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Emu E-Synth Professional

Digital Synthesizer By Simon Trask
Published November 1997

Emu have conjured up a combination of sampler and sample playback unit which makes the capabilities of their E4X sampler available at a significantly less‑than‑E4X price. Simon Trask looks for the sleight of hand...

For a number of years Emu have been producing both digital samplers and sample playback modules. Now the company have used their expertise in these two genres to come up with a single instrument, the E‑Synth, that combines the convenience of preset samples and patches instantly available in ROM with the flexibility that comes from putting sampling into the hands of the user. But does the E‑Synth give you the best of both worlds, or is it simply orbitting another planet?

Instant Access

The E‑Synth is essentially a rebadged E4X sampler with a 16Mb sample ROM board fitted as standard (the board is also available as an option for the E4X). Emu's new module uses the same EOS (Emulator Operating System) software as the E4X and several other Emu samplers, and also has the same hardware capabilities as the E4X — yet it costs £450 less than the E4X, and £895 less than the combination of E4X and sample ROM board.

To help keep the E‑Synth's price down, Emu have removed the internal 540Mb hard drive and the AES/EBU plus ASCII keyboard interface card, fitted as standard on the E4X; instead these features are available as options on the new module. But even taking these differences into account, the E‑Synth seems like a more affordable way of getting an E4X. It can also be fitted with all the options available for the E4X, so for instance you can upgrade it to 128‑voice polyphony (standard is 64) and 16 audio outputs (standard is 8). And by not including an internal drive, the E‑Synth gives you the flexibility to fit the 540Mb or 1Gb drive options available from Emu (as fitted on the E4X and E4X Turbo respectively) or a larger drive (the E‑Synth, like the E4X, can actually address up to 9Gb internally or externally).

Like the E4X, the E‑Synth comes with 4Mb of volatile sample RAM as standard, upgradable to an impressive 128Mb, and can optionally be fitted with 8Mb or 16Mb of flash RAM for non‑volatile sample storage. However, to have access to more than 64Mb of volatile sample RAM, you have to disable the sample ROM and flash RAM using a parameter in Master mode. Incidentally, Emu will also be bringing out a keyboard version of the E‑Synth (price to be confirmed) which, I'm told, will have the same functionality as the module except for there being one option port to the module's three (so you couldn't have both eight additional audio outs and an extra MIDI In and MIDI Thru port).


As I mentioned above, the E‑Synth software is Emu's EOS software as used on the E4X and several other Emu samplers. In fact, the new module has v2.8 of the software, whereas the E4X currently comes with v2.5; 2.8 is an interim release that supports the sample ROM and also introduces a new 'SGI on SCSI buss' feature, which does for SGI computers what the existing 'Mac on SCSI buss' feature does for Mac OS machines, which is to ease the interaction of computer and E‑Synth via SCSI. New v3.0 software, due soon for all EOS instruments, will upgrade the current 'scratchpad' sequencer to a 48‑track workstation‑quality sequencer with full editing, and also add support for EOS Sound Diver editor/librarian software for Mac and PC. In the meantime, the E‑Synth comes with a voucher for a free copy of the new version 3.0 software.

With the same software as the E4X, the E‑Synth of course provides the full sampling, sample‑editing and synthesis capabilities. Despite being labelled a synthesizer, then, the E‑Synth qualifies as one of the most powerful and sophisticated samplers on the market (Emu themselves call it a 'ninth‑generation instrument'!).

Sample ROM Board

The E‑Synth's 16Mb sample ROM board contains just over 900 samples, which you can use individually for your own patches by assigning them to Preset Voices (see below). However, Emu's module also comes with 256 ready‑programmed Presets, stored in the module's 4Mb CPU flash RAM and automatically available on power‑up as Presets 1000‑1255 (so they're above the 1000 volatile RAM Presets). These 256 Presets use the ROM samples, of course, but because the actual Preset parameter data is stored in flash RAM rather than the sample ROM, you can edit any and all of the 256 Presets to create your own custom sounds.

You can edit any and all of the 256 Presets to create your own custom sounds.

However, you'll probably want to store the results in the volatile RAM Preset memories (and save them to floppy disk, of course), as Emu have come up with an excellent collection of Presets demonstrating the quality and variety we've come to expect from the company. The emphasis is on providing a well‑rounded collection of instrumental, pad and atmosphere sounds for mainstream music production and soundtrack work. There are plenty of acoustic and electric pianos and basses of all kinds, all of them strong and clear, with the basses evincing a very effective tight, punchy, energetic character. Guitar, brass and woodwind sounds are also well catered for, as are tuned percussion and synth leads. Ensemble strings sounds are full, rich and smooth, while the pad and atmosphere sounds are wonderfully deep, full and evocative.

The E‑Synth's flexible Preset architecture, which affords complete freedom in multi‑layering and multi‑splitting samples and synthesized sounds (see below), means that you can build up huge complex multi‑layered and split sounds within individual Presets — a capability that's used to good effect in the pads and atmospheres. A few drum kits are included, and the drum and percussion samples are clean, tight and punchy with plenty of energy. Overall, the E‑Synth's characteristic clean, rich Emulator sound makes it one of the most professional‑sounding instruments you can buy, though on the flip side it lacks the 'street‑level' grittiness of an Akai sampler and may sound too polished and produced for some.


Typically, a patch in a sample‑based synthesizer will have a single set of synthesis parameters for the entire key range or multisample. However, as the E‑Synth has been built from the ground up as a sampler, it allows each individual sample to have its own synthesis parameter settings. In EOS lingo, one or more Samples are combined into a Voice, and up to 256 Voices can be combined into a Preset in freely creatable key and velocity split/layer configurations. It's at the individual Voice level that the samples are routed through a morphing filter and a dynamic amplifier with associated six‑stage filter and amp envelopes, a third, freely assignable six‑stage envelope, and two freely assignable multi‑wave LFOs. The E‑Synth also has a sophisticated modulation matrix, in which any of 56 modulation sources can be connected to any of 53 destinations using up to 18 virtual 'patch cords', programmable per Voice.

The morphing, or 'Z‑plane', filter, originally developed by Emu for their Morpheus module, provides a choice of 21 filter types, including various resonant low‑pass, high‑pass and band‑pass options as well as six morphing options; the morphing filter types enable sophisticated timbral changes by providing continuous interpolation (morphing) between two filter 'frames'. The E‑Synth has two effects processors, A and B, configurable in parallel or series and offering a choice of 44 reverb and 32 modulation effects respectively. These are programmable per Preset (for Omni and Poly, that is single Preset modes) or globally for all 16 multi parts (Multi mode, one Preset per part). Effects routing can be done at the Voice level, though in Multi mode you can override these settings at the individual part level with a single part setting.

Another way to create new Presets is to add and remove Voices, with copy functions allowing you to quickly add individual and multiple Voices from other Presets. An even simpler, quicker way to create new Patches is to use Emu's time‑honoured Link function to freely split and layer two or more Presets.


To get you started with sampling, the E‑Synth provides a modest 4Mb of volatile sample RAM as standard, though this can be upgraded using 4Mb, 16Mb or 64Mb 72‑pin SIMMs, 70ns or faster, which are freely mixable in two internal slots — though bear in mind that if you combine different memory sizes, only half the memory of the smaller size is read (in effect this means you can have a choice of 4, 8, 16, 18, 32, 64, 72 and 128Mb of volatile RAM). The E‑Synth can address up to 1000 samples in its volatile sample RAM.

The E‑Synth provides stereo sampling from analogue inputs (at 22.05, 24, 44.1 or 48kHz) or, with the AES/EBU option fitted, digital inputs (32, 44.1 or 48kHz); you can also resample internally from the main outputs as you play the E‑Synth. After sampling, the new sample is automatically assigned to its own Voice, and you can set original, low and high notes and assign the Voice to a Group; other options let you automate the keymapping process together with truncation, normalising and looping, and create multisample Voices. For auto looping you can choose from several loop lengths, with or without auto crossfading. Once this initial work is done, you can choose from some 16 additional sample editing and processing tools, including time‑stretching and pitch‑shifting, to further work on your samples.

You can also draw on existing sample libraries, of course. The E‑Synth comes with two Emu CD‑ROMS, one a compilation of material from CD‑ROM Volumes 1‑17, the other (Emulator Production Set) providing a General MIDI sound set. Emu have a large commercial CD‑ROM library as well, and the E‑Synth can also read and convert Akai S1000 and S1100 and Roland S700‑series discs.


The E‑Synth could be seen as simply a crafty repackaging exercise designed to highlight the (not inconsiderable) synthesis capabilities of the Emulator series and attract musicians who feel happier with the convenience of instant access to preset sounds. You can get the same capabilities by adding the (stand‑alone) sample ROM board to an E4X. However, the E‑Synth's keen pricing is a definite plus, making it a significantly more affordable option than the E4X plus ROM board. Emu deserve credit for not compromising on any of the E‑Synth's sampling and sample‑editing capabilities; bear in mind, though, that you'll need to budget for extras such as more sample RAM, a hard drive and a CD‑ROM drive, and perhaps the AES/EBU interface, if you want to make the most of these capabilities.

The E‑Synth, then, combines the convenience of preset sounds with the flexibility of sophisticated synthesis capabilities and the expandability of powerful sampling and sample‑editing features, and all at an attractive price for what is a high‑end professional instrument.

Related Reviews

Akai S3000XL: December '95


Emu EIV: April '95

Emu E4K: April '96

Emu E4X Turbo: May '97


  • Ready‑made collection of quality instrumental sounds.
  • Powerful sampling and editing capabilities.
  • Morphing filters enhance synthesis flexibility.
  • Expandability.
  • Keen pricing from Emu.


  • Using ROM or flash RAM boards halves the maximum sample RAM.
  • Slow LCD scrolling and page changes.
  • The Number Lock button isn't labelled, or indicated in the manuals (it's actually the ± button).


With its large, well‑rounded collection of preset sounds, the E‑Synth lets you start making music straight away, but also gives you the sonic open‑endedness and flexibility of a professionally spec'd sampler. An instrument that can grow with you.