Ensoniq History

Ensoniq is no longer in business and this site is not affiliated with Ensoniq corporation.

Ensoniq Corp. was an American electronics manufacturer, best known throughout the mid 1980s and 1990s for its musical instruments, principally samplers and synthesizers.

Company history

Ensoniq was founded in 1982 by former MOS Technology engineers Robert "Bob" Yannes (designer of the MOS Technology SID chip for the Commodore 64 home computer), Bruce Crockett, and Al Charpentier. Their first product was a software drum machine that ran on a home computer.

In January 1998, ENSONIQ Corp. was acquired by Creative Technology Ltd. for $77 million. The fusion with E-mu Systems and Creative Labs sealed Ensoniq's fate: their products and support vanished soon afterward.


Musical Instruments & Digital Systems

Ensoniq entered the instrument market with the Mirage sampling keyboard in 1985. At the price of USD$1500 it cost significantly less than previous samplers such as the Fairlight CMI and the E-MU Emulator. Starting with the ESQ-1, they began producing wave table based synthesizers. Following the success of these products, Ensoniq established a subsidiary in Japan in 1987.

Ensoniq products were highly professional. Strong selling points were ease-of-use and their characteristic "fat", rich sound (generally thought of as being an "American" quality, as opposed to the "Japanese" sound which was more "digital" and somewhat "cold"). After the Mirage, all Ensoniq instruments featured integrated sequencers (even their late '80s and early '90s samplers) providing an "all-in-one" "digital studio" production concept instrument. High-quality effects units were included, along with disk drives or RAM cards for storage. The manuals and tutorial documents were clearly written and highly musician-oriented, allowing the users to quickly get satisfactory results from their machines. In 1988, the company enlisted the Dixie Dregs in a limited edition promotional CD "Off the Record" which featured the band using the EPS sampler and SQ-80 cross wave synthesizer.

The company's heyday was in the early 1990s when the VFX synthesizers offered innovative performance and sequencing features (and terrific acoustic sounds), along with the ASR series of 16-bit samplers which also integrated synthesis, effects and sequencer into a single-unit digital studio. The TS synthesizers followed the legacy of the VFX line, improving several aspects such as the polyphony, effects engine, sample-loading capabilities and even better synth and acoustic sounds. The DP series of effects rack-mount units offered parallel processing and reverb presets on a par with Lexicon's offerings, but at affordable prices.

Despite these strengths, early Ensoniq instruments suffered from reliability problems. The company didn't manage to reinvent its workstation concept in order to survive the mid and late '90s, and no lower-budget versions of their keyboards were offered. Excellent synthesizers like the VFX or TS models lacked cheaper rack-mount counterparts. Finally, while the competition's products were continually evolving and newer technologies such as physical modeling were introduced, Ensoniq failed to follow the late '90s market orientation, often recycling old concepts on their new products.


Timeline of major products


Multimedia Sound Cards & Semiconductors

Ensoniq was known not only for their innovative musical instruments division, but also for their computer audio chips. In 1986, after making an agreement with Apple Computer, the same Ensoniq 5503 chip utilized in the Mirage and ESQ-1 keyboard was incorporated into the Apple IIGS personal computer. The Ensoniq ES5505 (OTIS or OTISR2), ES5506 (OTTO) and ES5510 (ESPR6, ESP stands for Ensoniq Signal Processor) were used in various arcade games. They were all manufactured on the CMOS process. The OTTO was licensed to Advanced Gravis for use in the Gravis Ultrasound card. In 1994 production began on PC sound cards for home computers.

Ensoniq's sound cards became immensely popular, no doubt due to their many wins with the big OEM system manufacturers. Towards the end of the DOS gaming era, every game supported the Ensoniq Soundscape. In fact Ensoniq was the first to come up with an ISA software audio emulation solution for their new PCI sound cards that was compatible with most DOS games. It is likely that this was a big motivator in the Creative/E-MU purchase of Ensoniq because Creative Labs had not developed a high-compatibility method to support audio in legacy DOS software. According to one source, because of the wide range of patents Ensoniq had involving the PCI bus support for the sound cards, and the fact that Ensoniq wanted E-MU's technologies, the buyout of Ensoniq became the best of both worlds.





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