Rhodes Chroma

Rhodes Chroma Image

Quite a rare analog synthesizer from the early 1980's (only 3,000 made). The Chroma was originally an ARP project. However Rhodes picked it up after ARP dissolved in 1981. Rhodes, best known for its Electric Pianos released the Chroma (and Chroma Polaris) as their premiere analog synthesizers. The Chroma had 16 voices with 1 oscillator per voice (or 8 voices with 2 osc/voice), a 64-note velocity sensitive weighted keyboard, and a very complicated but powerful synthesis design. Programming was further complexed by a limited implementation of just 2 rows of membrane push-buttons. With few sliders to grab, hands-on control is cut short. However the Chroma is a very stable and elegant synth with complete auto-tuning, split-keyboard mode and the ability to link to a computer!

Rhodes Chroma Image

Although the Chroma came before there was MIDI, all was not lost. Rhodes used ARP's proprietary Digital Access Control which was used in some ARP instruments for inter-connecting them. Midi retro-fits can be purchased these days which convert MIDI to ARP's DAC system. Perhaps its most advanced feature for its time was the ability to interface with an Apple IIe computer for sequence and patch storage using dedicated Chroma software! That may not be very practical today, but historically it was a significant example of how synthesizers and personal-computers could work together. Also on-board you'll find two arpeggiators, a graphic equalizer, pitch/mod and 6 other sliders. A keyboardless expander module of the Chroma was also made available. It has been used by Jethro Tull, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul and Oscar Peterson.

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24 Visitor comments
Carl Goodhines
June 5, 2009 @ 4:04 pm
I owned 2 (!) of them, but one of them had more problems than there's room to put here. Not very road-worthy. Loved the sound, that's why I kept getting it fixed! There was a feature on it (Joe Zawinul used to use it) that made the keyboard sound in REVERSE, that is-high C was low E, and low E was high C, etc. The Chroma often auto-switched to this mode, sometimes in the middle of songs, or even while I was on break! It was, however, a true beast to play, even more of a beast to move (Wood keys!), but ran a very hot signal,er, noisy signal, but cut through anything. My other complaint about it was the resonance parameter had only 16 positions. Not too much to work with when creating your own sounds...
Sound? 9.5 out of 10
Roadworthiness? 1 out of 10
Even though a repair shop sometimes would be almost 1,000 miles away, I still made the trip over and over again......
May 11, 2009 @ 5:31 pm
In 1985 I bought my Chroma altough there allready were all kinds of "modern" Yamaha's and Rolands on display, costing about a 3th of its price. The hybride structure of the analoge voiceboards being controlled by a digital microprocessor combined with the wooden piano keyboard and the very elegant looks swept me of my feet. It came complete with the pedals, switches and... the Anvil Case. It has been my companion in numerous studio's and stage gigs. By the end of the 90's I stopped taking the Chroma with me on the road. The tuning problems became more and more annoying and I figured she earned her retirement in my studio. On stage she was replaced by the Korg DSS-1 (also a great intrument) and later the Korg Triton. B.t.w. the Triton even has a digital waveform called Chroma Sawtooth on board. Sounds okay but doesn't come anywhere near the original stuff.
In my opinion not 3000 Chroma's are roaming the earth but only about 1400.
April 30, 2009 @ 1:40 pm
I had the pleasure of playing one of these during an industry show at NYU. I don't recall it having Rhodes badging on it. They had it set up next to a prototype T8. Both formidable analog machines but the Chroma killed the T8. The routing capabilities alone were seemingly endless and the sound was phenomenal. It’s sad that ARP had to destroy itself before they released this beast.
Plex Barnhart
December 3, 2008 @ 8:30 pm
The Chroma has the sweetest sounding oscillators I have ever heard in a poly- analog.The architecture was closely related to an ARP 2600 but had the audiophile quality of the 2500. The sawtooths had a notch in them which you could change and modulate pulse width-style. Other outstanding features: Real wooden weighted keys which played lightening fast. True polyphonic glide AND portamento. You could gang up almost endless modulations and control processors to the bi-polar levers and pedals simultaneously- I dont know of another synths that does that. Coupled with the even rarer Expander you could have true stereo 32 oscillators! The algorithmic structure could be changed allowing for instant complex routing of the filters, oscillators and envelopes as well as keyboard algorithms which provided for voice allocation. Different modes of sync, FM and ring mod too.
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Rated 3.97 (271 Votes)

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  • Specifications
  • Polyphony - 16 voices max.
  • Oscillators - 16 VCOs: 0-63 value mix of sawtooth and variable pulse waveforms; 16 modulation sources
  • LFO - 16 LFO waveforms
  • Filter - Switchable hi-pass or low-pass filters
  • VCA - ADSR
  • Keyboard - 64 weighted-keys with velocity (polyphonic aftertouch optional)
  • Memory - 50 patches + external cassette tape interface
  • Control - None (MIDI via retrofit)
  • Date Produced - 1982 - 1984
  • Resources & Credits
  • Images from

    Information provided by Michael Salmon.

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