E-MU Systems was a software synthesizer, audio interface, MIDI interface, and MIDI keyboard manufacturer. Founded in 1971 as a synthesizer maker, E-mu was a pioneer in samplers, sample-based drum machines and low-cost digital sampling music workstations.
After its acquisition in 1993, E-mu Systems was a wholly owned subsidiary of Creative Technology, Ltd. In 1998, E-mu was combined with Ensoniq, another synthesizer and sampler manufacturer previously acquired by Creative Technology. E-mu was last based in Scotts Valley, California, on the outskirts of Silicon Valley.
E-mu Systems was founded in Santa Cruz, CA by Dave Rossum, a UCSC student and two of his friends from Caltech, Steve Gabriel and Jim Ketcham, with the goal to build their own modular synthesizers. Scott Wedge, who would ultimately become president, joined later that summer. In 1972, E-mu became a company, developing and patenting a digitally scanned polyphonic keyboard (1973), licensed for use by Oberheim Electronics in the 4-Voice and 8-Voice synthesizers and by Dave Smith in the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5. E-mu, along with Solid State Micro Technology (SSM), also developed several synthesizer module IC chips, that were used by both E-mu and many other synthesizer companies.
With the financial benefit of the royalties that came from working with these other synthesizer manufacturers, E-mu designed the Audity, their first non-modular synthesizer, showing it at the 1980 AES Convention. With a price of $69,200 (over $200,000 in 2009 terms when adjusted for inflation), only one machine was ever produced. At that same convention, Wedge and Rossum saw the Fairlight CMI and the Linn LM-1. Recognizing the trend of digital samplers, they realized that E-mu had the technology to bring a lower-priced sampler to market. The Emulator debuted in 1981 at a list price of $7,900, significantly less than the $30,000 Fairlight. Following the Emulator, E-mu released the first programmable drum machine with samples built-in priced below $1,000, the E-mu Drumulator. The Drumulator's success was followed by the Emulator II and III, the SP-12 drum sampler, and the Emax series of samplers.
In 1989, E-mu introduced the Proteus, a rackmount sound module, containing pre-recorded samples in ROM. At its introduction, the Proteus had a relatively large library of high-quality samples priced much lower than the competition. The success of the Proteus spurred the development of several additional versions, including the Proteus XR, an orchestral version, and a world music version. In 1987, E-mu's SP-1200 drum sampler offered an "all-in-one" box for sequencing not only drum sounds, but looping samples, and it quickly became the instrument of choice for hip hop producers.
In 1993, E-mu was acquired by Creative Technology (the Singaporean parent company of Creative Labs) and began working on PC soundcard synthesis. Creative Wave Blaster II and Sound Blaster AWE32 used EMU8000 effect processor. Throughout the 1990s, E-mu made many different sound modules along the lines of the Proteus series. E-mu also made unsuccessful attempts at breaking into the digital multitrack recorder with the Darwin hard-disk recording system. In 1998, E-mu was combined with Ensoniq, another synthesizer and sampler manufacturer previously acquired by Creative Technology.
In 2001 E-mu's sound modules were repackaged in the form of a line of tabletop units, the XL7 and MP7 Command Stations, each featuring 128-voice polyphony, advanced synthesis features, and a versatile multitrack sequencer. A complementary line of keyboard synthesizers was also released using the same technology.
Subsequent products from E-mu were exclusively in software form. In 2004 E-mu released the Emulator X, a PC-based version of its hardware samplers with extended synthesis capabilities. While a PCI card is used for audio input and output, the algorithms no longer run on dedicated hardware but in software on the PC. Proteus X, a software-based sample player, was released in 2005.