Ensoniq Corp. was an American electronics manufacturer, best known throughout the mid-1980s and 1990s for its musical instruments, principally samplers and synthesizers.
In spring 1983 former MOS Technology engineers Robert "Bob" Yannes, Bruce Crockett, Charles Winterble, David Ziembicki, and Al Charpentier formed Peripheral Visions. The team had designed the Commodore 64, and hoped to build another computer. To raise funds, Peripheral Visions agreed to build a computer keyboard for the Atari 2600, but the video game crash of 1983 canceled the project and Commodore sued the new company, claiming that it owned the keyboard project. Renaming itself as Ensoniq, the new company instead designed a music synthesizer.
In January 1998, ENSONIQ Corp. was acquired by Creative Technology Ltd. for $77 million, and merged with E-mu Systems to form the E-Mu/Ensoniq division. The fusion with E-mu sealed Ensoniq's fate. After releasing an entry-level E-mu MK6/PK6 and Ensoniq Halo keyboards in 2002 – essentially keyboard versions of the Proteus 2500 module – the E-Mu/Ensoniq division was dissolved and support for legacy products was discontinued soon afterward.
Musical instruments and digital systems
Ensoniq entered the instrument market with the Mirage sampling keyboard in 1985. At the price of USD$1695 it cost significantly less than previous samplers such as the Fairlight CMI and the E-MU Emulator. Starting with the ESQ-1, they began producing sample-based synthesizers. Following the success of these products, Ensoniq established a subsidiary in Japan in 1987.
Ensoniq products were highly professional. Strong selling points were ease-of-use and their characteristic "fat", rich sound (generally thought of as being an "American" quality, as opposed to the "Japanese" sound which was more "digital" and somewhat "cold"). After the Mirage, all Ensoniq instruments featured integrated sequencers (even their late '80s and early '90s samplers) providing an all-in-one "digital studio production concept" instrument. These were often called "Music Workstations". Starting with the VFX synthesizer, high-quality effects units were included, in addition most synthesizer and all sampler models featured disk drives and/or RAM cards for storage. The manuals and tutorial documents were clearly written and highly musician-oriented, allowing the users to quickly get satisfactory results from their machines. In 1988, the company enlisted the Dixie Dregs in a limited edition promotional CD Off the Record which featured the band using the EPS sampler and SQ-80 cross wave synthesizer.
The company had much success with the SQ product line starting in the early 1990s. This was a lower-cost line that included the SQ-1 (61 keys), SQ-2 (76 keys) and SQ-R (rack-mounted, with no keys or sequencer). Later versions were produced with 32 sound-generating voices.
The company's heyday was in the early 1990s when the VFX synthesizers offered innovative performance and sequencing features (and terrific acoustic sounds), along with the ASR series of 16-bit samplers which also integrated synthesis, effects, and sequencer into a single-unit digital studio. The TS synthesizers followed the legacy of the VFX line, improving several aspects such as the polyphony, effects engine, sample-loading capabilities and even better synth and acoustic sounds. The DP series of effects rack-mount units offered parallel processing and reverb presets on a par with Lexicon's offerings, but at affordable prices.
Despite these strengths, early (1980s) Ensoniq instruments suffered from reliability and quality problems such as bad keyboards (Mirage DSK-8), under-developed power-supply units (early ESQ-1), or mechanical issues (EPS polypressure keyboard). Through the early and mid-1990s, much effort was focused on improving the reliability of the products. The company didn't manage to reinvent its workstation concept in order to survive the mid and late '90s, and no lower-budget versions of their keyboards were offered to replace the aging SQ line. Excellent synthesizers like the VFX or TS models lacked cheaper rack-mount counterparts. Finally, while the competition's products were continually evolving and newer technologies such as physical modeling were introduced, Ensoniq failed to follow the late '90s market orientation, often recycling old concepts on their new products. During this time, much of the engineering effort and company resources were focused on computer sound cards, which offered more profit for the company.