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Synclavier I (1977), with HOP box

The Synclavier System was an early digital synthesizer, polyphonic digital sampling system, and music workstation manufactured by New England Digital Corporation of Norwich, Vermont, USA.

The original design and development of the Synclavier prototype occurred at Dartmouth College with the collaboration of Professor Jon Appleton, Professor of Digital Electronics, Sydney A. Alonso, and Cameron Jones, a software programmer and student at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering.


Synclavier II and floppy disc drive

Synclavier I

First released in 1977-78[1][2][3] it proved to be highly influential among both electronic music composers and music producers, including , an early adopter from the commercial world, due to its versatility, its cutting-edge technology, and distinctive sounds. Frank Zappa also made extensive use of the Synclavier.

The early Synclavier Digital Synthesizer used FM synthesis, and was sold mostly to universities. Some such systems had only a computer and synthesis modules, but no keyboard.

Synclavier II

The system evolved in its next generation of product, the Synclavier II, which was released in early 1980 with the strong influence of master synthesist and music producer Denny Jaeger of Oakland, California. It was originally Jaeger's suggestion that the FM synthesis concept be extended to allow four simultaneous channels or voices of synthesis to be triggered with one key depression to allow the final synthesized sound to have much more harmonic series activity. This change greatly improved the overall sound design of the system and was very noticeable.

Keyboard controller

Display and control wheel on VPK (1984)

Synclavier II models used an on/off type keyboard (called the "ORK") while later models, labeled simply "Synclavier", used a weighted velocity- and pressure-sensitive keyboard (called the "VPK") that was licensed from Sequential Circuits and used in their Prophet-T8 synthesizer.

Digital sampling

STD: Sample-To-Disk interface (c.1982)

The company evolved the system continuously through the early 1980s to integrate the first 16-bit digital sampling system to magnetic disk, and eventually a 16-bit polyphonic sampling system to memory, as well. The company's product was the only digital sampling system that allowed sample rates to go as high as 100 kHz.

Tapeless studio concept

Ultimately, the system was referred to as the Synclavier Digital Recording "Tapeless Studio" system among many professionals. It was a pioneer system in revolutionizing movie and television sound effects and Foley effects methods of design and production starting at Glen Glenn Sound. Although pricing made it inaccessible for most musicians, it found widespread use among producers and professional recording studios, competing at times in this market with high-end production systems such as the Fairlight CMI.

Technological achievements

When the company launched and evolved its technology, there were no off-the-shelf computing systems and integrated software and sound cards. Consequently, all of the hardware from the company's main real-time CPU, all input and output cards, analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog cards and all of its memory cards, and more, were all developed internally, as well as all of the software. This was certainly a monumental task at best in those times. In fact, the hardware and software of the company's real-time capability was used in other fields completely remote to music, such as the main Dartmouth College campus computing node computers for one of the USA's first campus-wide computing networks, and in medical data acquisition research projects.

End of manufacture

New England Digital ceased operations in 1993. The bulk of its assets were purchased by Fostex of Japan.

Models and options


  • Dartmouth Digital Synthesizer (1973)[1]


  • ABLE computer (1975): an early product of New England Digital, was a 16-bit mini-computer on two cards, based on the Data General Nova processor, or transport triggered architecture 16-bit ABLE processor.[4][5][6] It used a variant of XPL called Scientific XPL for programming.[7] Early applications of the ABLE were for laboratory automation, data collection, and device control. The commercial version of the Dartmouth Digital Synthesizer, Synclavier, was built on this processor.[8]

Black panel models

Synclavier I

On 1970s–late 1980s:

  • Synclavier I (1977)[2]
    • Hand Operated Processor (HOP box): a troubleshooting tool for Synclavier system, connected to ABLE computer via "D01 Front Panel Interface Card".
Synclavier II
  • Synclavier II (1979): 8bit FM/Additive synthesis, 32Track Memory Recorder, and ORK keyboard. Earlier models were entirely controlled via ORK keyboard with buttons and wheel; a VT100 terminal was subsequently introduced for editing performances. Later models had a VT640 graphic terminal for graphical audio analysis (described below).[8]
    • Original Keyboard (ORK, c.1979): original musical keyboard controller in a wooden chassis, with buttons and silver control wheel on the panel.[8]
    • Sample-to-Disk (STD, c.1982): a first commercial hard disk streaming sampler, with 16bit sampling at up to 50 kHz.[8]
    • Sample-to-Memory (STM): later option to sample sounds and edit them in computer memory.[9]
    • Direct-to-Disk (DTD, c.1984): a first commercial hard disk recording system.
    • Signal File Manager: a software program operated via VT640 graphic terminal, enabling 'Additive Resynthesis' and complex audio analysis.[8]
    • Digital Guitar Interface[10][11]
    • SMPTE timecode tracking[8]
    • MIDI interface[8]
Synclavier PSMT rack (1984)
  • Synclavier PSMT (1984): a faster ABLE Model C processor based system, with a new 'Multi-Chanel-Distribution' real-time digital controlled analog signal routing technology, and 16bit RAM based stereo sampling subsystem. The monaural FM voice card was doubled up and enabling software panning for stereo output was introduced.[8]
    • Velocity/Pressure Keyboard (VPK, c.1984): a weighted velocity/after-pressure sensitive musical keyboard controller, was introduced. This had a black piano lacquer finished chassis, a larger display, additional buttons and a silver control wheel.[8]

Ivory panel models

Terminal: Apple Macintosh II (1987)

On late 1980s–1993; operated via Macintosh II as terminal.

  • Synclavier 3200[9]
  • Synclavier 6400[9]
  • Synclavier 9600[9]
  • Synclavier TS (Tapeless Studio): consists of "Synclavier" and "Direct-to-Disk"[9]
  • Synclavier Post Pro: consists of "Direct-to-Disk"[9]
  • Synclavier Post Pro SD (Sound Design): consists of small "Synclavier" and "Direct-to-Disk"[9]

Notable users

Pat Metheny playing guitar synthesizer; in the 1980s, he played Synclavier with this guitar controller (Roland G-303), in addition to an early Synclavier guitar controller.[10][11]

See also


  1. ^ a b "History of Masters Program in Digital Musics". Dartmouth College. Archived from the original on 2009-10-12. 
  2. ^ a b c Joel Chadabe (May 1, 2001). "The Electronic Century Part IV: The Seeds of the Future". Electronic Musician. In September 1977, I bought the first Synclavier, although mine came without the special keyboard and control panel ... 
  3. ^ "1978 New England Digital Synclavier". Mix (Penton Media). September 1, 2006. 
  4. ^ "Able". retrocomputing, mac the naïf. The Able processor was designed in the mid-1970s for MSI components, and first assembled by New England Digital ... in a converted barn in Norwich VT. It was primarily used in embedded applications for experiment control and network processing. Its most successful application was in the Synclavier digital synthesizer. ... The most notable feature of the Able processor is its single instruction - a MOVE from source to destination. Each instruction has an 8-bit source field and a 8-bit destination field. There is no opcode field. Arithmetic and control operations are encoded as special destinations. This makes the Able a  
  5. ^ ABLE Series Hardware Reference Manual. New England Digital Corporation, 110pp. 
  6. ^ Creating Programs for ABLE Series Computers. New England Digital Corporation, 1978, 39pp. 
  7. ^ "Scientific XPL for New England Digital Corporation's ABLE Series Computers". New England Digital Corporation, 1978, 74pp. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Synclavier Early History". Synclavier European Services. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Synclavier Manual III Reference Guide III. Synclavier Digital. February 2007. Archived from the original on 2011-07-18. 
  10. ^ a b Nicholas Webb, "Interview with Roland GR User Pat Metheny", Roland GR-300 Modification and More (Wayne Scott Joness (Composer)) 
  11. ^ a b "Roland G-303 Guitar Synthesizer Controller", Roland GR-300 Modification and More (Wayne Scott Joness (Composer)) 
  12. ^ "Keyboard". Tony Banks unofficial website. 
  13. ^ Blair Jackson (Jan 1, 2010). "Avator — Jame Cameron and Audio Team Create a New World of Futuristic Sounds". Mix (Penton Media). 
  14. ^ Darter, Tom; Doerschuk, Bob (2008). "The state of the artist". In Ernie Rideout. Keyboard Presents the Best of the '80s: The Artists, Instruments, and Techniques of an Era. Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 15–19.  
  15. ^ "yahoo groups interview with Paul Davis". 2007. 
  16. ^ Droney, Maureen (September 1, 2001). "Dave Hard Drive Pensado". Mix (Los Angeles: Penton Media). Retrieved September 8, 2010. 
  17. ^ Interview with Glen Hammarstrom
  18. ^ Keyboard Magazine, May 1985, p. 40
  19. ^ a b Trynka, Paul (1996). Rock Hardware. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 1983.  
  20. ^ "list of synclavier users". 2012. 
  21. ^ a b Amato, Mia (July 12, 1986). "NED Synclavier Seminar Offers Sound Solutions". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media, Inc.) 98 (28): 40.  
  22. ^ Warner, Timothy (2003). Pop music: technology and creativity : Trevor Horn and the digital revolution. Ashgate popular and folk music. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 130–131.  
  23. ^ Keyboard Magazine, Sept 1995, p. 32
  24. ^ Milner, Greg (2009). Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music. Macmillan. p. 323.  
  25. ^ The ending titles of the movie
  26. ^ Musician (Amordian Press) (153–158): 34. 1991. 
  27. ^ Stump, Paul (2000). Go ahead John: the music of John McLaughlin. SAF Publishing Ltd. pp. 173–174.  
  28. ^ Keyboard Magazine, Dec 1987, p. 31
  29. ^ "Review: The Dream of the Blue Turtles". Stereo Review (CBS Magazines) 50 (1): 154. 1985. 
  30. ^ Harry, Weinger (20 Oct 1984). "Kashif Juggles Multi-Layered". Billboard 96: 42. 
  31. ^ [Q&A: Kashif – Music History in the Making] (January 23, 2012). Soul Train. Retrieved 2014-04-24.
  32. ^ Kashif | Biography | Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2014-04-24
  33. ^ "(cover page)". Berklee Today (Berklee college of music) 9 (Fall 1997, No.2). 
  34. ^ Hagen, Earle (1990). Advanced techniques for film scoring: a complete text. Alfred Music Publishing. p. 61.  
  35. ^ "Wells Christie's biography". 
  36. ^ Keyboard Magazine, Aug 1983, p. 32
  37. ^ Milner 2009, p. 345.
  38. ^ Keyboard Magazine, Aug 1981, p. 28
  39. ^ Keyboard Magazine, July 1986, p.42
  40. ^ Keyboard Magazine, Nov 1986, p. 42
  41. ^ "the cosby show_stevie wonder's recording session". 
  42. ^ Lowe, Kelly Fisher (2007). The Words and Music of Frank Zappa. Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press. pp. 195–197.  

External links

  • "What Makes The Synclavier So Special And Different?" Steve Hills, Synclavier European Services
  • Synclavier Early History
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