Ensoniq ESQ-1

Ensoniq ESQ-1 Image

Similar to the Mirage synth/sampler, the ESQ-1 was Ensoniq's highly affordable and impressive digital synthesizer, released in 1986. Although the waveforms are digital in nature, the filters are all analog as on the Mirage. In fact, for a digital synth the ESQ-1 has many good old analog-synth features such as a ring modulator, sequencer, and oscillator-sync. The envelopes and LFOs are can be freely routed to each DCO, VCA and or VCF. There are 40 preset sounds which are the usual not-so-great sounds. Luckily the VFD display screen is large enough to make editing the sounds somewhat pleasant.

What really sets the ESQ-1 apart from other similar synths is the voice architecture. Choose from analog, digital, or samples or any combo since there are three independent oscillators per voice! Once you start editing on the ESQ-1 you will come up with interesting and unique results. Using dynamic voice allocation it can seemlesly switch from 8-voices of analog to 8-voices of digital or sampled voices! This gives you a wide array of different sonic elements at your fingertips!

Then there's its built-in sequencer. It can store up to 24,000 notes in 30 sequences and 10 songs via battery back-up. Anyone in search of an alternative synthesizer should consider the ESQ-1. More analog than a DX-7 or D-50 and also much cheaper, the ESQ-1 is a tasty option that is worth a try.

Ensoniq ESQ-< Image

The ESQ-M (pictured above) is a rack-mount version released in 1987 which is identical to the ESQ-1 except that it excludes the on-board sequencer option. The ESQ-synths have been used by Anything Box, Skinny Puppy, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Steve Roach.

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124 Visitor comments
July 7, 2014 @ 12:25 am
Finally got into synths, but due to limited budget, I had to choose carefully. Settled on ESQ-1 for several reasons: 1. Relatively cheap. 2. Flexible routing for learning/experimentation. 3. Accessible UI (I wanted to spend my time creating sounds rather than cursing the UI). 4. Not so modern or sophisticated that it would be wasted on me. 5. Bonus - sequencer! 6. Great ratings at syntezatory.net.pl. Jexus's review is spot on, and I'm not disappointed; this thing is FUN! Also the user manual from buchty.net is the most helpful/informative user manual I've ever read for anything.
July 4, 2014 @ 10:58 pm
To wooper: The slider, like the up and down buttons, is only for editing sounds, not for real-time control. Changes made with the slider don't take effect until the next keypress, so you could use it in real time if you gradually move the slider while continually re-pressing the key, but that's probably not what you want. Really, your only option for real-time filter sweeps is to build your patch such that the filter responds to the wheel.
June 18, 2014 @ 2:41 pm
Amazing sound for current price. Get one while it's cheap. This is another very underrated synth.
June 10, 2014 @ 11:44 am
Did you know Speedy J (Joachim Paap) used one of these extensively on his early recordings for Warp records? The timeless classic synth sounds below are all pure ESQ-1:


I don't own myself as I have a Waldorf Microwave 1 and a DW-8000 that both cover similar ground but if I were just starting out and looking for a first poly on a budget, this would be it for sure..
June 2, 2014 @ 10:12 am
@Wooper It could the MIDI implementation on the ESQ-1. Early midi devices can be contrary and since the mod wheel can send better resolutions, typically, than a CC based slider. My Roland R8 exhibits this a lot. The mod wheel is at the essence of MIDI so it's no surprise to me that it works better.
VSE Rating


User Rating

Rated 4.68 (829 Votes)

  • Check Price
  • The link above will take you to an eBay search for this synth to see active listings. If you don't find it there, try looking in our forum marketplace or post a wanted classified.
  • Specifications
  • Polyphony - 8 voices (dynamic voice allocation)
  • Oscillators - 3 digital oscillators per voice, 32 waveforms
  • LFO - 3 LFOs per voice; triangle, saw, square, random
  • Filter - 4-pole analog resonant filter with 6-stage envelope
  • VCA - 4 VCA + 4 Envelopes with 7 parameters per voice
  • Sequencer - 8-Track (30 patterns, 10 songs w/ up to 99 patterns each)
  • Effects - None
  • Keyboard - 61 note (velocity)
  • Memory - 40 patches
  • Control - MIDI (8-parts)
  • Date Produced - 1986 - 1988
  • Resources & Credits
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