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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Are you looking to buy or sell a Ensoniq ESQ-1? Post an ad in Gear For Sale or a request in Gear Wanted. For spare parts and repair services check out Gear Services & Other Goods. Our forums also has a Buyer’s Guide section where you can ask for advice on buying synthesizers.

124 Visitor comments
October 25, 2011 @ 7:41 pm
Back in the day, it was a revelation. Today, still a damn fine board. 3 oscillator synth running through a VCF, with a mod matrix up there with the best of them, plus 32 waves - hard to beat. The sequencer is a fantastic pattern sequencer as well. Responds to AT and poly AT over MIDI. Run it through some modern effects, it could be all you need.
October 15, 2011 @ 8:56 pm
HELP! Was having so much fun with an ESQ-1 I've had for about a month. I got greedy and wanted to install all 800+ sounds from the Syntaur ESQ master disk--ran the sysex files via PC to the board and kerplop: Display is all messed up--and the dreaded brass sound is the only sound I get!!? I hit any soft buttons and various characters are entered (numbers mostly). CANNOT do a hard reset..It's all gone to hell. ANY help is greatly appreciated!! MAIL TO WESGRAY1@GMAIL.COM --THANK YOU IN ADVANCE!!
September 30, 2011 @ 3:15 pm
The OS 3.50 EPROMs (and many other ESQ/SQ-80 goodies) are available through Syntaur, www.syntaur.com. The later OS versions added nice features to the sequencer, and reinstall the original sound programs when the keyboard is reinitialized. (Early OS versions install the dreaded BRASS1 in every program location.)
August 19, 2011 @ 6:54 pm
I bought one new and this was my 2nd synth. Superb value & versatile for its time. The first synth to include the multi mdi mode now taken for granted. I used the sequencer to write all my "songs" until I got a Korg 01/W. The best sounds for me were the creamy pads and spiky digital tones.There are tons of modulation options - almost appraoching a Matrix 12. Also quite PPG like. I didn't like the presets much but worth time and effort to coax good stuff from it. I still have it but it stopped making sounds years ago and was kept as a controller. A shame I think it would be worth rediscovering.
August 4, 2011 @ 3:48 pm
The ESQ-1 is an absolutely fantastic synth with a great sound. In modern language - "It has a DSI filter" - you can hear it when it's running through those 'lo-fi digital samples' with high resonance. It's a very aggressive, powerfull sound with lots of low end and depth. The filter makes all the difference and I would never miss analogue saw waves now that I own it. Roland synths of the era were beautiful and smooth, ESQ-1 was heavier and darker.
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  • 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
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