A long time ago, in a Galaxy located on the East Coast....
Well, it is dramatic!
This Synclavier history is more about what the machine is capable of doing. There are already a number of sites that talk about the developers.
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Chapter 13 - 1970s to 1984
The Synclavier started its life as little more than an 8 bit FM/Additive synthesizer. The "Green Screen" or VT100 terminal was an option for those who wanted to really see what they were programming on their system. The Original Release Keyboard or ORK was not velocity sensitive. But it did have *tons* of buttons for easy direct access. Although, as the software progressed, the number of button presses became ridiculous. You had "blink mode", "double-blink mode", etc. This basically meant you played "twister" with your fingers to access certain parameters. Ouch!
New England Digital then added sampling.
Well, sort of. You have heard of the GigaSampler by Nemesys, right?
Playing your samples right off of the hard drive. Well, ladies and
gentlemen, that is how the Synclavier accomplished it. Except it
was mono! You would have to make pass after pass on a 24 trk machine
to get each note out! You could have floppy drives, 5 or 10 meg hard
drives (wow!), a VT100 terminal, lots of cool software and almost sampling
for $80,000! Such a deal! Really!
Chapter 13 - Why the Synclavier was King in the 80's!
Things started to really cook in 1985. Remember that sampling was in its infancy. There was the Fairlight CMI but it was 8 bit. Other samplers became available but really didn't sound all that terrific.
Then NED offered an upgrade. You could turn in your FM voice cards towards the purchase of Poly Cards (FM+$30,000=Poly Cards). The Synclavier's FM was still 8 bit. It actually sounds pretty decent. You can resynthesize digital recordings and have the 8 bit FM/Additive synthesis do the play back. Pretty nifty. But how many samplers were there on the market that offered 16 bit, 100 khz sampling, 32 voices with stereo panning and 4 to 32 meg of RAM (the Fairlight CMI III was the only other game in town!)? Another option was the WORM drive for $30,000. You could save all your samples on a laser disk platter (yes, just like the big movie disks). Now you had 2 gig of storage per disk! This was a little more advanced than your Apple II being MIDI'd to your Yamaha DX7. NED also offered at velocity sensitive, 76 note weighted keyboard. It had polyphonic aftertouch, a ribbon controller, pitch and modulation wheels, L.E.D. screen and lots more blinking buttons!
It came down to this. If you owned the
machine, you were busy! Instant work! These machines cost about
$150,000. By the time the lease fees and interest was paid it was
more like $250,000. You could also add 16 track direct to disk recording.
Complete studio for $400,000. Small potatoes. The audio/specification/power
standard the Synclavier set back in 1985-1987 still mops the floor with
a lot of today's sample systems. And the machine has progressed since
Chapter 13 - The new towers
Now is a good time for all things to come to an end.
The prices on Synclaviers were based on two primary factors. Those who owned the machine or needed parts generally had money to "burn" so to speak. NED took advantage of this. Second, there were about 11 guys at the top of the company pulling down six-figure incomes. Sting was paid to perform for the NED employees and their spouses at a big gala at the Roxy in NY. There were NED offices across the globe with marble desks. Spend, spend, spend. And make your customers pick up the tab.
NED came out with the new towers or "skins" in the late 80's. They were the 3200, 6400 and 9600. The Direct To Disk became the PostPro and PostProSD. They were in a much more attractive case, had better shielding, 200 lbs. of lead at the bottom to keep them from tipping over and better sound.
Other projects were being worked on such as a new DtoD (Audity? - now the Fostex Foundation). Pro Tools was just seeing the light of day. Although it was pathetic and unreliable, ProTools forged ahead to the jeers of NED. It didn't compare to the Synclavier/DtoD, but its future and success was being written in stone. NED should have grabbed the tail.
So NED is losing its market share. The 3200 pisses everyone off due to its low price (remember, everyone was paying off their machines for YEARS). And the 3200 had non-panning voices - mostly targeted for Sound Design/Editorial.
NED basically repackaged its machines. Software for the Post Production industry becomes the primary importance. Support for the Guitar and Music Printing Option diminishes.
What the hell is happening? Many owners simply sold their older systems due to the high cost of upgrading. A software license ran $5000 per year. NED began implementing a "referral" program. You pay the company thousands of dollars and they would include your name in a nonexistent newsletter sent to other owners. How could something right go so wrong?
On the other hand, what manufacturer could
offer a product that was right at home in Motion Picture/Televison Production?
The sound was still the best. Upgrades were dazzling (money permitting).
Professionals *RELIED* on their systems. This is what has saved the
company throughout the years.
Chapter 13 - Software
When NED died in 1992, a group of owners helped resurrect the company called The Synclavier Owners Consortium. Then, The Synclavier Company was formed. They provided support in the form of mostly software. Only problem is the software updates were primarily designed for the specific needs of Post Production not the creation of music. At the time, that was supposedly the largest user base. Well, if it's true, someone needs to explain why there are so many Direct To Disks littering people's closets.
So the hardware is essentially dropped, software
is created only for a particularly small market segment and the company
folds again in 1995. Demas (Digital Equipment Maintinance and Support)
immediately settles in before the dust is settled! This company has
been around as an independent repair company as early as the NED/SOC transition.
Chapter 13 - The Phoenix (Demas)
Check out Brian's site
A terrific turn - Synclavier Digital
Getting confused? Try here