8 – Ensoniq ESQ-1

Years of production: 1986-88
Spec: 8-voice hybrid polysynth
Key features: digital oscillators; Curtis analogue filters
Current second-hand price: £150-250

Before the arrival of digital workstation keyboards in the late 80s, there was a brief period where manufacturers made early attempts at nailing the idea of all-in-one production solutions with digital features.

The ESQ-1 is the perfect example. Building on the hybrid digital/analogue concept of their Mirage sampler, the company integrated digital oscillators with Curtis analogue filter chips and an eight track sequencer. Ignore the sequencing options; you’d have to be a crazy masochist to want to sequence on this dinosaur in the 21st century.

Instead, focus on the ESQ’s amazingly versatile synth features: with three oscillators (each with its own VCA), three LFOs and four envelope generators per voice, this is one of the most powerful hybrid synth engines you’ll find anywhere.

Dig deep into the modulation options and you’ll be hard pressed to find any synth which can keep up with the ESQ’s abilities to create organic, evolving pads and subtle shifting textures.

If you can’t find an ESQ-1, keep an eye out for the slightly scarcer and more expensive SQ-80 or the Korg DSS-1, which also combines digital oscillators with analogue filters.

19th September, 2012

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