Jean-Michel Jarre’s 10 Favorite Synths

The Red Bull Music Academy has published an really interesting interview with synthesist Jean Michel Jarre, in which he shares his 10 favorite synths.

“Today, same as a piano or a saxophone, an ARP remains a classic instrument, and one that we’ll still be using in two centuries time,” notes Jarre. “After having weighed up the advantages of the virtual, today we’re realising that we’re made of flesh and blood…..and we have an absolute need for an emotional and tactile relationship with our instruments.”

Here are Jarre’s ten favorite synths. There are some surprises on the list – so check it out and let us know what you think of Jarre’s picks!

Jean Michel Jarre’s 10 Favorite Synths:

  •  E.M.S VCS 3 (1969) – “My first synth, Europe’s answer to the American Moog: a Mini versus a Cadillac. Post-war technology had led us to an European electronic sound which was very different to the American sound.”
  • ARP 2600 (1971) – “ARPs are like the Stradivarius or the Steinways of electronic music. They were invented by craftsmen who, today, we’d place on the same level as the luthiers that built violins, clavichords, pianos – all of the acoustic instruments.”
  • ARP 2500 (1969) – “This is the big brother of the ARP 2600, created to compete with the modular Moog”.
  • Fairlight CMI (1979) – “The Fairlight is an instrument which immediately struck me as extraordinary when it first appeared on the market, because it brought to mind the way that I approached electroacoustic music when I started out – that’s to say with two decks, some scissors and some cellotape. The limits of this machine awarded it an extraordinary poetry.”
  • Roland JD-800 (1991) – “With the JD-800, you could modify the sound, as you can on an ARP or a Moog, but with a Japanese sound quality, which in some respects, is more refined.”
  • Memory Moog (1982) – “With the Memorymoog, and other synths that came out around the same time, in one fell swoop, we could make complete chords, and that changed everything. For better and for worse. As a result, we ceased to compose electronic music the classic way, as Wendy Carlos did. “
  • RMI Keyboard Computer (1974) – “It created a very different sound to anything else that could be heard at the time, precisely because the digital edge added a certain coolness. This synth was to music what the film Tron was to cinema at the time.”
  • Eminent 310 (1970) – “This synth defines my sound, from Les Mots Bleus by Christophe and the songs of Patrick Juvet, right up to Oxygène and Equinoxe, where I used it heavily. To this day, I still use it frequently.”
  • Teenage Engineering OP-1 (2011) – “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen something as interesting, flexible and creative as this. And importantly, its inventors have reintroduced a notion which had been desperately lacking: humour.”
  • Mellotron (1963) – “This is another mythical instrument from the electroacoustic scene, since it was one of the first samplers well ahead of the Fairlight. It’s the sound of the 40s adapted for the music of the 60s.”

We’ve included quotes from Jarre on his favorites, but he goes into more detail about each of the synths in the interview.

Jarre will featured at a Red Bull Music Academy session May 16, 2012. See the Red Bull site for details.

Thanks to reader MarkLouis for the tip!

20 thoughts on “Jean-Michel Jarre’s 10 Favorite Synths

  1. I’ve had the privilege of playing all of these but the Eminent organ, the OP-1 and ARP 2500. The sample sets one can buy are a lot better than some purists claim, but it helps a lot to have felt the real heat at some point. It makes a real difference in your ability to bring that sound home. That goes triple if you can drop those WAVs into a synth with as many features or MORE than the original. Anybody got one of those? What ONLY one? Besides, anyone who really fights over whether an ARP or Oberheim filter sounds “better” should be doused with a pitcher of pancake batter while sleeping.

  2. >”I’m sure that musicians will still be using the OP-1 in 50 years.”

    Of all the cool things on the market now–the Arturia Lab, Minibrute, Roland Gaia, Yamaha Mox, etc–of all the cool things, the only thing I really WANT is a Teenage Engineering OP-1. But every time I transfer money from savings into checking to get one, I just CAN’T bring myself to place the order, to spend THAT MUCH money on such a LITTLE cool thing.

    I’m gonna. I just need to figure how to get up the courage to place the order. It’s SO expensive.

  3. No, no it wont…

    I agree to his humor comment…the midi situation was/is a messed up joke to consumers….the price is just as funny to musicians…Im personally not a hater, but I cant say I really Im interested do to those two issues. To each their own, thats why its a list of his favorite synths…which I dont care for.

    Id rather know what everyone elses favorite synths are. Its far more interesting to me to hear what people choose to buy with limited funds and means as opposed to guys like Jarre, Hans Zimmer, or Richard D. James who have straight up museums. I think this is for the same reason I agree with his other comment, “…we have an absolute need for an emotional and tactile relationship with our instruments.”.

    1. Jarre is trapped by his own fame. He did a couple of great albums such as “Teo & Tea” that no one seems to recognize, because they generally only want to hear “Oxygene” again and again. That also sort of binds him to the synths he used to help establish that now-pervasive style of space music.
      If you’re serious at a deeper level, you do need to bond with your gear. Too many options dilute you. By discarding a couple of duplicate synths after sampling their high points and enhancing my EXS24 library, I enjoy it more because I’m not fighting to keep track of a big stack. I personally think the sweet spot is about 6 synths. That’s enough to offer any method of sound production (FM, physical modeling, etc.), yet compact enough that your mental eyes won’t cross from Patchcord Spaghetti.

  4. He states of the OP-1 “I chose this synth to show . . . ” To me he is wasting a valuable spot in his 10 to show or to teach us something, not to say this thing makes great sound. And you need a sense of humor to play that thing. I don’t have that much of one. As far as some other of his choices, they are sentimental.

    So I in no way agree with him, other than we do like a tactile feel, which I personally am completely fulfilled purchasing tactile controls to use with my great sounding and infinitely flexible . . . VST’s.

  5. He puts the JD800, ahead of the D50. O.K. I have no problem with that. A lot of people would. It’s just that instant appeal. That instant, wonderful interaction, that you get with a keyboard that has sliders, buttons etc on it’s fascia. I want one too! (Did, then. Do now!). I have a D50 and a Yamaha SY85 (which is showing a bit of fight in the second-hand market just now!). On my shopping list right now is a Roland Gaia and/or an Ultranova. The minibrute, too, having just seen it this week. When I win the lottery, further purchases will be: SC Prophet T8, Roland Jupiter 8, ARP Odyssey, OSCar. A Yamaha DX7 s/11 and a Gem S2 Turbo. (Dead sexy looks!). Oh, and an immaculate Korg M1 and a Casio CZ3000. (My first ever synth. Wish I hadn’t sold it).

  6. I have to say, I have the OP-1 and love it.

    Having owned or at least played the top 10, but these days I only have fingers for the JP-80, Motif XF and Kronos. I love newer technology, I think it sounds great and is capable of so much more.

    Sorry this is bull, I simply want it all, or at least as much as I can afford, old and new

  7. Jarre come from rich family so he had the opportunity to spend a lot of money in synth.

    build a music track with an Amiga tracket soft if you have the capability………..

  8. Interesting selection. Some of these are very “special” instruments to which you need to have a certain curiosity to them. Glad he did.

  9. What? No love for the Synthex? Now that’s really surprising. Last year I watched Jarre in concert and on stage were at least 2 Elkas.

    1. The Synthex had several modulation routings that were not found anywhere else. They could often function like the Prophet-5 Poly-Mod section. It also offered band-pass and high-pass filters, which allowed it to produce nasal or throaty sounds not possible with a low-pass filter alone. There is a software version, the Synthix, which gets good marks from people who played the hardware version. Lots of hardware synths are a good way to heat the house in winter, assuming the electric bill doesn’t outstrip the gas bill. Sell one of your older ones to keep the juice on for the rest, heh.

      1. >Lots of hardware synths are a good way to heat the house in winter

        This is a part of “analog” that hasn’t been explored, I don’t think, in the modern world. At the Wikipedia page for electronic pioneers Louis and Bebe Baron, it describes their early analog circuits, saying:

        “Most of the tonalities were generated with a circuit called a ring modulator. The sounds and patterns that came out of the circuits were unique and unpredictable because they were actually overloading the circuits until they burned out to create the sounds.”

        The over-loading actually drove the sounds and destroyed the circuits as part of the creation. That’s pretty cool, and it’s kind of crazy, machines that destroy themselves to give us music.

    2. Exactly – the Elka Synthex, I was really surprised it wasn’t on his list. I have one and it is an analogue beast of the highest order. I recall an interview with Jarre years ago when he said his CS80 was a little problematic for touring and as the Elka can do it all, it replaced the CS80.

  10. Jean-Michel forgot to mention the Eika Synthex synthesizer, used to make the sounds of Rendez vous disc, like the “Laser arp”.

    1. Wellll, you have to remember that while you CAN design a synth-on-a-chip that has a serious flaw or three, its a pretty well matured situation technologically. That brings it back to how you ACCESS it. I find the OP-1 GUI too “Casio-like,” but due respect, that’s an amazing amount of power that would seem natural in standard slab synth. It tests my flexibility to consider seriously working within a few frameworks; they seem too restrictive after using a DAW for so long. Still, I really got rolling when I landed my first workstation… and pecked away at a 3″ x 4″ LCD. The OP-1 is no less legit.

      1. Not sure why anybody would think the OP-1 GUI is ‘Casio-like’, since the old Casio mini synths didn’t have GUI’s.


  11. I must confess that I’m disappointed that the Stylophone isn’t there. Could we have Brett Domino’s Top Ten as a comparison soon, please?

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