Below is a modified updated version of the Transhacker FAQ with added problems and solutions from the Yahoo VFX/SD Group. This page is just intended as a quick reference and I make no claims of any of this to be accurate. Unless you know what you are doing, I wouldn't suggest opening up your VFX and start pulling chips and wires out. If you have problems, I would suggest joining the Yahoo VFX/SD group and ask or find the answer to your questions there or let a professional fix it.
Frequently Asked Questions about the VFX family
The VFX/SD series is one of the most important synth series ever created. The VFX combined "ahead of its time"-sounds and technology and the performance aspect of the VFX's was (is, almost!) second-to-none. With addition of a very intuitive Performance/Sequencer-mode with the SD models, arguably, they are one of the finest hardware sequencers ever produced in a synth.
At the time, the market was flooded with cheaper $2000-and-under synthesizers. The Ensoniq Corporation, an American company created by computer programers and chip designers wanted to put out a keyboard with all the bells and whistles with no expense spared.
The VFX is a true synthesizer, not just a reprogrammed keyboard that plays sampled sounds or a simple workstation, and with the addition of the sequencable SD models made them the very first true marketed Music Production Synthesizers.
The VFX was the first synth ever to offer oscillators with which the actual waveform can be modulated making the sound sequence more alive, ever changing with complexities of natural sound and dynamic synthesized soundscapes.
So how does it work and what's so speciel about it???
In 1980, Wolfgang Palm introduced a new concept, dubbed "wavetable" synthesis. These digital synthesizers expanded upon the capabilities of Palm's earlier synthesizers by expanding the sound creation tools with limited samples, which were compiled together in lists called wavetables. The first PPG synthesizer to implement this algorithm was the Wavecomputer 360, released in 1980 in two versions - the 360A, with 4 oscillators, and the 360B, with 8. However, the synthesizer sounded relatively thin, a consequence of having only one oscillator per voice and the typical limited polyphony of most synthesizers of its era.
PPG soon found success with the release of the Wave 2, which debuted in 1981, priced at around US$10,000. It contained analog envelopes, LFO and filters, with digital oscillators. Where traditional analog synthesizer were only capable of 5 or 6 waveforms per oscillator, the PPG Wave 2 offered 64 waveforms in 30 "wavetables". One selected a wavetable and then one of the 64 waveforms it contained - a total of 1,920 waveforms per oscillator available for use. In total, around 1,000 Waves were manufactured between 1981 and 1987 with two different updates to the model (the PPG Wave 2.2, which added more waveforms and samples, and the 2.3, which added multitimbrality and MIDI), making it the most successful product PPG manufactured. The PPG wave also found a place onstage with artists such as David Bowie, Electronic Dream Planet, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Depeche Mode, Jean Michel Jarre, Rush, Gary Numan, Missing Persons, Robert Palmer, Talk Talk, Ultravox, Steve Winwood, Stevie Wonder, and many others.
In 1986, Wolfgang Palm, designed and began work on a prototype for his most ambitious project yet - the Realizer, an all-in-one studio machine which combined production, recording, sequencing, and mixing tools into one machine in addition to a sophisticated sampling and synthesis system. It also had the ability to load emulations of other popular synthesizers, such as a Minimoog. The system proved to be too far ahead of its time, and was so expensive to create that its projected retail price was almost $60,000. US. As such, it was never sold, or even got beyond the prototype phase.
The VFX was first secretly shown at the 1989 Winter NAMM show and in select music stores by that late spring, making the first users really beta testers at the beginning...this being said, the keyboard had an unjust reputation for being unreliable for the people that didn't bother getting the free fixes and updates in the early 90's.
Ensoniq compared the VFX to the old PPG synthesizers, because the method used to generate them is similar to that used in those German wonders, but with more dynamic waveshaping reminiscent of some of the exotic waveshaping available in certain modular synthesizers.
The VFX series is a wavetable synthesizer that uses "transwaves," which are sampled waveforms (square, Saw, ect, organ, ect) that can be modulated by any modulator in the instrument. It is much like having many synthesizers in one keyboard. Think of each voice at it's own synthesizer. The actual root sound of the voice is created from one of many choices of waveforms that you can modulate and control with a LFO and 3 EVO modulators .
Ensoniq has also added some unusual modulation features in this instrument which are unique to any other digital synths. While there is only one LFO per voice, the 3 envelopes can be made to act as complex LFO's by setting them to loops.
These wave forms or "Voices" can also be set up to have a key zone, a separate volume and many other different presets. These 6 voices are combined into a single "program" that can also be modified with 4 different patch combinations controlled by the patch select buttons. These "programs" can then be combined with 2 other programs in a "preset" that can also be modified with different setting such as keyzones, aftertouch, volume, effects and so on, making this synthesizer a very programmable and powerful instrument.
Amazing sound - The chips used in the sound processing of the VFX are still to this day on par with anything out there, if not better and are still used on many of the rides at the Disney theme parks.
Polyphonic aftertouch - The VFX uses something very few keyboards ever used, a Polyphonic sensative aftertouch. Meaning, you could hold down notes and modulate a single key for a solo giving the keyboard an amazing expressive feel to it. Ensoniq in my opinion has the best poly aftertouch setup on a keyboard ever made. Because it cost so much to produce and few traditional organists and piano players learned to take advantage of it, Ensoniq didn't offer it in their later models and few companies offered it with poor response and quality.
Great Action - The VFD/SD-1 series vastly improved the action over the previous Ensoniq series that had key click. The feel and action of the keyboard for solos made it amazing.
Awesome Sequencer - The fact that the VFXSD and SD-1 models had a 24 track sequencer is amazing, but even more amazing is the ability for the sequencer to record the polyphonic after touch information into sequences to make them feel more "alive".
Preset ability for live performance - The Ensoniq VFX/SD series is able to create custom presets of sounds, keyzones and pretty much anything else you can think of with the ability to store that information on disk or cartridges. This feature is useful when playing out in a live situation, making it extremely easy with the touch of a foot switch to change presets within a song to change different instruments keyzones, effects and other user programed preferences in different presets.
Amazing Midi control - The ensoniq VFX/SD-1 worked as an amazing midi controller, with the ability to control many different types of instruments. Many gear heads still use the VFX as their mainstay Midi controller because of the extreme power and control of the keyboard.
Sources: PPG Wiki TrRansoniq Hacker #45
********************************************************************* Current Ensoniq O.S. (Disk/EPROM) EPS: 2.49/2.40 EPS-M: 2.49/2.41 EPS-16 PLUS: 1.3/1.00 MASOS: 2.0 MIRAGE: 3.2 ESQ: 3.5 ESQ-M: 1.2 SQ-80: 1.8 VFX: 2.30 VFX-SD: 2.1/2.00 SQ-1: 1.11 SQ-1 32: 2.03 SQ-1 PLUS: 1.1 SQ-R: 1.02 SQ-R 32: 2.03 SQ-R PLUS: 1.15 SQ-2: 1.2 SQ-2 32: 2.03 SD-1: 4.10/4.10 SD-1 32: 4.10/4.10 DP/4: 1.14 KS-32: 3.01 ASR-10: 3.53/1.5 KMX-8: 2.00 KMX-16: 1.50 TS-10/12: 3.04 KT-76/88: 1.60 Soundscape: 1.3.01 *********************************************************************
And here's some info on the rest of Ensoniq's synths:Press Preset+Master for that. Some other useful combinations are: Preset+Compare: Analog tests Preset+Soft Button 1: Initialize system (save your sounds before doing that!) Preset+Soft Button 3: Reset (similar to power-up cycle) --Ismail Dalgic <email@example.com>
Date: Fri, 19 Jan 1996 10:44:37 +0100 From: Henrik elf <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: ROM Versions on Ensoniq synths Hi! This is how to display Current ROM-Version Hope you've got some use of it! ASR Series / EPS / EPS-16 PLUS The software is disk-based; the version is listed on your diskette. The EPROM version can be checked as below: 1. Press and hold (COMMAND) 2. Press (ENV1), then release both buttons 3. Display = NO COMMANDS ON PAGE 4. Scroll until display = SOFTWARE INFORMATION 5. Press (ENTER/YES) 6. Display = RAM VERSION = X.XX 7. Press (ENTER/YES) 8. Display = ROM VERSION = X.XX 9. Press (ENTER/YES) 10. Display = KEYBOARD VERSION = X.XX DP/4 and DP/4+ The software version is displayed on the wake-up screen when the unit is powered up. ESQ-1 / ESQ-M / SQ-80 The software version is displayed on the wake-up screen when unit is powered up. MIRAGE The software version is disk-based and listed on the diskettes. SQ-R 1. Press and hold (SYSTEM) 2. Press (BANK SELECT), then release both buttons 3. Display = ENSONIQ SQ-R OS VERSION X.XX SQ-1 / SQ-2 / KS-32 / KT Series 1. Press (EDIT SEQUENCES/PRESETS) 2. Press and hold (BANK 9) 3. Press (SCREEN 1) 4. Display = OS VERSION X.XX TS Series 1. Press and hold (PRESETS) 2. Press the (SYSTEM) button 3. Display = SOFTWARE - ROM=X.XX KPC=X.XX 4. Release both buttons VFX / VFXSD / SD-1 1. Press and hold (PRESETS) 2. Press the (MASTER) button 3. Display = SOFTWARE - ROM=X.XX KPC=X.XX 4. Release both buttons
Talking about turning power on/off seven times to get a reset, Nick said he couldn't believe it.Jim (I see no cave here...) Smith <email@example.com>
Well, Nick, here's what I remember of it. Someone had the problem that the diplay would come up, and then only partially draw the "initializing" display, and then hang. They called Ensoniq and were told to power-cycle seven times, always turning off the machine at a particular point in the power-up sequence. On the seventh time, the display came up with something like "RE-INITIALIZE?" and if you answer yes, everything gets wiped.
I no longer have my back issues of the Hacker, and I haven't saved the notes string that mentioned it, but I believe Johnny Klonaris was involved in the string.
As for ridiculous, well, sometimes firmware designers do require strange interactions to hide functions that they don't want the customer to accidentally execute. Why, here at HP, .... anyway, I wouldn't put it past 'em. Haven't tried it, but it IS in the Hacker, sometime in 1990. In the letters section.
DRUM-SOUND MULTI-DRUM gate-kick all-perc room-kick all-drums gate-snare kick-drms rim-snare snar-drms close-hat hi-hats open-hat cymbals ride-cymb tom-toms dry-tom-l percusson dry-tom-h dry-toms gat-tom-l room-toms gat-tom-h gate-toms rm-tom-l congas rm-tom-h std-kit timbale gated-kit conga-lo room-kit conga-hi tamborine
This afternoon I decided to get the low down on the VFX problems myself from Ensoniq's own Joe Paschal, an Ensoniq Customer Service Rep with whom I have delt with before (To my satisfaction). Beleve it or not the Apex problem and the Keyboard Calibration problem ARE RELATED and CAN BE FIXED. (finally:-)
Under the keyboard proper, there are 3 circut boards that control the poly- key (tm) pressure. They do this:
| # # | # # # | # # | # # # | # # | # # # | # # | # # # | # # | # # # | | # # | # # # | # # | # # # | # # | # # # | # # | # # # | # # | # # # | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | ----------------------------------------------------------------------- +---------------------------------+ +----------------------------------+ | | | | | Board #2 +------------------+ Board #3 | | | Board # 1 | | | +------------------+ | +---------------------------------+ +----------------------------------+Now, It turns out that Ensoniq misdiagnosed the problem TWICE! and this new (one month old) conclusion is the result of the senior Ensoniq Tech's reseach and testing. The first problem (they thought) was the solder flux thing which would be on board #1. No. They then thought it was the cable that goes from board #1 to the motherboard. Wrong again.
There is a connector that connects board 2 to board 3. Over time and use, the keyboard begins to sag a little bit and this connector eventually starts to corrode (get dirty), come loose and the like. THERE"S THE PROBLEM! Ensoniq has determined that hard-wireing that connection solves the problem.
Of course this also explains the Apex deal, supporting the keyboard in the middle causes the connection to bend the other way, pry loose, etc.
Ensoniq will fix the problem free of charge and has instructed the service centers to do the same. (BTW my service center has decided to send bad VFX's to Ensoniq for repair.) I immedately posed the question to Joe: "Will this effect my old ESQ-1, SQ-80, Mirage (old Ensoniq's)." No. On the older synths, boards 2&3 are just one long board- thus no connection=no problem. I think the orginal EPS falls into this catagory as well, but I'm not sure.
Service Centers have been instructed to preform this mod to ANY Ensoniq that comes in for repair, regardless of the problem. If you want the repair done request that the service centers refer to bulletins #11 and #9B.
Here's the killer: the first SD-1's that came out have the SAME CONNECTOR! (that gives you some idea how long it's taken Ensoniq to fix this thing! :=) Now, of course, they just wire the two boards together, but still.
And a quote from Joe McMahon regarding the keyboard problem:
To quote the guys from "Car Talk": "This [machine] will take you to Nirvana." "Yeah, but you'll have to get towed back..."If you're in a bind, you might try the following:
If you haven't had it done, a temporary fix (one *I* have never tried, your mileage may vary) was posted to the list a while ago: | i hate to describe it, but i found a very low-tech solution to my | keyboard calibration problems (my vfx-sd hasn't had the fix applied | to it yet; i just never seem to find the time to get it to the shop). | | when it pulls the keyboard calibration error stunt on me, i simply | turn it off, place both hands flat across about an octave above and | below middle c, and press down on all of the keys simultaneously with | both hands until i hear things inside sort of shift. (it creaks, actually). | i know this probably isn't too good for it, but it always works... ;-) Swim at your own risk.
Press Preset+Master for that. Some other useful combinations are:
Some companies still sell the OS disks, and blank disks and cartridges for the VFX SD, check my links pages for distibutors availability.
The replacement of the battery can sometimes be difficult and should only be done by someone who is familar with the VFX or electronics. Spare Batteries can be found on E-bay or at Route66studios.com
TheSoniq.com is the only authorized service center by EMU. The owner worked at ENSONIQ factory for many years and is the only one left who still services ENSONIQ units. Also he has the whole ENSONIQ stocking parts. If you have any ENSONIQ unit that needs to be serviced ; upgraded ; sale or trade in Please check out TheSoniq.com
Despite these strengths, early Ensoniq instruments suffered from reliability problems. 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. Excellent synthesizers like the VFX or TS models lacked cheaper rackmount 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. The incorporation of an arpeggiator and a resonant filter on the latest products (such as the MR synthesizers) could have made Ensoniq a desirable alternative for the dance and electronic crowd (which was almost entirely responsible for the late 90s synth market), but that feature was apparently noticed too late.
In January 1998, ENSONIQ Corp. was acquired by Creative Technology Ltd. for $77 million. The fusion with E-mu and Creative Labs sealed Ensoniq's fate: their products and support vanished soon afterward.
The Archived Ensoniq website from 1997
When the first Ensoniq SD came out, nearly every synth player who was anyone picked one up. They were used frequently by Tony Banks in 1991 and by Rickwakeman of YES (He used 2 on stage!)
Nine Inch Nails also used the VFX.
The VFX series was fairly expensive at the time it came out ranging from $1400 for the VFX to $3000 in some places for the SD-1 32.
Because of their complete lack of technical support and the fact that very few people will even touch the Keyboard makes it worth much less than most highend used keyboards sell for.
From what I have seen. Prices on used Ensoniq VFX/SD series range from $50 for a beat up VFX that's never been upgraded and plagued with problems to $2000 for a mint condition never been gigs SD with full upgrades, accessories, Hard shell case and Added Cooling Fans with a 3 month warrenty. The Best place to buy a VFX is TheSoniq.com since they are the only ones authorized to service them by EMU and they come with a Warrenty...you never know what you might get off E-bay!!!
Yes, make sure your unit doesn't already have the sequencer upgrade by first saving all sequencer data and sound data to disc. Next press the seq control button 3 times quickly, If your unit reads 25.000 it is not upgraded. The seq upgrade will increase the memory of the VFXSD or SD1 to 75.000 notes this is not nessessary for the SD1 32 as it came stock with the upgrade. For proper operation on VFXSD ROM version must be 1.37 or higher, Press and hold Presets button and press Master the version number will be displayed briefly on the lower middle line of the display. Seq upgrades are available from Route66studios and syntaur.com, be careful when purchasing NON factory upgrades, these may require more voltage and may prematurely burn out the diodes on the power supply board.
Yes, but you will need the Giebler EDM software www.giebler.com
Yes, but you will need the www.Giebler.com SD1TS10SMF software converter
Yes, but you will need the www.Giebler.com sequencer Conversion Software called VFXSMF this software can convert standard midi files to and from the VFXSD, SD1 and SD1 32 via your PC.
Yes, The latest software version for the VFX 2.30 has many refinements and new features as well as several MIDI enhancements. Changes are in: New effects, Midi implementation specs, master page, pitch tables, and sound selection.
For the VFXSD Version 2.0 adds a whole new level of power to the VFXSD, changes are: Step entry recording, multi track recording, master pages changes, Midi control changes, pitch table carts, new effects, playing tracks in audition mode, sustain pedal changes, using seq from older OS, Midi implementation specs, updating system setup file and more.