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Ensoniq  ESQ-1 

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I bought it as 100% operational, but of course the battery was dead and the memory was not working. When I asked for a fraction of the price to be returned, the stupid hoe I bought it from blamed it on transportation and accused me of trying to con money out of her. And she said that before leaving her house the instrument had had 100 patches, which is quite funny when you know that ESQ1 has 40 slots in its patch memory. So I called her a liar and told her to...;)

Within the first impressions I thought that one of the chips has gone bad over the years, but it turned out that the filters of this board have a tendency to drift, or detune after the battery death & replacement, so the filter tuning procedure helped a little.

So, my finally working ESQ-1. One of these synths in which amateurish and disobliging twists of knobs for fun result in a pile of garbage. If you're a smooth hi-fi, quick 'n' easy twiddling rolandy-juice lover, I advise to re-think before buying the ESQ. In terms of sound and experience it's the most remote thing from Roland Juno / Korg Polysix - the interface demands a totally different approach, and the basic tone of this synth is the most stiff and crude thing in the synth world. However, if you get used to the buttons + lcd mode (which turns out to be pretty effortless), and if you're curious of all things insane and bizarre and willing to spend several long evenings meticulously experimenting to eventually come up with deep, spacious, punchy, brutal, mellow, organic, widely-and-wildly-modulated, industrial, crazy lo-fi, 8-bit commodore chip, original and surprisingly classy patches - don't think for too long and buy it.

3 LFOs, 4 envelopes, various wave shapes, ringmod, phase sync options (LFO and OSC start), layering... you won't get bored as fast as you would sitting in front of a cheap Korg, and I bet the ESQ is even cheaper than your cheap Korg. Even though it is fair to blame the ESQ-1 for rigidity of the tone, or aliasing, or whatever else, we also have to admit that what seems to be its flaws is actually giving it a character, a unique flavor, a feel of vintage goodies going through a rusty metal pipe. There's always something going on; either the filter resonance or the DCA get clipped, so prepare yourself for a gritty and dirty sonic picnic. For me, the most important thing is that the tone of this synth makes me want to rock 'n' roll and bash all the things around and hit the board with my head (from which I refrain of course). I'd say it's the best, the deepest, and the most convincing sound amongst the "digital waveform - analog VCF" synths (although the Korg DW-8000 is a gem too and shines in its own, much more agile & lush way - but if the DW-8000 is a luxury-version Land Rover, the ESQ is the
Lord Humungus'es car). Plus it has the most comfortable tactile interaction (not to be confused with interface / architecture, which is quite quirky, especially when we add to it the antique vacuum-tube display). And it's a very "synthy" synth due to its variety of modulation sources and flexibility, unlike other boards that cater to the DX-organ-Rhodes fans and limit you in this or that way. Speaking of DX, the ESQ is like a cross between Akai AX80 and Yamaha DX7 (and in terms of tonal flavors you can even throw in ARP Odyssey plus a string machine!). Or it's the Waldorf Blofeld in its previous incarnation. Yes! Blofeld is like a modern ESQ1. You just feel you need to sit down again and explore what is yet to be explored, find yet another bizarre routing option hidden in some corner of the menu. The possible downside of this individuality / originality is that this instrument is very idiosyncratic and can be either loved or hated. Nothing in between. A risky buy!

Two weeks after buying the first one I spotted another one and I bought it right away, without a moment of hesitation. A remarkable cheap synth. Let it in da house and it'll devour your $800 Rolands and Korgs. Sitting in front of this thing, seeing how it is designed and what it can do, while realizing it was made in 1986 by a small company somewhere in Pennsylvania, you can really feel respect for history, feel a spirit hovering in your room, feel the soul.


If you want to feed some sysex sounds to your ESQ, first put the midi settings into receiving all info, and then click one of the four bank buttons that will transport you to the general patch view. Only then will the synth accept incoming patches.



Watch the video demo part 1:


Watch the video demo part 2:


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