodie!!!!


Moog Dude. On a t-shirt. NOW!

Monday, August 16, 2021

Anatek "Pocket Products Catalog" brochure, 1991


Anatek "Pocket Products Catalog" 10 page fold-out colour brochure from 1991.

Since moving into the new house, I've taken the few opportunities I've had to go through some of the boxes of brochures I've acquired over the years but never put into their protective sleeves. And just yesterday I did just that, and came across *this*.

Now'r days, people will joke that Eurorack modules are the synth-equivalent of Pokemon. 

"Gotta catch 'em all."

But, I submit this brochure before the court as evidence that the original synth-equivalent of Pokemon were these little babies. 

I can vividly recall going into my local synth haunt and seeing these stacked into their swiveling wire display stand. Okay, "vividly" may be a strong word. Maybe it didn't swivel. And now that I think about it, maybe it wasn't a wire frame. Was there even a stand?!?!? Gah. I'm old. 

Point is, they were there. And they left an impression. And the urge to collect. 

There was no date on the brochure, so of course I started Googling to try to remember when exactly these popped up on the radar. Didn't take long to find Creation Technologies Wikipage and some great info. 

"1989 - Creation Studios, a high end music recording studio is built in North Vancouver by Barry and Jane Anne Henderson. Barry Henderson was also Music Products Division Manager at Anatek Microcircuits, a hybrid manufacturer in North Vancouver, BC with revenues of $1M USD. He and his team developed the Anatek line of MIDI and audio products including the now famous line of small MIDI signal powered MIDI processing accessories called "Pocket Products". "

Boom! Further reading explains how in 1991 a partnership lead to the name "Creation Technologies", which is the name you will find on this brochure, and why I decided to date this brochure to that year. 

And look at that - Oh Canada!

Two other great historical facts can be gleaned from that wiki page. The first is this: 

"The most famous of the Pocket Products, Pocket Merge, sold close to 10,000 units and generated over $1.6M in revenue in 1989, the product launch year."

Niiiiice! What a great little tidbit of knowledge to blurt out next time you are in someone's studio and they happen to have a Pocket Product sitting around. One thing I'm always interested in when it comes to vintage gear is the number of units manufactured. 

The second great historical fact is this:

"Creation had a vision for becoming a high quality global contract manufacturing enterprise and developer of RADAR, the world's first multi-track digital recording system for professional recording studios."

Say what now? I had no idea the peeps behind some of the simplest midi/audio tech devices of the time period were also responsible for one the most complicated and expensive pieces of audio tech at the time as well.

Surprisingly,  my squirrel instincts never kicked in even though they still cost less than those Boss half-racks on eBay and there is always at least a few of them for sale.

*looks at eBay again*


Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Roland TR-727 drum machine "The Rhythm Composer that keeps you in the groove..." brochure, 1985


Roland TR-727 drum machine "The Rhythm Composer that keeps you in the groove..." four page colour brochure from October 1985. 

Hey! Has it really been 20 days since 707 Day!?!?! Well golly-geeeee! 

Happy 727 day, peeps!

No better way of celebrating than by scanning this lovely beast from the archives. (Yes, I also flinched when I used the word "beast" to describe a vintage brochure of a vintage drum machine). But there ya go. What's done is done.

The 1984-1986 period was an awkward one for drum machines. It was like watching your teenager go through puberty. You wanted to look away, but had to keep one eye on 'em to ensure no one got anyone else pregnant, make sure they washed their face, and wait it out until they grew into a fully (semi) functioning adult. 

In the case of drum machines, it was watching them make that transition from analog to digital, while keeping one eye on the cost of memory as it slowly came down.

Okay, not the best analogy. Let's just say there was a lot going on and a lot of moving parts. 

As 1984 ticked by and 1985 reared its ugly teen-age head out of the bedroom after a three day binge of Fortnite and McD's, it was just a matter of time before the intersection between the cost of memory and the cost of manufacturing hit that sweet spot. Someone got the bright idea that they could just swap out the digital sounds in a drum machine they had already manufactured, give the casing a new paint job, and slap it on the back, out the door, onto music store shelves.

And to that end, we had Boss come out with their Super Drums (DM-110) and Super Percussion (DM-220), Yamaha with their RX21 and RX21L, and of course Roland with their TR-707 and TR-727. 

Each pair housed in VERY similarly manufactured boxes, with their sounds switched out for alternative percussion sounds. 

It was an interesting and short-lived (experiment) solution to keeping the price-point of your drum machine down until memory came down to the point you could start really backing one single machine with tons of sounds. If I recall, it was Boss/Roland that managed to get their percussion-based boxes out the door before Yamaha, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. 

Anyways, enough about those other two - I've got brochure scans ready to rock for a later date. Today is the day to let the 727 shine. 

Quickly - we've got the classic Roland "We design the future" layout. Cover with large font up top and sexy photo on the bottom. And what a sexy photo this is - pairing the 727 with the Octapad PAD-8, looking longingly at each other in the subdued lighting. I can here the TR-727 softly whispering "come hither". Put some lace on that PAD-8 and this could be a Harlequin Romance book cover. Just saying. 

Let's face it, Roland was expecting a large audience of the 727 to be trained percussionists, and as a friend of many percussionists, I can tell you that they love to hit things. The PAD-8 becomes the perfect companion for programming a TR-727. Although with the rigid timing of the 727, it possibly could have ended up to be more frustrating in the end. 

With their interest peaked, the reader slowly opens the cover to reveal the inside pages. And it doesn't disappoint. The Roland TR font makes me so happy, as do the large photo and diagrams included! What's interesting is the shear amount of text packed into those pages - especially on the right page. 

So much so, that they really had to compromise the negative space of the pages to fit it all in there. 

Compare it to the 707 brochure and you can see what I mean. Subtitles are crowded in the 727 brochure, and even the line spacing of the paragraphs seem claustrophobic. 

But now I'm just quibbling. It's still lovely. 9.5/10. 

Now flip to the back page and we have that PAD-8 again. Coming back for some more of that sweet sweet 727 lovin'. And it looks like it brought it's friend along for a good time. 


The perfect upsells. 

Have a safe and happy 727 day. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Roland TR-707 drum machine "A brand new digital drum machine" brochure, 1985

Roland TR-707 drum machine's "A brand new digital drum machine from Roland "four page colour brochure from March 1985. 

Hey there! Happy 707 Day. My fifth happiest day after 303 Day, 808 Day, 909 Day and 606 Day. Oh wait... 202 Day. And 101 Day. Wait. 272 Day. Okay, my eighth happiest day of the year. 

But its still a great day! It beat our 358 or so other days. Not too shabby. 

All that aside... let's keep this short and sweet. Just like the 16 beat patterns found on this thing. 

Based on the classic "We Design The Future" brochure style of the period for Roland, this thing is gorgeous. It hits all the right notes. Large images. lots of breathing room. Cool red laser effect when you flip open the brochure. A marble. Yeah... even the marble. 

Like many of the other brochures in this series, the cover has a theme - in this case, some kind of metal thingy behind the 707. It's actually a little freaky on the eyes, ain't it? But that don't matter, because as soon as you open the brochure, you get that large image of the TR-707 and lots of info including the specs. 

But even better than the marble and lazer found on those inside pages is the back page. Because here we have the lovely older brothers of the the 707 - the TR-909 and TR-606. I love that even as MIDI started overtaking previous sync standards, Roland kept that fire burning under the TR-606. I can't fault them for that (606 Day beats 707 Day by three other days!!!

Like I said. Short and sweet. because I have a job now. A real one. And its fun too. 

Have a safe 707 Day! Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Novation Super Bass Station brochure, 1997

Novation Super Bass Station four page colour brochure from 1997.

Sure, the BassStation was (is) cool. So what could be cooler? The SUPER Bass Station.

Want to know what is not cool though. For the follow-up, Novation decided to make BassStation two words. Super. Bass. Station. 


Okay - with that out of the way. The first thing I need to point out is that I love Novation's consistency (except for that whole name thing). This looks amazingly similar to the Drum Station brochure I posted previously. Same design inside and out. 

Just look... two peas in a pod.

Front page: Same "floating gear on black reflective texture" look to it. 

But, unlike the Drum Station, this Super Bass Station brochure has not one, but TWO awards. The Future Music Platinum Award and The Mix Editor's Choice Award. Both from 1997, which is how I dated the brochure. 

The inside pages are also follow the exact same format too. Large image. Diagram and text. But I find the blue theme in this SBS brochure much more appealing. 

Even the back page has the specs in the same type of box as the Drum Station brochure. 

So, what made the Super Bass Station... so... er... super? 

Well, according to Wikipedia... 
"Super BassStation (1997) added an arpeggiator, noise source, ring modulator, an additional LFO bringing the complement to two, a sub-oscillator (an octave below Oscillator 1), analogue chorus and distortion effects, keyboard filter tracking, stereo outputs and panning, enhanced memory, analogue trigger signal output and more to the original design."
First, even Wikipedia wants to make BassStation one word. You are wise, Wiki... you are wise. 


"and more...?" 

Okay, make me do some work. 

Looking at the specs from both the BassStation (one word) and Super Bass Station (three words), one other thing jumps out at me almost immediately...  

The envelope times have been increased quite a bit!

BassStation (one word)
Attack time: 1 ms to 5 sec
Decay Time: 3 ms to 10 secs
Release Time: 3 ms to 10 secs.

Super Bass Station (three words): 
Attack time: 500 us to 20 secs
Decay time: 1 ms - 20 secs
Release 1 ms - 20 secs. 


There is one other thing that stood out - the Super Bass Station (three words) lost their CV and Gate inputs. There are only outputs now! But, I guess to make up for it, Novation added that Clock Out to sync that lovely new arpeggiator they added in. Fair trade I guess.  

Interesting comment about the arpeggiator. Novation specifically markets it inside the brochure as: 
"over 100 Arpeggiator patterns  - TB-303 types with slides through to 9/8 and shuffle." 
Okay, I get why they want to keep promoting this as a TB-303 sounding device. But really? 



Thursday, May 13, 2021

Novation Drum Station brochure, 1996

Novation Drum Station four page colour brochure from approximately 1996.

So, it's looking like May could become Novation month. Well, the last half of May any way. I've been drilling down into their brochures and I'm really liking what I'm seeing. But first, a little house-keeping....

I haven't posted anything for almost a month a half. And that last post was my April Fools number - its been about two months since my last real post about the BassStation (one word).  I know I've had droughts before but this time I actually have a reason. I got a job. No really... a REAL job. Digital marketing of course. But this time with a dash of business development involved too.  Anywhooos, point being that time is becoming a little more limiting. Let's hope I can keep this going. Probably means keeping 'em short and sweet. 

Now back to this lovely brochure. 

After Novation's mind-blowing launch of the BassStation (one word) around 1993, it was hard to think they could follow it up with something that, personally, I found even more mind-blowing. Mind-melting even. That product - the Drum Station (two words). 

Novation called their sound creation system A.S.M. - short for Analogue Sound Modelling, and state in the brochure that the technology "re-created with stunning realism the original character and flexibility of the TR-808 and TR-909 drum sounds". Weirdly, although the acronym A.S.M. is peppered about the first half of the brochure, it isn't until halfway down the second page that we actually learn what it stands for. 

Instead of spending time on needless definitions, Novation decided to go straight to the jugular of P.C.M.-based systems on page one, explaining just how crappy and un-variable sampled sounds are. 

"Yesterday's analogue drum machines, while not as authentic sounding as today's digitally-sampled equivalents, have the character and warmth which PCM-based systems just can't seem to replace. What's more, a sampled version of an analogue drum sound loses all the variability of the original as the sound is "frozen" in just one of the myriad combinations of the editable parameters which the original machines offered." 

Bam! That's how you hit 'em where it hurts. 

The intro goes on to explain that this is why there has been a resurgence of analogue drum sounds (true) and that the TR-808 and TR-909 are the much sought after "dream machines" (also true). 

And with full control over parameters, these sounds could be as varied as the originals. 

So how did it sound...? Unlike the BassStation (one word), which I'm already on record saying it doesn't sound much like a TB-303, this thing was a dream machine. Sure, no sequencer - it had to be controlled through MIDI (and most likely a computer sequencer). But who cares. It cost a lot less than a TR-808 and TR-808 - even at 1995 prices. 

So yeah. Love it. 

The brochure itself is lovely too. A gorgeous front page that has the Drum Station (two words) floating over top a black reflective texture of some sort. Very reminiscent of Roland textures from their "We design the future" period of the 80s. Inside we have a really large photo spread of the front face, a cool block diagram and lots of juicy info. Back page - the specs in a black font in a large light yellow box with rounded corners. 

I mention the colour and shape of that box because I have an older version of this brochure that is slightly different. On the back page that box is square and black, with a white font. Exact same info in the exact same order. Just a different colour theme.

And that's not the only difference. This version of the brochure has that cool "Future Music Platinum Award" logo and blurb on the front page with a July 1996 date. The other version of the brochure doesn't have that award info, suggesting it probably came out earlier - maybe even 1995 when the machine was first released. 

If you can find one of these (the machine, not the brochure) for a decent price. Definitely worth picking up. Great sounds. Rack mountable. Lots of tweaking. 


Thursday, April 1, 2021

MMC-202 "Understanding Technology Series" advertisement, Sequencers! Sequencers! Sequencers! Magazine 1983

MMC-202 "Understanding Technology Series" full page colour advertisement from page 263 of the 1983 Third Quarter issue of Sequencers! Sequencers! Sequencers! magazine.

Okay - what's not to love? The much loved MC-202 upgraded to MIDI?  

It was hardly a secret that just before the launch of MIDI, Roland was already nearing production of their MPU-401 Midi Processing Unit interface and breakout box for many brands of personal computers including Apple, Commodore, IBM/PC and AT... even the MSX and Sharp X1. But Roland's accompanying family of MSQ series hardware sequencers were still months away from production and they needed something out there fast. 

I can imagine the board meeting... 

Executive one: "We got all these MC-202 spare parts lying around!"

Executive two: "Remove the synth to make room to retrofit in some MPU-401 guts!"

Executive three: "Slap an extra "M" on to the name". 

Well... job well done, dammit!

Design-wise, this MCC-202 advertisement follows along the evolutionary path of many of Roland's other "Understanding Technology Series" advertisements, appearing shortly after the TR-808 and TB-303/TS-404 ads from the same time period. 


Sadly, this MMC ad was the last in the series to appear in print - a fitting end and big F-U to CV/Gate and a big hello to MIDI. 

Sure, the MSQ series, and in particular the MSQ-700 is always getting the spotlight when it comes to early Roland hardware MIDI sequencers, so not to many people choose to remember that when Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi and Sequential bossman Dave Smith unveiled the MIDI standard in 1983, it was Kakehashi who whipped out the new MMC-202 MIDI sequencer from his backpack the following day to a boothful of surprised music journalists and musicians. Walking over to the Sequential booth with MMC in hand, he connected it to the Sequential Circuits Prophet-600 and Roland Jupiter 6 that had just been connected and showed what MIDI could do. 

Kakehashi was soon touring with the MMC-202 where ever he was invited, demonstrating the little sequencer along with some of Japan's most notorious DJs.  It was no surprise that these demos led to over two years worth of huge sales  throughout Belgium as well as the Long and McQuade in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Cute little ergonomic buttons. Easy to program. What's not to love. <3

Friday, March 19, 2021

Novation BassStation "Analogue for the 90s" brochure, 1994




Novation BassStation "Analogue for the 90s" six page full colour brochure from 1994.

So... I decided to just randomly pull out a brochure. When I reached my hand in, all I knew was that I was in the "Kawai" - "Oberheim" section of the shelves, but that was it. 

The result? 

Novation BassStation! 

Not Bass Station. Not Bassstation. 


Now, before I get into a bit of history, I thought I'd explain my scan placements above. This is one of those (technically termed) crazy-fold brochures. So, the top scan is the front page. When you open up that front page to the right, you see the two pages I've put up next. Then, what happens is you flip that second page out to the right (again), revealing two more inside pages - so I've got the second page again, but this time it's shown with pages 4 and 5 as it would if laid out in front of you. And finally the back page.

Get it? Good. 

I remember when this sweet machine came on the scene in 1993 - is was around the time that "Big Synth" was starting to dig the vintage stylez again. For example, in 1991 Roland rolled out the JD-800 with its distinctly analog-style interface. Used analog synth prices were also starting to rise (we complained back then!). 

And all of a sudden... Boom. Novation, outta what seemed like nowhere, pulls the covers off their BassStation. 

To hear Novation tell the story...

"When creating Bass Station, synthesiser developer Chris Huggett took the outer shell of MM10 and added the same Filter and VCA as his now legendary Wasp synthesiser to develop an instrument with it’s own unique sound and instant pedigree."

Nice. Wasp guts are cool. 

But what's not so nice? Novation's own use of  the two-word "Bass Station" in that online article ON THEIR OWN SITE. Wussup with that? I want consistency, dammit!

Anywho - it wasn't the Wasp guts that me and so many others were drooling over... it was the idea that this thing could sound like a 303!

More from the article 

"It was particularly celebrated for its ability to mimic the Roland TB303: a synthesiser that played a crucial role in the development of contemporary electronic dance music and helped define house music as we know it today." 

And those 303s were really starting to rise in price. An analogue MIDI synth that could sound like a 303 brought stars to my eyes.

But did it really sound like a 303? 


Look, I have two TB-303s, and a wack of clones. And when people ask me about my views on the clones I'm usually pretty generous with my compliments. "They are close enough" sums up most of my remarks.  

So... the BassStation? 

Close enough.  ;)