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
March 4, 2010 @ 6:27 pm
To folks who appreciate this sort of thing, the Ensoniq really does stand out in a mix, and is one of the more useful synths I've ever had. It doesn't suffer from the cleanliness and predictability that most synths exhibit. As you would expect from the makers of the C64 sound chip, the ESQ is a flawed synth that is flawed in all of the right places. Even the brutal digital aliasing at the top of the pitch scale (highest key + 2 octaves of pitch bend) sounds great as an effect.

Only qualm is the generally noticable shift between waveforms when doing portamentos a few octaves apart.
Alexander Milanov
February 15, 2010 @ 3:11 pm
Per Gessle of Roxette wrote their no 1 US hit "the Look" on the ESQ-1.
January 25, 2010 @ 1:52 pm
I have two of these synths, one was my Father's and the other I bought on-line. The second one I bought was used extensively on the road touring as a stage instrument. Great synth! - I actually have some Moog patches my Father made, very convincing to a degree.
John Dillon
November 14, 2009 @ 2:42 pm
I just acquired one of these. Its pretty beat up, but I am excited to get it up and running again. This might seem like nit-picking, but the display on this synth is neither LCD or LED. It is in fact VFD, or Vacuum Florescent Display. I just thought I'd mention that for people like me who are about to open theirs. VFDs function similarly to vacuum tubes so don't break the vacuum envelope (glass) and for the love of God, don't expose yourself to the dangerously high operating voltages!
October 25, 2009 @ 9:47 pm
I have now had an ESQ-1 keyboard as part of my line up for a few years, and feel that I can comment accurately on its characteristics:

Straight up --> an awesome and distinctive synthesiser that is VERY approachable - easiest "push button" programming ever!

I love it for it's gritty keys/pads and long wierd FX swirls. Because of this, it's been used along side many synthesisers I own in nearly everysong I've written in the past few years.

Instantly satisfying digital electro style pads/keys, and a great sound from the filter too (no self res, but hey, who cares!!). Sure, at the end of the day it does have its limits but it is amazingly complex considering its age... 3 Osc and very good envelpoes allow very evolving sounds. Ok action keyboard.

If lost, would definately seek out another.

BTW, djprofessork's catridge problem may be due to the catridge being a ROM catridge (ie expanded PRESETS, but not actually RAM that can be written to).
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User Rating

Rated 4.68 (829 Votes)

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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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