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Dead medium: Dead Synthesizers: the Con Brio ADS 200
From: (Richard Kadrey)
Source(s): Mark Vail, "Vintage Synthesizers," Miller Freeman, Inc (pp. 78-79)

"The ADS (Advanced Digital Synthesizer) system comprised a dual-manual splittable keyboard, a video display for envelopes, a 'control cube' the size of a filing cabinet for disk drives and computer hardware, and a rainbow-buttoned front panel for 64-oscillator additive synthesis and real-time sequencing that would have looked at home on the Starship Enterprise of the Star Trek of your choice. The analogy is apt, in fact == the ADS 100's most notable public appearance was in the sound effects for *Star Trek: The Motion Picture.* No price was given when the ADS 100 was introduced, but it sure looked expensive.

"Well == to reduce a three-year tale to a few words == it was (expensive). 'We wasted three years,' (Tim) Ryan recalls. "We never made a dime off the thing.'

"A midget all-in-one box version, the ADS 200, followed soon after. Its display now sported musical notation, the sequencer played back four tracks, the rear panel offered CV and gate interfaces, and the microprocessor count had jumped from three to five. Happily, the multicolored buttons remained and the filing cabinet was nowhere in sight. With the ADS 200, Con Brio's synthesis facility finally rated a description: 'Additive synthesis, phase modulation, frequency modulation, nested phase and frequency modulation, and combinations of all modes.'

"'It was totally configurable in software,' Ryan says, 'and we had 16 stage envelope generators for both frequency and amplitude, so it was kind of like the grandfather of the Yamaha DX7. On ours, you could build your own algorithms, using any of all of the 64 oscillators in any position in the algorithm. If you wanted additive, you could add 16 of them together. The phase modulation was similar to what Casio did with their CZ series. You could designate any tuning you wanted and save it. You could split the keyboard, stack sounds, model different parts of the keyboard for different parts of the sound, and save that as an entity - the kind of things that are common now.'

"Compared with the first version, Con Brio's second model was a hit: of the three instruments manufactured, one was actually sold == for $30,000.

"By 1982, the Con Brio had dropped one of its two manual [keyboards] and, with it, a few thousand from the price tag. The ADS 200-R featured a 16-track polyphonic sequencer with 80,000 note storage capability and editing functions available from the scoring screen. The 32-voice version, expandable to 64, sold (or rather didn't sell) for $20,500, with an additional $25,000 worth of options. Only one was ever built.

"Why did Con Brio turn up an evolutionary blind alley, while other companies have had great success with similar concepts? 'It was a labor of love,' Ryan says reflectively. 'We didn't have much sales savvy, and that was eventually our downfall. Another thing was the intimidation factor: it had something like 190 buttons on it. We figured that no musician would ever want to enter commands, so we went to the trouble of putting on all those buttons. But obviously that approach was as cryptic as a computer language would have been. It was an amazing feat technologically, but with complete disregard for the people we had to sell the thing to."

Richard Kadrey (