I’ve been wanting to make a post about the Ensoniq ESQ-1 for a while. The only reason I didn’t do it sooner is I wanted to buy one on eBay before I drive the prices up! I can happily report I did just click the Buy Now button and got a mint one for $250. Now I’m going to tell you this synth is the biggest secret in the synth world. Ensoniq was an American company and most of their synths are made of metal. The ESQ-1 also has a LED screen which is still beautiful and much nicer than the green/black LCD screens such as on a Yamaha DX7. The ESQ-1 is a digital synth but has all analog curtis filters (like DSI products). They are 4-pole analog resonant filters with 6-stage envelopes. You get 8 voice polyphony. What’s the price difference between a DSI Prophet 8 and a vintage ESQ? See where I am going here? It has 3 oscillators per voice, 32 waveforms, 3 LFOs per voice (triangle, saw, square, random) and 4 VCA + 4 Envelopes with 7 parameters per voice. There’s MIDI, memory and an on-board sequencer.
When I was in college I was friends with a synth band called Exurbia. The lead keyboardist Juan had an Ensoniq. I was constantly blown away by the sound. Skinny Puppy also used one. Recently I was viewing the awesome synth demos Jexus puts online and came across two he posted for the ESQ-1 (see above). I instantly jumped on eBay. I was shocked to see these consistently sell for under $300. I bought one. Another piece in my musical time machine. Go get one.
“The ESQ-1 is an absolutely fantastic synth with a great sound. In modern language – “It has a DSI filter” – you can hear it when it’s running through those ‘lo-fi digital samples’ with high resonance. It’s a very aggressive, powerful sound with lots of low end and depth. The filter makes all the difference and I would never miss analogue saw waves now that I own it. Roland synths of the era were beautiful and smooth, ESQ-1 was heavier and darker.” – Rib (comment on vintagesynth.com)
For more info: vintagesynth.com/ensoniq/ens_esq1
photo credit: Matrixsynth