Sunday Synth Jam: In this video, multi-instrumentalist and composer Peter Pringle performs an original composition, that he wrote “to demonstrate and compare the sound of four different theremins:

Here’s what he has to say about the four theremins, plus some technical information about the performance:

The first one I play is the Moog Ethervox. Many people believe this is the finest and most versatile theremin ever made. It was designed and manufactured in the late 1990’s and is fully MIDI capable (although I am playing it here strictly in the traditional way).

The second instrument is the 1929 RCA theremin that once belonged to the late Hollywood thereminist, Dr. Samuel Hoffman. This instrument can be heard on the soundtracks of over forty major motion picture soundtracks of the 1940’s and 50’s.

The third theremin is the last theremin designed and made by the late, wonderful, Robert Moog. It is called the Etherwave Pro. This instrument is in a burled maple cabinet I made for it myself, and is the only one of the four instruments in this video that I play while seated.

The last theremin, the one with the Art Deco lightning bolt antennas, belonged to Leon Theremin’s business partner and personal assistant, Julius Goldberg. This is the only one of the four theremins that I am using an effect with. The sound you hear is the voice of the theremin going through an Electro-Harmonix TALKING MACHINE which gives it the haunting sound of a human baritone. I thought this might be an interesting contrast with the other three instruments.

All four of these theremins are amplified identically, and their sound is coming through the “Claratone” speaker you see behind me. This speaker was specially designed by Reid Welch for use with the theremin, and was named after the great 20th century thereminist, Clara Rockmore.

I would love to have played these instruments by walking from one to the other in a single shot but that is not possible. First of all, theremins are notorious for causing all sorts of interference problems with one another when there are several of them in close proximity and all of them are turned on. So for each of the theremins I play in this video, the other three had to be turned off.

The other big problem is that the spacing of the notes within the electromagnetic field is radically different for each of these four instruments, so it takes a few minutes to adapt your technique to the configuration of the theremin you’re playing. All theremins are not the same. Most traditional instruments have a standard design and spacing – the standard piano keyboard is the same everywhere – but theremins are highly individual and each one is different.

6 thoughts on “4 THEREMIN COMPARISON

  1. The older theremins look great, but the Etherwave Pro sounds the best to these ears. I wonder if it’s a matter of it being easier or more reliable to play?

  2. I find it a little bit of a shame, that the fourth one is compared to the other theremins with an effect on it… that makes it impossible to compare it to them at all… the other three to my ears did not sound radicaly different though, but I’m no Theremin feinschmecker, so it’s probably just me who cannot hear the important differences. :O)

    1. I wondered about that too, but it sounds cool and it seems like Pringle was thinking about this more as a piece of music that happens to use four different theremins than a dry comparison of the different models.

      It does show, though, that a modern solid-state theremin sounds just as good as a classic tube theremin. I suspect that Pringle could make just about any theremin sound amazing, though.

  3. They are all nice physical objects but I still don’t like the tone of the Theremenin. Am I the only one who doesn’t get them?

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