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
August 20, 2009 @ 2:13 pm
weighs a ton, but easy to use and nice sound.. nice filter, and easy to read LCD
Chuck H
July 29, 2009 @ 1:01 am
From the people who brought you excellent sound chips on the Commodore 64/128, Apple II GS, and PC - I give you: Ensoniq!

Man I miss these guys - they were right up the road from me in West Chester, PA. This was a company of true innovation producing products of high quality in the face of cheap Japanese crap.

Everyone here has mentioned the snazzy electronic music that can be produced with this beast, and that's true but you also have to say something for the way it's built. 22 years later I am still using this as a live gigging keyboard, albeit trigging Key Rig running on a Mac Mini.

This thing is built American style - with STEEL. It's got a HUGE internal transformer from hell which can take extreme heat and cold. I've opened the 'hood' (yes, it has one), on occasion to fix things like a bent mod wheel (my bad - got a little excited one night). Easy, easy, EASY to fix!
July 1, 2009 @ 11:25 pm
Many criticize the ESQ on various sonic and technical grounds, committing two fatal errors when judging a machine of this age: expecting of a synth what it was never crafted to do, and rating its features by modern standards. The ESQ-1 is a bridge in synth history between old and new. Of course it comes up short when compared to newer gear! If you are looking for realistic *anything* do not look here!
Don’t let the thinner digital oscillators fool you: when the filters on this guy have their say, the sound is unbearably fat. Plus, the Saw wave on this baby is immaculate. But the aesthetic of the machine is for me its strongest point. It is unmistakably strange and vintage gear, and the LED lights on this thing make it emanate a green nostalgic glow of 1986 synth heaven. You can coax some wicked and organic sounds out of an ESQ. For those of us with the patience and intellect to manipulate this enigmatic beast, it never fails to amaze.
May 2, 2009 @ 1:59 am
The ESQ-1 must have been one of my favourite synths. Although being mainly digital, you could get some truely amazing sounds out of it.I found this patch, called Jarre, I think, and tweaked it a bit to make this super smooth swelling string pad sound. I used that sound most of all and layered it with a piano sound from my U110 module. At a certain point I wanted change and sold it for a silly price to a guy that looked more like a chick and puchased a Yamaha SY99 which is a super synth, but I lost that lovely ESQ1 sound forever. Like most synths of that era, there were no knobs t tweak with, but I used it alot on stage with no problem at all. Together with a Master keyboard like the M-Audio Keystation PRO 88, you would have a lot knobs to play with in a live situation.
May 1, 2009 @ 8:01 pm
The one CEM3360 chip is used for final volume. The VCAs for each voice are part of the CEM3379 VCF/VCA combo chip.
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  • 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
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