Ferris Bueller’s Synthesizer – The E-Mu Emulator II

In his latest video, Alex Ball takes an in-depth look at the E-Mu Emulator II – famously used by Matthew Broderick as the lead in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Ball talks about the history of the Emulator II and demonstrates how it works, with lots of musical demos along the way.

Topics covered:

0:00 Day Off
0:40 The Emulator
1:30 Interlude 1: Some Sounds
1:59 The Emulator II
2:27 Interlude 2: 80s TV Score
3:03 Sampling Explanation
4:34 Sampling Demonstration
7:48 Multi-track Sequencing
9:34 What could you use it for now?
11:45 Computer Interface & Famous Users
13:53 Feature Track (mixed by Jakob at Sonic Peak)

22 thoughts on “Ferris Bueller’s Synthesizer – The E-Mu Emulator II

  1. Bueller is the absolute WORST.

    That hyper-privileged little shit had an $8k (in 1984 money, mind – that’s equal to $22.8k today(!!)) in his BEDROOM – and he plays hooky to hang out with his useless rich friend and be a dick to his girlfriend, while the entire freaking universe aligns to make him look cool to his undiscerning fellow white privileged jerk-ass preppy peers.

    Hated him then, hate him now.

      1. Bueller is white privilege personified. He does nothing to earn people’s admiration – he’s pretty much a dick.

        In a single day, he uses his girlfriend, drives his best friend to attempt suicide, lies to literally everyone he comes into contact with, and causes hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage.

        And top it off, he doesn’t grow or change throughout the movie.

        The movie doesn’t realize that Bueller’s a complete dick, which tells you something about the writer/director.

        What made the movie popular 35 years ago was that it was a shared fantasy to be Bueller – to be the rich, white privileged kid. To live in a big house, to be spoiled by your parents, to be able to fool everybody and to get away with anything you wanted.

        But people have changed. While we still aspire to be rich – we don’t admire dicks that are born into it. That cultural change dates the movie as much as a character like ‘Long Duk Dong’ dates another John Hughes film, 16 Candles.

  2. Does anyone know if a vintage Emulator II hardware synth sounds any better than the Arturia soft-synth version? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

  3. I always loved the concept of the Emuators in the 80s, but I never could afford one. My first sampler was an Ensoniq Mirage Rack circa 1985, then an EPS-16+ Rack circa 1990/1991, finally, I standardized on Kurzweils from 1992 on. The thing I loved most about the sound of the Emulator was the warmth of the analog filters. Even though I can afford a used one now, I have nowhere to put it, and those things weren’t tiny.

    1. What’s the appeal of the Emulator vs the Emax?

      As I understand it, the Emax was designed to be an updated, modernized and more affordable take on the Emulator. It dumped some of the outdated technology that made the Emulator expensive – like the big floppy drives – but kept most of the good stuff, like individual analog filters.

      The Emax 1 sells for around $1500, which isn’t cheap, but that also seems pretty affordable for a highly desirable piece of vintage gear.

  4. Ferris Bueller was the best, he played the game and won. Along the way he saved his friend, changed his sis and became. hero to a whole generation that invented and changed things for us all. ALL HAIL FERRIS!!!!

  5. I have the Arturia Emulator via V Collection. It’s fun to imagine/recall how things were back then, and maybe use some presets. It’s clearly a non-trivial plugin. But I’m not entirely sure what else to do with it. I have other samplers, and other filters, lofi effects and so on which probably fit a typical workflow better. Would love to hear how people use it day-to-day.

    (Granted, I don’t have any other plugin that precisely models the Emulator DAC and sample encoding tricks.)

    1. It’s funny you asked that. When I saw this post, it caused me to think about both my Emulator V and the Emulator instruments that are included in the UVI “Vintage Vault” set. Since I always viewed the Emulators as samplers, I had no idea what I would possibly do with either of the emulations. I doubted that they would sample, and I have more ROMplers (both as synth workstations and plug-ins) than I could ever use. So, I’ve never even opened any of them. If I’m missing something about these instruments, I too would like to know what sets them apart from any other high quality (or maybe even not so high quality, given their pedigree) ROMpler that people may have hanging around.

  6. I’d rather sit on a barrel cactus with no pants on than try to trim a sample with just that display. Since samplers have matured and there’s no need to do that, its only a matter of how much you like the easily-had classic presets. There’s no real need to sample out of nostalgia.

    The Emulator was deservedly seen as the sampler to beat for a quite a while. They always gave you high sound quality that stood out, especially in the early days of iffy formats and ultra-cranky gear. If you really want “that E-mu sound,” nab a Proteus 2000. They ported over the Emulator library and then some. If you’re doing something analog that’s getting a bit fuzzy, drop in a P2000 patch and everything will pop.

      1. Not until about 1985, you didn’t. The first Emulator was released in 1980 while the first Mac wasn’t released until 1984 (and it took editing software a while to emerge). However, if you were lucky enough to have an 8080- or Z80-based CP/M 8-bit machine running something like Samplevision, you would have been where Macs didn’t get to for over a half decade!

  7. These were cool and mysterious back in the day. I’d like to see a modern hardware sampler again – perhaps with analog filters. I loved many things about my Emu E5000 Ultra but once I’d upgraded it to a workable specification, Gigasampler and later Kontakt came out which basically out spec’d it in almost every way.

  8. BTW, the Prophet X is like a modern Emulator/Emax.

    You can also buy Emulator/Emax soundset for TAL from GPR Music, the “Blue Light Sensation”

      1. It can’t (although it may allow user samples to be uploaded). Its only real feature, if your not including the 150GB of 8Dio sample content, is its analog 24dB/oct stereo filters. If you can forego the analog filters, workstations like the Kronos, that really do support user sampling, are actually closer. The one thing I really missed when I sold my Kronos was its ability to stream sample content I created. Another, even more appropriate substitution, assuming you are concerned with analog filters, would be a Waldorf Quantum. Given Waldorf’s commitment to expanding the capabilities of the Quantum/Iridium lines (especially with sample streaming rumored to be in the pipeline), its 4GB (3GB for user access) with sampling through analog audio inputs, that can be treated as an oscillator, probably makes it the most evolved “sampler” currently available with analog VCFs (the same is true, of course, for the Iridium sans analog filters).

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