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History of Synthesizers: 1970 to 1980 End of the Pre-Digital Synth Era

Submitted by on June 12, 2013 – 8:20 am No Comment

Previously we discussed how the first modern, tube operated synthesizers first came to be with the RCA Mark I and Mark II and how R. A. Moog used transistor technology to create the first line of popular synth devices in the late 1960s. By the end of 1960 and into the early part of 1970, however, Moog realized that his devices were far too large and bulky for the general population and most artists simply couldn’t afford or transport these machines.

The reason being, up until 1970, all of the Moog synthesizers were created on a modular basis. There were individual modules that had to be connected together through a series of inputs and outputs which was confusing, time consuming, and impractical. As a result, Moog decided to get in touch with three other engineers in an attempt to create a much cheaper, more compact, and user friendly device.

With Chad Hunt, Bill Hesmath, and Jim Scott alongside Moog, the team was able to create the first compact, personal synthesizer and during the middle of 1970 they released the device as the Minimoog Model D.

During the manufacturing process, every module of the device was connected before it was shipped which not only made it more user-friendly but significantly cheaper as well. As a result the Minimoog Model D saw massive amounts of commercial success. By the time the device was no longer manufactured more than 10,000 devices were sold and shipped across the world.

You can see a demo of the synthesizer in the video below:

Despite its widespread appeal and popularity, the Minimoog Model D wasn’t a synthesizer that provided users with all of the features they wanted. One of the major issues is that synthesizers up until that point were monophonic which meant they could only play a single note at a time without the ability to play any type of chording.

Many attempts were made throughout the 1970s to address the issue and a few wild products came as a result, including a device that used a single keyboard that could be connected to ten different synthesizers to play polyphonic sounds. Obviously purchasing 10 different synthesizers was out of the question for almost everyone, so new designs continued.

At the same time that manufacturers were trying to develop new devices that could play multiple notes at one time, there was an increasing demand for being able to store sounds. There were no microSD slots back then (obviously), so most attempts at storing sound were outrageously complicated.

By the end of 1978, however, a synthesizer finally hit the market that gave polyphonic capabilities and primitive music storage for users all within a single interface—the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 which went on to sell 8000 units by 1985.

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