Electronic Music Studios (EMS) Synthi

EMS SynthiA PortabellaEMS SynthiA Image

Synthi A

The Synthi A and Synthi AKS models are virtually the same electronic instrument as the EMS VCS3, except that the Synthi models are housed in a thin plastic briefcase for easy portability. The Synthi A was also commonly known as the "Portabella". The AKS model (pictured below) adds a 256-step on-board monophonic digital sequencer and a 30-note touchplate keyboard (activated by the 50 Hz-hum in our fingers).

Like the VCS3, the Synthi A and AKS feature three oscillators and a unique patch system. Instead of patch wires, they use a patchbay grid wherein the synth components are laid out and signal routing is accomplished by placing small pins into the appropriate slots. The VCS3/Synthi was, in actuality, a modular type synthesizer reduced down to an extremely portable size.

EMS SynthiAKS

Synthi AKS

They are famous for their ability to generate those familiar sci-fi sounds (Dr. Who) and other uniquely analog sounds. After ten minutes of warm-up the oscillators become pretty stable. There's a Noise Generator, two Input Amplifiers, one Ring Modulator, one Voltage Controlled Low Pass Filter (VCF), one Trapezoid Envelope Generator, a Joy-Stick Controller, a Voltage Controlled Spring Reverb unit and two Stereo Output Amplifiers.

What is important about the portable line of EMS synths is that they were super miniaturized and fairly sophisticated for their time. The patching grid system made patching easier, and allowed the unit to take up a lot less space. The Synthi A was released in 1971, two years after the launch of the VCS3 (The AKS came out in 1972). It should be noted that the case mounting of the AKS can be very precarious. The mounting is prone to fail, and therefore any used units should be examined carefully to see if this common problem exists before buying.

EMS Synthi100

Synthi 100

EMS also produced the monsterous Synthi 100 in 1971. It is loosely based around the combination of three VCS3 systems into one massive synthesizer. Although the circuit boards are unique and somewhat different, the filters are still quite similar to those of the VCS3 and A/AKS. The sound of the Synthi 100 was subtly distinct from the VCS3. Both filters and oscillators were much more stable in the Synthi 100. It featured twelve VCOs, two keyboards and a 3-track, 256-step monophonic digital sequencer. EMS really was an early pioneer of digital sequencers in a time when such devices as Moog's analog 10-step sequencer were the more popular norm. The Synth 100 also featured two massive 64 x 64 patch matrices. Approximately 29 Synthi 100 systems were built in the 1970s and early 80s, although EMS still states that you can have one built as a special order. It sold for $25,000 originally, and probably still does today. Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto owns one which he used heavily on his album, "R.U.O.K?".

EMS Synthi E

Synthi E

The Synthi E is an educational form of the Synthi that had a complete teaching course built around it for use in colleges and schools. It was intended as a teaching aid into the principles of sound synthesis and electronic music. Small, housed in a brief-case and battery powered, the Synthi E was perfect for the student or teacher on the go! Simple as it may appear, it actually has some sophistiated features:

  • Input Amplifier with low (Microphone) and high (line) level inputs.
  • Envelope Follower providing a voltage proportional to the amplitude of the input.
  • Oscillator 1 with true exponential voltage control of frequency and three simultaneous output waveforms (sine, triangle and voltage controlled pulse).
  • Oscillator 2 for slow control voltages such as glissando or vibrato.
  • Filter/Oscillator 3 with v.c. low, high and band pass filter or pure sine wave.
  • Modulator for envelope shaping or ring modulation. Noise Generator.
  • Trapezoid Generator for multiple simultaneous trapezoid waveforms. These may be used for envelope shaping (trigger mode) or for low frequency waveforms (free run mode).
  • Manual-Slide tape Controllers (2) for obtaining control voltages. One slide-tape is stepped and may be used as a keyboard and the other for variable control. One provides a trigger pulse. Both may be temporarily marked or written on.
  • Inverter to invert control voltages or signals.
  • Monitor Amplifier and Loudspeaker with two input mixer faders.
  • A 3-octave keyboard for controlling the Synthi E is available. This unit is a mechanical keyboard which plugs into the Synthi E. It provides the correct pitch voltage and trigger signal for the Trapezoid Generator. A switch on the Synthi E selects internal or external keyboard operation.

Many of these EMS synth's have been used by Brian Eno, Pink Floyd, Stereolab, Yes, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Jean-Michel Jarre, Astral Projection, Vince Clarke, The Who, Todd Rundgren, Recoil, Freddy Fresh, Ultravox and many more.

Check Electronic Music Studios (EMS) Synthi Prices on eBay

The link above will take you to a search for this synth to see active listings with more images, specs and information. If you don't find it there, try looking in our forum marketplace. Our marketplace gets thousands of visits every week so make sure to check back often if you want to buy or sell a synth.

Related forum topics

Comments

Are you looking to buy or sell a Electronic Music Studios (EMS) Synthi? 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.

34 Visitor comments
chris.s
October 6, 2013 @ 9:20 am
With all due respect, I wouldn't rely on Rehberg or Robin Wood for obtaining an original EMS product. The problem with these machines is they contain numerous obsolete parts and hardware. Their construction is by hand and is EXTREMELY labor intensive. I am in the process of cloning one with the help of D.Revell (Phutney). Your best bet for getting the sound of a Synthi/VCS3 is to build it yourself, but it requires LOTS and LOTS of work and $. Even if these things go back into production, whoever would be manufacturing them would have to change lots of elements and stray far from the original.
Martin Guy
July 28, 2012 @ 1:11 pm
Hi!
Does anyone happen to have a copy of the flexi-disc "Sounds from... EMS" that was given away with VCS3's at one point?
I ask because I curate the list of Delia Derbyshire's music at delia-derbyshire.net and this flexi-disc contains the only remaining copy of one her pieces that is otherwise believed lost - only a copy of her score exists.
I should add that we also have some of her VCS3 patches ("dope sheets"), so anyone with the real thing might like to get in touch and try them out.
sam
April 23, 2012 @ 2:09 pm
Just following up on a previous post-- just received a new Synthi from EMS Cornwall two weeks ago. 3200GBP before mods, ~3600GBP after mods, shipping and extra pins. Some will question the wisdom of paying this much for a synth. But for the sound and the interface I am very happy, even after waiting 12 years for it to be produced. For all those on the list for a new Synthi or VCS3, try to be patient, as hard as it is-- Robin Wood will come through, and better late than never.
Sam
March 30, 2012 @ 4:43 pm
I too have been on the waiting list for a new Synthi since 1999. But my experience with Robin Wood has been different-- he has always responded promptly to me, albeit with chronically innaccurate estimates of production. It has been been frustrating. But Robin Wood is not a business man-- he makes and repairs EMS synthesizers. My number has recently come up-- I've submitted my mod requests, received an invoice, and wired the money to EMS in Cornwall. I'm sure there will be more delay. But when I do get it in the following weeks I will be a very happy man indeed.
Jan
December 26, 2011 @ 1:28 pm
Well, I had one, a synth AKS. I used it on 2 LP in the good old seventies. I actually travelled do London to see the production and buy one. Putney Bridge road, in the back yard. It could make fantastic sounds, I want to buy one a again, if I could get one...
 
Post Comment!
VSE Rating

Awesome!

User Rating

Rated 3.79 (651 Votes)

  • Check Prices on eBay
  • The link above will take you to a 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 - Monophonic
  • Oscillators - 9 to 12 oscillators
  • Filter - Low Pass VCF
  • VCA - Trapezoid waveshape Envelope generator
  • LFO - Yes
  • Keyboard - Synthi AKS has a 30-note touchplate keyboard.
  • Memory - None
  • Control - CV/GATE
  • Date Produced -
    Synthi A - 1971
    Synthi AKS - 1972
    Synthi 100 - 1971

Errors or Corrections? Send them here.