Classic Synth Series: Con Brio ADS Family

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Classic Synth Series: Con Brio ADS Family

No doubt about it that synthesizers are what drives dance music this far. I mean, can you imagine if trance were to be produced on guitars and accoustic drums? And so Stoneyroads takes a look at some of our favorite vintage synths in the mini-article series that will be published per-week.

Moving on from vintage analog synth Polivoks that we covered last week, we present a vintage digital synth that looks no less menacing than our favorite russian synth. The ADS, or Advanced Digital Synthesizer is a synthesizer family that was well known to be way ahead of its time. They were manufactured by the Con Brio company between 1979 and 1982. The company itself, while short-lived, managed to manufacture one of the most influential synthesizers of its era.


image from VintageSynth

In the seventies, long before the music world was taken by storm with Yamaha’s mass marketed FM (Frequency Modulated) synthesizers, it was when analog synthesizers had just seen mainstream adoptions. Sounds of Moog’s flagship synthesizers such as the Moog Modular 55 and Minimoog were featured in various kind of music by well-established acts such as Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, and Donna Summer.

In 1979, three Caltech graduates that studies audio processing went to form a synthesizer manufacturing company, called the Con Brio and shortly after they went to create their first ever product, named the ADS-100. The ADS-100 consisted of two 5-octave keyboards, a hardware module that featured 64 additive oscillators (definitely the most advanced at the time), and a CRT tube screen that functioned as an osciloscope, allowing you to see the waveform generated by the hardware. The only unit that was ever made was used for sound effects in the movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.


image from Synthmuseum

Con Brio then went to create their next product, the ADS-200 which features a similiar look to its elder brother, except that they came up with a monolithic built for all of the modules instead of separated into three as with the former. Encased in a wooden box, it weighs at around 90kg, a few kilograms lighter than Yamaha CS-80 (which is a monster at 100kg).

The system sports roughly the same features compared to its elder brother, but with the addition of splittable keyboards (which allows for playing different patches on different zones in the keyboard, a feature common in modern day synths), four track sequencer, and CV gate (which was basically the MIDI before MIDI exist). The system also comes with 5 processors instead of 3 like its predecessors. Just like its predecessor, the synthesizer featured an enormous amount of additive oscillators, numbering at 64. Compare that to the highly successful Yamaha DX7 which only featured 6.

It was reported that one unit took more than half a year to built, and during its lifetime, the company managed to built only 2 (yes, two) units, out of which one was sold for USD30,000. Imagine how much that amount of money is worth today. It is not known where the other machines are, but the one which was sold ended up in the hands of Brian Kehew, a well known synthesizer enthusiast, until today.


image from VintageSynth

The last one in the family the company has ever built was the ADS-200R. For mobility purpose, it was made of three detachable modules, two keyboards and a hardware module that contains the front panel as well as the oscilloscope. The ADS-200R featured larger (up to 16 track) sequencer and the ability to record up to 80000 notes in its memory bank. The hardware architecture though, stays largely the same with its two predecessors.

At around USD20,000 it was significantly cheaper than its predecessor the ADS-200, but the company had never managed to sell the only unit ever built. Factors such as the emergence of other manufacturers building cheaper synthesizer caused the company to lose its competitiveness just after a few years it was formed. Con Brio finally ceased activities the same year that they produced this unit. The aftermath of this saw the founding members parted ways, with two of them started business in semiconductors. The other one, Tim Ryan, went to create Midiman that later became M-Audio which as we know today is one of the leading audio manufacturers.


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