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Akai AX-80 

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When buying one, watch out for: right end of the button panel breaking off the PCB inside the synth resulting in dead 20-to-32 buttons.


At the beginning the sound seems to be very DX-ish, very DCO-ish, striking the ear because it's cold & sharp almost like a stainless steel knife. But spend some time with it and variations do appear, and there are more and more reasons to label this synth a bad ass. I know, when you've been playing a Roland synth and then you switch to this Akai, it may sound unfriendly and muddy at first, and the resonance is off-putting. But this filter is actually interestingly & blissfully unique; it comes in handy in exploring frontier areas of vintage sound, and the synth unveils its own dignity and fatness different to the fatness of other synths. The bass feels not like fresh warm blood pumped into your veins - it feels like getting hit in the head with a large rubber baseball bat. The lead feels not like rubbing your belly with a feather - it feels like having your ribcage ripped open by an electric bread cutter. The lush pad feels like swimming in a rowboat across a lake at dawn, paddling your way through thick, wet fog. To put it simply - the AX80 has a personality; it stands out and stirs up imagination. You can get some really effective, cold cross-mod sounds and odd, polar-winter timbres out of this engine. There's a great sound on my AX80 that I made a long time ago, a simple non-filtered lead with large intervals between the octaves in oscillators, and I wanted to do the same elsewhere, but even the almighty Waldorf Q sounds like shit doing this kind of thing - this way you can understand the importance of the natural tone, this individual network of electronic components and the code which controls them, this... personality. I think the AX-80 is a rare instance of a synth that looks like it should be a failure, because it's quite far away from the mainstream avenues of sound and has an interface which doesn't look encouraging, yet somehow has everything in its place and manages to form a successful, coherent & convincing whole. It's wholesome. It's not halfway between this school and that school, it's not sitting on the fence - it fulfills its own mission and controls its own jurisdiction confidently.

Very cool design, if not the most creative from the '80s decade - the illuminated graph bars behind a glass strip, plus the metal, plus the lacquered wood. It makes the synth look handsome and futuristic. Unfortunately it also makes it heavy as hell.

So don't listen to people comparing this synth to Juno series. It's quite far away from Junos - the A6 Andromeda would be a much closer relative (I'm referring to the sound). If you want to stick to Roland, this is more of JX8p's alter ego. And does any of the aforementioned Rolands have 3 LFOs? No. AX-small-killer-80 does. Definitely one of the most audacious bandits in the synth world.




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