This page of my website is a blog about the synthesizers and equipment I have used over the years, the oldest at the bottom of the list. I will be adding more writing about it over coming months.



Arturia Beatstep Pro

Something I thought might be useful would be to have a simple sequencer which allows me to program simple patterns of notes that can be chained together and quickly edit the notes in the sequences. The beatstep pro does this well and you also use the onboard pads for playing instruments live as well as switching to drums. You can program two synths to play as well as a drum machine, and each one can play a sequence of up to 64 notes and you can have 16 chains for each one. You are however limited to one note for each beat so you can not layer notes and play chords but this is fine as my intentions were to create spontanious sequences and melodies for a certain style of music. You can do all this and more using computer software but I wanted something that was dead simple and hardware and portable too. Price new in 2016 was around 200.



Roland JP8000

Now that I knew the Roland JP8080 was my all time favorite I decided to buy the slightly older keyboard version so that I have two of them and can use one as a keyboard if I wanted to go out and about playing live. Also in the summer months I often sit in the garden with a synth and either compose or create new sounds so the JP8000 is ideal. It is even very lightweight too.



Cubase LE 5. Software


During 2016 I decided to purchase the light version of Cubase, a very sophisticated software package for recording music either as live digital recordings or as editable midi note data. Most musicians these days who work with synths and recording use a similar package, however I had never had a computer that could hook it up to my hardware. With this software I would be able to compose more complicated music for my hardware synths which is handy for those parts that my prehistoric QX5 sequencer would have done in the past but with much more ability to edit. I have yet to learn how to use this software and it will likely be slow to begin with. Another problem I have is that I do not have a MIDI interface on my PC which means the only way I can use this software is to run it through a USB lead into my master M-Audio keyboard and make changes to settings in order to use it. Also on top of that I can not record and play at the same time, I can only have one or the other. So in some ways I can not use it to its full potential until these issue are resolved.



Novation Supernova II

The Supernova II I bought again to compliment to JP8080 and I had never tried the Novation range before. I wanted a synth that would produce more unique pad sounds and although I got it with this synth I was not too impressed with the very metallic sounding sounds I was getting to begin with. Though this synth is very capable of really good punchy synth and bass sounds I found the pads lacking warmth. The synth has plenty of room to save hundreds of your own sounds and because it works using dials and sliders and has three oscillators it has good potential. The factory presets I found were not so good, many of them awful, so it will take me some time to come up with my own sounds on this one but I will persevere. The price second-hand with a metal case was 850 which was high as they sometimes sell much less on their own. It is a well sought after unit though so the price should hold.



Korg Radias

In order to compliment the JP8080 and the Roland Fantom XR I decided to see what Korg were doing with some of their modern synths and this was the one I chose. Having the dials and sliders on the front panel is something I really liked on the JP8080 which is so much easier than going into menu's especially when playing live. The Radias is capable of some really good sounds and has a number of other features which allow you to use 4 sounds stacked together and assign each one to play either as drums, as an arpeggio, or as a sequence of notes. So you could assign a group of notes to play for each and every key if you wanted to which is actually very sophisticated. The pad sounds are nice with some crisp filters and I was particularly impressed with some of the tine piano and organ sounds which I would not usually like because they often sound too digital but on the Radias they have a clean warmth about them which is relaxing to hear. Price second hand was around 450.



Roland Fantom XR rack-mount synthesizer

My next upgrade in about 2012 was to get something that was really modern and included piles of various pianos and orchestral instruments and this is what I chose. I was not disappointed with anything here because the unit I bought had been upgraded with several of the sound cards that included hundreds of piano's, organs, choirs, orchestras, flutes, violins, cellos, fiddles, bass guitars, acoustic and electric guitars, various synths and sound effects. Also dozens of drum kits and sounds from all around the globe including unique instruments. It even had memory for hundreds of your own sound samples too.

The sounds that Roland used for these were all sampled from real live instruments so you get almost perfect reproduction. The likeness is so real most people would not be able to tell the difference. One of the things I always think is important when buying any synthesizer is that the sounds are of quality that they lead you in a way that inspires you to compose and teach you to play better. This is certainly an instrument which ticks those boxes for me. My only frustration with this unit is that being the rack version the menu's are well hidden which makes programming it difficult. If I ever upgraded I would go for the keyboard version of the same synthesizer. Price with all the sound cards and extra memory was 600.



Reason Software

Reason Software is a fairly self contained composing package which uses its own software synths and add on's that you purchase. You can either compose by drawing the notes you want to play on a screen or you can record through USB from a keyboard and it will put the notes you play into the screen so you can then edit them. Now I have really been getting on with this well for composing ideas really quickly and especially for drums. You are almost limitless in how many software devices and software effects you can stack up and use. So in a matter of minutes it is possible to build up some really complex software music. It was because of Reason that I sold all my drum machine hardware because this is so much easier and you can assign effects quickly to every drum pad. Most of the music I compose these days is a mixture of Reason Drums and some software sequences then layered with the main hardware synth sounds which I play manually over the top - all recorded into the homemade Studio software in order to make the final song.



Korg M1R rack-mount synthesizer

A long time ago when I was using the Roland W-30 sampler I had a few sounds samples of the Korg M1 and always liked the unique voxy sounds it produced as well as some tingling string-pads. So since that synth was now a few years old I was able to pick up the rack version fairly cheaply at around 200 and have enjoyed using it since. The only thing that I found disappointing was that the Korg M1 relies on a few dozen samples which you edit rather than producing the sounds from scratch using oscilators. Once you have bought a couple of those discs with hundreds of sound-sets on them and picked out the best you have pretty much heard all that the M1 can achieve. Having said that I have a full bank of really good sounds which I am very pleased with which are unique to the M1.



Roland JP8080 rack-mount synthesizer

Finally after decades of buying synthesizers I wanted to buy another modern one and something that would give me that sound I had always been after so I checked out all the synths there were on youtube and took a chance on this one because some of the string sounds in the demo sounded nice. I was spot on and this is my dream synth which combines the perfect sounds that tickle my ear drums, send tingles up and down my spine and allow me to chill out and meditate while playing. I have found nothing else that quite campares to this one since! You can get a really good range of string pads, arpeggiated sounds, nice twangy bass sounds as well as effects on one of these. Price was around 450



M-Audio Key Station 88 master Midi keyboard

I probably bought this around 2009 because I wanted a full 88 key midi controller. This was a good choice. At the time my fingers were a bit arthritic so I went for a semi-weighted touch which is half way between what you get on a real piano and on synthesizers. This unit does not actually produce any sounds, rather it sends midi messages of what you play down to all the other instruments. If you set it to say channel 1 and all the synthesizers are also set to channel 1 then what ever you play will be played on all the others which means you can layer up some really rich sounds using lots of instruments together.



Boss Dr Groove DR-202 Drum Machine

In the mid 2000's I decided it was time to experience a more modern drum machine as up until then I had been using the simple RX11 and any manual drum kits on the synths. I wanted something that would be easy to program as well as having more range of modern sounds. This was my choice and I used this until as recently as 2015 when I finally sold it. The drums had been good and the patterns enjoyable, however I had found programming it more difficult than I had hoped. Something which irritated me was that the preset drum patterns were often placed that they would come up and sound while you were trying to select a place and program a new pattern which was very offputting. In 2014 I met a local musician who was using Reason Software on the computer for music and I fell in love with the ease of use and almost limitless number of drum kits and effects provided. So now I do almost all my drum programming using Reason Software, as well as a little synth work as well.



Zoom RFX-2000 Multi-Effects Unit

In the mid 2000's it was time to upgrade my effects unit to something more modern so this was my choice. Once again moving from a simple effects unit where you had to write down settings on paper to something with 100 custom patches was a breath of magic to my music.



Dawnmist Micro-Sorex Synthesizer/Sampler

The other half of Natalie's proposed project was to build me a new synthesizer using another of the homemade machines and another software package which she would write. So during the same time as the Studio project Natalie studied the technology behind my favorite analogue sounds that my faithful olde Korg Poly 800 had been using and emulated it exactly. I was then able to sell my Korg. Not only did she do this but she created extra menu's which made it more sophisticated than the Korg had ever been and also added a limitless sampler to the software. Once completed I was able to play exact replicas of the Korg sounds as well as having a limitless sampler which could play sound clips of anything from a fraction of a second up to samples of ridiculous length of many hours if ever needed! That's like going from the prehistoric W30 into the Space-Age in a matter of a few months. Natalie worked many many hours, days, weeks and months on this and did a super job.



Dawnmist MM Complete Recording Studio


Any modern musican relies heavily on reliable equipment when doing complex songs and up until the early 2000's I was still relying on tape recorders for my music and getting frustrated. Computer software existed but was highly expensive and computers were often not reliable and my finances were a lot more limited than previous decades. Once again Natalie stepped in with a proposed double project which was more ambitious - to adapt already existing computer technology and software she had invented herself long ago and to create a complete recording software studio for me. This took some months for her to do but it was finally done and I have been using it reliably for many years now. The computer was built in house alongside the electronics business, circuit boards and all and we soldered all the components. She wrote the software and I tested it over the following months. When ever I needed something new that I wanted it to do she would adapt the program and give me an update. I do all my recording using this software now for my ideas, songs and concepts. "Studio" as we called it is less advanced than the modern computer software packages such as Cubase but I find it easy to use and reliable so I have stuck with it and as of 2017 have thousands of files containing ideas and part created songs as well as a few finished one's. All my old tapes and ideas through the 1980's and 90's have also be recorded into this file system.



Heather's Fluffy Mixer Ver2

Following on from the success of the graphic equalizer project I felt it was time to move on from using a multirack tape recorder and my prehistoric mixer. Once again Natalie's knowledge in electronics brought my studio into the 1990's with this mixer project which we built together. She designed it and printed the circuit boards and bought in all the parts and instructed me on what went where so we could do the soldering and wiring. I was still using this in 2017 while writing this description, however a new one was designed in 2016 and parts ordered. Natalie had been taking a break from electronics and so the new custom compact deluxe mixer with many inputs for more synths, effects sends etc was not made until later in 2017.



Dawnmist Fluffy Frequency Frobnicator (graphic equaliser)

In the late 1990's after meeting Natalie who is an electronics genius I came up with the idea of having a really sophisticated graphic equalizer so she suggested she designed one and we would built it. She had previously run her own electronics company so design and making was fairly easy and I learned a lot from this project.



Roland W30 Workstation Synthesizer

When the Roland W30 came out for 1300 I was already interested in the fairly new technology of sampling used in music. I cut corners by buying a silly toy casio sampler and realized I needed a professional one so this was it. On this keyboard you could record any sound you wanted to through a microphone and you could have an incredible 2 seconds recording or 4 at lower quality! Giggle. The W30 was also a Workstation keyboard which had its own onboard sequencer which meant you could record or program songs all in one go using the sounds. This seemed like a good idea and I did a few songs on this though I did still heavily rely on the earlier equipment because the W30 was a bit hard to work as it relied on floppy discs as well as sometimes getting glitches and in order to access menu's for programming you had to rely on it getting the data to work from the floppy disc all the time which was tedious. But the sampling allowed me access to a good range of sounds sampled from other more expensive synths as well as sound effects. I no longer use the W30 because I do not have much room for it and mainly because it is slow to boot up and load in the sounds, however, being a simple sampler it might be useful again in the future.



Roland D10 Synthesizer

Wanting to expand my range of sounds this was my first ever experience of a Roland synth and multi-timbral composing. I bought this one new for about 1200 when it first came out. I was very pleased with the more analogue sound however I did not realize this was not true analogue but was a mixture of simulated technology and sample-clips so once again my lack of knowledge let me down on the true kind of sounds I was after. However there was a really large range of sounds on the D10 and as well as being able to play the main performance patches you could set up eight individual sounds with their own midi channel as well as drum sounds so I was able to do a lot of detailed programming of many sounds all playing at once in conjunction with the sequencer I had. I used this synth a lot on my earlier albums: Life Beneath the Blue Sky and The Calling of Dawn. The additonal drums on this machine meant I was able to do a lot more than I could previously on the older drum machine. The D10 as well as the DX7 were used in a song I did as a joke (a tacky cheap sounding song) which was liked so much by someone it was used to open a radio show for more than 2 years in the 90's. The D10 was not a synth I ever did much creating of new sounds on because I personally found it difficult to edit, many of the menu's being lost within other menu's. I no longer use the D10 as I do not consider the sounds warm and sophisticated enough for what I compose.



Yamaha DX100 Synthesizer

At the time when this smaller portable synth was released I was doing music and drama on the streets so it was a lot easier to have something that could be worn like a guitar and used for basic bass and string sounds as well as special effects. It cost me about 350. A portable synth soon drained the large expensive batteries back then. The DX100 has some really good sounds on it as well as some really awful sounds but when I sold it a few years ago I got a good price because modern musicians wanted those good sounds.



Yamaha DX7fdII Synthesizer

This was my first really expensive synth which just happened to be for sale on its first day of release when I went to the shop intending to buy something really top of the range. It cost me 1625. I chose the version with a floppy drive so sounds could be backed up on disc. This synth is really well made with a metal case and a really big led screen and many ocsilators which allowed complex sounds. I used it for many years and in 2017 still owned it though I did not use it often anymore. In hindsight at the time of buying my knowledge of synth technology was really lacking and I did not understand the differences in sound creation between analogue and digital - years later I wish I had spent my money on a Roland analogue synth instead of the Yamaha digital. Still, I was fond of some of the sounds the DX7 produced and it featured lots in my earlier music.



Fostex Digital Delay unit

My first ever effects unit which I bought second-hand. You created your effect which was either reverb, delay, chorus or flange by altering the value of the dials. There was no way to store any information so when you needed to do another effect you had to either remember the settings or write down the values.



Yamaha QX5 Sequencer

My first sequencer and again a really basic device but it was an advance from recording on tape because it allowed music to be composed on the synth and drum machine using midi data first so mistakes and changes in the music could be edited and effects added before the final recording onto tape. Later on as I bought more synths it proved really useful when programming tracks for 16 differing sounds all playing at once. It was good for its time but having to edit individual notes on a long sequence meant you had to go through menu's then scroll through to find the right note which took ages. Even now while writing this in 2017 I still use this sequencer for recording realtime ideas and for doing really simple stuff so it is still very useful to have to hand.



Yamaha MT44 Multi-track tape recorder with MM30 Mixer and patch-bay

My first ideas and songs back in the 80's were recorded into a tape-recorder but not too long after getting a synth and drum machine it was necessary to move up to multi-track recording. And this was the most affordable unit around for amateur musicians back then. You bought an ordinary good quality tape and put a special reflective sticker on the back and put it in. The sticker activated the ability to record 4 mono tracks all on the one tape so you could either record two lots of stereo or four mono and to add more you would use a technique called ping-ponging which was to mix down two or three of the tracks onto one then free up the others for more recording. Each time you did that you would loose a bit of quality in the sound though. Occasionally using the tape back to front would allow some backwards tracks. Any changes in the music were done manually by stopping the tape recorder then taking the tape out and winding it back by hand a fraction to try and get the tape in just the right location for the next bit of music to begin spot on the beat once the rec button was played - a very tedious procedure! The small mixer that came with it was really basic with an awful sounding reverb. All my really early albums and ideas were recorded onto this and I got some good results! When I went on a local radio show I had to get an ordinary tape re-recorded onto a reel-to-reel because back then that was all radio shows used.



Yamaha RX11 Digital Drum Programmer

This rather simple drum machine was all I could afford at the time it first came out and I think was around 400. It had really basic acoustic drum sounds on it and you could change the instruments on a number of the pads so you had two or three snare sounds to choose from, wow, giggle. Still, it was very easy to program and use in realtime and chain rhythms together. I first got a good appreciation for types of rhythm on this one.



Korg POLY 800 Synthesizer

This was the first synthesizer I bought back in the 1980's. It was 600 and while not a sophisticated instrument it was affordable to a beginner back then and easy to use producing some rather nice sounds with a feel that was fairly unique. It allowed me to be able to dabble around with creating and shaping sounds which was one of the reasons I was drawn to this kind of music in the first place.

The Korg Poly 800 was rather desirable as a second-hand synth in 2013 when I wrote this and because I had already managed to recreate the sounds on some homemade equipment I finally decided to part with it. I do provide here copies of my data sheets which you may use. These sheets list the factory preset sounds that came with it as well as many new sounds that I created. If you need larger copies of the files do write to me.