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 16, 2013 @ 4:57 pm
Writing here about a cartridge I bought off ebay:
1280 sounds on a "custom" cartridge with 4 flip tabs for the ESQ-1 and ESQ-M. Many programs are similar, but some are just amazing! It includes some sounds found on other cartridges and the custom cartridge is very sturdy. I recommend it for those who want some more places to start in their sound programming.
Alpha Wave Movement
July 13, 2013 @ 5:44 pm
Nice to see so many + comments on this synth. It is indeed a DCA not VCA machine but the analog filter add that nice warm dullness that makes this machine so nice in a mix. A wonder machine when you get into programming as it can sound very fat and complex with all the LFO routing. Add some nice chorus and a deep reverb and you have a wonder tool for making ambient music.
Pete M
July 3, 2013 @ 8:31 pm
I've been using an ESQ1 since 1987 after instantly being impressed with the “Air”, “WavBel”, “MelStr” and “Softs” sounds. Sonically it sits somewhere between a PPG (bells and Formant waves) and Prophet/Oberheim, and offers incredible sonic and modulation flexibility, plus an 8 track 10,000 note (20,000 with expander) sequencer. The ESQ can also Split and Layer, so a Tri-Timbral patch can be created. The sequencer makes the ESQ1 a practical Workstation synth and even today, I still find the on-board sequencer is more intuitive and easier to use than most others.
Pete M
July 3, 2013 @ 8:29 pm
Firstly, the ESQ1 is not a “digital” synthesizer, it is a hybrid mix of Digital Wave Oscillators and analogue filters, like the PPG, OSCar and Korg DW series synths. The ESQ1 does not use “Samples”, but digital waves. Also the maximum sequencer storage is 20,000 notes, not 24,000.
June 14, 2013 @ 9:14 pm
Searched for the module for years, and finally found one cheaply! Love the flexible sounds -- analog, digital, or hybrid; 3 DCO per voice for thick sounds. Up to 9 track multitimbral (8 note poly, but has dynamic note allocation), or can be split. Nice tonal contrast to other synths of the same era: CZ-1, TX81Z, D-110, DW-8000. The ESQ-M has the best modulation routings of any budget gear from the era; the Matrix 6r and 1000 cost much more in 2013 than the ESQ-M, yet they are not multitimbral, and have less polyphony. An ESQ-M will be a strong addition to your sonic arsenal.
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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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