Ensoniq ESQ-1 In-Depth Video Series

Synthesist Joe Evans has started a new series of videos, taking an in-depth look at the Ensoniq ESQ-1 synthesizer.

“I’m looking at the Ensoniq ESQ-1, which is an 8 voice polyphonic synthesizer from 1986. When it was released, it was considered great value for money, as it would cost twice as much to get something else with similar features,” he notes. “It has 32 waveforms and an analogue filter, making it a hybrid synth, as everything else is digital. The oscillators have sync and amplitude modulation. It has 3 LFOs and 4 envelope shapers, which gives you an enormous amount of sound creating possibilities.”

“When you add in that there is a sequencer as well, it’s not surprising it wiped the floor with the competition,” he adds.

If you’ve use the Ensoniq ESQ-1, leave a comment and share your thoughts on it!

20 thoughts on “Ensoniq ESQ-1 In-Depth Video Series

    1. @whormongr: The same here. Also miss my VFX SD. It was sadly so buggy that I had to replace it. Really wished that somebody would clone these in software (the currently available presets are only sample based).

      1. According to the creator, William Kalfelz, the WusikStation project is based upon the Ensoniq TS-10, which was the successor to the VFX. It even includes VFX waveforms.

  1. Even though I had a PC-based sequencer, I used the ESQ as the core of my system instead. I used one or two channels to sequence ESQ sounds and sent the rest to external synths. I had 8 synth/sampler voices and just MIDI clocked my drum machines and used their internal sequencers. Got a lot of music made with that system and made some money with it.. Plus, I could back up the ESQ presets and sequences to my Mirage floppy drive! The whole system was rock solid. Ah, the good old days! ?

  2. The Ensoniq ESP was my second keyboard, followed quickly by the EPS-16+. Though they were both unreliable, when they did work they were lots of fun. I was pretty aware of the ESQ-1 synth as these Ensoniq boards were so nicely laid out and had some really special/clever features. I also loved that they made it easy to explore tunings and other things. (Not sure if the ESQ-1 had those tuning map features). I know these sounds aren’t very impressive, per se, but they have a certain nostalgic charm– and there was something really fun about learning to program in that type of display realm.

  3. I had an SQ-80 in the 90’s.
    Both the ESQ & SQ were designed with a lot of careful thought and well engineered and both had analog filters with resonance.

    A fault of the SQ was that the mechanical keyboard was split in to and sometimes the ribbon-cable connectors between them needed re-seating.

    Ensoniq E/SQ stuff:

    NOW HEAR THIS… there is an excellent **FREE** software VST emulation of the SQ-80
    Some presets for it:

  4. I always liked how Ensoniq placed the oscillator, filter, and DCA buttons in a flowchart pattern. That made it easy to understand signal flow. Joe mentioned the ability to control attack time with velocity — a terrific feature for brass and lead sounds.

    The ESQ also has a slick mode where pitch-bend affects only the keys you’re touching; notes that are decaying or held with the sustain pedal don’t bend. That’s fun for guitar effects. And the keyboard itself has a surprisingly crisp feel. I used to MIDI my ESQ-1 to our studio’s Fairlight because the ESQ felt so much better to play!

    1. Mikes comment about the careful thought, and well-engineered design is spot on.

      The EPS had this logical layout with PITCH, AMP, and FILTER all treated with their own column of controls. So impeccably logical. It also had these edit methods for adjusting at the sample level, layer level and instrument level– relative and absolute– brilliant. Add to that the ability to modulate loop points, polyphonic aftertouch, and polyphonic portamento, — and one of the most clever systems for creating tuning maps I’ve ever seen. Oh, and it had so many tools for making smooth sample loops– the double-reversed-butterfly-loop, I’ve never seen that anywhere else.

      In hindsight, it was a really good synth-learning instrument. As much as I love my kurzweil instruments, there’s a special soft spot for that EPS-16+

    2. I had the great fortune to have an ESQ-1 be my first real synth. Between the layout of the panel and the excellent manual, it was how I learned subtractive synthesis

  5. Got one that had some corrosion on the key bed because someone spilled cola on it. I decided to pay to have it professionally repaired because this synth is just too cool not to be in 100% functional condition. It’s just so much fun to mess with, and I echo many of the comments here that the issue of the menu and lack of sliders isn’t really that big of a limitation. Once you get the hang of it, programming is a breeze and it’s very capable of happy accidents. Love this thing.

  6. I have an SQ-80 and it’s definitely got a vibe to it. It almost sounds like instruments sampled off of cassette tape. I see comments above referring to the workflow and the layout of the buttons corresponding to the signal flow. If you’re looking for a modern instrument that has a similarly excellent user interface, I highly recommend checking out the ASM Hydrasynth. The sound obviously is quite different (though excellent), but the workflow is reminiscent of the old Ensoniq keyboards, and I mean that in the best way.

  7. I sometimes dream of Ensoniq synths re-issued with tougher hardware and better displays. Those designs were always gratifying, although the buttons were generally cheesy, heh. No prob, as that so-called budget gear truly delivered. I was never an SQ player, but I wore out a Mirage and Mirack. They were a serious Happy Place for years, the perfect partners for my synths.

    I’m amused that today’s gear cuts similar corners. Fiddling with a parameter chart and poking the Mirage filter button was cheesy, but it handed me a pipe organ I used to rattle a few clubs. It also added to my carbon footprint with two shoeboxes full of floppies. Sorry! (Props to David Battino’s work over the years, like “The Art of Digital Music.”)

  8. I traded my DX 7 for an ESQ-1 when I was 16. I had so much fun with this synth, and the sequener taught me so much about arranging and recording.

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