First released in 1977-78, it proved to be highly influential among both electronic music composers and music producers, including Mike Thorne, an early adopter from the commercial world, due to its versatility, its cutting-edge technology, and distinctive sounds.
The early Synclavier I used FM synthesis, re-licensed from Yamaha,[a] and was sold mostly to universities. The initial models had only a computer and synthesis modules, later models added a musical keyboard and control panel.
The system evolved in its next generation of product, the Synclavier II, which was released in early 1980 with the strong influence of master synthesist and music producer Denny Jaeger of Oakland, California. It was originally Jaeger's suggestion that the FM synthesis concept be extended to allow four simultaneous channels or voices of synthesis to be triggered with one key depression to allow the final synthesized sound to have much more harmonic series activity. This change greatly improved the overall sound design of the system and was very noticeable. 16-bit user sampling (originally in mono only) was added as an option in 1982. This model was succeeded by the ABLE Model C computer based PSMT in 1984 and then the Mac-based 3200, 6400 and 9600 models, all of which used the VPK keyboard.
Display and control wheel on VPK (1984)
Synclavier II models used an on/off type keyboard (called the "ORK") while later models, labeled simply "Synclavier", used a weighted velocity- and pressure-sensitive keyboard (called the "VPK") that was licensed from Sequential Circuits and used in their Prophet-T8 synthesizer.
STD: Sample-To-Disk interface (c.1982)
The company evolved the system continuously through the early 1980s to integrate the first 16-bit digital sampling system to magnetic disk, and eventually a 16-bit polyphonic sampling system to memory, as well. The company's product was the only digital sampling system that allowed sample rates to go as high as 100 kHz.
Tapeless studio concept
Ultimately, the system was referred to as the Synclavier Digital Recording "Tapeless Studio" system among many professionals. It was a pioneer system in revolutionizing movie and television sound effects and Foley effects methods of design and production starting at Glen Glenn Sound. Although pricing made it inaccessible for most musicians (a Synclavier could cost anywhere from $25,000 to $200,000), it found widespread use among producers and professional recording studios, competing at times in this market with high-end production systems such as the Fairlight CMI.
When the company launched and evolved its technology, there were no off-the-shelf computing systems, integrated software, nor sound cards. Consequently, all of the hardware from the company's main real-time CPU, all input and output cards, analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog cards and all of its memory cards were all developed internally, as well as all of the software. The hardware and software of the company's real-time capability was used in other fields completely remote to music, such as the main Dartmouth College campus computing node computers for one of the USA's first campus-wide computing networks, and in medical data acquisition research projects.
End of manufacture
New England Digital ceased operations in 1993. According to Jones, "The intellectual property was bought up by a bank--then it was owned by a Canadian company called Airworks--and I bought the intellectual property and the trademark back from a second bank which had foreclosed on it from Airworks."
In 2019, Jones released an iOS version of the Synclavier dubbed Synclavier Go! using much of the original code base. Jones has also worked with Arturia to bring a version of the instrument to their V Collection plugin suite.
ABLE computer (1975): an early product of New England Digital, was a 16-bit mini-computer on two cards, using a transport triggered architecture. It used a variant of XPL called Scientific XPL for programming. Early applications of the ABLE were for laboratory automation, data collection, and device control. The commercial version of the Dartmouth Digital Synthesizer, the Synclavier, was built on this processor.
Digital synthesis cards
The FM/Additive synthesis waveforms are produced by the Synclavier Synthesizer cards (named SS1 through SS5). Each set of these five cards produced 8 mono FM voices (later variants supported stereo). The processor handles sending start-stop-setPitch-setParameter commands to the SS card set(s), as well as handling scanning of the keyboard and control panel. There is little public documentation available on these cards, as their design was the unique asset of the Synclavier. However, their structure was similar to other digital synthesizers of the mid-late 1970s realized in Medium Scale Integration (MSI) hardware, such as the Bell Labs Digital Synthesizer.
Synclavier II (1980): 8-bit FM/additive synthesis, 32-track memory recorder, and ORK keyboard. Earlier models were entirely controlled via ORK keyboard with buttons and wheel; a VT100 terminal was subsequently introduced for editing performances. Later models had a VT640 graphic terminal for graphical audio analysis (described below).
Original Keyboard (ORK, c.1979): original musical keyboard controller in a wooden chassis, with buttons and silver control wheel on the panel.
Sample-to-Disk (STD, c.1982): a first commercial hard disk streaming sampler, with 16-bit sampling at up to 50 kHz.
Sample-to-Memory (STM): later option to sample sounds and edit them in computer memory.
Synclavier PSMT (1984): a faster ABLE Model C processor based system, with a new 'Multi-Channel-Distribution' real-time digitally controlled analog signal routing technology, and 16-bit RAM-based stereo sampling subsystem. The monaural FM voice card was doubled up and enabling software panning for stereo output was introduced.
Velocity/Pressure Keyboard (VPK, c.1984): a weighted velocity/after-pressure sensitive musical keyboard controller, was introduced. This had a black piano lacquer finished chassis, a larger display, additional buttons and a silver control wheel.
Christopher Boyes, supervising sound editor/sound designer for the film Avatar, used the Synclavier for blending or layering different sound effects and matching pitches.
Joel Chadabe: composer/founder of Electronic Music Foundation. In September 1977 he bought the first Synclavier without musical keyboard (ORK), and wrote custom software to control Synclavier via various devices.
Kashif Saleem, American post-disco and contemporary R&B record producer, multi-instrumentalist, also a creative consultant with the New England Digital Corporation: Bass synthesizer music pioneer and an early Synclavier II avid user who used Synclavier in production, for instance, of his Grammy-nominated instrumental piece "The Mood" (1983). His innovating vocalist-related sampling methods (created using Synclavier) are still in use.
Howard Shore, film score composer: pictured with a Synclavier on the cover of Berklee Today, Fall 1997.
Paul Simon: on Simon's 1983 album Hearts and Bones, Tom Coppola is credited for Synclavier for "When Numbers Get Serious", "Think Too Much (b)", "Song About the Moon", and "Think Too Much (a)"; and Wells Christie is credited with Synclavier on "Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War". On his 1986 album Graceland, Simon is credited under "Synclavier" for "I Know What I Know" and "Gumboots".
^Eric Grunwald (Summer 1994). "Bell Tolls for FM Patent, but Yamaha Sees "New Beginning""(PDF). Stanford Technology Brainstorm. Vol. 3 no. 2. Office of Technology Licensing (OTL), Stanford University. Archived from the original(PDF) on 2017-05-05. Retrieved . The technique for synthesizing electronic music, invented by Music Professor John Chowning, brought in over $20 million through an exclusive license to Yamaha Corporation of Japan, which used the technology in its DX-7 synthesizer, enormously popular in the 1980s.
Darter, Tom; Doerschuk, Bob (2008). "The state of the artist". In Ernie Rideout (ed.). Keyboard Presents the Best of the '80s: The Artists, Instruments, and Techniques of an Era. Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 15-19. ISBN978-0-87930-930-5.
"unknown". Keyboard. GPI Publications. 12: 24. 1986. ISSN0730-0158. Eddie Jobson / Theme of Secrets / Jobson is one of those highly talented keyboard players ... this time it's strictly Jobson and a Synclavier-a boy and his synthesizer.[verification needed]
"unknown". Schwann Spectrum. ABC Consumer Magazines. 2 (3~4): 338. 1991. Jobson, Eddie Jobson, Eddie -Theme Of Secrets (music for Synclavier) Pnvale Music[verification needed]
"United States". Keyboard. GPI Publications. 13 (7~12): 30. 1987. ISSN0730-0158. Nashville synthesist Shane Keister, using a Fairlight and Synclavier, scored Ernest Goes To Camp, the just-released ...[verification needed]